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Thursday, July 8, 2021

“Where do you find story ideas?”

This is one of those questions that non-writers ask constantly, and I never have a good answer for it. Ideas for stories are laying around everywhere. How can you not see them? I can barely take a walk or do almost anything else without tripping over at least a half-dozen. The problem isn’t coming up with ideas for stories. It’s finding the time to develop them into something worth trying to publish.

For example, this morning, as I was eating breakfast, I was flipping through the ad flyer for a local hardware store, as we’re going to be starting a kitchen remodeling project tomorrow morning and I was wondering if they might have any tools that might make the job easier.

Then I turned the page and saw this ad:

Immediately, whatever the cognitive short-circuit is that people call “creativity” sparked, and I began to wonder: who is Rip Hammer?

No, make that, who was Rip Hammer? Obviously, some 1950s B-movie actor who is nearly forgotten now. Subject of the tragic documentary, The Rise and Fall of Rip Hammer: what was his story? Where did he come from? What movies did he star in? What went wrong?

The cognitive short-circuit arced again. Rip, I decided, was a ruggedly handsome guy from the Midwest who had some acting chops, a good-sounding voice, and a decently muscular build for the day. Maybe he’d spent his teenage summers working as a lifeguard on some beach in Michigan or Indiana or someplace like that. He also had an original name with too many vowels and syllables, so when he got out of the Navy in ‘53 and decided to stay on in California and try to break into acting…

That’s when his real tragedy happened, although it took him years to realize it. He had the bad luck to sign up with someone very much like Buck Turner, possibly the most inept agent in the history of Hollywood, who changed his stage name to Rip Hammer and then proceeded to put him into a series of botched opportunities and disastrous casting choices. The New Jersey Beach Party movies were all flops; the hot rod movies were just all wrong for someone whose personal car was a 1950 Studebaker Commander; the guest villain roles on The Untouchables and Highway Patrol went nowhere, and his one rock ‘n’ roll movie, Rebel With an Accordion—well, let’s just say that Rip had a great baritone speaking voice, and leave it at that.

Still, Rip tried. He really tried. Whatever the role, no matter how stupid, he gave it his all. He poured his heart and soul into his work, always clinging to the hope that this role would open the door to his next role, and that the next role would be the one that would make his career and show the world what he was really capable of doing on screen. When he heard from a friend of a friend of another rather borderline friend about a movie that was in hush-hush development and that seemed like it would be exactly the right vehicle to make him a star—the right part, in the right movie, at exactly the right time to catch the leading edge of a rising trend—he campaigned with all his might to land the lead role, and he got it.

Only to realize, when he showed up on the set for the first day of shooting and finally read the script for the first time, that I WAS A TEENAGE MUMMY was not a monster movie, but rather a potboiler soap opera drama about unwed teenage mothers in England.

Still, he soldiered on, gamely playing the entire film in drag and turning in a bravura performance that critics would later agree was the absolute pinnacle of his career. He really got the audience to believe he was not a 35-year-old man from Michigan but rather a heart-breakingly beautiful and tragic 15-year-old girl growing up too fast in Stepney. The film, while not a huge commercial success, was hailed in many circles as a critical milestone. 

Unfortunately for Rip Hammer, it was also the last film of his career, so far as is now known, because after this one, he was very much in demand in Hollywood—but only for parts to be played in drag, in gay porn films…

—Bruce Bethke


Footnote: There is a persistent but unverifiable Hollywood story that Billy Wilder himself tried to get Rip to read for the role of Joe/Josephine in Some Like It Hot, but Rip’s agent convinced him that taking the part would be career suicide. The part instead went to Tony Curtis, and as of the time of this writing it remains impossible to confirm or disprove the allegation that Rip was Wilder’s first choice.

4 comments:

Mark Keigley said...

heh...pretty funny... When I saw the hammer add I immediately thought of the term we have in my Guild Wars 2 gaming community RIP being rest in peace. We say rip if we get mowed down by a mob of enemy players or when we lose a tower in world vs world. A RIP hammer, therefore, might be a hammer that does a whole lot of ugly on you....

~brb said...

Seriously, all of this sprang from my learning this morning that there is such a thing as a "rip hammer."

I have yet to come up with a story idea worthy of the tool named the "butt welder."

Jason D. Wittman said...

Stephen R. Donaldson famously claimed that he got one of his bigger ideas from a can of Lysol disinfectant in a men's room in a convenience store.

ray p daley said...

Got a killer idea by seeing 2/3's of a sign, once. Was going past the local Asda on the bus to the Eye Clinic and saw a sign which I later discovered said PRODUCE: ELECTRICAL: BABY.

All I saw was Electrical Baby, and that just set my mind running so fast I had to pull out my notepad and write that down. Ideas are everywhere.