Thursday, September 24, 2015

My Cinematic Life: Carol Kovinick Hernandez

Queen Carol
Finally a second installment in the "My Cinematic Life" series! For anyone who missed the inaugural post, this series is meant to explore the many different forms film love can take through interviews with interesting cinephiles of every stripe. Have someone in mind that I should interview in the future? Let me know! 
Today's subject is the wonderful Carol Kovinick Hernandez. For 11 years she worked at the legendary memorabilia shop Hollywood Book & Poster where she got to meet all sorts of film fans both famous and soon to be famous. Currently she lives in Las Vegas with her comic book artist husband Gilbert Hernandez and their daughter Natalia who is following in dad's footsteps with a comic of her own. All photos included in this piece were generously provided by Carol.

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Craig: Hi Carol! Growing up in Ventura, you were both close to and far from what most people think of as Los Angeles. Did the proximity of Hollywood contribute at all to your love of movies?

Carol: That’s an interesting question. I imagine that I would have loved movies no matter where we lived since both my parents loved movies. But living near LA made it easier for us to see more movies. Growing up, we had more TV channels than a lot of other places in the US. I watched a lot of films on the weekends on TV. Plus it was always fun to see places that were featured in film and TV when we drove around LA.

My Dad loved to point out the old LA City Hall which was used as the Daily Planet from the 50’s Superman TV show. Also, my dad worked for a few years in a building that was used in the opening sequence for an old TV show called Felony Squad. I have a vague memory of being really young and watching the opening of the show every week thinking I might see my Dad. I didn’t realize at the time that they used the same clip for the opening of the show and I would never see my dad there. Ha, ha!

Cr: What was your favorite movie as a kid?

Ca: Ooh, I can’t think of one favorite but I loved a lot of comedies back then. Doris Day movies with Rock Hudson and James Garner were favorites. Also, I loved Sandra Dee films, especially Gidget and Take Her, She’s Mine. The Jayne Mansfield movie Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter was another favorite.

Cr: Did you ever have an interest in making film?

Ca: I have dabbled in acting a little. I was part of a theater group in LA and I did some independent films, most of which never saw the light of day. I did see a screening of a film which I only had one line in. They screened it at the Alfred Hitchcock theater at Universal Studios. I cried when I saw myself because it was so horrifying to see myself on the big screen. Gilbert thought it was funny that I cried.

Gilbert and I have made some silly short films over the years for the fun of it. We did release a DVD of one we did called The Naked Cosmos. And that was the most fun to make since we were our own bosses.

Gilbert and Carol: The Early Years

Cr: You were also pretty big into the punk scene. Who were some of your favorite bands of the time?

Ca: The punk scene happened at the perfect time in my life. My family had been living in Singapore for 3 years in the 70’s. My father became ill and died before we came back to the states from Singapore. I was only 14 at the time. Needless to say I was a mess for a while. Plus that part of the 70’s seemed so depressing to me. I call it the beige years when everything including music, fashion, adulthood all seemed really boring and beige at the time. Glam music was over. Then I started hearing about punk from England. And I found the look really fun.

When I finally heard some of the bands from NY and London I became instantly obsessed. It spoke directly to me. And it made me realize that being different is good. As soon as my friend Susan (who was the only other person I knew that was into punk) and I were old enough to drive we were spending every weekend in Hollywood seeing bands and having the best time!

Cr: As a fellow Southern California kid, I spent a lot of time in punk/skate shops where I’d be surrounded by posters for films like Taxi Driver and Repo Man which I made a point of seeking out when I had a chance. Did going to shows and such lead to any cool discoveries for you?

Ca: I didn’t really go to a lot of movies in the late 70’s once I got into the punk music scene. It was all about the music for me at that time. Besides I had no interest in a lot of the films that were happening then.

Cr: How did you end up as an extra in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School?

Ca: There were flyers handed out at the clubs saying you can be in a movie with The Ramones. A group of friends drove to the Roxy on the day they filmed the concert with the Ramones. We got to see them play for free so you really couldn’t complain too much that we were hearing the same two songs over and over.

I guess it was a casting person from the film that was walking through the audience asking some of the people to come back the next day to film a scene in front of the Mayan Theater in downtown LA. My friend Susan and I were asked to come back. It was for the scene where PJ Soles wakes up and sees a line has formed to get tickets to see the Ramones. That’s the scene that Susan and I are in very briefly.

Eric Caidin and Sam Raimi

Cr: So apparently you met Hollywood Book & Poster Co. owner Eric Caidin at a wrestling match. Did you already frequent his shop at that point? Did you know who he was?

Ca: As soon as I was old enough to drive I would go to Hollywood to buy records and find cool shops. I just happened to come across Hollywood Book & Poster one day as I was driving past the shop on Las Palmas. I remember going in there and buying a picture of Errol Flynn. During the punk days after the club shows, a lot of people would meet up at Errol Flynn’s house which was a demolished old mansion in the Hollywood Hills.

Anyway, a few years later Gilbert and I would go to the monthly wrestling matches at the Sports Arena. We would see certain people there every month and one of them turned out to be Eric Caidin. Actually Eric was with a friend and employee of his named Jaime Pina. Jaime recognized Gilbert and we got to know him and Eric from seeing them at wrestling every month.

Cr: Were/are you a collector?

Ca: I do love movie memorabilia and I have lots of movie posters and photographs. The absolute best thing I ever bought from Eric is three large cartoon heads of the Marx Brothers that reside on our wall. They’re from the 1930’s and I’m guessing they were probably used as a display in the theater for the premier of their film, Love Happy.

Cr: At what point did he ask you to come work for him?

Ca: Once we realized Eric owned Hollywood Book & Poster we started going there regularly. We would see Eric at comic book conventions as well. One year while at San Diego Comic Con, Eric and Jaime asked me if I would help at the store for a week since they were short handed. I ended up working there for 11 years!

Cr: What did your duties around the shop consist of?

Ca: We all were managers of some sort. I ordered a lot of the movie poster reprints which was fun. And there were certain people I would work with regularly. For example, Troy Donahue was an acting coach in his later years and he would call me to help him find scripts to use in his class. I got to know him from all of our telephone conversations. He was really nice and one time he came into to the shop to say hello but I wasn’t working that day. That made me sad since he passed away not long afterwards. So I never got to meet my pal Troy. Gary Owens used to shop at HB&P a lot. I loved when he would call on the phone and say, “Hello Carol, this is Gary Owens”. Hearing that voice over the phone was really fun. George Barris, the custom car guy was also a regular.

Cr: Who were some of the other cool people you got to meet?

Ca: Michael Jackson came into the shop when I first started working for Eric and the guys were so used to seeing him that they asked me to help him. This was when Michael was the biggest star in the universe! He had a mustache and beard painted on his face as a disguise. That was hilarious. He was very shy at first but the longer he hung out the louder he became. He was very funny, too. I was super excited since I was a huge Jackson 5 fan as a kid. I love that show.

There were so many fun people that would come to the store whenever they could. The Ramones, John Carpenter, Russ Meyer, Tura Satana, Vampira, Alice Cooper, Spike Lee, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Peter Jackson, Joe Dante, Sid Haig, Michael Berryman, Sonny Chiba, Benicio Del Toro, Marilyn Manson, Lawrence Tierney, Seth Green, Gunnar Hanson, Donita Sparks, Rob Zombie, Howie Pyro, Lux and Ivy from the Cramps and so many more!

Cr: Were there any regulars who lurked around the shop that eventually went on to become names?

Ca: Quentin Tarantino shopped there before he got noticed with Reservoir Dogs. And he kept shopping there regularly for years after. Greg Nicotero of KNB effects also shopped there weekly. I haven’t seen him since the Walking Dead started which is a shame.

Carol and Vincent Price
Cr: I hear you also got to visit the set of Ed Wood?

Ca: Hollywood Book & Poster was Ed Wood central. The few remaining, "Ed Wood people" would frequent the store. Vampira, Kelton the Cop, Dolores Fuller, Kathy Wood, Conrad Brooks etc… When they were starting to cast the parts in the Tim Burton film, the casting director spent a lot of time at the store. He was having a hard time finding someone to play Tor Johnson. Eric suggested the wrestler, George “the Animal” Steel and that’s who they used in the film.

Since the movie was shot all around Hollywood it was hard not to see them filming. Eric and I got to visit with Johnny Depp and Bill Murray one day. And I also watched them filming the scene of Johnny Depp as Glenda from Glen or Glenda. He was a pretty lady.

Cr: Why did you leave the shop?

Ca: I stopped working two weeks before my daughter was born. The last time I saw Johnny Ramone (who was always hanging out at the store) was just before I left. He was so sweet. He gave me a pep talk about how I shouldn’t go back to work once the baby was born. He kept saying how important it was that I stay home with the kid. Actually, that was one of the cutest moments ever.

Cr: What’s the film scene like in Las Vegas? I know there’s a lot of love out there for mid-century design and old Hollywood glitz and glamour, but does that extend to film as well?

Ca: I really can’t say much about the film scene in Vegas. I have some friends that are making some really great short films and such but as far as a scene goes, I don’t know. When we first moved out here I was looking for an agent and one of the people I spoke to kept emphasizing how they needed people that looked “all american”. I guess I was too ethnic for Las Vegas. Oddly enough I see people of all colors on TV and movies made here.

Cr: Are there rep houses there that you can frequent?

Ca: Not that I know of. Sadly.

Cr: Though you’ve certainly been on screen before, were you nervous at all about being the star of your husband’s film Naked Cosmos?

Ca: Gilbert and I made the Naked Cosmos to amuse ourselves. We sent copies out to friends (on VHS). People would pass their copies around and we would hear from strangers saying that liked it and wanted to see more. Finally we met with a couple, Tim Maloney and Cecilia Lee who wanted to put out an official version of it on DVD. That’s how it got released. I would have taken it much more seriously had I known people would actually see it. Even though it’s been 10 years, we still hope to make more Naked Cosmos.

Natalia Hernandez
Cr: I see your daughter Natalia has inherited the "geek gene" as well. Has there been any particular film that you’ve made a point of sharing with her?

Ca: We started showing her films very early on. She loves B&W films, silent movies, foreign films and everything else. Gilbert almost cried when she told him she loved silent movies when she was little. He was so proud. There have been lots of films that we made a point of showing her, but I do remember we HAD to show her The Ghost and Mr. Chicken at a young age. Everyone needs some Don Knotts in their life. She definitely has our oddball taste in movies, music, art, etc…

1 comment:

  1. I remember you and Susan livening up Buena High School in general and Marvin Stites's radio and television class in particular. I think it was Susan that won his heart by including "Your Cheatin' Heart" in her radio show. Joe LoPiano was also into punk but kept it on the quiet side. Now he lives in Hawaii and surfs.

    So fun to see your story here.