Thursday, December 7, 2017

Dreadful Selfish Crime (a mystery novel)

Photo by Joe O'Connell

October 12, 1992

Chapter 1

A one-lane bridge crossed the Little Cuckoo on County Road 24. The stream ran steady but shallow beneath Arturo B. Lincoln's car. Flashing red and blue lit the night around Deputy Sheriff Walt Talbort's cruiser. Arturo pulled his blue 1970 Cutlass 442 to where the stumpy deputy stood, notepad in hand, listening to a rail-thin father and his wide-eyed sons tell their tale.

"Abe, are you out of bed?" Walt grabbed the edge of the car door with a pudgy paw, then looked at Bobbi. "Oh, sight-seeing. I trust her husband is still on the run."

Last year, back when they were almost strangers, Arturo had helped Bobbi get rid of her husband, Dowell Goodman, a wife-beating son of a bitch. Arturo planted a bag of white powder in Dowell's truck and got Walt to scare Dowell out of the county. Bobbi kept the little bag and grinned when she used its contents to sweeten her tea.

"He’s running scared." Bobbi reached over and touched Walt's hand. "Thanks for asking."

Walt and Arturo had been drinking buddies off and on for the past few years, after meeting on a night when a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals. Reporters came from as far as Dallas to cover the story, but Walt made sure the local boys got the scoop first. Arturo invited him out for a beer in thanks. They discovered that law enforcers and journalists had plenty in common--they both worked odd hours, were apt to screw up their personal lives, and were often reviled by strangers.

"Worth my while, Walt?" Arturo held his breath.

Walt leaned close to his ear. "If you're a blood and guts fan. Poor ape caught lead between the eyes. I've got the report if you want notes before the J.P. arrives."

Arturo took out his notepad and rewrote Walt's words: “Two boys, ages ten and four, playing along the bank at approximately 6:30 p.m. when saw something stuck on tree branch in the water. Upon discovery it was human, went home, waited for father's arrival to tell him. Father called 911 with report at 8:48 p.m. Deceased is white male, early 30s, brown hair, beard, thin build…"

The father tapped hard on Walt’s shoulder. "Can we get this done? I want my boys home and in bed." 
“Zombies,” the youngest boy said, his eyes the size of half dollars and his arms clutching his father’s leg.

The man spat hard at the ground. "County ain't fit to raise cattle, much less kids."

Walt sighed before turning back to the red-faced man.
"Hold your horses, sir." 
The deputy grabbed the report from Arturo's hand. 

"Let me finish, Abe. Meet our swimmer. I double dare you."

Arturo opened the car door, and as he rose he caught sight of something white along the bank. He could just make out a human foot where it stuck out of a tattered sheet the father had probably brought with him after hearing the boys' descriptions.

"Bobbi, grab that camera from the glove box and wait here." He kept the idiot camera handy for just such a reporting chore.

"I'm a big girl." She had the expectant look of a kid about to peek into a carnival freak show tent.

"I don't want a corpse to be your memory of this evening. Please. I've got work here, and then I'll get you home.”

It had been a long work day for them both. With tired eyes she gave in, handed him the camera, then leaned her head back onto the seat.

The lens became his eyes and Arturo felt himself vanish. It was too corny and new-agey for him to admit out loud to anyone, but he'd learned long ago that a good photographer--and he was at best a fair one--must inwardly disappear and become the camera. He kneeled and clicked shots from behind the wiggly boys as they told the rest of their tale to Walt. Then he walked a couple yards toward the sheet and shot it with the moving stream as the backdrop. The flash lit the damp night.

Goose bumps raised on his arm as he crossed the short distance separating him from the facts of death. The bank was eerily silent. Part of the sheet was in the water and the wet area molded to an arm that’s only movement came from the gentle sway of water as the waves struck bank.

Arturo squatted and pulled the sheet back from the face with a jerk. His stomach tightened. The bullet had torn off most of the face, leaving half a lip and one dangling, vacant eye. The ragged edges of facial flesh were the color of cottage cheese. What the bullet didn't get, hungry fish had nibbled. But they were kind enough to leave his old friend and colleague Casey Bonner's tangled beard almost perfectly intact.

A metallic tang filled Arturo's mouth. He turned his head before the first load of bile came up. He could just make out Walt's chuckle from back at the squad car as another spasm forced the afternoon's beer out onto the grass.

He wiped the spittle from his lips and stumbled up the bank.
"Abe, puking on a crime scene is a felony in my book." Walt's smile faded to concern. The father was already a few yards off, ushering his boys back to the world of television cartoons where dead men shook it off and came back for more.

"You all right, buddy?" Walt patted Arturo lightly on the shoulder.
Arturo nodded and coughed up the last of the bile. He felt like he'd been hit by lightning and the electrical charge was trying to force its way out of his trembling hands.

"That corpse was a friend of mine," he said.

(email therealjoeo at for more) 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Friday, June 9, 2017

My next documentary is 'Rondo and Bob'

The cat has clawed its way out of the bag. I'm working on a documentary called Rondo and Bob about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre art director Robert A. Burns and the actor Rondo Hatton, whom Bob Burns was obsessed with. (See more at the web site here:

Robert A. Burns

 Austin American-Statesman columnist John Kelso made the announcement in his column:

Joe O’Connell is doing his part to promote Austin’s eccentricity.

O’Connell, an old newspaper guy who has written about film for several Texas papers, is shooting a documentary about the late Robert Burns, the man who put the gore in the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movie.

In case you haven’t been keeping up with your blood and guts horror classics, Burns did the macabre artwork for the film. Although you wouldn’t guess he’d head in that direction if you met him; Burns was a real sweetheart, a soft-spoken guy with what I suspect was a genius IQ.

There’s never been another one like Robert Burns. They didn’t throw away the mold, because there was no mold. Although his South Austin home was a bit moldy.

Rondo Hatton

Burns lived in a two-story dust-collector in South Austin furnished with props from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” There was the arm chair, so-called because of the prosthetic arms Burns attached. When I visited Burns, a battery-powered rubber hand was crawling across the floor upstairs with a knife run through it, a prop Burns put together for an upcoming film project.
Burns made these masks.

What project? Who knows? But I’m betting it wasn’t “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”

During my visit Burns sat me down and showed me the massacre movie on a small TV. His review? He had one complaint: All that screaming from characters being hacked to pieces made the film extremely loud.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

'The Son' to rise again on AMC

Good news for the Austin film/TV industry: Deadline reports that a second, 10-episode season of "The Son" is slated for AMC and almost certainly will be shot largely in Central Texas.

The show starring Pierce Brosnan (whose Texas accent is a bit "creative") is based on Philipp Meyer's epic novel of the same name, and the author is a driving force in the series as well. Read my interview with him in the Austin Chronicle.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Patty Hearst gets kidnapped in Austin

Filming begins next week in Austin on a limited-run retelling of heiress Patty Hearst's kidnapping, my sources confirm. It will continue through June 10.

It tells the tale of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst granddaughter, who was abducted from her Berkeley apartment by terror group the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974 and soon was sporting a gun of her own during a bank robbery.

The series comes from Austin-based Bat Bridge Entertainment, which shot some scenes at a former bank in Taylor last summer

Casting calls talk of a "major network" behind the "Untitled PH Series" seeking " featured extras for recreations of real people, so the actors will be matching historical figures, and their faces will not be seen straight-on." That network is either CNN or CBS. The latter talked of just such a series last year.

ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

Also currently shooting around Austin are a Comedy Central pilot Power Couple and Andrew Bujalski's indie film Support the Girls.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

It's time to "Uber-ize" the airline industry

My op/ed piece in the Austin American-Statesman:

Photos taken during San Francisco delay.
©Joe O'Connell
It’s not about one customer being dragged off one airplane; it’s about an industry attitude that must change or go the way of the cab industry. Shape up or get Uber-ized, United Airlines.

Consider the Facebook page I Hate United Airlines and its good friends: I Hate American Airlines and I Hate Delta Airlines. Angry customers are in awe that Southwest Airlines reportedly reacts to long delays by buying its customers pizza. A simple act of kindness is the aberration not the norm.

My wife and I traveled from Austin to Santa Barbara to see Van Morrison perform. A short connection in San Francisco and we’d be there. But our United flight was delayed again and again. Weather, we were told. We arrived in San Francisco minutes after our connecting flight had left. The next flight out was canceled — and the next one was already full of people from that canceled fight. OK, we said, put us up and fly us out tomorrow. We don’t pay for weather delays, the United rep said. Later we learned that United had had a well-publicized computer problem the day before. Was it lingering?

We made the best of it and went full-on tourist: Argonaut Hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf, cable car, lunch at Nick’s Lighthouse. To the airport with plenty of time to still make the Van Morrison show. Another delay, another. United workers blamed it on air traffic control this time. We booked an airport hotel, resigned to flying home without having ever set foot in Santa Barbara. Our flight soon was canceled. We’d take a morning flight home.

©Joe O'Connell
The next morning we presented boarding passes and were told our tickets were canceled — canceled because our flights were canceled. A third day in the airport. I started tweeting about our hostage crisis. How I’d taken a job washing dishes at Peet’s Coffee and living off of airport candy. On Facebook a friend sent footage of the show we’d missed: Morrison performing “Moondance” with actual full moon in the background “‘neath the cover of October skies.”

Throughout it all, United workers treated us with resignation mixed with wariness. For our trouble we got two $150 vouchers — a third the cost of our flights. Customer service was an afterthought.

Yes, Austin chased Uber away with threats of regulation, — but it’s clear Uber has forced the old cab company model to shape up or vanish. Use PayPal instead of needing cash? Check. Half the cost? Oh yeah. Less structure. Less fuss. Less hassle.

It’s the same with telephones and television. Expensive landlines? Dead or dying. Cable television? Hah. Innovation and change have made none of the old, tired models safe from welcome extinction. The airline industry needs to be next.

©Joe O'Connell
Consider this: United and other airlines charge for checked bags, so customers bring more carry-on luggage. A San Francisco TSA worker shook her head while she explained how it slowed down their process and overworked them. Security lines were long and stressful. Once we got to United’s smaller plane from Austin to San Francisco, they handed out tags to check luggage anyway. Overhead bins were too few and two small. We piled our bags by the entryway. The same process happened on our aborted flight home. It made no sense. The airline industry makes no sense.

We are living in a changing world where marketing pros talk of “connectedness” as the secret to success. They don’t mean networking; instead it’s about synthesis — taking the old ways and reworking them into something better. It’s what Uber did. It’s why Blockbuster Video and its exorbitant late fees seems like a distant memory. It’s why phone books are as useless as buggy whips.

I don’t have an answer to the airline industry problems, but I know airlines like United with their “friendly skies” need their creaky old models to change or step aside for something new. Please, creatives, Uber-ize them quickly. We need you.
©Joe O'Connell

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Austin-shot 'The Son' ready to premiere on AMC

Philipp Meyer was getting drunk on author and folklorist J. Frank Dobie's front porch when he decided to adapt his epic Texas novel The Son for the screen.

"Let's just do it ourselves," he recalls thinking, with the "ourselves" including his compadres Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman from the University of Texas' Michener Center for Writers. "The worst that can happen is we fail."

Read the rest at the Austin Chronicle.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Dracula vs. Frankenstein vs. Sam Sherman

Sam Sherman and Frankenstein from Joe O'Connell on Vimeo.

Just when we thought the documentary Love and Other Stunts was complete, I took a trip to legendary B-movie producer Sam Sherman's New Jersey house and met Frankenstein.

Sherman and I talked about the independent film scene of the '60s and '70s, about director Al Adamson (and Adamson's murder) and, of course, about stuntman Gary Kent whose story is the focus of Love and Other Stunts.

Sherman said he believed Kent was destined to be a major Hollywood star or perhaps the star of a television series, but instead Kent was soon back on the Adamson crew. But Kent's life did take interesting turns as you'll see in the doc. (Get regular updates on our Facebook page.)

Sherman said Kent's role as the good-guy lead in Satan's Sadists was a turning point for his Independent-International Pictures. Sherman is first and foremost a fan and a collector of film reels and memorabilia. He's also still actively working as head of IIP. And, as you can see, he knows just what box to open to reveal the star of Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

Find more about Love and Other Stunts here.

Sam Sherman: Photo by Joe O'Connell