Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs were heroes of mine and I got chances to work with them both. I wish I could have worked with them in their prime.
Thompson was the bigger disappointment because he was still lucid, barely. It was for an APPLE POWERBOOK commercial and he was wrecked by the time he got on camera (I had spent the earlier part of the day filming Oliver Stone). He was to speak of pertinent things and we would connect it to the POWERBOOK in some manner. All he was able to do was rant about Nixon. He couldn’t get off the subject and there was no way we could use this material. Finally I told him that the Nixon rant was old news, get over it. He looked at me angrily and half-shouted, ‘Are you messing with me?’ I half expected him to come over and try to punch me out. I answered, provoking him more and wonder of wonders we got a moment or two of useful stuff but the commercial never ran. The client felt he was too controversial. Another hero bites the dust. I loved FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS but the guy that wrote it seemed to be long gone. Years later, I was offered a chance to direct the movie. I reread the book and called my agent and said it’s impossible, all the good stuff is interior monologue. They should animate it using Ralph Steadman. I think she hung up on me.
Burroughs was another story. He was so old by that time he was barely coherent. I marveled at the fact that he was still alive and living in a bungalow on a dirt road in Lawrence, Kansas. What a career path! Lawrence, Kansas. Who said ‘There’s no there, there.’ The commercials were for a new Nike shoe. I’m not sure that Burroughs understood anything since his dialogue was purposely obscure. He had several handlers that did everything. They lived in another bungalow down the street. I asked them where they kept the guns. I’ve always been fascinated by the story of how Burroughs came to kill one of his wives by trying to shoot an apple from atop her head. The part I’m interested in is how she let him. I wrote that into a screenplay once but I can’t remember why. The commercials were successful, although the art director was more concerned about the color of the blue background behind Burroughs. We shot it green so he could make it any color he wanted. He never got his color right. I suggested that he fly around adjusting the various television sets. Wieden fired him soon
During the filming, I asked about a Burroughs book, JUNKY (Junkie?). I had liked the book when I first read it. I thought it was better than NAKED LUNCH. I asked if there was a screenplay. Burroughs’ assistant said that Burroughs and Dennis Hopper had worked on a screenplay in the seventies. He said he’d look around. I asked Dennis about it and he said he didn’t remember the seventies. Later I got a copy of the screenplay from Burroughs’ people. It sucked. So did the FEAR AND LOATHING movie. Let sleeping dogs lie.
Do you think it’s strange that each used his middle initial? Could there be another William Burroughs or a Hunter Thompson?