“Moses stuttered …”
–Allan Holzman, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and son of a Polish-born local baker
Earlier this year, I rode a passenger train from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, arriving in Tinseltown just in time for the 828th anniversary of Richard the Lionheart’s decision not to sack Jerusalem because of bad weather.
Mother Nature helped to foil Christendom’s “Third Crusade” to capture the Holy Land. And I claimed a star in the “Travelers Hall of Fame” (the Ingenious Gentleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha presiding) with the completion of my 25th cross-country road trip — two by train, the rest by car and truck, and air travel (by definition) excluded.
After some 60 hours of sleeping in a small bunk, dining with strangers and enjoying sea-to-shining sea vistas (you haven’t glimpsed the sunrise until you’ve seen it spread across Kansas — gun-metal gray, blossom pink and cherry red, pastel yellow and Halloween orange), the Amtrak Southwest Chief pulled into Union Station L.A. early on a Monday morning in mid-January.
The Lionheart would have found conditions in the City of Angels also unfavorable, with temperatures in the lower 40s with powerful wind gusts and heavy rain, although I knew better than to complain to the folks back home where Bob Turk was pointing to single-digit numbers on TV.
Upon arrival in L.A., my spirits warmed with the acquaintance of two intriguing Jewish men, one a native Angeleno named Arnold Arons, 67, a miniature train enthusiast and third-generation maker of belts, visors and all things leather.
I met the other — Allan Holzman, Forest Park High School class of ’64 — in a Santa Monica coffee shop wearing my cartoon bird Orioles cap, a magnet for exiled denizens of Crabtown everywhere.
“My father delivered baked goods to all the shuls in Baltimore,” he said of Wolf “Willie” Holzman, whose bakery near the Crest Theatre stayed open until 11 p.m. to get the movie trade. “He made a Torah cake for my bar mitzvah.”
As for religion, Holzman, 73, is a proud Jew who married outside of the faith (“The ceremony was performed by a Zen rabbi”) and observes the laws of human kindness as best as he can.
“The only advice my father ever gave me about davening,” he said, “was to wait until the first person sits down before you sit down.”
Allan’s dreams were of the movie industry, and whether or not the work brings in dough, he has long given it his best shot. While making his mark as a film editor with a concentration in documentaries (his 2011 bio of Sheldon Leonard, the cruel bartender in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” is especially entertaining), Holzman’s greatest ambition has been to direct.
Standing between Holzman and his big chance? His tongue, tied in knots, he maintains, from the time of a childhood molestation while left in the care of a much older male relative.
Legendary director Roger Corman of “A Bucket of Blood” and “Swamp Women” fame — Holzman’s one-time boss and mentor, now 93 — once told the eager young man from 6918 Fieldcrest Road, “You’ll never be a director if you can’t stop stuttering.”
To which Holzman — like many a hard-headed Baltimorean (his mother Florence was a Forest Park classmate of Spiro “Nolo Contendere” Agnew, whose intellect she found wanting) — resolved to prove the King of B-Movies wrong.
Holzman counts a pair of Emmys among his honors, awarded in 1996 for “Survivors of the Holocaust,” a Steven Spielberg documentary. And instead of shying away from the impediment that still bedevils him from time to time, he titled both a memoir and a 2009 do-it-yourself documentary, “C-C-Cut: Autobiography of a Stuttering Filmmaker.”
“I’ve only been in eight fights in my life and they were all because someone made fun of my stuttering,” he said, noting that Marilyn Monroe and Winston Churchill are among history’s most famous stutterers.
Asked about the realities of filmmaking — an extraordinarily difficult landscape without any external pressures — Holzman said, “If you stutter, you grow up with disappointment every day because you fail many times every day. But when I direct, I’m young forever.”
Indeed, in his online comments describing “C-C-Cut,” Holzman writes, “[It’s] an autobiographical film about the trials and travails of a director/editor who stuttered his way through the Hollywood meat grinder and survived to stutter about it!”
Rafael Alvarez can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org