One thing about Robert Altman; he wasn’t afraid to fail. I dearly loveThe Player and I’m one of the few members of my generation who prefers Altman’s M*A*S*H to the TV series. I admireNashville, though I don’t particularly enjoy it, and I enjoy Prairie Home, though I don’t admire it very much. I think parts of Short Cuts are brilliant, and I really enjoy Gosford Park, which is Robert Altman’s very successful attempt to make a Merchant-Ivory film (much like Mike Leigh’sTopsy-Turvy).

The thing I admire most about Altman, though, was his spectacular, stubborn, shamelss, pig-headed willingness to fail, and fail spectacularly. When Altman was on his game, he was one of the most unique filmmakers to arise from Hollywood’s finest decade, the 70s. More iconic, groundbreaking films that would never get made today were released in the 70s than in all the years since, and Altman was one of the strongest voices in that chorus of disonants (or, perhaps, dissidents would be more appropriate).

But when he was off… Wow. Pret-a-Porter. O.C. & Stiggs. (I went to high school with Amanda Hull, who has a supporting role in O.C.) Popeye. Dr. T & The Women. That there is some stinky shit. Most directors as they age have the grace to fall into a comfortable mediocrity — Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Martin Scorcese — or else they fall apart altogether — George Lucas, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks. Right up to the end, you never knew what you were going to get with Altman. Hell, Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland tried to get him fired from M*A*S*H because they seriously thought he was a lunatic. I admire that.

A few years ago, I went to a Christmas party held by the crazy, swinging, playboy owner of an ESL-teaching venture in the company of my then-girlfriend who was crazy, hot, crazy, kind of slutty, jealous and uptight all at the same time. And did I mention crazy?

At any rate, she worked for this ESL company, and the owner apparently thought he was Hugh Hefner’s little brother. He had bought Altman’s old house in Malibu that was sold when Altman and Dyan Cannon got divorced, and turned it into a big swinger’s pad complete with hidden room where he would have hookers come to strip for him, and a huge shower that had opaque windows which he could make transparent without the (presumably) female occupant knowing.

Emotionally, he was twelve. When he found out I was in porn, he was fascinated. Crazy-uptight-sexy chick was horrified. She was even MORE horrified when I told her I was sure ESL-Dude had spy cameras hidden in the house, ‘cuz he was just that kind of guy. She kept telling me I was crazy. Until I started finding the cameras and pointing them out the her. They were in all the bathrooms, the changing cabana near the pool, the guest shower…

I think she quit the job soon after.

But the house itself was really weird. Apparently, it was originally two houses. One was built on the property next door after Altman had bought the place, and it wrecked his view so much he just bought it and had a hallway put through to connect them. Then the second house became “Dyan Cannon’s closet” according the Mr. “English as a Swinging Language.”

This would be great if the second house hadn’t been built in a completely different style from the first house. Once was 50’s beach pad, the other was late-70s modern. Kylie could have made it work, and maybe Dyan Cannon did as well. ESL-Dude, not so much.

I’ve thought a lot about that house over the past few days, and the more I think of it, the more I think it was probably perfect for Altman in his heyday. It was eccentric, terrific and awful all at once.

Thanks for everything, Bob, Great, hella-bad, and all the in-betweens.

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