Compendium Cliché Productions
The Jim Armstrong Legacy
Sometime in the late 50s I met up with an incredibly camp madman who had been laboring for hours with primitive equipment putting together extravagantly written and produced parodies of archetypal Hollywood block-busters. They made me laugh, and so I agreed to help him with further production. The next thing I knew our living room was full of actors being directed through the twisted plot of yet another Compendium Cliché Production.
Shortly thereafter Jim was putting on a musical review, Up for Air. Naturally I got roped into doing sound and recording a performance, of which I kept some of the better numbers (click here). The one in which two recent arrivals in heaven languish on a cloud in utter boredom is brilliant [My favorite line: "We could always go down to the Pin and dance."], and the running skit in which two housewives discuss the upcoming Presidential election could have been written yesterday, or tomorrow.
Later when I went to work at KPFA, Jim and I met up again. Almost without discussion we agreed that the CCP classics should go into production again, this time with proper studio space and equipment. Ever since, deteriorating copies of those rejuvenated masterpieces have been circulating among avid collectors. Now at last, here are digital copies from my own second-generation dubs, amazingly pristine after four decades on the shelf.
I often wondered where Jim got the abstruse information with which his scripts were peppered. I knew that as a child he had traveled in Europe with his family. Years later I visited the Johann Haart winery in the Bernkastel Domain of the Mosel and came away with a case of Piesporter Goldtröpchen Spätlese, the unpronounceable wine that figures prominently in his spy thriller send-up, Istanbul Express. (I still have an unopened bottle.) Had the youthful Jim passed this way? Driving back to the highway I spotted a modest castle-like utility substation, displaying a sign with the words, Wasserwerk Thalfang. Quite by accident I must have stumbled upon the inspiration for The Tower of Talfang ! I duly photographed it.
Back home, I had it enlarged, packaged it along with a bottle of the Piesporter, and phoned the last number I had for Jim to verify that he was still there. The line had been disconnected and Information were unable to come up with an alternative. I enquired via KPFA; no one knew what had become of him. Since then I’ve tried to trace him, but without success. From what I know of his proclivities, he was probably among the first to die of aids. If any readers of this page can shed any light, I would be grateful.
June 2009 An important footnote. Frank Rich’s latest column in the New York Times reminds me what risks Jim took, social as well as medical. Even when I first knew him half a century ago he was openly and proudly “high camp”, which was the designation for “gay” that you could then get away with in Berkeley and parts of Hollywood. Genius though he was, it killed his career as well as his body.
Here are all five of Jim's amazing productions; familiar or unfamiliar, they need no introduction.
Technical Production: John Whiting, Ernest Lowe, Jim Armstrong
Generously made available by Jerry Haendiges