Hollywood Baker-The Escape Artist Movie
(reprinted from my old website, which is why it's not in first person)
In the 1970's Steve was asked to present a stunt to help promote the Society of American Magicians Convention in Hollywood. The stunt that he chose to do was his hanging straight jacket escape from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Through his connections, he was able to secure permission and get approval from the city police. For the stunt, half of the street would be blocked off in order to contain the crowd. As it turned out, they had to close the entire street because so many people came out to watch the escape. Steve received a ton of media coverage both in the press and television. The hanging straightjacket escape at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel created quite a buzz around town and helped to make the Hollywood insiders aware of Steve.
The P.R. Firm that Steve Baker used during this time was LaMagra & Wood. Because of Steve's celebrity status in the Los Angeles area, his press agents sent him out to several movie premiers. One of those was a movie called, "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings" starring Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones. It was a star studded affair and Steve was happy to be one of the many celebrities in attendance.
At the movie premier, a producer by the name of Doug Claybourne came up to Steve and mentioned that he admired his work and had actually been trying to contact him. Claybourne was in the midst of working on a project having to do with escapes or an escape artist. Steve gave him his card and Doug also spent some time talking to Steve's press people.
Some time went by before Doug contacted Steve. Doug invited him to visit his office at the American Zotrope Studios Lot. This was Francis Ford Coppolla's production studio. Doug was executive producer on a new movie called, The Escape Artist based on a book by David Wagoner.
This movie would mark the directorial debut of Caleb Deschanel. Caleb is one of the most respected movie cinematographers in Hollywood. His works include The Black Stallion, Apocalypse Now, Fly Away Home, Anna and the King, National Treasure and The Passion of the Christ. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for his work on The Right Stuff and The Natural.
At the meeting with Doug Claybourne, Caleb Deschanel and Stephen Zito, they wanted Steve's assistance as a technical advisor. But before they would agree to anything, the group wanted a demonstration. Mr. Escape whipped out a pair of thumbcuffs and went into his signature thumbcuff routine. Though they enjoyed it, they told Steve what they really wanted to know was whether or not he could get out of their handcuffs. Baker told them he could.
Doug Claybourne called the head of security who showed up a few minutes later. The security chief had a pair of peerless handcuffs. They locked Steve's hands behind his back and activated the double lock. Facing the four people present Steve began his work. Seconds later he brought his left hand to the front of his body, free of the restraints. Next he brought his right hand, still handcuffed to the front, and right there before everyone proceeded to slowly, gradually pull his hand free from the cuffs. They were floored! Mr. Escape got the job.
They gave Baker the script and told him to go through it and notate anything he thought would be a problem or would not be something feasible for an escape artist to do. After the meeting the group spent some time talking to Steve about his career accomplishments.
At the next meeting, Steve brought the script with him that he had reviewed. It was full of red markings, slashes and notations. They asked him to work with Stephen Zito, the head writer. Basically the two went through the entire script fixing all the problems.
Steve's next duty was to train young Griffin O'Neil, the son of actor Ryan O'Neil and the brother of Academy Award Winning Actress Tatum O'Neil. Griffin wanted to learn how to pick the locks on handcuffs which Steve taught him to do. Baker also convinced Griffin that there was a more effective way to get out of the cuffs that would be more visually interesting. He taught Griffin how to make it appear that his hands pulled free out of the tightly ratcheted handcuffs. Baker also worked with Griffin on breathing exercises because several of the key scenes took place underwater.
The movie relied heavily on the theme of magic. Though he felt he could handle it, Steve met a young magician who specialized in card magic named Ricky Jay, that might be perfect for the job. On a flight back from Canada to Los Angeles Steve asked Ricky if he'd be interested in working on the magic portion of this movie. At this point in his career, Ricky had no involvement in motion pictures and jumped at the opportunity. Steve contacted the movie's producers and suggested Ricky and he was brought on board.
Interestingly, Ricky and Steve were not the only magicians in the project. The roll of the father had not yet been cast. Steve Baker suggested another young magician who was breaking into acting, his name was Harry Anderson. Harry later gained fame as Judge Harry Stone on Night Court.
The Escape Artist movie didn't do particularly well at the box office but over the years has garnered a cult-like following because of some of the people in the cast. The cast included: Teri Garr, Raul Julia, Dezi Arnez, Huntz Hall, Josh Hamilton, Jackie Coogan, Harry Anderson, and Ricky Jay even had a bit part. Incidentally, since that time, Ricky Jay's movie career has blossomed.
- Commentary by Steve Baker I had a great time working on this movie. I was initially the technical advisor. When the producers first showed me the script it was clear there were somethings that were just not within the scope of reality for a magician. So I helped with the rewrite. While working on the movie, I had gotten a call from the folks at the Alan Thicke Show in Canada asking me to come up and appear on their show. I flew to Canada and did the show along with magician Ricky Jay and actor Raymond Burr. Ricky and I shared a flight back to Los Angeles after the show. I felt he was ideal to consult on the magic portion of this project. I really wanted to stick to the escape portion only as I felt it fit my persona much better. Not that I have anything against magicians, but at that time in my life, I wanted to be known as an escape artist and not as a magician. I suggested Ricky to Doug Claybourne, one of the other producers of the movie. I was kept on retainer even though my part of the movie had been done. Much to my surprise I received a phone call from Doug Claybourne a while later informing me that they wouldn't need me any longer and they were going to keep Ricky as the Technical Consultant. When you watch the movie credits Ricky Jay is named as the Technical Consultant. However, near the very end of the credits there is a short paragraph written to me, by the producers, expressing their gratitude for my contributions to the movie. To be honest, I liked that more than getting the T.C. title. Doug Claybourne and Caleb Deschanel have remained friends over these many years. Steve