Sadly, this past week on August 9th, 2013, Gary Shusett passed away after an illness. He was a lovely person, with a sweet and gruff disposition, and to those with Hollywood dreams, he was an important beacon of light.
We met Gary a few years ago at his school, the Sherwood Oaks Experimental College, which he ran with the help of Christine Owens in its later years. Gary was a source of delight to us. He was enthralled with movies. At the Director’s Guild Awards that we attended with him as part of a group, he didn’t even care about the wonderful filet mignon dinner (where Christine lovingly encouraged him to eat his veggies–which he was less than thrilled with). He was all about talking to people who made movies because he loved so much about the process and the experience of a good movie. And he shared his passion with other people. That night, he introduced us to Josh Brolin, Danny Boyle, Joel Coen, and Jay Roach. He had been around a long time, having grown up in Hollywood, and being the brother of Ronald Shusett (wrote and produced Alien, Total Recall and Minority Report).
He often told us stories about now-famous people before they were famous (driving around Los Angeles with him was a riot since he had a story for every landmark, and the funny thing is he’d turn around and say, “Stop me if I’m boring you.” Gary was NEVER boring). He loved telling the story of Sylvester Stallone bringing in an unfinished, black and white Rocky cut, and one of the students was so disappointed with the lack of polish in the film, that he complained and called the entire thing a sham and wanted his money back since he had signed up to meet Hollywood players, and he thought Sylvester Stallone’s film was pure amateur. Gary chuckled over that one every time he told it.
Gary knew how to tell a story. He had a good ear for a log line, which helped many writers synthesize their pitch. He had a very sharp intellect inside that quiet demeanour of his. He was also a man of simple tastes. For instance, we once asked him what his favorite dessert was, and it turns out it was orange jello, which is actually kind of underrated, just like him.
Since he loved the movies, we’d always hoped he would consent to one of his famous director friends making a documentary about him, but this was one movie that he didn’t want to be a part of. While, he didn’t object to being the subject of a documentary, it was having the camera on him that seemed to make him uncomfortable with that kind of attention. We were really surprised to hear that because he was as comfortable talking to one person as he was talking to twenty, and everyone in the business knew him already, but he seemed pretty set in not being the star of that movie.
Another sweet thing about Gary was that sometimes in unapproachable Hollywood, Gary answered his own phone, and would take a few minutes to give career advice. Probably the last piece of advice he gave us was, “You don’t want to lift your skirts up, for no big deal, you know what I mean?” He was talking about a movie deal. Of course. And we won’t, Gary, we really won’t.
We miss you Gary, and are grateful for having known you. Although Sherwood Oaks won’t be the same without you, we hope your legacy will continue.