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Andy Warhol once said that in the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes. My time frame was closer to five seconds.

In 1995,  I was contacted by the Waiting for Guffman movie production team. They had seen an old print of Laurel and Hardy I had penciled back in the 80s. In the script, the main character Corky St. Clair opens a curio shop and the team wanted me to draw various strange but funny posters for the shop. In the final version of the film, this idea evolved into Remains of the Day lunch boxes and My Dinner with Andre action figures for kids.

I agreed to the job, then, the team had another idea--- I should paint the old portrait of the fictional town founder Blaine Fabin. Fabin tried to lead a group of settlers to the West Coast, but stopped in Minnesota instead, thinking it was California. It was a great pleasure working with Joe Garrity, the production designer-what a nice person! Joe laid out the concept--in the town museum would be an old painting of Blaine fighting a bear. Could I produce such an oil painting in five days?

At the time, I was working full-time in the Texas Legislature so sleep would have to be secondary. Also, I had never finished a painting with oils. I had done some watercolors and experimented with oils, but not a complete oil painting. So when Joe asked me if I could do the job, I naturally said "Yes."


Man fighting a bear. At the time, The Simpsons was new, and the popular episode was one of their town founder fighting a bear. I had to get a copy of the show to make sure my sketch was different. Joe gave me some copies (shown here) of pictures to get the feel they wanted. My friend (and future wife) Scarlett told me of the Crockett High School mascot who dressed as Davy. I called the kid and his parents if he would allow me to snap a few pictures of him posing to fight. But he failed to show up, losing his five seconds of fame (Hope you're reading this kid!). A big set-back. Fortunately, the Davy Crockett painting in the State Capitol was available, and it gave me great ideas on texture, background, and colors for the Fabin painting.


There wasn't much time so I drew the main sketch on canvas and started applying color. At this point (see photo), I showed it to Joe for approval. He liked it but wanted Fabin to have this surprised look on his face. I went back home and added the expression. As I kept looking at that ludicrous face, I wondered what would cause a man to have that look in the middle of a bear fight. There was born my first creative moment of motion picture comedy. The bear would step on his foot. 

The bear itself turned out to be a bigger problem. I wanted the look of the painting to be early, almost primitive American, where the figures look flat and strangely posed. My first bear head rendering looked more like a dog (as most paintings of the period did). It took several days before it hit me that the bear should look like a man wearing a bear suit.

In the final stages, I became preoccupied that the painting have an old look. So I (stupidly) applied a thick varnish coat, took a nail and scratched it up. Later Joe told me that the film crew spent a good part of a day filming the painting. I realized that it might have been because of the glare on the varnish. In the final version, they show the painting in a strange angle, to reduce the glare.

I needed one more approval to complete it, so I met with Joe.   He took me in to meet Christopher Guest, who was in a chair getting makeup.   Chris was extremely nice and very quick-witted and loved the bear's foot. I was invited to be an extra in some filming but my job prevented it.

I did attend the Austin premiere of Guffman. Fred Willard hosted, and it was terrific to see that the painting made the final cut.  Guest reportedly shot over 60 hours of footage for the two-hour movie. There were giggles when the painting was shown, and the camera panned down to the bear's foot on Fabin's. The audience loved it.

I didn't get a credit on Guffman but the experience (and fame?) were well worth it.


Where's the painting?

All these years, I thought Christopher Guest had it.  He took his seat in the House of Lords sometime after Guffman, and I told everyone that British nobility owned the painting. Guest is married to Jamie Lee Curtis so the painting had two famous owners. Then the DVD was released, and Guest (with Eugene Levy, pictured right) on the director's commentary said that he didn't know where the painting ended up, and it was probably on Ebay somewhere. If anyone knows its location, let me know. I'd love to have it back.


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