An Interview with
It's April 22, 2004. I'm at home instead of at the office apparently with some mild form of the plague. At 3pm I have an interview with George Barris. George Barris is a legend in the automotive industry. He put the "K" in Kustom. I don't want to have to reschedule the interview, so I quickly go through a blood transfusion. Damn am I a dedicated Film Monthly staffer. Did I mention I might have the plague? Did I mention this is my interview with George Barris; he's a legend so show some respect.
Gary: George Barris it's great to talk with you.
George: My pleasure. I'm happy to be a part of it.
Gary: Well George in preparing for this interview I recently read a lot about your life and more specifically your professional career. Most would say that the name George Barris is associated with the phrase car designing legend, but in addition to that would it be safe to say that you have either built or designed nearly every cool car in American Cinema and television history?
George: I would say we have a good percentage. We are very fortunate going clear back to the forties.
Gary: Could you tell us how you got started customizing cars?
George: Well I was raised in northern California in a little town called Roseville. When I was going to school I liked automobiles. My parents owned a hotel and restaurant. My brother and I were going to school and they understood we liked cars and so they gave me their hand me down 1925 Buick. So I proceeded to Kustomize way back then in the late thirties. And in those days we didn't have anything so I would go to the hardware store and the dime store to get hot fox tails and mud flaps. But the big problem I had was I went into my mother's cabinets and took the knobs and handles off her cabinets and Kustomized the grill of my car. So here I had a 1925 Buick with all these parts. Of course when mom got home at night she'd go to open up her cabinets there were no knobs or handles. And of course she knew who to blame. So that's how I got started. I went to school and learned how to do some wielding at a local body shop. I Kustomized my own car and the kids liked what I was doing so then we started Kustomizing for them. Then in the forties I thought that as long as I changed the cars I would change the terminology and I changed the spelling of Custom with a C to Kustom with a K. Because my cars are different and so should the name.
Gary: Where did you go from there?
George: So I came down to Southern California where I proceeded to Kustomize cars here. We were pioneering, and we called it pioneering because I was pioneering cars that were to be Kustomized in different forms and shapes. Finally in 1948 Robert Peterson had started Hot Rod magazine, we were able to take my Kustom cars, become part of the staff and put them in the magazine. Then came Motor Trend and other magazines and because of them it became more of a world event because we were in the media. And also we started doing film work. We started doing cars for Clark Gable, Lionel Hampton, John Wayne and all these other stars that liked cars because we were doing films in the fifties and the films had a lot of Kustom hot rods and such. In the sixties we had television, which made us a lot bigger and stronger. We made cars for the Beverly Hillbillies, The Munsters, The Green Hornet, The Monkeys, right on up the ladder into Knight Rider, The Dukes of Hazard, The A-Team, and many other hot television shows as well as other movies. We were doing James Bond films, The Blues Brothers; we just kept knocking off any movies we could get a hot car into.
Gary: So pretty much George Barris Productions was the place everybody was calling.
George: We were very fortunate. We were picked out for a lot of the different films mainly because we did perform, we were professionals and we had the experience. And we never failed to meet a shoot date.
Gary: Tell me about the car you made for the new MTI release Devil's Knight.
George: The film is called Devils Knight. It's about a family that had a wild Kustom car. I built the car with my colleague Jerry. Jerry and I built this car from a 1941 Buick called the C.C.C., which stood for the Chrysler City Coupe. In the movie the car gets blown up and then the sister of the brother who was killed with the car comes back to investigate. The thing is the car was haunted and keeps appearing in strategic parts of the movie. After the car and the brothers were destroyed it keeps coming back to haunt people. We picked the movie to go direct to DVD and video because we are doing some cross promotion where we are having the actual car appear at various locations like it was haunted. Meaning it's appearing without people knowing it's going to appear just like in the movie.
Gary: Like at car shows and events?
George: Yeah like at car shows, or at a Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. You will drive by and see the car and go there's the C.C. C. The car was also picked by Street Rodder Magazine for Street Rodder of the year for 2003. See the interesting thing about this film is a major production company didn't do it; it was done by an independent. They got the money and took the efforts to make a unique little film.
George: And I think it's interesting that the independent can get into the big stores like Blockbuster or Hollywood Video and can do cross promotion like we are doing. I mean we are making personal appearances with the car. We do the World of Wheels shows and the Auto-rama shows and it becomes a major part of the promotion because the car enthusiasts get to see the car in person from the film. And Hot Wheels has just announced that they are going to make the miniature die cast version of this car.
Gary: And that's what independent film is all about. People with names like you helping out and making things like this happen.
George: And we're happy to do it.
Gary: George what are some of your favorite auto creations you have made for television or cinema?
George: That's kind of like asking a family of ten kids which one you like best. In my case I got a thousand of them. And in this case any one of them is a favorite because of what we did and the purpose of what they were used for. Such as the Batmobile for the Batman television show or the Munsters or all these different cars...they were all favorites. And the purpose was the entertainment value. The acceptance by the fans that they liked the car. The history of how we did these cars and why it was exciting. So that's kind of how I judge my favorites and there are so many great favorites that I love every one of them.
Gary: Well out of the cars I've seen, because there's so many of them, I really love both Munster's Cars. And didn't you do the Ford Torino in Starsky and Hutch?
George: Yeah we did the Ford Torino in the original TV show in the seventies and then were asked to make a duplicate of that car for the new movie. So we duped the original car. And we built over twelve cars that were used for the stunts and the principle cars.
Gary: Do you have any other projects coming up that you would like to talk about George?
George: Well we're doing a film right now with Tom Cruise called Collateral. We are doing another TV show called Beverly Hills SUV with NBC. And I just finished an ABC extreme makeover where they remodeled a house and I Kustomized grandma's car. And we are now into the reality shows since they are the top thing. So we are having a George Barris reality show where we challenge car designers to Kustomize certain cars and duplicate one of my famous movie cars.
Gary: George you've had an intense career, obviously a pioneer in your field and the auto industry. Do you feel that you have left a legacy and if so what would that be?
George: I feel that the legacy I will be leaving is a collection of vast motor vehicles used in all different categories. I mean, movies, TV, Kustom jobs, personal use, hot rods and everything else with my three family members which is my daughter JoJi, my son Bret and my grandson Jared because they are talking over the organization which I have created and marketing where we now have collectable items of t-shirts, and photos. I have a photo collection of all the work we did since the forties. Also the Motor Books Internationals are printing books about all the cars I've done. And Hot Wheels are doing a die cast series on the many popular movie cars I've made. So that's a good legacy to leave I hope.
Gary Schultz in an indie filmmaker from Chicago. Gary Schultz is an indie filmmaker from Chicago. Some people would say he watches too many horror movies. But then again some people are addicted to processed cheese products.You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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