Last week, talk about “Hollywood’s Biggest Night” was hijacked by some men behaving badly. Sadly, that moment usurped the many beautiful Oscar moments that were particularly meaningful for our community.
Let’s start with openly queer host Wanda Sykes walking the red carpet with her wife and banding with her co-hosts to open the show by repeating the word gay several times in response to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that just passed in Florida. There was the chance to see Elliot Page in all his newfound glory announcing the nominees for original screenplay. There was Lady Gaga and Liza with a “Z” Minnelli, and the beautiful (inside and out) Jessica Chastain who dedicated part of her speech to “members of the LGBTQ community” and said, “we’re faced with discriminatory and bigoted legislation that is sweeping our country with the only goal of further dividing us.” and later continued, “we want to be accepted for who we are, accepted for who we love and to live a life without the fear of violence or terror.” I love that she used “we and us” in her speech. And of course there was Ariana DeBose, the first openly queer woman of any color, to win an acting award at the Oscars who assured us that, “There’s a place for us”. With movies on my mind, this week I spoke to an old friend, movie lover and former PR guy, Frank Chille.
What I remember from when I met you was that you were always hooking us up with movie tickets. How did you get into the business?
In 1982 I was working on selling ads for my college newspaper, “Common Sense” and I also was the film critic for the paper. It was the official newspaper for Camden County College. At the time, all of the film studios had exchanges, local offices in all different cities. They’d handle publicity and promotion as well as film distribution. I wasn’t even aware that they had a Philadelphia office, but my editor asked me to go and see if I could drum up some advertisers for the paper. Warner Brothers placed an ad and invited me to go to one of their press junkets in New York. It was so much fun. Here I was this young guy and I was meeting actors and doing interviews with them. I ended up becoming an intern for them and it was really exciting. They hired me full time in 1984.
Were you going to school for journalism?
I was studying journalism and liberal arts. I got involved writing for the newspaper because I really had an interest in film. I’ve loved films my entire life even though back then I didn’t know anything about the things that go along with getting a movie out. When I received my first press kit I was absolutely amazed to see what went along with promoting a film. There were glossy 8 x 10 photos, production notes, press releases giving you all sorts of information about the film and cast and director.
Do you remember the first one?
Yes, it was for “An American Werewolf in London” and after receiving it I said, “Someday, somehow, someway, I want to be involved in this business.”
What did you want to do before that?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an actor. More so on tv than in the movies, [laughs] people told me I’d make a very good villain for the Batman series! Of course that didn’t happen and for me, so publicity and promotions were the next best thing.
Who was an early celeb you interacted with?
The first person I ever interviewed was Ralph Macchio. He had just made the film “The Outsiders” which was a huge hit for the studio. This was in 1983 and I went to NY to interview him, and while we were talking about “The Outsiders” he mentioned that he’d just received the script for another film and he wasn’t sure that he wanted to do it. I asked him what the film was about and he told me that it was about this young guy who was learning martial arts and it was called, “The Karate Kid.” And I said, “Well, if you ask me, it sounds very interesting. If I were you, I would do it.” Now whether he took my advice or not, who knows, but he did go on to make it. And it’s pretty much the film that made him a huge star.
So were you working for Warner Brothers at the time?
I was interning for them in the publicity department and still writing for the school newspaper. My mentor at WB was a guy named Lige, he showed me how to handle the press, how to keep the talent happy, and all about how to hold a press junket. The Philly ones were fun because the talent would come into Philly and they usually loved it because it was different then being in NY or LA. The first one I got to work with on a press junket was Tom Cruise. He was doing a movie called “Risky Business,” and prior to that he was also in “The Outsiders” with Ralph. So he came into Philadelphia and believe it or not, it was really hard to get the press interested in him because he wasn’t that well known yet. I worked with him for two days and there was something about him that was special. He handled himself well, he was very confident, but not cocky. Very, very nice, not a problem whatsoever, and once he sat down with the media, he was terrific. We did radio, TV and print and everyone seemed to agree that he was going places. And then of course that film blew up and made him the star that he is today.
First Ralph then Tom? I’m starting to think that it’s you. Frank Chille, Star Maker!
[Laughing] I tell you something fun, at the time the studio had a very small budget for “Risky Business.” They didn’t even have money for a limo, so I drove Tom Cruise to the airport in my dad’s Cadillac. I kid you not. One of my biggest regrets is that Tom gave me his phone number and I lost it! Who knows, I could have been his personal publicist! I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
We’re in the same boat, Stevie Wonder gave me his number once and I lost it.
Oh no! I think about it often. I’m still one of his biggest fans. I know people have mixed opinions of him, but he was awesome on the tour and he is a fantastic actor and a nice guy.
And who could argue with that smile and jawline?
Yes, that grin, and he had the whitest teeth!
So you went from intern at Warner Brothers to working for them full time?
Yes, I got hired as a field representative for WB. My main territory was Philadelphia, but I handled all of Southeast PA, Southern NJ, and Delaware. Part of my job was promoting films that were about to be released theatrically. I would set up ‘sneak peek’ screenings, and we’d tie-in with local media, radio stations, tv stations and print media, who would do ticket give-aways.
And from what I remember when I was at channel 57, we’d get a lot of promotional swag as well.
Oh yes, my God! At that point I was with Allied Advertising. Tee shirts, posters, action figures, comic books, baseball caps, you name it. That’s when the studios had big budgets for that kind of stuff. The film that had the most swag ever was the first Batman movie in 1989 with Michael Keaton. That film took about 10 years off of my life! It was a 6 month campaign and everyone wanted a part of it. My phone was ringing off the hook with people who wanted something, not just every media outlet, but every store, every restaurant, everyone wanted in. I must have given away 300 posters just to stores on South Street, they were in windows from Broad and South all the way down to Front Street. I did a ton of ticket give-aways too and it was like giving away gold. Everybody wanted to see that film!
Cool. What are 3 of your favorite swag items that you’ve kept?
I have an original Batman action figure that the studio made for promotions and I have a Robin action figure from 1994’s “Batman Forever” and I kept several of the posters from the Batman series as well as from “Lethal Weapon.” Hold on, let me go look at my collection… Oh! Yes, I also have the original movie poster from “Interview with the Vampire.”
So is your house filled with memorabilia?
Not filled, but I have quite a lot of things that I’m sure my husband would be happy for me to part with. But they’re all memories of the things I did, so he understands.
Do you remember the first movie you ever saw?
“Mary Poppins.” I think I saw it 5 or 6 times; my grandparents took me, then my parents took me, and I was fascinated by the music, the acting, the animation, it was such a feel good film. That got me interested in film. I loved the original “Planet of the Apes,” I was a fan of Rod Sterling but didn’t even realize until later that he had done the screenplay. And I’ve always been into horror – “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” and my favorite, the “Creature from the Black Lagoon!” But my favorite film of all time is “West Side Story.” Between video and TV I’ve seen it over 100 times and I’ve seen the stage production over 30 times. I loved the Steven Spielberg remake too. I wish it had done better at the box office, but I think we’re still somewhat in pandemic mode. Hopefully people will start going back to the theater because there still is nothing like seeing a movie on the big screen.
There’s a communal aspect to it. When I’m screening comedies at home, it’s so much different then when you’re in a theater. People will laugh at things you didn’t pick up or didn’t find funny by yourself, but you get into it when everyone is laughing together.
Exactly, you hear other people laugh and you get it. I really hope people start going back and enjoying movies the way they should be enjoyed.
Let’s talk about you. Where were you born?
I’m originally from South Philadelphia, but the family moved to South Jersey, to a little town called Blackwood, when I was 4 or 5. It was a very tight knit community but I still feel like my roots are in South Philly.
Tell me about the family and who inspired your love of movies?
I have a brother Steve and a sister Dana. My parents are happily still with us and they’re both retired. My dad was a CPA and my mom was involved with real estate. I think they both inspired me, my mom was into love stories, movies like “Madam X” and lots of tear jerkers; my dad was more into the action, adventure films, so I had an appreciation for both genres.
What’s a fun family memory?
Every summer, like so many Italian Americans from South Philadelphia, they’d pack us up in the car and we’d go ‘down the shore.’ We’d go to Wildwood and I loved it all, the rides, the rollercoaster, the haunted house, the beach, it was great.
What did you do for fun?
I loved playing kickball, and my friends and I would form these TV clubs where we would pretend to be characters from shows like “Batman,” “The Green Hornet,” “Lost in Space,” and put on shows. Back then we had such great imaginations and could play together instead of just texting each other. And I loved my G.I. Joes. I still go to collectible conventions. I feel so bad for kids today, I think they really miss out on a lot. I used to build models and it took such patience and imagination to build and paint them, now everyone is just on cell phones all day. I saw a family at a restaurant recently and everyone was typing on their phones, even the parents! Sad.
Agreed. Speaking of parents, are mom and/or dad good cooks?
We’re Italian, so of course! My mom and grandmother taught me to make meatballs and sausage. I remember the first time I cooked for my great-grandmother who was right off the boat from Sicily, and she caught me using Ragu for the sauce, which we call the gravy. She let me have it! I never made that mistake again.
When did you realize your attraction to boys?
Probably in high school, but I didn’t start to date until I was in college. I was very lucky in that my family was a little shocked at first but then they were fine with it and my friends were all very supportive. It was the mid ‘80s and I’d decided that I was going to live my life openly, I had nothing to be ashamed of, I’m not very religious, but I truly believe this is how God made me to be. It was very liberating and I never had second thoughts about being open.
And very brave for that time. How did you meet your hubby?
I placed an ad in the PGN! Back then the classified ads took up about 15 pages of the paper. I preferred meeting people that way over going to the clubs. So I met Jeff in 1997, we became domestic partners in 2004, we had a civil union in 2007, and we legally married in 2013. We had to get married in Delaware because at the time, NJ still wasn’t allowing same sex marriages. We went through every step along the way as we progressed towards full legal recognition. April 17th will be our 25th anniversary!
Congrats! So some random questions, if you were wearing headphones, what genre of music would you typically be listening to?
Boy bands. I love New Kids on the Block, I think I’ve been to 15 of their concerts; Backstreet Boys, groups like that. I’ve been to all of the concerts, in fact, I’m going to see NKoTB when they come back to Philadelphia. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them and taking pictures. That was another cool part of my job because often the studios would promote the soundtrack along with the picture, so I got to meet a lot of people in the music industry as well.
Three favorite celeb encounters?
John Bon Jovi; I was promoting Batman at the time and I gave him a tee shirt and he responded with a big hug. Of course, Tom Cruise. And hmmm, there were so many. Oh! You know who was really cool? Steven Seagal. He was a lot of fun to be with when we were promoting his film, “Above the Law.” His plane was delayed so by the time we got him to the Latham hotel, the restaurant was closed. Some stars would have had a fit and yelled, ‘I have nothing to eat’ blah, blah, blah, especially since it was late. But he let us take him to the Melrose Diner and he absolutely loved it. One more I just thought of, and I actually fell in love with her, Halle Berry. She was incredible to work with, so professional and lovely to everyone.
What are you up to these days?
Mostly retired, but I’ve been doing some work for professional wrestlers which I enjoy. We have a lot of great talent here and the sport is expanding.
What’s a favorite movie quote?
“A heart is is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others”, from “The Wizard of Oz.”