Being There

[Director] Hal Ashby was scouting locations for The Last Detail in Canada, accompanied by casting director Lynn Stalmaster. Charles Mulvehill, his line producer, was supposed to meet his flight at LAX. He arrived a few minutes late. There was Stalmaster, but no Ashby.

“Where’s Hal?”

“The strangest thing happened. We got to the gate in Toronto, they stopped Hal, and they searched him, and they led him off.”

“Led him off where?”

“I don’t know. To jail, I guess.”

“Didn’t you get off the plane?”

“Hell no! I thought I should come home.”

Says Mulvehill, “We all carried dope at that point. Hal had just enough on him for a joint, maybe a little hash. It wasn’t anything we considered heavy narcotics.”

Ashby lamely told the inspectors he was carrying herbs.

“Hal sometimes had a tenuous grip on reality,” says Jerry Ayers, who was producing the picture for Columbia. “The Canadian authorities, seeing this man who looked like a Vietnamese farmer, with his mosslike beard hanging down, well, who else would they search? Hal would be the first person you would stop. You wouldn’t even need the dogs to sniff him out. He just had a sign on him: ‘I’m a drugged-out hippie.'”

Mulvehill phoned Ayres at the studio, said, “Hal’s in jail. Do something.”

Ayres called the Columbia lawyers, while Mulvehill hopped a plane to Toronto to bring him back. “I got off the plane and walked into the main airport area, and there was Hal, going through his suitcase, trying to repack it. Today, we would look at him as a bag man, a street person.”

“‘Hal, you’re out.’

“Yeah, I’m out.'”

The studio lawyers had freed him. Ashby and Mulvehill got on a plane to LA. Just after touchdown, as the plain was taxiing to the gate, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker: “Is there a Hal Ashby on board?” Mulvehill thought, Okay, the juice is finally starting to flow, now we’re going to get the red carpet treatment from Columbia. He waved his hand, said “I’m with him, he’s on board, and I’m with him.” The next thing they knew they were both in a holding area at airport security up against the wall being strip-searched.

—Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls


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When I Worked

December 2010
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