Tuesday, April 26, 2016

'Phantom: The Immortal:' A Writing Collaboration from Bestselling Authors Mitzi Szereto and Ashley Lister

Release date: Spring 2016
Now available in e-book; coming soon in trade paperback
Price: USD $5.99 (digital edition); USD $9.99 (trade paperback edition)
Digital edition: 174 pages; trade paper edition: 202 pages
Genres: Erotic Romance, Gothic Romance, Paranormal Erotic Romance, Romantic Suspense

Sexual desire and soul-searing need fuel this contemporary erotic sequel that relocates the original character from Gaston Leroux’s classic novel The Phantom of the Opera to present-day Paris…

While attending an auction of music memorabilia, young soprano Christine Delacroix bids on some letters written by another young soprano, Christine Daaé, who lived during the 19th century. Here she meets the handsome Compte Rezso Esterhazy, who immediately sets out to court her. Despite his attentions, Christine becomes obsessed with the Daaé letters and her namesake’s mysterious “Angel of Music”—a masked man who lived beneath the Paris Opera House.

Seemingly immortal and frozen in time, the Phantom is condemned to life below the opera house and in the shadows…until Christine Delacroix auditions for a minor role in Faust. Convinced the Christine from his past has been returned to him, he sets out for her to have the lead female role. He visits her in her dressing room to give her singing lessons, all the while remaining hidden from view. Insanely jealous over Christine’s budding romance with the Compte, the Phantom abducts her and takes her to his underground lair, where the singing lessons continue. Only this time they are far more depraved and sexual in nature.

Visit the book’s website at:

About the authors:

Mitzi Szereto ( is an author and anthology editor of multi-genre fiction and non-fiction. She has her own blog of humorous essays at Errant Ramblings: Mitzi Szereto’s Weblog (, and a web TV channel Mitzi TV (, which covers the quirky side of London, England.

Her books include Rotten Peaches (The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles) and Normal for Norfolk (The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles)—the cozy mystery/satire series co-authored with her sidekick bear Teddy Tedaloo; The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray; Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts; Darker Edge of Desire: Gothic Tales of Romance; Love, Lust and Zombies; Thrones of Desire: Erotic Tales of Swords, Mist and Fire; Red Velvet and Absinthe: Paranormal Erotic Romance; Getting Even: Revenge Stories; and Dying For It: Tales of Sex and Death.

Mitzi has pioneered erotic writing workshops in the UK and mainland Europe, teaching from the Cheltenham Festival of Literature to the Greek islands, as well as lecturing in creative writing at several British universities. Her anthology Erotic Travel Tales 2 is the first anthology of erotica to feature a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Ashley Lister ( is a prolific writer, having written more than two dozen full-length novels and over a hundred short stories. His most recent titles include the Sweet Temptation series from HarperCollins and the horror novel Raven and Skull, due to be released mid-2016.

Aside from regularly blogging about writing, Ashley is also an occasional performance poet and teaches creative writing. He has hosted creative writing workshops at Eroticon, the annual conference for sex bloggers and erotica writers, and is the editor of Coming Together in Verse, a charity anthology of erotic poetry. Ashley is currently studying for a PhD in creative writing, focusing on short fiction. He lives in Lancashire in the UK. Visit his blog at

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Thriller Book Review: 'The Payback Assignment' by Austin Camacho

The Payback AssignmentThe Payback Assignment by Austin S. Camacho

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like the action/adventure type of thriller novel, you really can't go wrong with this one. It's as fast-paced and absorbing as a Dan Brown novel, but with more sensory details and less awkward phrasing. Hero Morgan Stark and heroine Felicity O'Brian are multi-dimension characters, and well-matched ones at that. True, they would make a good couple, but their bond is even more profound than that of lovers. They have an almost paranormal sense of when the other is in danger. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the other two books in the series.

Full disclosure: Although I do not know the author personally, he and I were social media friends for a few years on He did not ask me to review this book. I purchased it with my own funds at a discount bookstore and was not obligated in any way to review it. This review represents my own honest opinion.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

J.K. Rowling, Writing as Robert Galbraith, Doesn't Fear the Reaper

I started a new audio book today. So far I've heard 1 of the 15 discs of the audio version of Robert Galbraith's Career of Evil. Beginning Career of Evil by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith forces me to consider a post I wrote many years ago, one that has to do with, of all things, the rock band Blue Oyster Cult (BOC).

Although the two previous Cormoran Strike novels (The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm) were filled with references to classical English poetry and Latin texts, this one is different - it's filled with BOC song lyrics. The book opens with our heroine Robin receiving a grisly package containing a human leg, with some lyrics included in the package. Strike soon tells Robin that his own mother, "super-groupie" Leda Strike, admired the BOC above all other rock groups, although she was never able to hook up with lead singer Eric Bloom.

Eric Bloom, in a Creative Commons image
I recalled immediately that Rowling was not the first person in the media to associate the BOC with creepiness. I recalled a 4-part blog post series I had previously mentioned in my Buddy Holly/Imbolc post in 2012:

How the Music Died Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

The posts are quite long and detailed, but I will attempt to summarize as briefly as I can. The overarching theme of the 4-part post series is that from approximately 1959 - the year of Buddy Holly's death - to 1969, the commercial rock music industry in the U.S. was heavily influenced by "sinister forces." The post author, known as VISUP, contends there is a parallel between such a shift in the music industry and a similar one in U.S. politics.

Public domain image of Buddy Holly
Part III is an overview of the Blue Oyster Cult. Part IV deals specifically with a song called "Dominance and Submission." Some points made by VISUP in Part III are:

1. Essentially, BOC were a "biker bar band" until "scooped up" by Sandy Pearlman, a manager/producer who had previously been a music critic. Pearlman wrote some of the groups' song lyrics.

2. 1990s music critics used the term "heavy psych" to describe the type of late 1960s/early 1970s hard rock that BOC played. Although not commonly thought of as such, the BOC -according to VISUP - can be firmly placed within that circle of heavy psych bands that contributed to the early proto-punk movement.

3. Pearlman himself was attached to proto-punk in that he was friends with Lenny Kaye and Patti Smith of the Patti Smith Group. Smith wrote a number of songs for BOC, including "Career of Evil."

4. Pearlman was also interested in the occult, which influenced his songwriting for the BOC.

5. In his pre-BOC days, Pearlman is alleged to have written a series of occult poems (collectively referred to as The Secret Doctrines of Imaginos) about a group of eldritch spirit-beings he called The Invisibles, which might be thought of as akin to H.P. Lovecraft's Old Ones.

6. The Invisibles were associated, albeit vaguely, with the star Sirius.

7. In this aspect, Pearlman was not alone; a number of writers in the 1970s associated extraterrestrial beings with the Sirius star system. In fact, if you go into the pseudohistory category on Wikipedia, you'll find an example: The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple.

Although the cover says "scientific evidence," the Wikipedia entry lists a number of critics, including Carl Sagan, who have debunked the theories it presents.

8. The band's name, Blue Oyster Cult, comes from the Imaginos series. The fictional BOC were the human servants of The Invisibles, aiming to help their overlords achieve world domination.

9. Pearlman and the BOC originated from Long Island.

10. The religion of Wicca entered the United States through Long Island, specifically (at least in some part) through the Warlock Shoppe in Brooklyn.

11. Peter Levenda, described as a "rogue historian," associates the Warlock Shoppe with something called the Process Church of Final Judgment.

12. The Process Church of the Final Judgment is associated by some writers with murderers including Charles Manson and David Berkowitz. It's alleged to be a nationwide "death cult." The Wikipedia entry describes it as an offshoot of Scientology. The Wiki author says in his book Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi claimed that Charles Manson "may have borrowed philosophically" from the church.

The Process Church began in London...which is precisely where the fictional Robin Ellacott and Cormoran Strike live.

13. VISUP is drawing no firm conclusions from any of this, but at the very least, the BOC's music circa 1972 was created in the atmosphere of motorcycle gangs, the Wiccan goings-on of the Warlock Shoppe, and potentially the doings of the Process Church, which may or may not be nefarious.

Part IV: The "Dominance and Submission" Post

1. The 1974 song - co-written by Pearlman and two members of the band - seems to refer to a shift in consciousness.

2. A character named "Susie" is mentioned in the song. Supposedly, Susie was an ex-girlfriend of Sandy Pearlman's. VISUP interprets the name in several ways, including as a symbol for the "vibrant rock scene."

3. A second character in the song is called Charles, referred to as Susie's brother. Through elaborate flights of association, VISUP suggests Charles represents an initiate into a new way of life. Another association VISUP makes for Charles is as a sacrificial victim.

4. One indicator, and possible cause, of the shift in musical consciousness between 1959 and 1969 was The Beatles and their meteoric rise to fame.

5. "Charles" is The Beatles.

6. Charles/The Beatles are an example of the price musicians pay for their fame - the "submission" to the "dominance" of corporate interests.

In conclusion, both Don McLean's song "American Pie" and the BOC's "Dominance and Submission" chronicle the shift in American music, and in American consciousness, over the 1959-1969 period.

When I was in high school, I took a course called Media. My teacher, the late great Tom Gerencher, covered rock 'n' roll/rock music when we talked about the history of radio. He mentioned several calamities that happened around 1960 that helped end the reign of rock 'n' roll songs (with the typically AABA chord structure the form shares with blues music, as typified by Buddy Holly and Fats Domino), making way for rock music, rock 'n' roll's more complicated descendant.

As I recall, The Day the Music Died (February 3, 1959) was part of it, as were:

- Elvis Presley being drafted into the army (March 1958)
- The revelation to the public that Jerry Lee Lewis's wife was underage (May 1958)
- The payola scandal and disc jockey Alan Freed's being fired from his radio and TV shows (November 1959)
- Chuck Berry's arrest for an alleged violation of the Mann Act (December 1959; he subsequently served three years in prison)

Chuck Berry - public domain image in the United States
With all those rock 'n' roll stars being taken off the market, so to speak, from 1958 to 1960, it's easy to see why the American music-buying public would be primed for a new sound by the time the Beatles hit the American shores. Therefore, I tend to believe VISUP when he says there was a huge shift in the music industry between 1959 and 1969, approximately. Whether the songs "American Pie" and "Dominance and Submission" exemplify that shift is more speculative. Still more speculative is a link between BOC, the Beatles, and various conspiracy theories.

Is there a special reason why Rowling would choose to incorporate the band's occultish lyrics into a book that has already featured a gruesome murder and mutilation? I'll have to finish the book to find out.

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Freedom by Lynne Gordon-Mündel. $6.99 from
WHAT IF EVERYTHING YOU BELIEVE IS WRONG? What if we have been raised within illusion, within a complex mythology so pervasive, so familiar, so deceptively safe, that it is invisible to most people? The purpose of this book will be to expose some of our myths, thus challenging the ideology that keeps us imprisoned.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Why You Should Watch ’11.22.63’ on Hulu

First, a confession: I’ve never read a Stephen King book. Not a one. I’ve read a short story from the Salem’s Lot universe in a vampire anthology, and I’ve read an excerpt from On Writing. I did not read 11.22.63. I didn’t even pay much attention to the Under the Dome miniseries when it was on, although I have seen Misery more than once.

I wanted to watch 11.22.63 because the gal one cube over from me at the Day Job recommended it. I soon discovered there are many reasons to watch this Hulu miniseries, reasons that make it much better than Under the Dome.

1. James Franco. I enumerated the reasons I appreciate the older Franco brother one Hanukkah night. He’s still my favorite film Allen Ginsberg. (Yeah, I still haven’t seen Kill Your Darlings. I’m behind on my writer biopics.) He may be one of my people, one of the bi/pans, but that remains undetermined. He’s definitely a cute Jewish boy with curly hair, though.

In this miniseries, he plays a high school English teacher. He does so convincingly. I think James Franco might actually make a good English teacher in real life. He would be a distraction to the students who like boys, but still.

2. Lucy Fry is Marina Oswald. You may remember Lucy Fry as the Moroi princess Lissa Dragomir in the Vampire Academy movie. Here she plays the physically and emotionally abused wife of Lee Harvey Oswald. She warms to the advances of historically fictitious character Bill Turcotte, played by the lovely young English actor George MacKay, a Kentucky farm boy enlisted as a helper by Franco’s character Jake. Sadly, Bill and Marina are not destined for the happy ending that Lissa and Christian Ozera enjoy.

I read in a Goodreads discussion group that the character Bill did not appear in the book, but was added for the miniseries.

3. The plot is genuinely intriguing. It has a wrinkle in time – a magical closet that takes a person back to a specific date in 1960, and no matter how long they stay, only two minutes have passed in the modern world. Diner owner Al, losing a battle with cancer, recruits Jake to use the portal to go back in time and follow Lee Harvey Oswald to determine if Oswald is, in fact, the sole killer responsible for the murder of President Kennedy. If he is sure of Oswald’s guilt, Jake is supposed to kill Oswald so that the president lives and, Al hopes, the Vietnam War will end much, much sooner than it did historically.

4. Al is played by Chris Cooper. I enumerated in the In Cold Blood post the film projects that make Cooper such an important character actor. It helps that he kissed Kevin Spacey. I mean, I don’t know if it helps his career, but it helps me, personally. It’s not a positive example of lgbtq+ media representation, but in the 1990s, we were lucky to see same-sex kisses on the big screen at all.

5. Speaking of kisses, this Stephen King-derived material is surprisingly romantic. Bill/Marina is only the secondary romantic plot; Jake finds love in the past with Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon, the heroine of Dracula Untold), a librarian. Of course, as Al warns Jake, if you push against the past, the past pushes back. Jake’s pursuit of Oswald places Sadie in grave danger, causing Jake to wonder if his true mission is to live a long, happy life with Sadie, and the president be damned.

6. Sadie’s favorite book is From Here to Eternity. When Jake first lays eyes on Sadie, she’s sitting on a park bench, reading From Here to Eternity. The dust jacket photo of James Jones appears prominently in the scene. The two discuss the book, mentioning that the book is better than the movie. (It is. It is much, much better. And the movie’s still great.) Later, when Jake thinks all is lost, he hallucinates or imagines Sadie sitting on a bench in a bus depot, reading From Here to Eternity.

All 8 parts have now been released, so if you have access, check it out. It’s science fiction, and there’s a touch of Kingly horror, and there’s even a touch of a dystopian present, but don’t feel bound by any one genre. It’s much more interesting stuff than Under the Dome, although maybe not quite as spectacular as The Shining.

Nevada Brothel Releases Updated Erotic Menu to Reflect Modern Sex Buyer Trends #SexTalkTuesday

[Press Release] (Pahrump, NV – March 31st, 2016) -- Las Vegas-area adult vacation resort and legal brothel Sheri’s Ranch has released an updated version of its sex menu. The menu reflects the desires of today’s brothel clientele, which increasingly consists of women and couples seeking sex tourism.

Dena, the madam of Sheri’s Ranch, says that the bordello recently added “sex vacation” packages to its menu in an attempt to satisfy increasing demand from men and couples seeking extended stays at the brothel’s on-site hotel.

“As Nevada’s only full-service sex resort, it became important that our menu showcases our unique offerings as a sex vacation destination. It’s common for men and couples to visit us for several days or weeks at a time to enjoy the popular sex getaway retreat that Sheri’s has become.”

The madam says that the new menu also deliberately includes sexual services tailored to women, since they are an ever-increasing demographic of brothel-goers.

“In 2014, women and male/female or female/female couples participated in 15% of the sex parties at Sheri’s Ranch, more than a 10% increase from 2007. Our current menu overtly mentions lesbian sex as an offering, since women are increasingly interested in paying for sex at Sheri’s and getting it on with our ladies.”

Other changes to the menu involve the inclusion of Sheri’s House Specialties, which have evolved over the years as the brothel added new suites and specialty rooms.

“We have always been the go-to brothel for the most intimate and immersive Girlfriend Experience, but our menu now reflects our newer offerings like nuru full-body massage and sexual fantasy fulfillment in our role-play bungalows,” Dena says.

The new menu also includes previously omitted offerings like Roman-style orgies and the “Porn Star Experience.” Download the menu here:


Sheri’s Ranch is legal brothel, resort, and spa located in Pahrump, Nevada, sixty miles west of Las Vegas. The Ranch was purchased by former Chicago homicide detective Chuck Lee in 2001 and was recently remodeled into a fantasyland of suites and bungalows with themes such as Lustful Locker Room, Naughty Classroom, and Geisha Girl Bedroom, based on customers’ most popular requests. Lee has taken great care in maintaining a resort playground with the clients’ safety and privacy in mind.

Friday, April 1, 2016

'In Cold Blood' Without Even Blinkin'

In Cold BloodIn Cold Blood by Truman Capote

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tru, Nelle, and I Have a Bonding Moment

If you were to see me on the street, you’d see the semblance of a typical person who is not obsessed with 20th century American literature. This impression would be false. I’m utterly fascinated with Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Go Set a Watchman only aroused my appetite without bedding her down again. Watching the late, brilliant Philip Seymous Hoffman in Capote made it much worse.

I decided it was a shame there wasn’t more Harper Lee to read…such as her unfinished Alabama project, for example. Then I decided the closest thing to reading another Harper Lee novel was to “read” In Cold Blood, so I borrowed the audio book from the library.

The Clutters Were Genuinely Lovely People

I did fear the true story of four gruesome murders would be distressing. I had already seen Capote, though, and I found Truman Capote’s writing style to beautiful and gentle, easing the reader into the harrowing story. It’s helpful to know that while Perry Smith and Richard (Dick) Hickok are central to the story, and I certainly wouldn’t want to romanticize them, there are a number of sympathetic people, or “characters,” in Capote’s presentation of his and Lee’s research. The Clutters themselves were genuinely good people.

According to the Wikipedia entry on In Cold Blood, some people who knew the Clutters didn’t think Capote’s portrayals of them were entirely accurate. They argued, for example, that he exaggerated the extent of Bonnie Clutter’s mental health problems. She’s still portrayed as a decent and loving person, despite her allegedly poor health. Perhaps part of the problem was that in the 1960s, and perhaps especially in more rural areas like Western Kansas, people were still apt to judge mental health illnesses as character flaws rather than psychological conditions analogous to physical health conditions.

That is to say, Mrs. Clutter wasn’t a bad person if she was struggling with clinical depression. Having depression isn’t voluntary, any more than Perry Smith’s childhood bed-wetting was voluntary. He didn’t deserve to be beaten for it, and Mrs. Clutter doesn’t deserve to be looked down upon whether she had a depressive illness or not.

All four of the Clutters who were in the household on November 15, 1959 were lovely people. For me, the two most interesting and personable ones were Herb and Nancy, the father and daughter. Nancy was a vibrant, intelligent, extraordinarily kind and accomplished 16-year-old.

Nancy Clutter and her friend Susan Kidwell dreamed of studying art at Kansas State University. This detail makes Nancy seem especially real and contemporary to me, since I have been to the art museum at Kansas State. If she had lived, her art might have resided there.

Kansas Bureau of Investigations investigator Alvin Dewey and his family are also sympathetic characters. In Capote, Mr. Dewey is played by the great character actor Chris Cooper. You may remember him from such films as A Time to Kill (based on the John Grisham novel), American Beauty (he kissed, and then murdered, Kevin Spacey’s character), and more recently the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s 11.22.63 (which I will blog about another day). His character comes off as a bit gruff, but in the novel, Alvin Dewey is a multifaceted man who’s actually quite human and likable.

The Smith Family

Perry's sister Barbara (“Bobo”) Johnson (“Mrs. Fred Johnson”) is good people. I hope her children had/have happy lives. Willie J (Perry’s fellow prisoner, a thief)’s response to Barbara's letter, quoted in its entirety, is condescending and possibly sexist. He looks down on Barbara because she's "just a housewife and mother." Her letter to Perry is actually both sympathetic and wise. That her primary occupation was raising three children should not be seen as a negative.

Their family history is fascinating and sad. John (“Tex”) and Florence Smith were the stars of an old-fashioned Wild West show. He was a red-haired Irish-American and she was Native American. She was a rodeo horseback rider, but her talent was eventually overshadowed by her alcoholism. The family lived a nomadic life before the couple split, and after the divorce Perry spent time in a group home run by Catholic nuns, where he was physically and emotionally abused. Neither parent seemed able to care for him properly.

The Smiths had four children, two boys and two girls. The older son, named Tex Jr. but later calling himself Jimmy, committed suicide after finding his wife dead in their bed, also a suicide victim. Perry’s sister Fern inherited her mother’s alcoholism and died by falling from a window, either by drunken accident or by suicide. The instability and suicide in the family cause me to suspect, in my unprofessional opinion, that bipolar disorder may have run in the Smith family. Perry showed signs of having bipolar disorder, possibly with psychotic features.

In addition to Herb, Nancy, Barbara, and Alvin Dewey, one of the more likable beings in this book is the Deweys' cat. First he defeated a cocker spaniel in dubious battle on the plains of Kansas, and then he hopped up on Mrs. Dewey's fancy buffet and helped himself to the crab meat. You go, kitty.

American Literature Allusions

The sheet music on the family's piano was "Comin' Thro' the Rye," the Robert Burns favorite and the titular allusion of 'The Catcher in the Rye.' It’s just an unfortunate synchronicity*, no doubt, but as we explored in a Banned Books Week post, Catcher in the Rye often seems to pop up around infamous crimes.

Other references to American literature have included Nancy's school play performance as Becky Thatcher, and Dick and Perry's duets of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"—the titular allusion of The Grapes of Wrath.

*That which we call synchronicity is often, instead, a type of cognitive error in logic called a Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, as I learned from this Fangs, Wands and Fairy Dust post.

Word Nerd

I never heard the term voir dire before and had to look it up. Ultimately derived from the Latin term for “tell the truth,” it describes the process by which potential jurors are vetted by the prosecution and the defense.

Hickok and Smith

An abusive childhood and possible bipolar disorder didn’t in and of themselves make Perry Smith a bad person, but according to some accounts, he was the one who shot all four of the Clutters and the one who cut Herb’s throat. (It’s a bit confusing because the investigators thought, based on the varying temperatures of the bodies, that Herb had been killed last, but Perry’s story was that Herb was killed first.) Clearly, though, Dick Hickok planned the crime, including murdering all the family members so as to leave no witnesses, before he enlisted Perry.

Dick Hickok was a textbook sociopath. He didn’t have normal empathetic or sympathetic feelings toward normal people. (Perry may also have met the definition, although some of his actions showed signs of empathy and guilt, if not actual remorse). He was also sexually attracted to pubescent girls by his own admission. His execution by the state of Kansas, rather than a sentence of life with the possibility of parole (since Kansas did not have “life without parole” sentences at that time), possibly saved girls and very young women from falling victim to him.

These were not good people who were denied justice. They were intelligent and sometimes charming, but they were also violent, unrepentant criminals. It would be wrong to overly romanticize them, and I don’t think Capote did. I think he balanced his personal relationship with Hickok and Smith, such as it was, with journalistic-type objectivity about the crimes, and a caring eye toward the people who were affected by it.

Clifton Collins, Jr.

It's probably not that terrible, however, if you or I romanticize the actor who played Perry, Clifton Collins Jr., a little bit. The American actor of German and Mexican descent is unreasonably beautiful. His grandfather, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, was an Old Hollywood character actor who appeared as "comic relief" characters in some John Wayne movies. He was also a handsome man, but the grandson is dreamy.

Mark Pellegrino is pretty, too.  Blond and blue-eyed like Dick Hickok but, one presumes, without the homicidal tendencies, he's part Italian and part Russian and various kinds of Northern European. I don't quite understand his fascination with Ayn Rand, but still, he's a pretty one.

Nonetheless, Collins is the one with the brown eyes so deep and dark, I'm almost angry at him for being so attractive. I have a boy crush.

This review represents my own honest opinion. This was a library book. I was not obligated in any way to review it.

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Another essential book for a film buff's library, this one is packed with information and reviews. Some of the entries are quite extensive. JHR provides all the information you need, including complete cast and production staff. I find JHR's information invaluable. I like to read not only who acted in a movie, but who made it, both top-billed and lesser mortals. -- Ross Adams in DRESS CIRCLE mag.