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Comic Troupe Still Trying to Make the Connection

June 26, 1986|DAVID WHARTON

Shirley Temple, knife in hand, saws feverishly at her black ankle-length boot. A cherubic doll set in a chair next to her speaks out in a deep, raspy voice.

"Cut it off! Cut it off!"

"Oh, I don't want to cut my foot off," Temple answers in her angelic, sing-song voice. "This isn't any fun. Besides, this knife is too dull. Isn't there anything else I can do to satisfy your heathen blood thirst?"

"Yeah," the doll says gruffly. "Get me a cheese Danish and a cup of coffee."

Wait a minute. Shirley Temple trying to cut her foot off at the behest of a demon-possessed doll? What is this?

It is an old film classic revamped by a band of Sherman Oaks comics, The L.A. Connection. In the original movie, "The Little Princess," Temple was actually attempting to cut away at a shoe lace that was tied too tightly. And, no, the doll did not speak to her.

In the newer version, L.A. Connection's players dubbed in their own sound, transforming a relatively harmless story into a tale of demonic possession.

Dubbing Old Movies

L.A. Connection began dubbing comic dialogue to old movies several years ago. Playing at revival theaters throughout Los Angeles, seven or so members would sit in the front row to do live voice-overs of such famously bad films as "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and "The Attack of the 50-Foot Woman." They soon developed a cult following.

Then, last year, the small, struggling comic troupe was offered its own syndicated television series--26 half-hour shows featuring scaled-down versions of their movie performances. For the Connection players, who had for years earned less than $200 a weekend doing improvisation in a rented storefront theater, it was a shot at the big time.

"It certainly was a dream come true," said Kent Skov, 34, who founded the group. "I could see us getting into feature films for television. I could also see this going into commercials. It could be a springboard for us."

"Anytime you see a signed check cross your desk, you say, 'I can write home. I can quit my day job!' " said Connie Sue Cook, 39, who has been with troupe six years.

Airs on 45 Stations

"Mad Movies with The L.A. Connection" is halfway through its first season. The show is being aired on 45 independent television stations across the country. It has received favorable reviews in several cities and, in Detroit, garnered surprisingly high ratings for the first several airings.

But elsewhere the ratings have not been as good as the television stations, or the troupe, had hoped. Program directors at six stations from Boston to Seattle said they were not planning on scheduling the show another season.

And executives at Four Star International, the company that distributes "Mad Movies," said they doubt that they will contract L.A. Connection for another year's worth of series.

"I'm not discounting the concept. I know the humor is terrific," said Dick Signarelli, Four Star's president of distribution. But, Signarelli said, "Mad Movies" does not work as well on television as it does live in the theater. "One-on-one, with the viewer and the television, something is lost."

"Mad Movies" still has one more chance. KDOC-TV in Anaheim, which broadcasts throughout Southern California, has picked up the show and will run it this fall. High ratings in The L.A. Connection's hometown could revive the series.

But, it appears, the show will not be the springboard Skov was looking for. Cast member Stephen Rohlman complained that, although the series is shown in his hometown of Denver, none of his family or friends have seen it because the station keeps changing the show's time slot. And, so far, the most recognition Cook has received was being recognized in a ladies room in San Francisco.

Skov (pronounced like "cove") founded The L.A. Connection in 1977, shortly after he moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco. Trained in that city's well-known improvisation company, "The Committee," Skov quickly rounded up seven or eight talented improvisation actors. The group hit it off almost immediately, Skov said, receiving favorable reviews from critics.

However, by 1980, many of the troupe's key players had moved on to steady, if unremarkable, work in television and movies. Skov spent two years rebuilding his company.

It was at that time, in 1982, when he was approached by Terry Thoren, an executive at Landmark Theaters, a Los Angeles business that runs revival theaters throughout California. Thoren had seen a skit in the troupe's act in which two members mouth words to the mime actions of the others.

Thoren thought the technique might work well with old movies. It was not an original idea. A television show, "Fractured Flickers," ran for one year in 1963, dubbing zany dialogue over silent film classics. And Woody Allen had been successful with the same technique in his 1965 movie "What's Up Tiger Lily?" However, with The L.A. Connection, the dubbing would be done live.

Began in 1982

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