BY LARRY LAPKIN
The 30th Anniversary of “Hot Dog…The Movie” is cause for celebration. Join filmmaker Mike Marvin, many of the original cast members, and local Hot Dog fanatics at the anniversary bash on Saturday, April 26, hosted by the Squaw Valley Institute at Squaw’s Olympic Village Lodge and featuring an exclusive showing of the film with a live director’s cut narrative by Marvin himself, and hopefully lots of ’80s onesies. To get warmed up for the party, Moonshine enlisted Larry Lapkin, one of the skiers from Marvin’s second ski film, “Children of the Morning,” to take a walk down memory lane and reminisce with Marvin, Troy Caldwell of Children of the Morning, and Hot Dog’s Debbie Dutton.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since “Hot Dog…The Movie” was first released. Filmed entirely in Squaw Valley and North Lake Tahoe during the powder-filled year of 1983, Hot Dog boasts a hilarious screenplay and amazing ski stunts including the infamous “Chinese Downhill” that later inspired the Olympic sport of skier- and boardercross. Hot Dog also featured a cast of celebs, including Shannon Tweed — a Playboy Playmate and wife of KISS’ Gene Simmons — and David Naughton, and local stars like Debbie Dutton (Tweed’s ski double and Naughton’s ex-wife), Robbie Huntoon, and George Theobald. The film became a cult classic and is said to be the highest grossing ski film ever made, bringing in over $38 million worldwide. Ten years before Hot Dog, Marvin was already carving a niche in Tahoe’s ski film industry, but he wasn’t alone.
As skiing in the ’70s grew to include new events like speedskiing, head-to-head parallel slalom, and freestyle, Squaw’s challenging terrain attracted young skiers that wanted to show off their new, radical stuff. Filmmakers like Marvin and Tahoe City’s Craig Beck were quick to pick up on the vibe. Beck’s 1975 movie “Day Dreams” set a standard that would eventually evolve into extreme skiing and freeriding on the cliffs and chutes of Squaw Valley. Skiers were willing to risk life and limb to get on camera in these films. Tahoe native Mark Rivard broke both of his legs while doing a cliff jump for Day Dreams. (Stream the entire film on YouTube, search “Day Dreams.”)
After starting his film career in 1971 with a porn flick called “Ski Girl,” Marvin’s first feature movie, “Earth Rider,” gained him much notoriety. It featured long-time Tahoe residents Dick Tash and Bob Stokes as they traveled to the country’s best ski areas in pursuit of fresh powder, women, and the true meaning of life. Earth Rider later inspired a whole new vision of what was possible in skiing, especially because it was the first film to feature a skier performing a BASE jump.
Tahoe local Rick Sylvester hucked himself off of the granite monolith known as El Capitan, which soars 8,842 feet above sea level with a 4,733-foot drop to the valley floor. After clearing the cliff, Sylvester free fell for at least 1,000 feet before pulling his parachute and landing in a 60-foot tree. Footage of the El Cap jump was subsequently viewed by producer Michael G. Wilson, and Sylvester was later signed to perform his signature trick in the classic James Bond flick “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Ultimately, it was Sylvester’s jump off of El Cap that inspired the late Shane McConkey to get into ski BASE jumping.
Marvin’s second feature film, “Children of the Morning,” aimed at capturing the essence of freestyle skiing. The film followed Troy Caldwell as he competed in the freestyle competitions in ’73 and ’74 in Sun Valley, Park City, and Heavenly with legends like Wayne Wong, John Clendenin, and “Airborne” Eddie Ferguson. Caldwell actually won the ski ballet competition in Park City in 1974. The film also featured local skiers Jeff Caan, Ralph “Rocket” Bertoli, and myself. The winter of ’73, I had taken a three-month hiatus from college and landed a job teaching skiing at Homewood. When I heard that Marvin was looking for a fourth skier for Children, I tracked him down and begged him for a spot in the film. Marvin didn’t know me, but I had fast feet and was close with Rudi Zink, the idolized Squaw freestyle skier. In fact, Marvin recently shared with me that in Hot Dog, the Rudettes — the posse of skiers that followed the film’s antagonist, Austrian skiing star Rudi Garmisch — were inspired by Zink and his entourage, following him around Squaw like he was a superstar.
The decision to be in Children of the Morning was a no-brainer for me. I called my father and he reluctantly lent me $500 to help pay for my travel expenses. For a kid with a passion for freestyle skiing, playing hooky from college to ski bump laps down Squaw’s Schimmelfennig Bowl (right below The Fingers) was a dream come true.
We shot much of Children at Alpine Meadows. In the movie, Rocket, Jeff, and I were Troy’s ski buddies, helping him train for the national freestyle competitions. Probably the most famous part of the film, the climax of Children features Troy, Rocket, and the late David Burnham as they donned asbestos fire suits and were doused in kerosene and lit on fire while performing spectacular ski jumps into pitch-black darkness at Alpine Meadows. Next time you go to Jake’s on the Lake, look for the photo of that stunt in the entrance.
Mike Marvin left Tahoe in the winter of 1975, moving his movie operation to Aspen, and later to Hollywood. He returned to shoot Hot Dog in 1983; the movie was produced for only $2.6 million as an independent picture, and it was picked up by MGM/UA on the last auction screening. While he has made numerous films over the years, many of us in Tahoe will always know Marvin for those early ski films, and we’re not alone.
“There’s a curiosity about the guys from Tahoe City who made ski movies during that period,” Marvin said. “We were making ski movies that nobody had ever made before.”
Mike Marvin still dreams of making another Hot Dog movie, though high production costs make it unlikely.
MOONSHINE INK: What was the idea behind Earth Rider? MIKE MARVIN: Earth Rider started out to be this drama, but when I finished it was so lame that I re-cut it as a traditional ski adventure documentary. What made it special was that I cut the images to music, note for note. But, there was more. I wrote a narrative that was funny and told a story, and this ended up driving the movie.
MI: Who came up with the idea of Sylvester’s El Cap jump? MM: It was Rick’s idea. I believe he came up with the idea in the late 1960s. He did 56 practice jumps from planes before he did the jump on Jan. 29, 1972. The concept of a base jump wasn’t new. Two guys had jumped off El Cap with parachutes before Rick did his jump. But, it was very dangerous as one of the guys was blown into the wall and nearly killed. Nobody had ever done a stunt in movie history that even came close to Rick’s jump off El Cap.
MI: Why do you think there is such a renewed interest in the movies Earth Rider and Children, 30 to 40 years after they were produced? MM: Turns out, nobody really documented skiing during the period [between] 1970 and 1977 when the sport changed into what we recognize today as modern skiing. We were making intricate ski movies where music was almost as important as image. They were compelling and cinematic for their day. They would, however, seem quite tame by today’s extreme sports standard. But the jump off El Cap tops anything ever done before or after, and the reason is it was incredibly dangerous and Rick was the very first to do it. Anything afterward wasn’t groundbreaking.
MI: Is there any talk of a sequel to Hot Dog the Movie? MM: I always thought, and still do, that Hot Dog either remade or a sequel would still do quite well. Problem is production money … Tahoe City and Squaw Valley are my hometown. I could never produce Hot Dog 2 on the cheap … Better that the movie remain famous as a cult movie with all the trimmings than to knock something off just for money. But, I always hold out hope that an angel will step up one of these days … I would love to remake the original. I have three versions of the script, and hopefully Scott Gaffney’s talented eye, and the support of everybody in Tahoe City and Squaw Valley. If I ever get the chance, the next Chinese Downhill will blow them all away…without CGI or trickery!
Troy Caldwell is known in Tahoe as the owner of White Wolf, the 460-acre parcel of land in between Squaw and Alpine that he plans to turn into a small resort, connecting Squaw and Alpine. But back in the ’70s, Caldwell traveled to compete in the freestyle circuit and was featured in Marvin’s second film, Children of the Morning, in which he lit himself on fire for a stunt.
MOONSHINE INK: Why did you get into freestyle skiing? TROY CALDWELL: The ski world was pretty regimented with racing and I got a late start at 19 years old. The racers that I had to compete against had mainly started when they began to walk. This new way of competing on skis seemed like a great opportunity and I was lucky enough to get in on the start-up.
MI: What was it like being a part of these movies? TC: It would have been like winning the lotto today. It was a life changer, to say the least. I was very fortunate to meet Mike Marvin in my early days. I did not know he would go on to do some great things in the cinematography world … Children of the Morning, at the time, was very much a timely work that depicted the attitudes of people looking for new doors to open, and freestyle skiing was a good example of one of those doors.
MI: What was it like lighting yourself on fire and hucking yourself off that jump? TC: You know, as I think back, the scary part for me was jumping into the dark. I was pretty used to jumping, but not being able to see into the darkness of the night and knowing where I was going to land was too extreme. After I was lit, I learned very quickly I was the light bulb and the rest was like landing at SFO.
Debbie Dutton is still a Tahoe icon for her role as Tweed’s ski double in Hot Dog. After the film, she moved to Hollywood, married Hot Dog star David Naughton, started a family, divorced Naughton, and moved back to Tahoe to raise her kids. Dutton manages a group of 48 condos at the base of Squaw and she regularly gets out to ski her preferred bluebird days, often organizing mini-Chinese Downhill races with friends.
MOONSHINE INK: You grew up in Squaw (and I remember you as a kid), and your mom worked at Squaw during the 1960 Olympics and had personal ties to Alex Cushing, right? DEBBIE DUTTON: Yep, I was basically raised in the valley, and I raised all four of my kids in the valley. We’ve definitely seen some changes … the resort wasn’t there, Squaw Creek wasn’t there, and the Blyth Arena was still there. That actually came down the year of Hot Dog. The Alex connection is great, too. I mean that was his mountain, and all of a sudden this movie crew comes to town and there are hot tub scenes and wet T-shirt contests and shenanigans in the gondolas. People come back and they want to do that, they want to find out where the Bear Pen is, and it’s just phenomenal.
MI: How did you get into the movie? DD: The second unit director and stunt coordinator, Max Kleven, had a house in Squaw. He knew me growing up, knew I could ski, and he knew what I looked like. He’s thinking Shannon Tweed, Playmate, 5-foot 10, blonde, curves, we need a good skier, and he said, “I know the girl.” I was Shannon Tweed’s double, and I was a Rudette, too. That movie kind of changed my life.
MI: Are there still a lot of other people that were extras in the film that live here today? DD: Yeah, there’s quite a few that are still up here … George Theobald still has a house in Alpine. We’re good buds, we talk a lot about how many more powder days can we handle with our knees and our backs … He’ll be riding up chairlifts with people and they’ll be like, “Hey, aren’t you Slasher?” and he’ll sort of be like, “That’s not my real claim to fame.” He acted and he skied in the movie … Most of the actors aren’t really skiers, so their stunt doubles were doing all the wild stuff.
MI: For me, I’m looking back 40 years ago, and it was a different time. I know for you and for me, too, it was an experience that we’ll never forget. DD: That’s exactly right. It’s still really vivid in my memories, like it was just yesterday … And when I’m doing my mom thing or cruising on my bike or something, sometimes I’ll hear someone say under their breath, “That’s Debbie Dutton from Hot Dog!” and it’s just funny to me. I mean I was just a stunt person. It’s really trippy, all these years later.
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