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Room to Dream: A Limited Event Book Club Series — Part 3

Welcome back to 25YL’s series on the biography/memoir of David Lynch, Room to Dream. This series will be written by various staff writers, who will look at two chapters at a time to examine the highlights and insights of the book.

I am personally covering series Parts 2 and 3 and have realized a unique opportunity for citation. In my reference notes, I will first cite the book properly. After that, I will cite from that book in particular with (McKenna, p.) for Kristine’s portions and (Lynch, p.) for his portions.

 This part covers chapters:

  • “Mesmerized”
  • “A suburban romance, only different.”

As Part 3 of this series, I’m assuming readers will be caught up in the reading of the book. If not, please follow along with the knowledge that there will be spoilers in the following text. As stated above, the goal is to examine highlights and insights from the biography/memoir without necessarily retreading previously known facts or to restate what the book conveys so well on its own.

Spoiler Content included:


Now well into the established career years of David Lynch, these chapters cover his time working on Dune and Blue Velvet. He would learn his greatest Hollywood lessons: never give up final cut and stay true to the idea. Including time in Paris with Dino de Laurenttis, in Mexico on the set of Dune, and in Prague for recordings with Angelo Badalamenti, these portions read most like Hemingway’s expatriate and cameo-packed years in A Moveable Feast. But what this time in Lynch’s life reveals aside from the exotic locations and high-profile cameos is a return to and in fact a confirmation of Americana central to Lynch’s inspirations so that the ideas he stays true to are ones from his youth. There is an Easter egg passage by Kristine McKenna that almost encapsulates the spirit of the biography for us.

Lynch is first and foremost an American artist, and while the themes in his work are universal, the location of his stories is America. It’s where he was imprinted with the indelible childhood memories that mark his work and where he had the rapturous love affairs of youth that infused his subsequent depictions of romantic love as a state of exaltation. Then there’s the country itself: the soaring trees of the Pacific Northwest; suburban Midwestern neighborhoods murmuring with the sound of insects on summer nights; Los Angeles, where the movie business eats the soul; and Philadelphia, the terrifying crucible where his aesthetic sensibility was forged during the 1960s. He’s been faithful to all these things since he returned from those difficult months in Mexico City.[1]

Where we begin, following his time with The Elephant Man, is with another chance at getting Ronnie Rocket made, a take #2, if you will. Stuart Corfield was still committed to helping him get this accomplished. In fact, Lynch admits that Mel Brooks got him funds to do so but that they were not enough, “way not enough.” As McKenna points out “… lots of producers were up for another Elephant Man, but nobody wanted another Eraserhead.”[2] Still, he was offered quite a few projects on the heels of his success with The Elephant Man, and we get a brief glimpse at what could have been: an adaptation of Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, a screenplay called Francis about Francis Farmer, and, of course, Return of the Jedi, surely called Revenge of the Jedi at the time. Each of these fell through with varying interest or consideration by Lynch. Following a conversation of mutual disinterest between producer Richard Roth of Warner Brothers and Lynch—Lynch’s disinterest in Red Dragon and Roth’s disinterest in Blue Velvet, Lynch would learn another valuable and heart-wrenching lesson. Roth let Lynch pitch his Blue Velvet idea to a person at Warner Brothers who gave him some money to finish a script of it. Lynch would forget about this exchange. Dino De Laurentiis would end up buying the rights back to the script.

Highlights during these Dune years include Lynch’s actual first meeting with Dino De Laurentiis. Here is what he states of this meeting, followed by a suggestion on my part: “Then I go in and I meet Dino. Dino says, ‘Hello,’ and as I sit down I see this guy sitting in the shadows out of the corner of my eye and that’s Dino Conti, who’s one of Dino’s friends. I didn’t know why he was there, but I got the warmest feeling from both of them and they fixed me a cappuccino that was out of this world.”[3] It is the cappuccino in an intimidated Hollywood meeting room that catches my attention, because couldn’t that be a little like Adam Kersher’s meeting in Mulholland Drive? Of course, Lynch’s experience turned out to be a good one, but could we not see him being inspired by his initial unease as a scene for Hollywood intimidation, and wouldn’t Angelo Badalamenti be a perfect stand-in for a mogul like Dino De Laurentiis? I’d like to reinforce that idea of Hollywood gangsters with a man watching in the shadows in the following story. In one of the most glaring divergences from the text on the audiobook for Room to Dream is a story beginning at minute: 3:00 in Part 1, Chapter 15 of the Audible version. The trip to St. Mark’s Square in Venice is in the printed book version sans the following excursive. Lynch recalls that on the drive to St. Mark’s Square, Dino tells him a story. Dino claimed that when he first “came over,” likely meaning his start in the United States, he met the head of Colombia Studios, Harry Cohn, who was terribly upset about a marriage. Dino did not understand, he asked him several times, what had him upset. Harry Cohn confided in him that Sammy Davis Jr. was going to marry actress Kim Novak and that it would certainly ruin their futures. At this Dino offered to make a call. He claimed to David that he reached out to [Vincent] “Johnny Blue Eyes” [Alo] who ensured Sammy Davis Jr.’s marriage early the day of his wedding to a “beautiful Black woman” instead. It’s clear the sinister story stayed with Lynch.

To finish up with Dune, in this portion Kyle MacLachlan confides that he still considers Dune a “flawed masterpiece,” and actor Brad Dourif speaks to his time with the film, introducing a story about David asking his opinion about having surgery performed on an actor. Dourif couldn’t decide if he was joking but admits it didn’t seem so. Lynch confirms this in his portion, explaining that in the poison tooth scene, he had hoped he could talk Jürgen Prochnow into allowing for a small hole to be made in the back of his cheek for a tube to run through for the steam effect. Per highlights, I’d like us to look at a portion in the chapter where Lynch says he met actor Aldo Ray the cafeteria of Churubusco Studios. Aldo had a reputation for being a drunk, but Lynch had hoped he could convince him to play Gurney Halleck.

So we were at Churubusco Studios and I see Aldo Ray in the cafeteria and I thought he’d be perfect for Gurney Halleck. I talked to him and told him I wanted him to play this part, and he was happy. When Dino heard I wanted Aldo Ray, he said, “He’s a fuckin’ lush,” and I said, “Let’s bring him down and see if he can do it—he’d be perfect for the part,” and Aldo came down with his son, Eric, who was around seventeen years old then. [Actor Eric Da Re went on to appear in the first two seasons of Twin Peaks.] In the morning I get to the studio and I’m told, “Aldo’s in the green room,” and I went up there. It’s eight-thirty or nine in the morning and Aldo is flopped on the couch and he’d been drinking all night, and poor Eric is sitting across the room hangdog, with his head down. I brought a chair over and sat down in front of Aldo and said, “Aldo, can you do it?” And he said “No.”[4]

It goes without saying that it is a sad story pertaining to not only Aldo but Lynch’s future collaborator Eric Da Re, our Leo Johnson. Yet, it remains a highlight in these chapters. During this time, Lynch would begin a new infidelity, this time with Eve Brandstein, and we should look to a quote by Jennifer Lynch on this subject. “’There’s no malice in Dad and he doesn’t do these things out of selfishness—that’s not it at all,’ said Jennifer Lynch. ‘It’s just that he’s always been in love with secrets and mischief and sexuality, and he’s naughty and he genuinely loves love. And when he loves you, you are the most loved, and he’s happy and giddy and he has ideas and gets creative and the whole thing is insanely romantic.’”[5] Readers will also see mentioned the fact that Lynch began the comic strip The Angriest Dog in the World at this time.

Blue Velvet

The outcome of Dune with its few defenders, the likes of recently passed Harlan Ellison and the author, Frank Herbert, himself, is well-documented. As David Lynch explains of the lesson he learned in losing final cut on the film: “You die two deaths if you’ve sold out and not done what you were supposed to do. And that was Dune. You die once because you sold out, and you die twice because it was a failure. Fire Walk with Me didn’t do anything out in the world, but I only died one time with that picture, because I felt good about it. You can live with yourself perfectly fine if you stay true to what you love.”[6] Of course, Dino did allow him final cut with his Blue Velvet under the condition that he bring the budget down. Producer Fred Caruso was able to help them get the budget from ten million to four.

In many of Lynch’s films sex is a major theme or catalyst. As the catalyst to Henry’s spiritual and fatherhood crisis in Eraserhead to Diane and Cooper’s cathartic, perhaps, sex magik in Twin Peaks: The Return, it most certainly appears prominent in Blue Velvet, and we get a response to that in this biography. “Certain aspects of sex are troubling—the way it’s used as power, or the way it takes the form of perversions that exploit other people,” said Lynch. “Sex is a doorway to something so powerful and mystical, but movies usually depict it in a completely flat way. Being explicit doesn’t tap into the mystical aspect of it, either. These things are hard to convey in film because sex is such a mystery.”[7] Working on Blue Velvet brought Joanna Ray into David’s life, which of course, would bring Eric back into his world for Twin Peaks years later. Some maybe be fascinated to read that Willem Dafoe was an early consideration for Frank Booth as well as Harry Dean Stanton, who turned it down, claiming “I didn’t want to go on that violent trip.” Included in the introductions to Lynch’s world are of course Isabella Rossellini and their early infidelity, with Rossellini reflecting on it in McKenna’s portions. Readers learn that Helen Mirren actually changed the script for David as she encouraged him to give the character of Dorothy a child to explain her anguish and manipulation.

Fans of the special features on the DVD and Blu-Ray of Twin Peaks: The Return will understand when Lynch exclaims about his time on Blue Velvet.

We all had a blast and became really close. We were away in a place, and we’d all have dinner together, we’d see each other every day, and everybody was there for a long period of time, and that doesn’t happen anymore. People come in quick now, then they go away, and you don’t have dinners. I don’t know what’s changed. Now it’s like tremendous pressure. Tremendous. And it just kills me, I can’t tell you. Shoots have to go faster. Blue Velvet started in May and went until Thanksgiving, and the days of long shoots like that are over.[8]

The chapter ends with a brilliant story about his kiss with Elizabeth Taylor at the Oscars that year. I would encourage consumers to read in the print version as it contains the slightest bit of extra detail missing from the audio version where he believe she might have wanted to marry him. With that, my time on the Lynch Night series comes to a close.

Please come back in the following weeks as the series will be continued by authors Paul Billington, Stewart Gardiner, and J.C. Hotchkiss. I will also be discussing the book in a future episode of the Twin Peaks Unwrapped podcast, where we will parse back and forth their impressions as well. I hope that you have enjoyed the coverage so far and find in visiting the work yourself that there is much more to discover outside of these articles. Until next time, thank you for reading.

[1] David Lynch and Kristine McKenna, Room to Dream (New York: Random House, 2018), 203.

[2] McKenna, p. 173.

[3] Lynch, p. 192.

[4] Lynch, p. 196.

[5] McKenna, p. 183.

[6] Lynch, p. 273.

[7] McKenna, p. 206.

[8] Lynch, p. 229-230.

Written by Rob E. King

I am a librarian, writer, and proud member of Twin Peaks and Robert E. Howard fandom. I've also somehow become the go-to writer for MTV's 90s animation series.

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