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Stanton Kaye: Father of Reinvention 

Could tracking technology save the Hollywood dreams of a former golden boy?

Wednesday, Mar 5 2008
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"I took a Jungian approach to the light bulb," Kaye says of his lifelong obsession with experimentation, his voice lowering to a conspiratorial, Colonel Kurtz intimacy. "In the dark, a lot of things happen. History is nothing but what happens in the dark."

Kaye's commitment to Bouquet and his attempt to help young filmmakers were no offhand charity gestures. By his early 20s, Kaye had made two well-regarded experimental films, and when one hears about his history, an image forms of the Falstaffian Orson Welles. Their similarities are more than physical. Both men worked first in theater and then in film, and were considered 25-year-old boy wonders when they began their greatest cinema projects. The difference is that unlike Welles' Citizen Kane, Kaye's magnum opus, In Pursuit of Treasure, completed while he was an American Film Institute fellow in 1972, has never been shown and remains locked in an AFI vault.

As I begin talking to Kaye about RFID, it becomes obvious that In Pursuit of Treasure was a critical and painful turning point in his life. And the more he describes it, the more this project emerges from the sands of the past as not just a personal debacle but a lost artifact of moviemaking. During a few years in the 1970s, the fate of both Kaye's career as a promising filmmaker and AFI itself were inextricably bound together. Had his AFI-funded film been a success, it would probably have catapulted his career beyond the small circle of cineastes who had applauded his early efforts. Similarly, this first feature produced by the young AFI could have made the institute an instant powerhouse in the New Hollywood that had erupted in the wake of Bonnie and Clyde. None of this happened, however.

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There's a decent chance RFID will make Kaye and Myers rich, but such success might only be a means to an end for Kaye, who may yet decide to make his mark on the moviemaking business he turned his back on many years ago. He came to time-temperature technology through the proverbial long, strange trip and knows that his most treacherous muse has not been temperature, gravity or even treasure, but a place called Hollywood.

(Click to enlarge)

That ’70s girl: A young Bonnie Bedelia

Stanton Kaye's moviemaking dreams were born in that forgotten cradle of Hollywood, the Yiddish theater. An uncle, Max Gabel, had been a luminary in this world whose capital was New York's Second Avenue, and Kaye's father, Edward, also performed in it as an actor. Kaye was born in New York, but father Edward moved the family to Los Angeles to break into films. After landing a few bit roles under the name Earl Tree, Edward settled into working mostly behind the camera as a dialogue coach during the early 1940s while running his own live theater on Cole Avenue. Kaye grew up in Beverly Hills, studying dance, putting on children's skits, and later writing poetry and plays.

By the late 1950s, however, Edward had declared bankruptcy and was selling women's clothes out of his car along a vast farm-auction circuit that ran up and down the rural spine of California, with son Stanton by his side.

"I'd take off from high school," Kaye remembers, "and go on grueling drives to all these backwoods areas in Fresno, Tulare, Hemet, National City — it was the raw end of 'country western.' There were Okies and Mexicans, black itinerants — foreigners outside the economy. Farmers would bring their harvests and livestock to these auctions. And they'd bring in their wives too, give them money to buy old pots and pans from vendors who would hang out there and prey on them."

While his father peddled schmattes, the artistic teenager would study these auction types: philandering salesmen, gullible farmers' wives and the down-and-outers who lurked on the fringes of the action. From them, Stanton Kaye received advanced lessons in human nature — and salesmanship.

"Explosives are weird stuff. The consequences can be severe."

I can't see Kaye but hear him chopping celery. We're in Infratab's main office, a big room where the Patriot missile was developed. It's now filled with Gregg Fleishman furniture and the walls are hung with African tribal masks, old movie posters and Robert Zakanitch's large impressionist paintings. Terry Myers sits at a desk, speaking on the phone as an enormous dog named Friday wanders in. CNN Headline News hums continually on low volume, and for now the wind chimes' mantra has been silenced. Kaye is in the galley, busy with a crock pot preparing lunch — some kind of Raytheon gumbo with lots of mushrooms, onions, garlic and cream. He's on a jag about time-temperature requirements for artillery shells.

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