Wimps to Enlightenment How Louie Bonanno became Louix Dor Diempriey By Paul Freitag. Louie Bonanno is most noted in Chuck Vincent’s filmography as the least of Sex Appeal and Wimps, as a slightly nerdy Italian guy with a problem scoring with the ladies...
Louie Bonanno is most noted in Chuck Vincent’s filmography as the least of Sex Appeal and Wimps, as a slightly nerdy Italian guy with a problem scoring with the ladies. But Bonanno worked on several Vincent films before moving to Hollywood in the late ’80s. He was fairly successful for a time, but left it all after a spiritual awakening, which has now transformed him into Louix Dor Diempriey, a spiritual master and head of the Louix Dor Diempriey Foundation, dedicated to serving humanity by providing a model for conscious living.
Needless to say, it’s been a unique journey.
Paul Frietag: It’s so good that everyone that I’ve been in contact with has had such good memories of Chuck.
Louie Bonanno: Oh my God, he’s the sweetest, kindest man who ever lived. What possessed you to do an article on him? He’s been done for decades, right?
PF: Yeah, he passed away in 1991, but I’ve always admired his films. They’re thought of as sexploitation films, but I’ve always loved the innocent bawdiness of them that made that distinction seem a little unfair. The sexuality is never aggressive, the humor isn’t mean-spirited, and he had a great use of actors and actresses that wouldn’t have otherwise been in relatively tame films. They really stand out as a genre in themselves. I wanted to do this as a way to help people discover his films, and hopefully have them re-appreciated by a new audience.
LB: That’s awesome. He’s got such a huge library of films, too.
PF: He does. He was very prolific.
LB: A lot of the mainstream people criticized him a lot and slammed his films because he used a lot of people that used to be, or in some cases still were, in the porn industry, and he was bringing them in to crossover into mainstream films, and he took a lot of heat for that. And I’m thinking, "What’s the big deal?" And some of them were really talented.
PF: Just watching Jane Hamilton really gives you a sense of how well these actors actually were.
LB: She’s the one that came to mind. She and I were really good friends for years. Still, to this day, she’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with. The woman could do anything. When he died, Chuck was writing a film for Jane and me to do together. He wanted to do a buddy picture like Thelma and Louise, with us coming from Florida, driving up the coast. I was already in SAG, and I wasn’t doing any movies any more. He said, "Will you do this for me? It’ll be my last film." I said, "Chuck, can you just do it SAG?" And he said, "Oh, I can’t stand the unions! I can’t stand SAG! They’re a pain in the ass! I’m not doing it!" I said, "Chuck, I can’t do a non-union film anymore! I’ve been in SAG for years!" He said, "For you, I’ll do it union. Just for you. You’re my favorite actor of all time, you’re like my family." And he was writing that when he died. I said I would do it for him, and Jane said she would too.
PF: I’m sure. Jane Hamilton can steal a scene away from anyone in Chuck’s films.
LB: She’s brilliant, she can do anything.
PF: Her comic performances are great. I wish she had done more mainstream films outside of Chuck’s.
LB: Yeah, I don’t know that she did much outside of his films. Did she?
PF: A few things here and there, but nothing to the extent of the size of the roles she had in Chuck’s.
LB: She adored him, like I did. He was like a best friend, like a father, a mentor. I couldn’t say enough about him.
PF: How did you first meet him?
LB: I’d have to really be spilling the beans here, but I don’t care, I love and adore him. I had been acting all my life and, to please my parents, I finished my formal education of high school and college and got business degrees, and then I moved to New York City and went to acting school for a year full time, and when I got out of there, I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and I knew I was going to do film, but they don’t train you for film, everything is all stage. So I needed experience in film, so I started doing graduate films at NYU, to learn about being in front of a camera. I already knew how to act; I already had 15 or some years of that.
I was answering small ads in the trades, and I saw an ad for extras needed for a feature film. And his studio was out in Queens, Jackson Heights I think it was, and I went over there to interview, and they were telling me about these parts, and I did my audition, and his casting director liked me and said, "We want to hire you. Oh, by the way, this is an adult film." I said, "As in..." And he said, "As in X-rated." I said, "You didn’t tell me that," because it wasn’t in the ad. And he said, "Would you do it?" To which I said, "Will I have to do porn?" And he said, "No, no, no, your role is what I told you it is." I was playing a mad scientist or something. "So you don’t need me to do porn?" "No, no, no, you can keep your clothes on." "Is there any porn in my scene?" "No, no porn in your scene." So I said, "Yeah, I’ll do it."
So I did that one film, and they wanted to keep using me and using me and I said yeah. I’m getting film experience; I’m getting paid to learn about films. Being on his sets, it was such a mom and pop operation, I was learning about gaffers, and lighting, and sound, and booms. Then I started doing PA work for him.
His studio was always a family. Everyone he had there was his family. They were all best friends. They lived together, they travelled together, they hung out together, they ate together, and they did everything together. So I’d just help out on the set. It was the best film training I ever got. I would do makeup, I would do continuity on shoots, and sometimes I would help out on shoots I wasn’t working on.
He and I became friends, and at that time, I think I’d been in two or three films in small cameo roles, and I’d made friends with the cast too, and they all wanted to me to get in the films, like "Come on, just one scene," trying to get me into porn. I said, "No, I can’t!" It was really tempting. I’d made friends with some of them and there were some real hotties around there. But I thought, no I just can’t do it. I knew I was going to have a career in acting and I didn’t want that behind me. I had no judgment on them doing it; I just knew it wasn’t for me.
So then, lo and behold, Chuck had done about 150 pornographic films. He was probably the number one X-rated filmmaker of his time at that point. He was the grand poobah. And then he lands this 10-picture deal with a then-unknown company called Vestron and the first film comes across his desk, and Chuck wrote it, and the lead was perfect for me. I said to him, "Can I read for this?" And he said, "No, no, no, you’re not right for it," and I begged him and begged him. Just let me audition! If you don’t like it, then hire someone else! I’m not asking you for a favor because we’re friends, I don’t care! So he said, "All right, I’ll let you audition." So he auditions for three weeks in New York, three weeks in San Francisco. He saw a couple hundred people for the starring role, and I got the part! It was my first starring role. The movie was called Sex Appeal. He came to me when he told me I got the part, and said, "I want to tell you face to face, you did not get this because you know me. I literally did not want you for the part. I screen tested scores of people, and you just blew them all away."
So once I did Sex Appeal, he just started writing parts for me, just one after the other. And I did four major roles, and a number of minor ones; one co-starring and three starring roles, where he just wrote the whole films around me. He wanted to keep going, but my career moved me to Hollywood, and my big breaks started coming, and I moved, and I immediately got union work, and I was in SAG, and I was doing TV and film out here, and life took me in a different direction. He kept asking me, and I kept telling him I couldn’t do non-union films anymore. I said, "If you’ll do them SAG, I’ll do them. You gave me my start, you got me to Hollywood." Those films got me a level of notoriety and fame. I got asked for my autograph everywhere I went. His stuff was on cable every month! There were times where I had a different movie on HBO, Cinemax and Showtime the same month!
Chuck really gave me my big break. And I was getting calls from Italy, France; they’re playing all over the world. Then Vestron went public, and they became the biggest company of its kind, and he grabbed the tail of that comet, and I was on the tail of his comet. Then he was on a roll. I went to Hollywood, and he just kept cranking them out. We kept in touch a little bit, and then I heard that almost everyone in his studio had passed away, and then I found out that he had. He always used to say, "Oh, it’ll never get me." And then it did. It broke my heart, and I cried and cried. He used to introduce me to everyone. We’d go out to dinners, and he’d introduce me to everyone he knew in show business in New York. He was the coolest guy. He was just so humble, and so funny, and nice, and he was just amazing.
And my family was in Boston, so I was living totally alone in New York. I didn’t have a partner, I wasn’t in a relationship, and I was just in that big city all alone as a young kid. He took me under his wing. He was awesome to me. He was pretty much my family in New York.
That’s how I met him, and that’s how it went, and life went on its merry way. It would be great if his films got resuscitated. I agree with everything you said about them. There was a purity and an innocence about them. They never got really rank or rude or mean or crude, but they had a lot of heart. They were simple, but they had a lot of heart. Like him. His films were a reflection of him.
I remember my dream at the time was to do the part that Sal Mineo did when he was in P.S. Your Cat is Dead, and I told Chuck all my life, that is my opus. Everyone always called me Sal Mineo at the time, I was young Italian, New York-looking kid, and it was, "You remind me of Sal Mineo." And he was playing that role when he was murdered around the same age I was then. And I said, "Chuck, I gotta do this."
And he says, "Oh my God, I’m friends with James Kirkwood! My house is right next to his in the Hamptons! I’ll take you to his house!" I said, "Are you for real?" So we jump in the car, and he drives me out to James Kirkwood’s house, and he just walk into his living room, and Chuck says, "I want to option this movie for him! He’s going to play the role!" And James goes, "Well, my agent is William Morris, so call them, and I want this and that," and Chuck says, "Oh, f- you! Just give us the part! The kid’s the best actor who ever lived! He’s going to be a huge star! I’ve known you twenty years, you f-this and that!" It was just so funny! He was just so off-handed like that. And nobody got offended, because he was just so sweet. He said whatever he wanted. He was just so disarming.
Needless to say, I didn’t get the part. It went for years and years, and finally Steve Guttenberg did it (and butchered it, quite frankly). He took out everything that was great about that play, because he was afraid for approach the subject matter. He played it way too conservatively. The whole power and humor of that play is the sexual ambiguity and the mystique and the not knowing, and he was afraid of it, he wouldn’t go anywhere near it. It was dry.
PF: It does seem right up Chuck’s alley, where there’s this sexual ambiguity, but it’s almost this character-driven farce.
LB: Yeah, Chuck would have known what to do with it. And Guttenberg I love, he’s a great actor, but it was definitely the wrong project for him.
PF: How did you get into acting in the first place?
LB: I did my first play when I was eight years old. I was in third grade, there was a play in the school called Panic in the Palace, and I walked onto stage in my tights and tunic, and I was smitten. I guess you could say that the same way later in life I got the calling to become a priest; I got the calling to become an actor. I set foot on the stage and boom, that’s all I wanted to do. I started performing every chance I could get.
I was an impressionist, too, for most of my life. I started doing voices when I was about nine years old. My parents would throw these big parties, my dad was a big entertainer, and they would just pick me up and sit me in the middle of the room and have me start doing take-offs on everyone in the room. I started learning all of Mel Blanc’s Looney Tunes voices. I could do almost all the Looney Tunes characters. When Mel Blanc died, they were considering me for his replacement. The job went to his grandson, but I got called in on a lot of stuff like that. I could imitate almost any voice. When I finally settled in Hollywood, I used to get called in to do ADR looping, because I could imitate almost any movie star’s voice. So if they had technical problems during the shoot and they didn’t catch it until post, they would hire me to come in and fill in the movie star’s voice. I could do animals, I could do sound effects, I could do people I got a lot of work looping films.
Anyway, I was doing weddings and parties, and by the time I got to college, I was doing comedy clubs in Boston. I worked at the Charles Playhouse, the Comedy Connection, and the same club that launched Jay Leno. He was on stage as an unknown the same nights I was there. Steven Wright and Jack Gallagher were all just starting out about the same time there.
Then I went to New York, and the academy, and didn’t do as much stand-up there, because I was doing improve, and doing plays. And then with Chuck’s film Wimps, the second film I starred in, they flew me to Hollywood to shoot the poster. He wanted to do the shoot in Hollywood for whatever reason. So when I came out there for a couple of weeks, I got an agent and I never went back. Things just took off from there.
PF: Chuck used your ability to do voices in the movie High School, which ended up getting released as Student Affairs.
LB: Student Affairs, yeah! I did them in that, playing an actor playing a character. That was a movie within a movie. I was an 18-year-old Italian kid in Brooklyn playing a 15-year-old nerd in high school.
PF: It’s a very self-referential film.
LB: It was a really fun shoot. That was the most fun shoot I’ve ever had out of any other job I’ve done in my entire life. We got in a big shuttle bus and went up to Montclaire State College at every morning at 6 AM and we were just a big family. We had the whole campus to ourselves; I think they were on spring break that week, so there was only a smattering of college kids around. We had this big, beautiful campus, it was awesome. It was the best memory of my whole career was making that film.
PF: Was it just the camaraderie?
LB: Yeah, because a lot of us had done several films already with him by then, and like I said, his studio was always a family, so the crew were friends with everyone. It was awesome. It was a big party. It was great for Chuck too, he was in his glory. We used to laugh and joke so much on that set. We’d come home 7, 8 at night, and go out the next day again. It was like a big field trip.
PF: This is how he depicts the making of the movie within the film. How quick of a film shoot were they in general?
LB: Most of them were shot in two weeks. Some of them were done in one week, but for most of them, he said he can do a full film in two weeks. That was amazing, doing a feature length film in two weeks. You would think the quality would be way less, but the guy knew what he was doing.
PF: It’s really amazing watching the movies, with some of the takes where there’s lots of actors moving back and forth and the camera moving all over the place on such a low budget.
LB: Yeah, actors in really big films couldn’t pull that off. They’d have to memorize one line at a time and shoot one page a day. It shows what kind of talent he had on hand for people to memorize a whole script in two weeks, and shoot out of sequence, and shoot back to front, and still be there to do it.
He’d have such funny expressions on the set. He’d do his take and be like, "I got it! I got it!" and someone would be like, "No, but Chuck..." and he’d say "I’ll get in post!" Chuck, you can’t get it in post if it’s not on the film! He’d yell out "Don’t read the script!" He loved improv, too. Anytime I’d improve something, he’d say, "I love it! Just make up whatever you want!" He wrote the films, so he didn’t have to deal with the bruised writer on the set.
PF: How much did you know Craig Horrall, his co-writer?
LB: Craig and he worked together on most of them. I think Craig died before he did. They would go out to the Hamptons for a weekend and come back with a script, sometimes two. He was as prolific and fast in writing them as he was in shooting them.
PF: He must have had an insane amount of energy.
LB: He had boundless energy. He would go all day, all night, and if we went out in the city, he lived in Queens, at 11 o’clock at night, he’d drop me off, and he’d still be wired for sound. And he’d be up at five, six the next morning. He was just plugged into a wall socket all the time. And it was extremely rare, in the two and a half years I knew him, to see him angry. And he would move through it in minutes anyway. Someone would really have to push him or violate him hugely, like smash his car or steal ten thousand dollars. Small stuff would just roll off of him. The guy was just perennially happy and kind. I never met a person that said he or she did not like this man.
PF: What caused you to leave acting?
LB: Well, I’ll try to say it in as layman terms as I can, without getting too "woo-woo." I had a powerful spiritual awakening in 1990, when my crown just blew open and I had this amazing experience of God and the divine, and went into, I’ll just call it an "ecstatic state." I had so much light coming through my body. I didn’t sleep a wink or eat a morsel of food for nine days. I had an experience of total omniscience. I could see and hear everything. All these divine gifts got awakened in me. I had this gift of faith healing that awakened in my hands, and I could touch people’s bodies and see everything in their bodies. People would walk by, and I could see their futures and my own future, and everything just got laid out for me. I just heard the call that there was something else calling me. I started having repeated encounters. That tapered off after a while, eventually I started eating and sleeping again, but I started doing faith healings on people, I started doing what you would call psychic readings, people would come and ask me questions and I could see everything in their lives and future.
Some of this was always there in life, but this was a huge thrust in acceleration of it, like a supernova imploded in my head and my heart. It was just very clear. I started having encounters with celestial beings and the divine, and I started realizing there was something going here. So I kept praying and praying for help, and eventually I found myself a spiritual teacher and just walked away from the whole work. I had a thriving career in Hollywood. I walked away at the peak of my career, actually. I was at the point where I was getting offers without auditioning.
I had just done this pilot for Witt-Thomas Productions, Tony Thomas and Paul Junger Witt became friends and fans of mine. They wrote a TV series with me and Jackée and some others. It was star-studded. We shot the pilot as New York Stories. [This aired as We‘ll Take Manhattan, a 1990 TV-movie] Jackée was the hottest comedian at the time, and that was going to be her new series. And I’d met her before, as my first role in Hollywood was a guest spot on 227. And then five years later or whenever, we end up starring in a sitcom together. I think the writers’ strike killed that one.
I was in a sitcom called Eisenhower and Lutz with Scott Bakula. On that show I had a small role and, when I got on set, the director really took to me and kept increasing my role. Then the writers took to me and the producer Allan Burns, who created The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He told me he was going to write an episode for me. I took that with a grain of salt, but my agent said that if Allan Burns said it, he will. Sure enough, three months later, he phones up, no audition, he says I wrote a whole episode around your character. We’re bringing you in as a guest star. And after that taping, he walked up to me and said, "Next season, you’re going to be a series regular." And I thought, "Oh my God, this is it! This is it!" And then the writers’ strike happened and 90 shows got the axe, including Eisenhower and Lutz.
Shortly after that, I started my spiritual training. I got more offers after that, but I saw them as temptations. I’d found my niche in life and I was happy as a clam. I walked away from my career, I had a two-and-a-half year common-law marriage I walked away from, I walked away from my family, and I gave my home away. I was living like a monk, with just a mattress on the floor and a little altar, praying and studying. And now it’s 20 years later, and I’ve got a different ministry that’s growing and thriving, with ashrams around the world. I’m a spiritual teacher now, and I do spiritual retreats and counseling and webinars and all sorts of cool stuff.
It all felt very natural. It’s probably not as big of a surprise as I’m making it out to sound, but I’ve had wafts and hints of it ever since I was a child. I had an encounter with Jesus when I was five, when he physically materialized in my bedroom and talked to me for 15 minutes, and I never told anyone because I figured, "If he’s coming to my room, he must be going to everyone’s." So I kind of always had a sense of it all my life, but I just followed my heart and followed my dream, and it took me where it needed to take me. That’s the advice I always give people. Follow your heart, man! It’ll lead you!
My two careers may seem like such non-sequiturs, but I see the flawless perfection of them now. That whole 20 year career in show business trained me as a writer, it trained me in effective speech, how to carry my body, how to take care of my body, how to be comfortable in front of cameras, lighting, sound. I’m helping to make films now, I direct all our sound recordings, I direct all our video tapings and film shoots, and I learned all that from my showbiz career.
PF:I did have one final question that there’s really no good way to segue into, but one of the last films you made wasCool as Ice, where you do an amazingly awful rendition of "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)."
LB: With Vanilla Ice, yeah! You know what’s amazing? I love that group, and I could not hear the melody in my head when the director gave me the song for my audition, and it was to my advantage, because I just made this thing up! And if I had the melody stuck in my head, I would not have been able to do what I did. And he just loved it.
I also loved what Vanilla Ice did with that song. I’m not a big rap guy, but I thought he did a really impressive job on that song. I liked his performance, too, believe it or not. I thought it was a fun little film.
PF: Do you remember anything specific about the filming?
LB: I had a ball on that movie. Well, sort of had a ball. I had a ball in the fact that I did it and I liked the character, but it was probably the most difficult shoot I ever had. There were some problems with some of the cast members, let’s just say. I don’t want to say any bad gossip, it’s not good karma, but it was a difficult shoot; some difficult personalities on the set. And the director shared my sentiment.
For more information on the Louix Dor Dempriey Foundation, visit www.louix.org
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