Disaffected from the film, Hampton Fancher is hardly a household name, but he was the guy who presented the idea that became the movie Blade Runner, based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Escapes is director Michael Almereyda’s documentary that winds through and around mid-20th century pop culture, devouring minutia that connects Porter Ricks (from the TV show Flipper) to Empedocles (a philosopher of pre-Socratic Rome), through brushes with B-movie stardom, Michael Antonioni and a missed flight to oblivion! It’s a flabbergastingly instructional manual of doomed Hollywood ambition much in the way Jodorowsky’s Dune captured that director’s attempt to bring Franz Herbert’s novel to the screen.
As revealed in Escapes through old TV footage, publicity stills and remembrances of a past life, Hampton Fancher was a Hollywood wild child who dated aspiring actress Teri Garr, was David Carradine’s replacement in Barbara Hershey’s life and briefly married Lolita actress Sue Lyon. She was 17, he was 24, or as he puts it, “I wanted her to read Sartre. It didn’t work out.”
Born in East LA, Fancher’s father was a prize fighter, his mother a dancer. He flunked out of 3rd grade repeatedly, and by age 11 he ran away to Spain to study under the guidance of Paco Reyes, a gypsy flamenco master!
By the time he returned stateside, his sister had become a stripper, and he took a job as a day laborer on the Mt. Olympia track housing development in Laurel Canyon, where he was arrested on site. Noticed on a street corner, he landed his first film role, uncredited, for the movie The Brain Eaters when the director yelled out, “Hey Wolfboy! Want to be in a movie?” This led to his appearing in over 50 TV programs including Bonanza and Perry Mason at a time, unlike any other, when unknowns had to bust their ass to find work!
Told in seven chapters with titles such as “Somewhat Lower Than Angels,” this documentary has two central but key encounters. The first, with the actor Brian Kelly, who played the dad on the show Flipper, and would later, after a motorcycle accident, provide the catalyst for Fancher to pursue his screenwriting dreams. Secondly, Fancher’s obsession with optioning the science fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? pits him against the eccentric writer Philip K. Dick.
Turning from acting to screenwriting in the late ‘60s, Fancher had sent a proposal to Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow-Up). But there was no reply. Frustrated, by 1974 Fancher had shifted all focus to winning Dick’s approval for a treatment of his book. Dick lived in Fullerton, California, and once the two met, this apocalyptic undertaking was complicated further by Fancher having brought along his then-girlfriend, who Dick became infatuated by, ignoring Fancher but trying to strike up a correspondence with Fancher’s girlfriend instead!
This was at a really odd time period. Beforehand, TV was dominated by the old guard, ex-vaudevillians and former movie stars. By the early ‘60s, this new younger breed of actor had emerged without name recognition – appearing at intervals either as cops or robbers, simultaneously, sometimes on competing networks at the same time. And none were the wiser because we experienced present time in glimpses! Only in hindsight are we awarded pieces of a bigger picture. I was reminded while watching Escapes of another bit player who’d appeared on Perry Mason, Karyn Kupcinet, who was found dead in her apartment in West Hollywood, unable to find “escapes” from the demand of acting. Hampton Fancher wasn’t a victim of foul play, just stymied by the alieness of Philip K. Dick, who concluded in one of his letters that “back in 400 B.C., Empedocles did a lot for Athens – and I hope to do the same for Fullerton, California.”!!!!
Dick’s last communiqué to Fancher’s girlfriend included his phone number and a picture of Pinky, his cat!
But human beings aren’t privileged to know the whole picture, only pieces as they are made available, so Fancher’s original script was titled Dangerous Days, and he managed to get director Robert Mulligan (The Other) interested in it, but financing fell through and Ridley Scott was approached. Scott proceeded to guide Fancher through ten simplifications of his script, even though he’d never read Dick’s actual book.
With the impending release of Blade Runner 2049, Scott was wise enough to secure Fancher as co-writer as the pieces fell into place.
Do androids dream of electric sheep? It would seem certain actors continue to dream.