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Thrill of a Lifetime 

The life of Will "The Thrill" Viharo -- the Bay Area's undisputed B-movie lounge king -- would make a good B-movie of its own

Wednesday, Dec 12 2001

Page 2 of 3

"It was some sort of crazy, fundamentalist group," says Will, still visibly troubled by the memory. "We couldn't wear shoes indoors; we couldn't talk to girls; we couldn't eat meat or watch movies. But we were living in New Jersey, of all places. It was very sheltered and very weird. That's when I really retreated into my head and let my imagination have full reign."

At 16, and already an aspiring writer, Will was kicked out of the religious community and sent back to Los Angeles, where his dad was working on Wife No. 5. Will made the best of it, writing plays and short stories while bumping shoulders with celebrities who were moving up, hanging out, and coming down; when he turned 19, Will's surrogate "big brother," Mickey Rourke, bought him his first car, a 1964 T-Bird that his father borrowed on a regular basis, sometimes to impress the women Will himself admired and desired.

"The closest I ever came to pulling a Hinckley was over [actress] Linda Kerridge," says Viharo, laughing at the thought. "She was my muse; I wrote for her. Then my father bopped her ... after directing her at the Actors Studio in a one-act I wrote called Wrong Turn at Albuquerque. It's OK, though. My father and I get along really well, now. ... It wouldn't have worked out anyway, the thing with me and Linda. I was just a kid."

Realizing his T-Bird was a lemon and his "big brother" Mickey was becoming famous, while his own career as a busboy was going nowhere, Viharo moved to San Francisco to follow in the weary footsteps of Jack Kerouac and Dashiell Hammett. He lived in the Europa Hotel above the club where Carol Doda was still dancing; he took odd jobs at bookstores, restaurants, video stores, and blood banks; he began the first of 16 novels. And, at the age of 25, Will Viharo found himself a very lonely, very angry, very sad guy.

Then he saw the Rat Pack reunion tour at the Oakland Coliseum.

It was Frank, Sammy, and Dean, together again, and it changed Viharo's life.

"I guess you can say it was kind of a religious experience," says Viharo, trying to explain his passion once and for all. "I was so depressed throughout my 20s. I had been living my life as this tragic poem, and they showed me how to look at it like a comic book. Here were these guys, living larger than life and having fun."

Viharo was on the road to Thrillville.

In 1995, Kyle and Catherine Fischer, two friends from one of Viharo's restaurant jobs, formed Wild Card Press and offered to publish the first of Viharo's six-part Vic Valentine detective series, Love Stories Are Too Violent for Me. The book, an early work Viharo no longer lauds, is a truly enjoyable page-turner that compensates for its lack of thrills with a complex, highly developed central character, who is, of course, Viharo -- sensitive but brusque, alarmingly candid, and pathetically vulnerable to all the "bad" women he loves.

While Viharo was busy peddling his book across the video counter where he worked, he met and married one of his customers, in the comedy aisle, and then divorced. She, Viharo says, helped him exorcise the phantom of his mother while supplying his still-emerging lounge lizard persona with the prerequisite ex-wife. When the Fischers invested in the Parkway Theater, they asked Viharo to host a cult movie night, and Will The Thrill was ready. It was The Thrill's mission to rescue pop culture gems like 20 Million Miles to Earth and I Was a Teenage Werewolf from cinematic obscurity and pay homage to those that helped change his life.

He's done a good job of it.

Over the last five years, Viharo has diligently protected and defended the essence the Cramps call "goneness" -- pop and pulp culture, monster movies, pinups, Mobsters, and cocktail shakers -- and it has served him well: Elvis Presley "introduced" him to his leading lady and favorite pinup girl four years ago, first by way of an Elvis movie night Will hosted for "Thrillville" at the Parkway, then again at an Elvis birthday party at the Ivy Room, where he won Monica's heart. (Last year, they exchanged vows and names -- both go by Cortés Viharo -- at Sinatra's old hotel, the Cal-Neva, in front of a Dean Martin-impersonating reverend and longtime friend named Robert Ensler.) Currently, Viharo gets paid to book movies and contribute to numerous pop culture periodicals, including Atomic and Filmfax; Christian Slater has recently purchased the option for Love Stories; and Will has become a recognized pop culture "activist," leading the way for protests against such vapid Hollywood debacles as the remake of Ocean's Eleven and the upcoming Viva Las Vegas starring Ricky Martin.

"Do I think it's important?" says Viharo standing in front of a stack of Miami Vice videos he considers a guilty pleasure. "Yes. Do I expect anyone else to think it's important? No.

"But life is made of ephemera. It's the little things, the day-to-day things, that enrich and impact our lives the most. No one should ever underestimate the power of art in our lives, even if it takes the form of pop art. It should be preserved and respected. The Rat Pack gave me something to dream about and a sense of idealism. Those movies are time capsules. That's where I found my heroes and my mentors. And even though it might not make sense to anyone else, I have to defend them."

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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