There’s a pair of pants in the bottom drawer of my dresser. They don’t fit me. In fact, they’re kind of ugly. They’re chocolate brown with thick vertical half-hound’s-tooth white stripes, a trio of faux-bone oblong buttons (non-functional) running up the side of each pocket and belt loops wide enough to accommodate a belt half a cow wide.
They’re made of (I’m going to guess) cotton, although they’re a little slick to the touch to make that argument convincingly, and the only label anywhere on them is a lonely “38” on the inside waist.
So if they don’t fit, and I don’t like the way they look,why don’t I get rid of them? Well, mostly because they’re not my pants. Th ey’re Martin Kove’s.
If you don’t immediately recognize the name, don’t sweat it. A lot of people don’t, even though Martin Kove has a pretty impressive filmography. He was the comic relief deputy in Wes Craven’s notorious The Last House on the Left, the fey Nero the Hero in Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000, the Quint-analogue Roland in Gary Jones’ Crocodile II: Death Swamp and starred in Robert Boris’ Steele Justice (“You don’t recruit John Steele. You unleash him.”). He also appeared in such underrated classics as Jonathan Kaplan’s White Line Fever and J. Lee Thompson’s The White Buffalo, and had a recurring role as Detective Victork Isbecki on Cagney and Lacey.
But Martin is probably better known as Ericson, the treacherous helicopter pilot in George P. Cosmatos’ Rambo, First Blood Part II, and best known as John “Sweep the leg” Kreese, head of the Kobra Kai dojo in John G. Alvidson’s The Karate Kid (parts I – III).
I first met Martin at the American Film Market in 2005. He was there to meet with Nu Image, the producers of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo (2008), to see if Ericson was returning in the sequel. He wasn’t.
Which, in 2007, left Martin free (or at least not expensive) to join the cast of a film I wrote called The Dead Sleep Easy. He joined the production team in Guadalajara in January and after moving from the hotel room we’d reserved for him to a suite at the Hilton, wanted to go shopping for wardrobe. As the writer (and one of the few members of the team who spoke a smattering of Spanish), I was deemed expendable for the day’s shoot and nominated to accompany Martin on the outing.
As we wandered around open-air markets and storefronts, people started to recognize Martin. They didn’t necessarily know who he was, but they knew he was somebody. Martin would smile indulgently and mention The Karate Kid, and peoples’ faces would light up. And so, in between anecdotes about Sam Peckinpah and conversations about whether his character would wear natural or synthetic fabrics, Martin signed autographs and posed for photos with fans.
We ended up at a store called El Charro that specialized in traditional mariachi costumes and cowboy fashions straight out of The Three Amigos. The staff was instantly enamored with Martin, and he had found the look his character needed. Martin popped in and out of the change room, adding shirts and pants to a pile of desired purchases. As the stack grew I tallied in my head, and began to understand how movies go over budget.
But Martin had come equipped for the retail experience with a selection of eight by ten glossies of himself. The sales staff each got one. So did the cashier and the manager. And when the bill came due, he quietly asked if that was their best price. He talked in broad terms about what exposure in a film can do for a business, and how they might want to take that into consideration. I caught on, stepped in, and eventually negotiated a 15% discount in return for credit on the film.
Martin wore some of the clothes in the film and left others in his suite when he went back to Hollywood. I ended up with the pants.
Searching for clean clothes the other day, I ran across them, and it set me wondering, is that what celebrity comes down to? A 15% discount on pants in Guadalajara? Maybe, but I think it’s something more than that. Because someone like me keeps those pants, and writes an article about them. Which someone like you then reads. Something makes them more than just pants, and I think I know what it is.
The characters Martin Kove has played are part of him now, sutured to him like Peter Pan’s mischievous shadow. And whether you recognize him or not, you sense how those characters – those extra lives led – make him larger than life. At least 15% larger.
That day at El Charro, when the bill was paid, minus the discount, Martin took me aside and told me I should have held out for more.
Looking back on it, he was right.
Ian Driscoll normally buys his pants at The Bay. Which is to say, on sale.