Dave sits down with the screenwriter Fred Stroppel to learn about the ludicrous journey of bringing his play to the big screen.
“I met producer Alan Amiel for lunch at Gorky’s in Los Angeles, and his first words were exhilarating. “I just want to tell you, Fred, that this is the best low-budget script I’ve read in the last ten years.””
“Then he spent the next three hours telling me what was wrong with it.”
For Fred Stroppel, the Long Island born playwright, the opportunity to fly to the west coast and have his play, Second Nature, adapted into a Hollywood movie was too good to refuse. However, as with a great many Tinseltown dreams, they’re all too quick to wake up from.
“A friend of mine called Ray Haboush was keen to become a film producer,” recalls Stroppel. “And he thought this unproduced play of mine could well make a good movie. It was about a couple who were trying to conceive and the great lengths that they went to to make that happen. In those days, the notion of IVF was still in its infancy (so to speak), so the idea that a couple might choose a more natural method didn’t seem so outlandish. So Ray had managed to get Amiel to agree to purchase it, with the understanding that because I had a background in comedy, I would be the director. So I flew out to L.A. in 1991 to begin pre-production”. 
Despite this promising start to his Hollywood career, it wasn’t long after touching down at LAX that the financial side of things began to unravel, with potential investor Vision International pinning their hopes on another picture in order to fund Stroppel’s film. Not that Vision head honcho Mark Damon was particularly enamoured with the writer and potential director.
“Mark was a low-budget version of the archetypal studio executive. As I walked into his office, he was sitting behind a wide polished-glass desk, with slick black hair and heavy-lidded eyes, smoking a big cigar. He was on the phone. He’d been an actor in his early days, so he knew how moguls were supposed to be played. Mark’s eyes grew more lidded as the interview went on, and something was clearly dissatisfying him. Finally, he held up his cigar for silence. “You know,” he said, placing his palm over the screenplay, “This is a very funny script.” Then he leaned forward and leveled an almost pitying stare at me. “But you’re not a very funny guy.””
“It eventually came out that we were waiting for Craig R. Baxley’s Stone Cold (1991) to open. Vision was involved in the backing, and when the movie inevitably became a monster hit, we would have our greenlight for Second Nature, and maybe even a bigger budget. But Stone Cold opened stone dead, and Second Nature was put on indefinite hold.”
After a few more weeks in Los Angeles, sleeping on a selection of poorly manufactured mattresses on an array of living room floors that belonged to people he barely knew, Stroppel headed home. In his absence, Second Nature finally went into production, albeit under its new-found title of ALMOST PREGNANT. At the very least, it was a marked improvement over another possibility: ‘The Sperminator’.
Stroppel’s proposed directorial debut had been placed into the young hands of Michael DeLuise (he turned twenty-two during the first week of shooting), and DeLuise’s father, Dom, was handed a cameo as fertility specialist Dr. Emil Beckhard (“It was supposed to be a woman, which I thought would be a much funnier situation,” states Stroppel). Lead roles were assigned to John Calvin and Joan Severance as neighborly couple Gordon and Maureen Mallory, with Jeff Conaway firing blanks as Charlie Alderson, much to the frustration of his broody wife Linda, who was played by Tanya Roberts – a casting decision that left Stroppel bemused.
“Alan’s proudest achievement to date, I discovered, was the movie Inner Sanctum (1991): an erotic thriller about a wheelchair-bound woman who suspects that her nurse is in cahoots with her husband to kill her. The nurse was played by former Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts, who had choreographed her own sex scenes . Tanya had been chosen to play the lead although I didn’t know this yet; she was “under consideration”. Based on her spectacularly naked performance in Fred Olen Ray’s film, there was no question in Alan’s mind that she would be our Linda. “But can she do comedy?” I worried. Alan looked at me blankly, as if the question were absurd on the face of it. “You are the comedy person,” he reminded me.”
Not being privy to the mechanics of Stroppel’s original play, I thought the newly titled Almost Pregnant was a surprisingly chipper comedy. The notion of a sex farce to anyone on this side of the Atlantic tends to herald an image of Robin Askwith’s bare butt climbing out of a frustrated housewife’s bedroom window, so to discover something that’s akin to a low-brow Woody Allen skit was a welcome surprise. Peppered with zingy one-liners like “He didn’t come here to be assaulted by your bumper sticker mentality”, this ensemble of double-crossing lovers ooze vitality, and there’s a real spark to their consistently funny witticisms.
Stroppel, of course, was less enthused by the whole shebang – but after his disheartening journey at the mercy of Amiel and Damon, his woe is understandable.
“As you can probably tell, I didn’t think much of the final result. It was a far cry from the original script I wrote – some of the scenes were presented out of order so as to make room for the interpolated sex scenes. I don’t blame Michael DeLuise – as I recall, he was basically handed the film a week before shooting, with the cast and the locations already selected. It was a miracle he got it shot at all.”
 And Haboush did indeed become a film producer, with The Last House on the Left (2009) and Brian Yuzna’s Amphibious (2010) among his most notable works.
 Inner Sanctum (1991) director Fred Olen Ray contacted The Schlock Pit to contest Fred Stroppel’s recollection that his film was made prior to Almost Pregnant, and rubbished Stroppel’s claim that she “had choreographed her own sex scenes”.
Updated with corrections on 11/9/21