I Remember Papa: David DeCoteau on Paul Leder

Writing exclusively for The Schlock Pit, cult auteur David DeCoteau recalls how a chance encounter with the mighty Paul Leder changed his life forever…

I was driving around Los Angeles scouting locations for my 1986 horror feature, Dreamaniac, and saw a sale sign on a large house with the realtors name on it:

‘PAUL LEDER’.

Wait! Could it be the director of A*P*E* (1975) and I Dismember Mama (1972)?

Do directors have side hustles selling real estate during slow times?

The house looked perfect for what I needed. I called the number on the sign, and a booming voice answered the phone.

“This is Paul Leder”.

“Hello, my name is Dave DeCoteau, and the home you are selling looks perfect for a tiny independent film I am producing and directing. Is it available?”

“Ugh, location scouting in Los Angeles is a pain in the ass,” he replied . “I identify with your problem, kid. I make little movies too.”

Immediately I shot back with, “Oh my God! A*P*E*! I Dismember Mama! You directed those!”

Silence.

And then… Laughter.

“I think you and I are gonna be friends,” he replied. “Come on up to the house and let’s discuss.”

We spent the afternoon laughing our asses off about the crazy indie business, and I made the deal on the house for my ten-day quickie. It was where Paul had made Vultures (1984). Jim Bailey, Aldo Ray, and Yvonne DeCarlo had starred in it. The owner of the house was I Dismember Mama‘s screenwriter, Bill Norton. He’d also written Big Bad Mama (1974) and Day of the Animals (1977).

I fell in love with Paul that afternoon.

He was still directing small movies at that time, mainly starring Wings Hauser. Wings, Paul, and myself would crash the American Film Market and watch movies. Paul would hire some of my crew members and I would hire some of his.

Paul starred in a John Patrick Hayes movie opposite Rue McClanahan. John was a friend from my adult days. It seemed like everybody knew each other.

Paul was married to a lovely lady named Etyl who he had met during World War II. They had three children. Reuben became a successful television writer and producer, Geraldine became a casting director at Warner Bros, and Mimi became the best script supervisor in the business before she directed the first Dreamworks movie, The Peacemaker (1997). Although his children went to work for the majors, Paul stayed in low budget by choice. Writing, producing, directing, editing, and, in some cases, even conforming his own film negatives.

A true independent.

I had come back from a shoot in Romania and Paul said he wanted to get together. When we met up he handed me a script. ‘A Sentimental Journey’ was about him and Etyl meeting and falling in love in war-torn Europe. Maybe we could make it in Romania? A period piece for a price. Paul said, “I must make this movie soon”.

I never saw Paul without a cigarette. His coughing fits scared me, but Paul was as strong as a bull and there was no director I had ever met that had his huge presence on set. Paul was gonna live forever. Paul was just about to shoot a movie and needed an actress for a nude scene, so I said I would have one of my girls call him. A week later I had Karen Russell from Murder Weapon (1989) get in touch with him. She called me back soon after and said “David, Paul’s dead”.

Paul Leder was not only one of my mentors, but he was a wonderful friend for many years. He was a great man. He called me The Dakota Kid and I called him Papa Paul.

He was a titan of a man.

I miss him.

Director David DeCoteau has been in the movie business since the age of eighteen. Beginning as a PA on the likes of Galaxy of Terror (1981) and Angel (1983), DeCoteau was soon calling “action!” on such colourful cult favourites as Creepozoids (1987), Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988), Nightmare Sisters (1988), Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991), and Voodoo Academy (2000). A queer horror trailblazer, DeCoteau’s work under his own Rapid Heart Pictures banner includes Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy (2000), Final Scream (2001), Leeches! (2003), Speed Demon (2003), and Beastly Boyz (2006). More recently DeCoteau has become the king of the Lifetime movie with the hugely popular The Wrong series among his many TVM credits.

In short, David DeCoteau is one of the reasons that The Schlock Pit exists, and we’d like to extend our thanks to him for sharing his poignant memories of Paul Leder.

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