Note: This blog has been updated with the information that Leonard “Larry” Raimi passed away May 20, 2021, which was after this blog was first published (May 9, 2021).
In the decade or so I worked in the news reporting business, I had the chance to meet lots of famous folks – Gordie Howe, Ernie Harwell, Gloria Steinem, Kwame Kilpatrick before he was mayor of Detroit and pardoned by former president Donald Trump – and countless other politicians and local celebrities.
But it’s my husband’s random meeting of a celebrity’s dad that makes me the most jealous of all – let’s rewind to sometime after the first Spider-Man movie was released but before January 2003, when my husband left the advertising company for which he worked. So let’s say…2002?
So why do I mention the first Spider-Man movie and what does it have in common with Darkman, the Evil Dead movie and TV series franchise, A Simple Plan and For Love of the Game? If you picked Sam Raimi as the common denominator here, then ding, ding, ding you’ve won a 1973 Delta 88 AND brand new dinette set!
My husband worked for a metro Detroit advertising firm between 1999 and early 2003 and during that time, he designed mall directories, print advertisements and other things for local businesses – including at least one owned by Sam Raimi’s father.
Much to my introverted husband’s chagrin, he occasionally had to greet walk-in customers at work since his office was near the entrance. And one day, one of those walk-in customers was none other than Leonard Raimi, whom the senior advertising staff insisted be called “Mister Raimi.” He was film director Sam Raimi’s father, and he owned at least a storefront or two in a nearby strip mall. And he had an appointment – he called before he came in.
Here’s the catch – my husband’s bosses said that under no circumstances was he to be able to meet “Mr. Raimi.” Only a senior employee would be able to meet “Mr. Raimi.” Well, my husband said:
“I wasn’t going to follow that rule that day.” As a fan of Sam Raimi’s movies, he was ecstatic about the chance to meet Sam Raimi’s dad! Apparently he (and his wife Celia) both owned a number of metro Detroit based stores. Mr. Raimi’s store sold home furnishings (I do not know what the store’s name was).
I have searched high and low in Google images for any images of “Mister Raimi,” and have to date found none. Knowing that he was an older Jewish gentleman, all I could think about was Laurence Olivier in The Jazz Singer, which was sadly one of my first exposures to Jewish culture as a child (aside from reading Judy Blume books):
So I have to adhere to my husband’s description of “Mister Raimi” – taller, thin, “looming.” He even said he looks similar to Sam Raimi’s younger brother Ted. He says he wore a dark suit and tie – and wore a hat. This kind of fits in with Sam Raimi’s known Hollywood “schtick” of always wearing a suit on movie sets (like father, like son)? Sam Raimi is also emulating one of his favorite directors, Alfred Hitchcock – whom was also known for suit-wearing on sets.
So my husband gets to meet and greet “Mister Raimi” against his bosses’ better judgment. What does he talk about with him? Movies, of course! He was a big fan of his earlier horror films Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, and especially Army Of Darkness. He even liked Spider-Man, which was hot as hotcakes in theaters at the time and likely helped elevate Sam Raimi to the Hollywood “A List” (it probably also helped that he married actor Lorne Greene’s daughter Gillian).
None of that mattered to “Mister Raimi!” He ONLY wanted to talk about the ONE movie that my husband didn’t see (besides A Simple Plan). And that movie was the 2000 baseball drama film For Love of the Game. Was he a Tigers fan? Probably! And maybe he was this movie’s number one fan. This movie – and the 1998 Raimi film A Simple Plan – are two of Raimi’s dramas from the 1990s (and early 2000s) that underperformed at the box office – as did the Western The Quick and the Dead (I actually liked that one). I guess sticking to what you’re best at might be the way to go in Hollywood?
It’s also about taking risks, too. I’m sure being at the helm of a superhero movie was exciting – and scary – for Sam Raimi, who cut his teeth making short Super 8 comedy films (more about that in a bit) and his beloved horror films – which created a huge cult fan base for him and longtime friend and actor Bruce Campbell. But the risk proved to pay off – with Spider-Man grossing $100 million ITS FIRST WEEKEND. Yeah, I’d say that would make up for quite a lot! And help provide a nice little nest egg for more creative projects later (the Starz series Ash Vs. Evil Dead, which I adore). At the time, the idea of directing a Doctor Strange sequel and yet another Evil Dead film was only a glimmer in his eyes.
As for Mr. Raimi? He only seemed to have adoring eyes for one of his son’s movies.
Have you seen For Love of the Game? It’s a good movie!Mr. Raimi, 2002
My poor husband – being taken immediately hostage by this tall man in a dark suit and hat (whom he has said was very, very nice) – had not seen this movie, and lacking the social graces and any real knowledge about the movie, his jaw went a little slack for a bit. But he knew he couldn’t exactly say “No, I haven’t seen it.” Mr. Raimi was NOT a man you would say “no” to! So he vainly tried to fake his way through saying he agreed that it was a good movie (even though a good number of critics would disagree – as well as the folks bestowing a Golden Raspberry nomination for worst actor for lead actor Kevin Costner). Poor Kevin Costner – too bad all of your baseball themed movies can’t be as beloved as Field of Dreams!
“Looking back, I think he was messing with me – trolling me,” my husband has said of this bizarre meeting.
It speaks volumes about the dynamic that he and his son must’ve had. I learned through reading If Chins Could Kill – a biography by actor Bruce Campbell – a longtime Raimi friend and collaborator – that Mr. Raimi indulged his young son’s love of filmmaking by letting him make his own short Super 8 films with his friends (and family). Raimi’s younger brother Ted is a frequent actor in Raimi’s films – and his older brother Ivan also helps with writing and producing duties. And Mr. Raimi’s former car – the 1973 Delta 88 – has become a movie star in its own right.
As described in Chins, Campbell recalled working in a small grocery store and asking if he could have the cream pies that were being thrown out (which were used as props in some of the short films he made with friends). The book is quite an enjoyable read – not only if you’re a fan of Campbell’s work (hand raised), but also if you’re a Michigan native like he is (hand raised again)!
Judging from how much he gushed about For Love of the Game, one could surmise that Mr. Raimi was more of a fan of traditional films – and possibly baseball, too. He might not be as excited about watching movies from the Evil Dead or Spider-Man franchises as Raimi’s countless other fans, but pop in a DVD copy of For Love of the Game for him to watch and he just might ask for some popcorn and a Coke/cherry slushee!
Perhaps this movie was one that only a father could love?
Final note: Sadly, I have since learned that Mr. Raimi died May 20, 2021 in Santa Monica, CA. One of the obituaries I read stated that he had been living with his son Sam’s family during COVID. He was 95 years old – and was buried in Michigan (where he had lived most of his life).