|By Dean Goodman|
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In the early 1960s, a young Israeli immigrant in New York named Gene Klein was considering a career as a rabbi. But he changed his mind one day when he saw a slightly older girl of about 14 jumping rope.
"She's got long black hair like Catherine Zeta-Jones," he recalled, "and her hair is slapping her a-- like she's been bad and she deserves to be punished, and I'm going, 'This is better than religion. I want some of that that."'
To make a long story short, Klein changed his name to Simmons and became a Knight In Satan's Service -- i.e., a co-founder of KISS, the bass player and ruthless money man who spits blood and breathes fire.
These days, Simmons, who turns 50 on Aug. 25, will tell anyone who listens that Kiss has more gold albums than anyone but the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Without any prompting, he will reel off the latest Kiss merchandising deals, including a Kiss credit card -- "every time you use it, I make pennies, every time."
"DETROIT" DOESN'T ROCK BOX OFFICE
His latest business endeavor is filmmaking. The Gene Simmons Co. is in the final stages of setting up a production deal at an unspecified major studio, with financing of up to $500 million from an unspecified British bank, Simmons says. Already, he boasts of having a dozen projects in development around town.
His first project in theaters is "Detroit Rock City," a $14 million film he describes as "a religious movie" -- hence the above anecdote. Unfortunately, it seems a higher power decided it was Simmons' turn to be punished because the film opened to just over $2 million in its first weekend.
The 1978-set story of four Ohio high school kids (played by Edward Furlong, Giuseppe Andrews, James DeBello and Sam Huntington) who journey to Detroit to see their favorite band for the first time was of little interest to filmgoers. Simmons was naturally disappointed, but evoked another religious image.
"I'm sitting on Mt. Olympus, and these silly humans don't behave the way I want them to," he said in a recent interview with Reuters. "Now the heavens will open, and I will zap them with lightning bolts."
He said the film was not about Kiss -- indeed, Kiss appears only at the very end singing the title song -- in the same way that "The Wizard of Oz" was not about the title character. Both films focus on the travails of a quartet of characters, whether they're on the Yellow Brick Road or an interstate highway.
"I see this as a religious movie. There were the crusades and the pilgrimages for Christianity. This is KISStianity, my friend."
From the disappointing look of the film's box office, it seems the higher power also was offended by scenes showing one of the heroes losing his virginity in a confession box and then being goaded by a priest into giving details.
Still, Simmons believes the low-budget movie ultimately will make money for its distributor, New Line Cinema, when the collection plate is counted after the overseas returns and ancillary deals, such as home video and television, are factored in. At any rate, he has two other projects at New Line, including one called "Real Monsters," which was written by "Detroit Rock City" director Adam Rifkin.
SIMMONS PLAYS COUNSELOR
From the pitch to production completion, "Detroit Rock City" took just eight months to make. Simmons served as one of three producers, but says he was the "800-pound gorilla" because he controls all the Kiss properties: upset him, and there's no movie. But it never came to blows, because everyone got along just fine, he said.
His main job was to settle the occasional disputes between the creative side (i.e. "my director") and the studio side. When New Line wanted to cut out a "throat-cam" shot showing Simmons' famous elongated tongue, Simmons appealed to the suits' financial sense.
"Show me that this puts one less seat in the theater. If it doesn't, then it's just taste, and if it's about taste I would rather the movie be the director's taste." The tongue shot stayed in the final cut.
Simmons' other main job was to call up music publishers to license songs for the very loud rock 'n' roll soundtrack. Not only are there plenty of Kiss songs in the movie but also tunes from the likes of David Bowie, Van Halen, AC/DC, Nazareth, Cheap Trick and Black Sabbath.
Simmons wanted the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," but said songwriter Pete Townshend wanted "something ridiculous like $400,000 ... and it just didn't fly." Licensing fees ranged from $10,000 to about $150,000 per song, though Simmons declined to go into detail.
So does Simmons envision himself as a full-time producer?
"No!" he says emphatically. "All things, that's what I want. Insatiable hunger."
What about a sequel?
"Sure, pay me. I'm a whore..."