Ira Wohl To Screen His Academy Award-winning Film “Best Boy” May 17th At The CoSA Theater - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado Island News

Ira Wohl To Screen His Academy Award-winning Film “Best Boy” May 17th At The CoSA Theater

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Posted: Monday, April 27, 2015 9:15 am

‘Academy Award Winner Ira Wohl’ certainly has a nice ring to it and after watching his 1980 Best Documentary Oscar winner “Best Boy” recently, the sobriquet is well-deserved. Wohl served as the documentary’s director, writer, and producer. Plus he also appeared in the production that featured his mentally-challenged cousin Philly Wohl.

“I just got to see my cousin in New York,” said Ira of Philly. “He just turned 87 and he has a better social life than I do. You can’t spend an hour with him and not leave smiling. I call him the Jewish Buddha. He just is and radiates something that is so simple and at the same time humbling. Philly may live forever because he has no stress.”

But Ira Wohl is much more than a Hollywood film-type. He also worked with two of the more famous icons in recent cultural history, Orson Welles and John Lennon, as we will discover later. As a direct result of his advocacy of Philly’s right to live his own productive life, Ira Wohl later started a second career as a practicing social worker and psychotherapist in Los Angeles.

Ira Wohl was born in New York and was introduced to show business at an early age. “My parents started taking me to the theater when I was six or seven. By the age of 12 I started to see a lot of dramatic plays and by 13, I was going to musicals like “The King and I” and “South Pacific.” I had already had the idea I wanted to write a play.”

Ira Wohl graduated from Forest Hills High School in Queens, New York, one year behind Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Other famous Forest Hills Alumni include composer Burt Bacharach, Bob Keeshan of Captain Kangaroo fame, the Ramones, and Jerry Springer. But Wohl’s high school experience wasn’t all that great, as he tells the story. “I hated high school and it symbolized how difficult life was. I couldn’t wait to get out. I graduated early and I was kind of a social misfit. I wasn’t accepted and created this world for myself. I worked for the builder who owned the building my family moved into during the daytime went to City College in Harlem at night. Then I thought I wanted to be a college teacher and I took Latin for a couple of years. When I graduated I worked for a year and went to Europe for a year.”

Enter Orson Welles. “Through a fluke, I ended up with my first job in film in Madrid, working for Orson Welles. I worked on his still unfinished film of “Don Quixote.” I worked in the editing room in his basement and came to know him and his family well. Welles shot the movie himself and directed it. It’s a pity that it was never finished. My name is in the credits at the end of the movie. I don’t think it will ever see the light of day.”

Ira Wohl explained how he refined his craft in a related field. “I came back home thinking I knew more than I did. Commercials are a great way to learn; it’s like making a full movie and you can create several of them in a week or two. You perform the process over and over again.”

Ira Wohl then turned to making movies, with his first effort being “Implosion,” a dramatic venture with no dialogue. “It was based on a nightmare I had prior to my first session of psychoanalysis,” recounted Wohl. “Then I made three more short films over the years, one of which was “Coco-Puffs,” that was set in the time when the Women’s Movement was emerging. It was about an aggressive jazz drummer and a lesson he was giving to a female student who was not all that assertive. For whatever reason, it was the right film at the right time. ‘Coco-Puffs’ refers to the drum lick he was trying to teach her. I finished the film on the last day it could be submitted to the Ann Arbor Film Festival. I took it from the film lab and sent it in. I won first place.”

After working on the television show “Big Blue Marble,” Ira Wohl resumed his film career in earnest. “I started to make three feature length documentaries at the same time, working full time and I had no money for any of them. The second of those films was “Best Boy,” which I worked on for four years. I didn’t really even edit anything until after the second year. The concept of the movie started during a Passover Seder with me having an epiphany about Philly. His mind stopped growing when he was five years old, but this is a real person sitting here. I was worried about what would happen to him and I decided to talk to the family about it. I was 32 and Philly was 50. When I talked to the family, the assumptions they made about when his parents were gone were not at all realistic. The film occurred by happenstance and after a year or so of filming I could see how Philly became more independent and the relationships in the family began to change. Nothing was the same as it had been for the past 50 years.”

Ira’s Aunt Pearl and Uncle Max are Philly’s parents and they play major roles in the film. “I certainly had one advantage and that was they knew me and trusted me,” Ira Wohl said. “I could have come in with a crew of 50 people or it could have been just me with a Brownie Holiday camera and my Aunt Pearl would have gone about her life as normal. She had no guile whatsoever.”

Ira Wohl discussed his Uncle Max. “He was the eldest of four brothers and one who made a good living for himself. He was a cutter in the garment center and it’s not surprising that early in the movie he is a dapper dresser. Whenever I needed a jacket, I used to go into Howard (a men’s clothing store in New York), try jackets on, get the size and he would make the jacket for me. His manner may have been brusque in the movie, but that was not what he was about.” The family’s interaction with their son, in conjunction with Philly’s personal development, makes “Best Boy” a compelling and memorable film.

Due to financial challenges facing the multi-hyphenate Wohl, “Best Boy” was a film that was almost not completed. “When I shot that film, I put it into the laboratory for developing, but I had no more money to go on. I realized that the lab developed and printed the film, but they only gave you a bill when you picked up the processed film. I shot the movie for a whole year. Finally one day they said, ‘We have to talk.’ They took a chance and printed it all so that I could use a shortened version of the film to raise money. “Best Boy” was completely a positive experience. There are a thousand different stories.”

During one point of the movie, Pearl sings about 10 seconds of the song “What Will I Do?” by Irving Berlin. The battle that ensued illustrates one of the many challenges endemic to filmmaking. “My big enemy in show business was Irving Berlin” Ira Wohl said. “He lived to be a 100 and he refused to allow anybody to use “What Will I Do?” No matter who talked to him, he wasn’t going to release the rights to the song. I finally thought I’m just going to put it in the film anyway. I thought it would be like suing Santa Claus. Then suddenly Berlin’s agent agreed to let us use the 10 seconds of film.”

With America’s proclivity for creating lists, it’s fun to note that the late film critic Roger Ebert included “Best Boy” among his Top 10 Films of 1980. Other movies on Ebert’s list that year were “Raging Bull,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Ordinary People.” Ira Wohl said of the experience, “To be honest, I don’t think anyone has ever written a negative thing about “Best Boy.” I liked seeing all of the reviews. Some people associated with the New York Film Critics Circle Award, created a documentary award to be able to give it to “Best Boy.” The movie sparked a lot of thoughts about humanity and everything else. I got to meet some incredible people and met them on equal footing. I went to a party and Placido Domingo asked me for tickets to see my movie. I said sure, can I get tickets for where you are playing? So, we traded tickets. Putting the film together and creating a reality out of the footage was the biggest challenge and the best part.”

Ira Wohl went on to create two related documentaries, with the first entitled “Best Man,” which is about Philly 20 years after “Best Boy.” He also shot “Best Sister,” which is about Ira’s cousin Frances, who appears in “Best Boy” as a care provider. In “Best Sister” Frances makes the transition into being a care recipient.

While still an editor working in New York, Ira Wohl had a week-long collaboration with John Lennon, which Wohl described. “I worked with him for a week in the editing room. Lennon was trying to get a Green Card and couldn’t leave the United States. He had a new album of Rock and Roll standards and a television show in England wanted him to appear. So we shot two songs on film. The guy who did that was a friend of mine and he asked me if I would cut it. Lennon showed up every day. He loved New York and after we mixed the film the director, John and I did something really interesting. We walked from 43rd Street and Fifth Avenue to 57th Street. Some people hide from their fans, but he developed a way to take a walk, not get distracted, but let people feel they had the John Lennon experience.”

Eventually Wohl made the transition from film to his current positions as a social worker and psychotherapist in Los Angeles. “I first wanted to write and then I did psychoanalysis for two years. It was after that that I thought about becoming a therapist. Then when I got the job with Orson Welles and I put that to one side. I spent the next 20 years making and trying to make films. Basically, I felt like I had too much time on my hands and I made a snap decision to go back to school at the age of 45 and enrolled at USC. I actually did the two-year program in three years. I was an utterly average student, but motivation makes a difference. This is where values come in. I’m big on values, morals and ethics. I certainly could have made a living as an editor even if didn’t direct another film, but I would always be at someone’s beck and call. My number one value is autonomy. I don’t owe anybody anything and I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.”

Wohl received his Master’s degree in social work in 1993 from USC and has now been affiliated with UCLA for almost 20 years, where he sees between 18 and 22 graduate students regularly. He also has a practice with between five and 10 private patients. “I don’t publicize it, it just happens,” Wohl said. “I have a little office across the street from UCLA.”

Ira Wohl has just completed a merger of his twin interests of mental health and film into one project. “I just finished the best thing I have done in a very long time,” Wohl explained. “It is a partnership with a friend from Northwestern University and it is the “Diagnosis According to the DSM-IV,” a bible of diagnosis for mental disorders. It presents the topic in a way which people understand what a person may or may not have and how insurance companies reimburse. We went to Chicago and worked with 14 different actual patients, with 14 different disorders. We put them together and showed them to 40 doctors and we went back and filmed 14 separate diagnostic roundtable discussions, on the process, utility and philosophy. We just finished it and we are creating a website to sell it.”

Along the way Wohl became Bi-Coastal, including eventually purchasing a house in Coronado. “After the Oscars in 1980, I spent the next eight or nine years going back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, approximately six months in each place, although not all at one time. It became financially and emotionally expensive to do that. I was determined to make a commitment to the film business. In 1989 I moved out here with my girlfriend, who had an MBA from Stanford and used to be a filmmaker. She didn’t like the freelance life and went to work for the Disney Channel. I had more of a sense about how un-busy I was and I made the decision to go back to school. Coronado happened in the early 90’s after we spent a weekend at the Hotel Del and we started thinking we should get a house. One Sunday we drove past a beautiful Victorian house on E Avenue and within a month we owned that house. What we love about Coronado is it may be the last place in the world where a kid can ride a bike at 10 or 11 at night and not get hurt. We come mostly for the weekends, but we just hang out.”

The Wohl family now includes his wife of 22 years Jane Hatcher and their daughter Anastasia, who has an interesting story in her own right. “My wife and I adopted Anastasia from Russia on her second birthday,” Wohl said. “She is a pretty spectacular 14-year-old. She has the beautiful cheekbones and is great at sports. She has issues like every kid and 14 is a really interesting age. It’s a very humbling experience to be in her presence most of the time. Jane and I got married at the age of 49, which was my first marriage. I decided to skip the first marriage and divorce, the second marriage and divorce and went directly to the third marriage.”

After reading about the coming Coronado International Film Festival, Wohl thought that was a project he would like to become involved in going forward. He has agreed to become the Head Juror for Documentary Films when the Festival makes its debut January 15-18, 2016.

“I always thought there should be a film festival in Coronado,” Wohl said. “There seems to be the argument in town about how do you grow your tax base without getting overcrowded. One answer is a film festival, where people come and spend tons of money and then leave. We have a world class location with an historic hotel, which is how Palm Springs did it. We’re only two hours away from Los Angeles. When you tell a movie star you are going to honor them, they will show up. One thing I am trying to do is get some interesting jurors who might be known in the documentary world and I am working on that now. I have some ideas on what is and isn’t a documentary and I am going to do my best to fashion the category into an interesting group of films. Basically I do what I am told by Mary Sikes and Doug St. Denis.”

For her part CIFF Chairman, President and CEO Mary Sikes, added, “We are proud and honored to announce that we have an Academy Award winner for documentaries to run that jury, which is remarkable. We are just honored to have Ira in that role. I haven’t seen another film festival with an Academy Award winner in that slot. Our goal is to have 60 films for the festival, with a total of 20 of those to be fabulous documentaries.”

To raise money for five grants for student-made films, the CIFF is holding a screening of “Best Boy” May 17 at 2:30 p.m. at the CoSA Theater on the Coronado High School Campus. Students at any level are free and adult admission is just $5. “All proceeds go to the student grant function,” Sikes said. “Ira will provide some remarks and there will be a question and answer session after the screening. This is a wonderful opportunity for students. Ira is an inspiration for youngsters who want to be filmmakers and he is proof that you can achieve your dreams. He’ll tell them how he did it.”

May 1, 2015 the CIFF will start taking submissions of films, with an average entry fee of $35. “Our only requirement is a time requirement and the short films can’t exceed 20 minutes,” Sikes added. “We have a program called Film Freeway integrated on our website. The whole submission process is done through software.” If you would like to volunteer for the CIFF or make a donation, go to Or as Sikes said, “If you would like to make a donation, you can contact me or our Founder and Co-Executive Director Doug St. Denis directly, anytime.

As for Ira Wohl, his “Best Boy” trilogy is available for purchase at Be sure to either attend the screening May 17 or purchase the movie. Let’s just say “Best Boy” and Ira Wohl were deserving of his Academy Award.

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1 comment:

  • creative cook posted at 6:05 am on Thu, Dec 1, 2016.

    creative cook Posts: 1

    I watch Best Boy for the first time last evening on TMC. I was very impressed at the way IRA made us aware of how loving, giving and unselfish Aunt Pearl was. I was thinking of her this am and started to cry. That is how this film touched me. I can see why it won the award it did. I know the main focus on the film was Philly and how much he developed during the years of filming but I saw the sacrifices of Pearl. My heart went out to her. She lost one son to cancer, lost her husband and then she had to let her son, Philly, move out. She loved with all her heart. Thank you for showing the love and sacrifices she made for her family.