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Article in Madman's Hometown Newspaper

From The Courier News, Elgin, IL
Feb. 7, 2005

First 'Crazy' Car Dealer Focus of Movie
By Janelle Walker

ELGIN &mdash Earl "Madman" Muntz was, in his day, a pop culture icon.

The former Elgin High School dropout, an audiophile and gearhead, parlayed his interest in those areas to success in three businesses, making millions between 1941 and his death in 1987.

Now, two California filmmakers, with support from a South Elgin-based businessman, have made a documentary on Muntz's life that they hope to enter into film festivals for later theatrical release.

Madman Muntz: American Maverick took nearly three years to complete.

Filmmakers Dan Bunker and Judy ver Mehr of Pasadena, Calif., first got the idea for a Muntz film &mdash either a movie of the week or a documentary &mdash in 1994.

"My husband, Dan, had a Muntz TV," ver Mehr explained. "He remembered the TV commercials in the 1950s."

A high school friend of Bunker suggested he meet with Muntz's daughter &mdash Tee Vee Muntz &mdash to talk about a movie. But no one accepted their pitch for film.

A few years ago, however, following a gathering of Muntz Jet sports car collectors, Bunker and ver Mehr were contacted again about a film &mdash this time with Muntz Jet collector James Castoro, owner of South Elgin's Custom Aluminum, as executive producer.

In September 2002, Bunker and ver Mehr began interviewing those who knew the Madman.

The couple interviewed Fox Valley residents who remembered Muntz as a young man, as well as the Hollywood stars who became his friend.

His story starts in 1914 in Elgin, where Muntz was born. He dropped out of Elgin High School after just three semesters, but by age 20 had his own used car lot on South Grove Avenue in Elgin, started with a $500 line of credit.

During a trip to California at age 26, Muntz saw cars sold in that state at a heftier price than in the Midwest. He left Elgin and set up shop in Glendale, Calif., and later in Los Angeles.

He is considered the first used car salesman in Southern California to use the "I'm crazy" line to sell cars.

Or, he accused his wife of being the crazy one.

"I want to give 'em away, but Mrs. Muntz won't let me &mdash she is crazy!"

Muntz was married and divorced seven times.

When the price of cars dropped after World War II, Muntz went from used cars to the manufacture of affordable &mdash if stripped-down &mdash television sets.

He's credited with coining the term "TV," to shorten "television" for skywriting purposes.

He followed up with the Muntz Jet sports car. Just 450 or so of the cars were made.

His last undertaking was the manufacture of the four-track audio tape &mdash a precursor of the eight-track tape.

He is credited with selling $72 million in used cars in one year, $20 million in televisions and $30 million in car stereos.

Footage in the film includes home movies Madman Muntz made from the 1940s on.

"All through his life, he took movies," ver Mehr said. "We have a lot of vintage footage from the family."

That vintage footage includes a lip-sync version of Oklahoma! made with his children and friends.

Others on those home movies include Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion from Wizard of Oz), Rudy Vallee and Jerry Colonna.

Dick Clark, Angie Dickinson and former girlfriend Phyllis Diller are also featured in the movie, talking about their memories of Muntz.

Ver Mehr said their goal is a theatrical release for the film, but first they are working to get the movie accepted at film festivals around the country, including an upcoming documentary festival in Chicago.

On March 17, the Sarasota, Fla., Classic Car Museum will unveil an exhibit featuring a restored Muntz Jet. In conjunction with the opening of the exhibit, there will be a private screening of the film.


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