About 17 years ago, when I was living with my friend Suzanne Pugh, her friend Angiela, who was also my friend, had another friend who worked in a Kinko’s in the Bay Area. I know, it already sounds insane, but hang in there. So, Suzanne and Angiela were hanging out one day when Angiela received a package from the Bay Area friend. Inside was a packet of letters.
Apparently, that friend, was working at Kinko’s one day when a man came in to make copies. The friend thought it was the funniest thing ever, so they made their own copies and sent one to Angiela, who shared it with Suzanne and me.
We opened the letters and began to read them. What followed was the most memorable, most hysterical, most enjoyable several days of my life. The letters were so insane, and so addictive, and so possibly too good to be true… I treasured each turn of the page like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And it was.
The letters were to and from a landlord, Mark, and his tenants—Karen & Ellen. I don’t know how exactly to describe these letters other than to say, with absolutely no hyperbole, they are the funniest letters I’ve ever read.
Soon there were questions: this is SO INSANE it can’t possibly be real, could it? Could they? I thought it would make a great movie, or TV series, or play, or something. Something must be done with these letters. I was hooked.
I also noticed that the landlord’s phone number was printed at the top in his letterhead. So I called him up. “Mark, this is Steve Balderson, and I want to make a movie about these letters, and tell me, are they real?”
He replied, “Yes, they’re real, and I strongly encourage you to NOT make a movie about them because these women are insane and, trust me, you want to avoid them at all costs!” Then he asked, “What did you say is your last name?”
I told him, and he said that his best friend from childhood was a Balderson, and they’d lost contact over the years, and if I could help find him, he’d send me additional letters. I agreed. My family helped track down the Balderson friend (our family is very small and it wasn’t that difficult). He and Mark were reconnected, and I was the new recipient of never-before-seen additional Karen & Ellen letters.
Over the years we became good friends with Mark. When FIRECRACKER opened in San Francisco, he came to the premiere and then took my dad to the apartment where Karen & Ellen had lived for a special tour. It was magical.
I was in discussions with Urban Outfitters to sell the book in their novelty area when Mark insisted we not do it. We would have to rewrite the letters so Karen & Ellen didn’t come after us. I didn’t want to do that because there was something so special about the original letters. The handwriting, the spelling errors. It was all too perfect. And if no one would be able to experience the brilliance, I decided to do the next best thing: give them away!
Every time I start a new movie project, I copy the Karen & Ellen letters for everyone on the cast and crew, and give the letters as welcome gifts when people come to the shoot. I told everyone how Karen & Ellen came to me, and the connection to my family, and made them promise that their new objective would be to make copies and share them with everyone they could. They have, and continue to, and now, it’s your turn.