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Tom Silberkleit’s ‘nightmare’ plays on


Tom Silberkleit rarely stops moving, even to sit for a moment and sign a copy of his book. On a sunny, warm Friday afternoon in the lobby of the Lodge at Sonoma, where dozens of wine connoisseurs and a few accidental tourists sip wine and flip through the latest edition of Silberkleit’s “California Directory of Fine Wineries,” the energetic editor appears to be in constant motion – unpacking books, collecting wine glasses, arranging pens in a row and, yes, occasionally signing the book.

“I’d be happy to!” he exclaims, darting back to the table where a woman waves a copy, signaling to a passing Silberkleit her silent ‘Would you?’” Back at the table, stacked with books, he laughs. “The first time a new book is put in the hands of people, that’s the best moment,” he says. “It’s the moment you know all of your work has been worth it.”

Sonoma resident Silberkleit has had his share of such moments. For 15 years, he’s published the semi-annual “Fine Wineries” directory – a gorgeously photographed volume featuring approximately 70 wineries across Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties.

In addition to the wine guides, he’s the author and editor of numerous other books, many ambitious and some rather unusual.

His first, published in 1982, was called “The Do-it-Yourself Best Seller.”

“This one has become a collector’s item,” Siberkleit said, producing an original hard copy of that title, during an interview several weeks before to the launch of the wine book. The unusual book features the first few paragraphs of short fiction stories, contributed by such authors as Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, Ken Follett, Alvin Toffler and others, along with one final paragraph each. The idea was that readers would write their own story to bridge the beginnings and endings provided by some of the world’s most the famous writers. “I was looking for copies of this book on line a few years ago,” Silberkleit says, “and at one point it was selling for between 300 and 500 dollars a copy. I wish I’d saved some of them.”

Silberkleit was in his early 20s, he says, when he and a friend came up with the idea of the book, and began reaching out to authors to propose it.

“Sometimes, when you’re young and idealistic, you have an idea and you assume you can make it happen,” he says. “When other friends heard we were working on this, so many of them said, ‘You can’t do that. What makes you think you can do that?’ But I just never listened. I always felt it was going to be a hit. Once Isaac Asimov signed on to do it, the all the other doors started opening. We sold it to Doubleday not long after.”

Following “The Do-it-Yourself Best Seller,” he had a string of similarly inventive titles, including one featuring famous romance novelists contributing the beginnings and endings of stories. It was followed by the book, “My First Real Romance,” in which some of those same authors – including Nora Roberts, Rebecca Brandewyne, and Diana Palmer – describe their own first loves.

“These are the true stories of the first time these world-famous romance writers fell in love,” Silberkleit says. “And it’s actually not as wild and crazy as one might expect, but it’s really wonderful and sweet. They write about hot-and-steamy stuff, but in real life, they are actually pretty normal people.”

The same is true, he says, of Alice Cooper.

Silberkleit was a teenager when his father, a producer of mostly-underground cult-status films (“The Glove” for one, starring Rosie Grier and John Saxon) executive produced the 1976 concert film “Welcome to my Nightmare,” inspired by Alice Cooper’s hit 1975 album, and featuring Vincent Price as the narrator.

“I was there night after night after night,” he says. “I was a kid, and not an Alice Cooper fan, until then. I became an Alice Cooper fan during that experience.”

He was the one, in fact, who was ultimately entrusted to deliver the negatives of the film from London, where it was shot, to Hollywood.

“I was 17,” he recalls. “I was trembling the whole flight, knowing they’d entrusted this major film to me, and I wasn’t even 18 yet.”

Considered by some to be one of the best rock-and-roll movies ever made, the distribution rights eventually passed to Tom Silberkleit, who still oversees the property.

“Alice is so funny, and he’s a very nice guy,” Silberkleit says. “I ran into him recently and he said, ‘I don’t understand it. I made ‘Nightmare’ decades ago, but people still keep wanting to talk to me about it. And it keeps getting screened. How is this happening?’ I said, ‘What can I say Alice? People just like it.’ Then he said, real quietly, ‘Am I getting my cut?’

“‘Yes, Alice,’ I told him. We work with your management. You always get your cut.’”

Silberkleit will be introducing a rare 35mm screening of the film on June 1, at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, where the film will be followed by a Q&A session, where he’ll tell stories about the making of the film.

Until then, his primary focus is on “Fine Wineries.”

Published for many years by Ten Speed Press, the book, produced every two years, is distributed by Perseus, which was recently acquired by Ingram Books. Though far from the classic “pay to play” type of publication, where the wineries focused upon pay to be included and control what’s written about them, Silberkleit acknowledges that he asks the wineries he chooses to share some of the production costs, but maintains 100 percent control over what his writers say about those wineries.

“My goal with this is to make it the most beautiful looking guide on the market,” he says. “The photography by Robert Holmes is just amazing. And every volume is different, so that keeps me busy. I like to be busy. In school, my teachers always told my parents I was easily bored.

“Not a great quality, I guess,” Silberkleit laughs. “But I guess I’ve made it work for me.”