By NICK SCHAGER
By INKOO KANG
By SIMON ABRAMS
By AMY NICHOLSON
By Inkoo Kang
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Gustavo Arellano
By Aimee Murillo
He was already living in Costa Mesa when he was contacted by the Coen Brothers' production team about teaching actors how to bowl. He'd worked with Michael J. Fox in the 1994 movie Greedy and was known in Hollywood because his father had been in the business, first as a film director and then, because he wanted to make more money, a prop manager. "I was on sets all the time until my dad died when I was 11: Lassie, Abbott and Costello, just about any half-hour show."
Through Asher's teens, he rolled at the Hollywood Star lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard that would later become The Dude's alley in The Big Lebowski.
17110 Brookhurst St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
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Region: Fountain Valley
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"Oh, the stories I could tell you about that place," Asher mentions.
Involving Hollywood actors?
"No, cocktail waitresses."
He worked with Bridges, Goodman and Buscemi once or twice a week, teaching them bowling, and then was on the set with them for the 10 days those scenes were being shot.
"Jeff didn't want to bowl," Asher recalled. "He said he wanted to watch me. He said, 'You bowl like The Dude would.'"
You may think you see The Dude bowling in the picture, but Bridges is never actually seen rolling. "He didn't throw the ball the whole time we were there," says the master bowler.
Buscemi turned out to be a pretty good bowler, and Goodman could hold his own, although Asher says he found the large-framed actor a bit stand-offish at first. They eventually bonded when Goodman discovered Asher was also raising a 5-year-old at the time.
John Turturro, who Asher identified by moving his arms and hands like Jesus Quintana does in the famous scene set to the Gypsy Kings' rendition of "Hotel California," was "in and out" for his cameo. The actor who plays Liam, a Quintana teammate seen frantically buffing a ball, is one of Asher's bowling buddies, James Hoosier, who is attending both days of Lebowski Fest 2013.
But Asher is the bowler who opens the long final scene throwing one strike as the camera pulls up to The Dude in the foreground ordering a couple of beers. After the famous "The Dude abides" exchange with the Stranger, the camera returns to Asher rolling a second strike before panning up and out of the alley. "The lanes were easy," confides Asher, who credited the guy seen in the film oiling the lanes with being a bona-fide expert at making the hardwood easier for rollers. Any pro who saw that scene knew right away it was Asher, something he knows because he heard from just about all of them.
As with everyone involved, Asher was disappointed by the movie's initial reception, but something said by the bit actor who played (spoiler alert!) Saddam Hussein trying on rental shoes always stuck with the master bowler. "He said he saw the Coen Brothers' script and offered to work for free. He knew it would become a cult classic."
Asher recalls being enlisted years later to appear on a USA network reality show in which he would teach a guy to bowl before the fellow went home to take on his father and brother, who were avid bowlers. Later asked by someone with the production how he'd gotten the gig, Asher mentioned he'd been the technical adviser on The Big Lebowski, which gave him "instant credibility. I was in, a god."
He most recently worked in Los Angeles on the pilot of a television show that he said had producers spending an awful lot of money.
The master bowler doesn't suspect that one will abide.
* * *
Sipping a Caucasian alone at the far end of Fountain Bowl after leaving Asher's shop, I spy a guy with the most unusual bowling style I have ever seen. His arm is wrapped around the ball snake-like, cradling the 14-pounder in the pocket formed by the opposite end of his elbow. As his bored companion watches from the scorer's table, he sort of vault-spins the globe down the lane, and at least twice, it curves to pick up splits. Later, he's employing the same unusual style, and I see him toss at least two gutter balls to leave all 10 pins standing. Such is life.
A white-haired lefty with a more fluid style makes a strike on the other end of the alley. A few lanes over from him, a young dad, his boy and his girl, who does not appear to be of school age yet, are intently examining their score card. A bunch of teens right behind me seems more interested in provoking laughter than picking up spares.
It's late afternoon, and you'd think you were in Irvine by the way every age and race seems to be represented. Some guys with their work ties on are picking up rental shoes; a fellow with a beard as unkempt as The Dude's has on a fiery-red bowling shirt as he orders from the bar. Males only slightly outnumber females. Typing notes for this story on my laptop (Fountain Bowl has free wireless!), I look up at one point to see Asher instructing a boy who appears to be about 12.
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