Gone in 60 Seconds, But Not Forgotten

When Allegra Burke glides up to the movie theater--in more than enough time to catch the afternoon matinee of Gone in 60 Seconds--every eye in the lobby seems instantly drawn to her. She's one of those people who radiate a kind of personal magnetism, who appear to be pulsing with energy even when they are standing still.

Allegra Burke is not standing still.

"I was so concerned I'd be late," she explains, striding swiftly up to shake my hand, "that I drove like a wild woman. I'm serious. I think I did my brother one better just to get here."

Her brother was the legendary H.B. "Toby" Halicki, the enigmatic junkman-turned-stuntman-turned-filmmaker whose very first movie was the original Gone in 60 Seconds.

Yes indeed. Though little has been made of the fact, the new smash-hit Nicholas Cage film is a remake, a multi-million dollar update, of Halicki's ultra-low budget 1974 Drive-in classic. Halicki wrote, produced, directed and starred in that film--about a band of car thieves attempting to steal 50 cars in a single day--which became an instant cult favorite. Part of its appeal was its climax, a rousing car chase so destructive it's still considered to be one of the greatest car chases ever put on film. Halicki went on to make two other films: The Junkman and Deadline Auto Theft. He died in 1989, the victim of a stunt-gone-wrong while making Gone in 60 Seconds 2. (Toby's widow, Denise Shakarian Halicki, is listed as one of the new film's producers). Burke, a sculptor and artist who lives with her husband in Windsor, has already seen the new Gone once.

She was in attendance at the film's glitzy Hollywood premiere a few weeks back. After the screening, at a party held at Los Angeles' Automobile Museum, Burke introduced herself to Cage. Greeting her warmly, she recalls, he expressed his hope that Toby would be proud of the remake. He then took several minutes to autograph a poster and write a detailed personal note of gratitude to "Toby Halicki's Sister."

"It was the only time," Burke says, "that I've met someone famous and was not disappointed."

After the premiere, she says, "I drove back to the hotel, and just started crying. I cried and cried, partly because Toby should have been there. But mainly because right at that moment I just missed him so much. I'd love to think that this would be a time to let him go. But I don't know." She thinks about this a moment. "Have you ever known someone who was so much larger than life that you couldn't comprehend him not ever being here anymore?" she asks. "Toby was like that."

A few hours later, while sipping soup at a Windsor pizzaria, we discuss Burke's emotional connection to Gone, both the original and the remake.

"Driving fast definitely runs in my family," says Burke, passionately. "I still get that foot-on-the-gas-pedal thrill when I drive fast. I love to drive fast. I just went to Germany and got on the Autobahn in my girlfriend's BMW. It was wonderful. It was very scary, but it was that high-adrenaline kind of scary."

As for the new film, Burke is enthusiastic.

"Overall, I was thrilled," she says. "I loved the flavor of the car thieves' garage, just like the garage I grew up in." As Burke explains it, she and Toby were two of 13 children. Growing up in Dunkirk, in upstate New York, the Halicki's had been running a major automobile business since 1919.

"I grew up surrounded by cars and men," Burke says. "There was lots of testosterone around the house. We'd have sheriffs dropping, state policemen dropping by, tow truck drivers, mechanics." It was no surprise then that Toby would grow up to love cars. In the 60's, he relocated to L.A. and established a major automotive parts business. What surprised everyone was when he decided, with no experience whatsoever, to make movies.

"Toby didn't make movies for the same reason Hollywood makes movies," Burke says. "He made Gone because he wanted to see the ultimate car chase scene on film. Prior to Gone there was nothing that compared to it. He pulled off a first, and he did it on this minimal budget."

She produces a video copy of her brother's film. Boldly illustrated with a car bursting through a wall, the box proclaims, "The original basher! 93 cars destroyed in 40 minutes!"

"I haven't watched it since he died," she admits. "I haven't been able to. But I got up early today and forced myself. I said, 'It's time to just bite the bullet and do this.' It wasn't as difficult as I thought it was going to be, maybe because I'd just seen the remake."

She gazes silently at the video now resting in her hands.

"I liked watching it so much," she says softly, carefully. "I liked it in a very different way than when I first saw it, of course. I loved Toby's big chase scene. And I loved his courage. 'Small town boy goes to Hollywood, shoots the ultimate car chase scene.' If he could do it anyone can. It just took determination and courage. "My brother Toby," she says, "should be an inspiration to every young filmmaker."

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