Filmmaker says enterprising childhood on Massachusetts Street paved the way for adventurous life

photo by: Contributed photo

Mika Boorem, left, and Ben Boorem, right, are seen on the poster for the independent movie they helped write, produce and direct, the adventure comedy "Hollywood.con." Ben Boorem was born in Lawrence and said he learned his strong work ethic selling the Lawrence Journal-World on the sidewalk after school in the early 1960s.

Back in 1964 Ben Boorem and his little sister, Liz, would swing by the Lawrence Journal-World after school and pick up an armload of newspapers and walk along Massachusetts Street selling them.

“We would take off with 25 papers and hustle. I remember they cost 7 cents back then, we would make 3 cents and give 4 cents to the Journal-World. On a good day when we were hitting it, we had to run back and get more,” said Ben, talking by phone with the Journal-World, from Los Angeles.

If they were successful, they made enough change to go to a movie at the Varsity or Granada, where Ben remembers watching James Bond movies and “A Hard Day’s Night.”

“I saw some of the best movies of my life in those theaters,” said Ben, who was 11 in 1964. Liz was 9.

Other kids were working on the street, Ben said, but he and Liz were so intense about selling the papers that others couldn’t compete. Eventually, Ben said, they had a monopoly from Seventh Street to the courthouse at the corner of Massachusetts and 11th streets.

“We were the poorest family in town,” he speculated. “If we wanted anything, we had to get it ourselves.”

The memory of that time surfaced recently, while Ben and his daughter, Mika Boorem, 32, were in Eureka Springs, Ark., preparing for the premiere of their adventure comedy “Hollywood.Con,” which he and Mika helped write and which she directed and he produced. The film features Tom Arnold, Robert Amico, Jackie Pucci and Paige Howard, with a cameo appearance by Billy Bob Thornton and his band, The Boxmasters.

Days before the premiere, Ben and Mika were going business to business putting up movie posters around Eureka Springs, and he was reminded of those days when he and Liz were selling newspapers on Massachusetts Streets, he said.

Ben said he was born in Lawrence and ran away from home when he was a student at Lawrence High School.

photo by: Contributed photo

A photo of Ben Boorem in his early teens in Lawrence before he ran away from home.

He found odd jobs where he could, he said. He earned a General Education Diploma and discovered that he loved flying. He got his pilot’s license and eventually began selling airplanes. He said he also became certified with the Gemological Institute of America and traveled the world buying and selling gems.

His daughter, Mika, grew up as a child actress with roles in such films as “Blue Crush,” “The Patriot” and “Riding in Cars with Boys.” “Hollywood.Con” is her debut directing and is loosely based on an experience she and her dad had when they traveled to Guatemala to buy jade.

Ben hopes to negotiate with an entertainment company such as Netflix or HBO to pick up the independent film.

He said they premiered the movie in Eureka Springs because of their family connections, and those of other cast members, around the area.

photo by: Contributed photo

Ben Boorem and his sister, Liz Boorem Isely, appear together at the premiere of “Hollywood.Con” in Eureka Springs, Ark., in May 2019. Ben produced the film, helped write the script and had an acting part. Isely was an executive producer.

Ben’s sister Liz was in the audience for the premiere. She grew up and married LaRock Isely, whose mother, Margaret Isely, founded Natural Grocers. Today Liz Boorem Isely lives in Denver and is executive vice president of the company.

“I rallied to open a store in Lawrence because I lived there throughout my childhood and have such fond memories of the town,” she said in an email to the Journal-World. “It was my favorite store opening and I got to come and walk down memory lane.”

Liz and Zephyr Isely, who is Liz’s brother-in-law and co-president of Natural Grocers, are executive producers of “Hollywood.Con”


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