She was a nasty vengeful Hollywood publicist. It’s hard to change even after retirement. 2,571 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
The children at Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica waved to the aging woman as she passed by their playground every morning at ten. Wearing a sun hat and denim sneakers, she reminded them of a grandmother. They had no way of knowing that she had been, until recently, the most feared woman in Hollywood.
The name Kit Perkins used to bring on a sickly dread among the studio executives who had to deal with her. She had been the first publicist to recognize the power of celebrity in modern culture. Kit understood that if you controlled the star, you could control the story. So she had ridden herd on an enviable movie posse, forcing print and TV journalists to sign over writer approval, photo approval, and quote approval. And, of course, to make her clients always the cover story.
Along with control, vengeance was her mantra. “Don’t cross me,” Kit used to warn people, “because I’ll get you in the end.” Raised on a West Texas ranch by an alcoholic father and an Avon Lady mother, Kit learned early on to take care of herself. At ten her father taught her how kill the rattlesnakes that turned up in the backyard; after that, the Hollywood publicity wars were low cotton to her. Asked one time how it felt to be called “tough as nails.” She replied, “Untrue. After all, nails bend.”
Her game began to go south when the trifecta of social media, the paparazzi and tabloid TV took over coverage of Hollywood stars 24/7. “You can’t control anything anymore,” complained Kit.
The buyout offer came at the right time. Kit never thought she’d enjoy being idle, but now it thrilled her to wave to some schoolchildren. She had divorced her husband twenty years ago, her two sons had their own lives, the stars never called her anymore, and three years ago she quietly ended the discrete relationship with a female tennis player that had lasted for over a decade. For the first time in her life, Kit was responsible for no one but herself. The surprise was how much she enjoyed it.
Two agency assistants attend the same party but have very different experiences. 1,860 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“Where were you, man? I’ve been looking everywhere,” Wade Torville said as he sidled up to Casey Strong out on the street after the Goliath Vs Superfly summer tentpole’s first screening. The two twentysomethings worked at rival agencies.
“We got shunted to Theater Two,” Casey admitted.
“Aww, isn’t that too bad,” Wade said with a smirk. “We were seated right behind Will and Jada and their brats.”
Casey had considered lying but not in front of his date Gigi Mayer, a serenely self-possessed junior attorney in business affairs at Warner Bros. The beauty was way out of not just Casey’s but also Wade’s league despite the fact they both wanted to sleep with her. Gigi, as she’d promised, fell asleep during the movie and actually snored a couple of times. So Casey was relieved that they’d watched the monster actioner in Theater Two before the full-frills studio premiere party.
“So what did you think?” Casey asked.
“Awesome!” Wade said, as if his dad had just given him a new car for his sixteenth birthday.
“Awesome in what way?” Gigi challenged. and Casey opted to nod in solidarity. While his inner geek had enjoyed the film, he found himself counting the number of times – at least twelve — he’d witnessed the destruction of Big Ben and the Golden Gate Bridge over the past five years.
An agency assistant attending a coveted Hollywood event hopes it’s not the disaster he fears. 1,919 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“You want these?” the senior agent said, extending a pair of golden embossed tickets like a temptation. His young assistant, Casey Strong, recognized them immediately. They were for the world premiere and after party of Godzilla Vs. Superfly, an F/X-driven super-violent major studio spoof of monster-meets-superhero movies.
“Jeez, thanks,” replied Casey as he grabbed for the tickets before his boss had a chance to change his mind.
To Casey, it was inconceivable that the socially rapacious agent was skipping what promised to be the coolest Hollywood premiere of the summer. Though no one had yet screened GvS (as it was known on social media), that didn’t stop the film’s minutiae from being leaked and analyzed, leading to intense pro versus con factions at this year’s Comic-Con conventions. That also meant an inexplicable outbreak of light-saber duels. Even PETA weighed in with something about endangered lizards.
The studio was touting the movie as a bold step forward in diversity. The multinationally financed $200 million production boasted an Asian superstar as the villainess who controls Godzilla via a mysterious brain-wave device as the creature demolishes the usual suspects – Tokyo, London, New York, San Francisco. How the reptilian giant manages to traverse continents and oceans is never broached, at least not in the trailer. One internet troll initiated a Kickstarter campaign to donate frequent flyer miles to the misunderstood beast so it could city hop. At last count, Godzilla had over 600,000 miles transferred to its name.
You’ve never heard of the curse of Hedy Lamarr? This screenwriter experienced it. 2,225 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Fifty-three year old Steven Harris could recite the ten worst if only moments of his life in Hollywood in perfectly chiseled narrative prose, in a voice resonating with regret that ended in either a deep sigh, a shoulder shrug or another belt of strong coffee since he’d been in recovery. He’d related his woeful tale so often, it had become as polished as the best of his screenplay exposition dialogue. His last project, just passed on after a lot of studio bullshit happy talk, demanded a heavy session of commiseration. For that his ex, Ellen Owens, was his go-to safe place. Theirs had been one of those quirky marriages you hear about: horrible living together, utterly joyous after the divorce.
One of the reasons was Ellen’s magical ability to listen with patience and insight to his mewlings about the downward trajectory of his writing and directing careers. And, as always, his sorry tale began with that fleeting elevator moment, thirty-two years before, with Hedy Lamarr.
Ellen had agreed to meet Steven at the Intelligentsia coffee joint in Silver Lake at a quiet corner table where the lamentations, all familiar and chronologically precise, flowed from his mouth to her ears for the umpteenth time since their divorce ten years before. As she came inside, he got up, and they did their hugs and cheek kisses, and he curled back into his gloomy shell, prepared to spew forth the top ten list of why his career had gone into the crapper.
He tapped his laptop and said glumly, “It’s my best script ever. Fox just passed. Nobody left to see it. That’s project number five in the toilet this year. A new record. Want something besides coffee?”
“Just coffee. So, honey, talk to me,” she asked, planting elbows on the table, curled fists on her cheeks. “What’s the great project they shit on this time?”
Hollywood private eye McNulty is probing a crime puzzler that’s more complex than a missing two-piece swimsuit. 2,782 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Guiding his El Dorado off the 101 Freeway in Hollywood and down Gower toward Sunset, McNulty put in a call to LAPD Lt. Tony Ventura. “That last location you gave me for Tabasco was old and cold. But I’ve got a pretty solid lead I’m following up now.”
For the past two hours, the Hollywood gumshoe had been canvasing Downtown L.A.’s pawn shops and pumping the brokers on the high-end for Tabasco’s whereabouts. McNulty was almost certain Ramon De Soto, the fence’s real name, was involved in the theft of long-ago actress Misty Marlowe’s billion dollar bikini from the Stardust Treasures auction house. The P.I. was well aware that many of the pawnbrokers were into hot merch themselves and might be inclined, for a price, to put a competitor like De Soto out of business. By the time McNulty got a good lead on the fence’s latest location, his wallet was $1,600 dollars lighter.
“So where is Tabasco?” Lt. Ventura demanded.
Laughing, McNulty responded, “He’s in the movie industry.”
According to McNulty’s snitch, Tabasco had set himself up in the property rental business and occupied office and storage space at the newly renovated Hollywood Global studios. “It’s not exactly the heart of Tinseltown,” McNulty joked, “but when you get to the spleen, turn right.”
Hollywood P.I. McNulty pursues missing movie memorabilia only to find mystery and murder. 2,079 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
As he approached the woman standing in the open doorway, McNulty nearly froze in his tracks. Though she was clearly in her early sixties, the wife of the legendary movie producer Nathan Grandstone was a much older and still strikingly attractive mirror image of dead Hollywood movie star Misty Marlowe.
“You’ll have to forgive the security guard,” Mrs. Grandstone smiled. “He’s become a bit overprotective since my husband’s stroke.” She ushered the Hollywood gumshoe inside and they retreated to the rear terrace where they seated themselves. “Lt. Ventura said you were coming by. Something to do with Julian Hayvenhurst and the auction house selling Misty Marlowe’s swimsuit.”
“Just a formality,” McNulty said, unable to take his eyes from her face which was so much like the one on the iconic poster of Misty in the missing billion dollar bikini. If sixty was the new forty, he thought, she was living proof. At first he thought she was winking at him, but quickly realized it was a slight facial tic next to her right eye. “We just want to confirm that Mr. Hayvenhurst was here when the bikini was stolen.”
“Indeed he was,” she said, pouring cold lemonade into two tall glasses. “We were discussing the auction, as well as some of Misty’s other mementos we were thinking of offering at future sales. He was here until quite late.”
“Mind telling me how Misty’s belongings came to be in your possession?”
“Not at all. She left them to me in her will.”
“You’re a relative?”
“A very close one,” she said, a Mona Lisa smile creasing her lips. “I’m Misty’s sister. We were twins.”
The Hollywood gumshoe McNulty is on the case again, this time asked to search for his wet dream. 2,296 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
She was as iconic a sex symbol as any film goddess who had ever scorched the silver screen. Even now, some forty years after her mysterious and tragic suicide, Misty Marlowe with her statuesque allure and curvaceous figure was seared indelibly into the male, and a fair number of female, memories as well.
That she should perish in the cold embrace of the Pacific was somehow as sadly fitting as it was ironic. Everyone knew the genesis of Misty’s stardom had been her gasp-inducing debut in the low-budget B movie Neptune’s Nymph. Cast as an uninhibited seductress, Misty emerged from the sea in a glorious slow-motion shot glistening in a barely-there bikini. One critic was so taken with her ample bosom that he was compelled to observe rather cheekily how “newcomer Misty Marlowe is perfectly cast as the titular leading lady.”
That single bikini image had become an instant poster sensation and fifty-five years later was still producing more erections than an ADD kid with a box of Legos. For the last few weeks, Misty’s iconic swimwear was making worldwide headlines once again, accompanied by a photo of Misty in her scanty nymph costume: “MOVIE BABE’S BIKINI STOLEN FROM AUCTION HOUSE!” “COPS CONDUCT TOP TO BOTTOM SEARCH FOR STAR’S STOLEN BIKINI!” “HUNT FOR SEX SYMBOL’S BIKINI PETER’S OUT!” “LAPD ADMITS NO PROGRESS IN BIKINI THEFT!”
“Tits,” McNulty mused as he eyed the famous photo on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. “The mother’s milk of Hollywood.”
“Good line,” said the writer, tapping it into his iPad mini. “I’ll definitely use that. I’m the Boswell to your Johnson.
“Stop saying that,” McNulty demanded. “It sounds like you’re writing about my dick.”
The wannabe director must decide whether to keep working in showbiz or keep dreaming. 2,306 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
On occasion, while circling the office and delivering the mail, Max tried to engage the studio’s executives in a conversation about a film that had especially impressed him or a book that he’d found particularly moving. Right, Max," was generally the disinterested response. Then they would ask him to make sure that their delivery got right over to Parker or Simons or Goldstein or whomever.
"Ratings, Max. Concentrate on the ratings," one of the executives finally told him. The man’s name was Drew Oberlin and he was only a few years older than Max. He had a big office, designer furniture, and a secretary who could have modeled. Max stood by the door looking in, his hair matted, his shirt clinging to his underarms. Oberlin spoke from behind his desk. "Concentrate on the ratings," he repeated. "That’s what matters."
Oberlin was immaculate in a dark suit and white shirt that snapped in starched perfection when he moved. He offered Max gleaming white teeth as if practicing for an audience, Max his mirror.
Max returned the smile, hesitantly, with more of a grimace.
"I’m giving you good advice here," Oberlin said. "Never mind art. Ratings. That’s all that matters. Say, could I ask a favor of you? I have some laundry that needs to be picked up…"
At Max’s urging, Oberlin read Max’s screenplays and reluctantly proffered the advice that Max might write better as part of a team. "Your work, well, it’s got class. But you’re not attacking the center of the marketplace."
The wannabe director goes in search of a job, any job, inside the industry. 2,086 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
The routine continued — the run, the coffee, the calls. The rejections. Finally, Max scored an interview, instructed to arrive on a Friday at eleven a.m., and screamed with joy as he hung up the phone. He allowed himself one minute of unrestrained happiness in which he jumped up and down, threw himself on the ground and beat the carpet with his arms and legs like a baby.
"Yes. Yes. Yes," Max shouted.
Then he picked himself up, adjusted his clothing, and went back to the telephone.
Max had never heard of the company so he tried to do some research. He scanned the trades for some mention of Smigrod Productions. He checked 16mm film rental catalogues. He went to the movie and television Academy libraries. The best he could discover was that Seymour Smigrod might have produced a short-lived game show 20 years ago. After that, Max found nothing. Smigrod Productions was not the artistic haven he sought, but still it was a beginning, and he sorely needed to start somewhere working on a film — not preparing the supporting documents.
Max arrived early for the interview. The address he had scrawled on a slip of paper matched that of a sign that hung askew outside a bungalow on a side street in Hollywood. The neighborhood was seedy. Aging cars were jacked up along the curb, missing one or more tires. Litter was strewn on the cracked and pitted concrete sidewalk. Even the fronds on a pair of decrepit palm trees hung listless.
"It’s a nice résumé," a thin faced woman with glasses and ratty curls said to him. She had told him her name but too quickly for Max to catch. He was reluctant to ask her to repeat herself, too anxious about appearing confident and in control. "You don’t have much real experience, do you?" she asked, keeping her head down. "On productions, I mean." When she glanced up to look at Max, she colored, then dropped her head again.
A wannabe filmmaker who once showed promise now finds himself failing and flailing. 2,109 words. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Jumping was a stupid idea, but it was only one of many stupid ideas that lately he had begun to seriously consider. Max stopped at the edge of the palisades of Santa Monica on a bluff overlooking the beach. A crumbling split rail fence — the top rail gone — stood between him and a drop of some 300 feet. The afternoon was warm and a mild salt breeze came off the ocean, the water glinting like the reflection of a million tiny mirrors. It was the kind of Los Angeles afternoon that made people believe they could do anything, live forever, stay forever young.
There was some quality in the light that touched him. He had seen it before in the films of the masters — Antonioni, Bertolucci, Fellini — his idols that no one appreciated now. All of them captured that quality. He tried to resist the impulse to lift both hands, thumb and forefingers spread, to frame a shot, but he couldn’t. He surveyed the ocean through the matte imposed by his outstretched fingers, and understanding came: the light had the quality of flawless diffusion, filtered by clouds and smog. It didn’t so much illuminate as caress its subjects, letting them stand out against the background.
Max pictured the opening. Glittering ocean, boats with sails billowed, skidding over the quicksilver surface. The camera begins an endless pan, inching left to right, faultless composition, brilliant framing. That rare combination that together produces Art.
Kael would say, "A genius with the lens."
From Denby, "He moves his actors like chess pieces."
Canby: "He achieves a new American sensibility."
The truth was sunset has always been his passion, the moment before the world plunged into darkness. And those reviewers? They were all dead now. Well, Denby wasn’t, but he might as well be.
A Hollywood adventure team finds more than enough to videotape. Much more. 2,543 words. Part One. Illustration by John Mann.
Almost anything can be science. Sports science. Christian Science. The sweet science. The science of dropping science. Mixology. Scientology. Parapsychology. Cryptozoology. All were seeking a higher truth — the perfect jump, the perfect drink, the perfect explanation for an elusive manimal that lives in the dark woods, according to eyewitness accounts, but has never been caught on video.
Before we could rejoin the group and start searching with our camcorders for a Sasquatch or El Chupacabra or whatever the fuck Tom thought he saw that night on the Lost Coast where we were now, Claire and I walked along the shore toward the cliffs, which rose straight up from the black mirrored surface of the lake. I led the way until we reached the rocks when she stepped in front of me and turned around so that we were face to face. We could barely see each other, or anything else, because the full moon had disappeared behind the ridge. It was the darkest place on the mountain, our forms swallowed by the shadowy rock face. I could feel her body moving closer and as we came together, our lips almost touched.
Then we heard the sound of a rappel followed by gear being unsnapped. The picture of Tom’s face filled the flood of moonlight against the rock, his long hair in a ponytail, the rope in a puddle of loops at his feet.
“Hi, Tom,” I said.
We slapped each other on the shoulder. Tom and I went way back. I was a friend who he knew he could trust with his life but who he didn’t know also wanted to sleep with his girl tonight. Now he’d teased my group of Hollywood types to the Left Coast in search of the beast he’d seen. Tom opened the clip and let the rope fall against the side of the cliff. He unhooked the harness and stepped out of it, dropping it on the rocks. “Beautiful night for a climb,” he said. “I love being up on the rocks during a full moon.”
Claire complained, “I hadn’t heard from you. Nobody had.”
Out-of-work Hollywood types travel to the middle of nowhere to make an adventure show. 2,332 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Mann.
We were desperate. Art. Bruce. Lance. Tony. Scott. The whole lot of us. Desperate for another break. Desperate to make another month’s rent, another phone bill, another car payment. Desperate to make something happen. Tired of waiting tables, waiting in open houses, waiting to get slaughtered at the next cattle call. We’d all had a break or two already – a national commercial, a recurring role on HBO or FX or AMC, a juicy part in a fourquel splatter-fest. Just enough to keep our hopes up, keep us out of real jobs and real money. Only the breaks hadn’t led to bigger breaks. We needed that big roller to take us over the top. And this was our wave machine.
“Can you believe this shit?” said Art, an aspiring film editor scraping by on local commercials and backyard bare-knuckle brawl videos. Believe it or not, they pay people to edit those things. He got four hundred bucks and an eight ball for the last gig, which launched the career of a 380 pound overalls-clad cyclops named Opie Mohammed.
I couldn’t believe the tab as I looked at it, dollar signs burning my eyes. Even out in the middle of nowhere like we were, in some Northern California town where the redwoods met the Pacific, it was possible to run up a four figure bar tab. Before I could react, another round had arrived — bottles of Budweiser and whiskey backs, although you could have them in any order you liked. I could already feel the hangover and I knew a couple of the others were half blind. Somebody had to pay for this. The credit cards were maxed. We didn’t have the budget for this bill. I hailed the waitress and ordered another round of whiskey.
As soon as I said it I got hit in the eye with the flash. “How come every time I order a whiskey, you take my picture?” I asked.
Scott slipped the phone back in his pocket. “Because in Argentina they say ‘whiskey’ instead of ‘cheese’. Picked it up on a shoot in Patagonia.”
A writer has to get out of a movie job contract and off an exotic island. 1,918 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
The next morning, Jenny Logan came to escort me to Jack’s place. She didn’t say a word about the job offer she’d made me to come from L.A. to this isolated island off Cambodia and write and possibly direct a film. But, as we stopped outside the steps of the beachside mansion belonging to the movie studio owner, a Luxembourg billionaire, I noticed cut marks on both Jenny’s wrists. They were obviously recent.
Jenny saw me looking at them. “I’m sorry if I’ve been weird, James. I think, when I get back to L.A., I’ll be my normal self again.”
She gave me a kiss on the lips, and then pulled back before I could turn it into something intimate.
Just then, a tropical rainstorm snapped into life and I rushed inside the palatial home. Jack was short, stocky and tanned but not even plentiful spa treatments could hide his fifty-something age. He smiled like a villain from a Bond movie and welcomed me inside. Of course, Jack’s bodyguard stood expressionless five feet behind us at all times.
“Thank you for this amazing opportunity, Mr. Hauser,” I said politely. I noted he didn’t offer me a drink, not even tap water. At least in Hollywood they offer you a bottle of Voss before they drain you of life.
A writer gets a movie job offer on an exotic island and goes to check it out. 2,134 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
It was bang in the middle of another Writers Guild strike, and I woke up with a throbbing headache. I hadn’t drunk more than half a bottle of Trader Joe cheap red, and in those days that wasn’t enough for me to suffer a hangover. No, the pounding in my forehead was a form of dread at the thought of traipsing over to Sony Studios to join my comrades on the picket line yet again. I didn’t even know what we were fighting for exactly: just something to do with making money from the Internet. All I did know for certain was that I was broke, and my damn headache wouldn’t go away.
As I sipped a cup of coffee inside one of the few remaining rent-controlled apartments in Santa Monica, I felt entirely disillusioned. I couldn’t turn on the TV for any respite because, without the writers, the programming was filled with reality shows and repeats. Nor did I feel like going out for a walk, as the June gloom had set in since L.A. is never as sunny as people like to think. So, instead, I stared at my laptop screen trying to come up with an original story idea.
In theory, this quiet period would give Hollywood writers an opportunity to delve into our artistry and create something we cared about. But my screen remained blank for an hour. If I’m honest, it was a futile task; I hadn’t been able to write anything original since my first script that had snagged me representation. Everything else since then had been assignments.
I was trying very hard to remember what I cared about – maybe that was giving me the headache – when my phone rang. This hadn’t happened in a few weeks. I feared that a comrade was calling out of disgust with my inability to show up at the picket line. But the call was from my agent.
Had the strike suddenly ended? Or was she quitting the business to start up a yoga studio?
A mother leaves her young son to take a movie role and pays a huge price for her ambition. 3,044 words. Illustration by John Mann.
During Grace’s divorce hearing five years ago, her husband Ted described her as follows: "If Grace was late for an interview at the studios and our son George, who she loves more than anything in the world, had a heart attack, she’d wait till she got back from the interview to call 911."
As fate would have it, the judge had also been married to an actress when he was young. Ted got full custody. Things changed. A truck lost control and hit Ted’s car, broadside, at a stop sign. It took five hours for the jaws of life to pry him loose and he was confined to an assisted living facility ever since.
As a result, George moved in with Grace full time.
Since his upcoming birthday, his sixth, was their first together, Grace was determined to make it the best ever, assuring Ted he had nothing to worry about and she cared more about their son than any interview. She bought George a shiny red-and-white Schwinn, the same one Pee-wee Herman had in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, on sale in the Bloomingdale’s Christmas catalogue. Since George had never ridden a two wheeler before, Grace led him outside to a secure area, stood behind the bike and held onto the seat while he tried to pedal. White-faced with fear, the boy wobbled and fell but, after countless failed attempts, broke free. Picking up speed till he was little more than a blur, his smile increased proportionately to the realization of his achievement.
Eventually, he doubled back to where his mother was standing. Only Grace wasn’t smiling. She was inspecting her right hand, the one that held the bike, punctured by the metal spring that attached the seat to its frame. Having severed a small artery below the skin, she saw her blood spurt everywhere.
The director wraps her film by punishing and praising those who deserve it. 2,474 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Fed up with my lead actress Brittany, I decided to pay a visit to Rex Durand in his suite. The famous actor in my movie Lost Encounter, now shooting, was not feeling well. His bodyguard was at his side. His dresser was also there. Everyone confided that Brittany was sleeping with the screenwriter. I had to wonder how much rehearsal had really been going on between them. Obviously, very little. For an actress already on shaky ground, would this affair be the final blow? I had to talk to the scripter. I was sworn to secrecy not to reveal my sources, as the lovers did not want me to know.
The following day another six hours were los because of Brittany. Once more, we did the best we could by shooting around her. I had had enough. At first, the screenwriter denied anything was going on. I told him I knew the truth and it was pointless to deny it. And if her work kept suffering, they ultimately were hurting the film. He promised to keep the situation under control. I was still naïve enough to believe that he would help the film by making sure Brittany was prepared.
On our schedule the following week was the fashion show and that was when the film’s producer Lawrence Perlman arrived. He was to be a first row extra. We had secured a very large space with plenty of room to build a stage and a walkway as well as the biggest Atlas crane to make the most of the expanse. Inspired by Chanel, I had asked for a series of multiple mirrors on the stage and liked the results. And my costume supervisor pulled off a miracle with the clothes and all the accoutrements and secrets of a great stylist. The difficulty had been to make the fashion believable and she had done so a thousand times over.
My personal challenge at this point was physical. I became sick on the very first day of the shoot. The pressure of it all, and the very cold weather, had gotten the best of me. By the third day, I was barely conscious. Between takes, I wrapped myself in blankets, doped myself with flu medicine, drank a lot of hot liquid and prayed that lighting would take a little longer before I had to spring back into action.