NEW STORIES WILL BE POSTED MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30.
I AM GRATEFUL TO THE 50 AUTHORS WHO HAVE WRITTEN 70 SHORT STORIES ABOUT HOLLYWOOD FOR THIS WEBSITE SO FAR. THANKS!
NEW STORIES WILL BE POSTED MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30.
I AM GRATEFUL TO THE 50 AUTHORS WHO HAVE WRITTEN 70 SHORT STORIES ABOUT HOLLYWOOD FOR THIS WEBSITE SO FAR. THANKS!
I met Billy McNulty in the Avis parking lot at the airport in Salt Lake City. He had walked past me on the plane from Los Angeles, a vaguely familiar face whom I had seen at one or two press screenings at Paramount or Fox. Outside, the predicted blizzard had tapered off and a sprinkle of snow was flying in the wind. The street was covered with ice that was being sanded as I arrived.
It was crowded, actually mobbed and chaotic, at the airport, one day before the start of the Sundance Film Festival, and the flight from L.A. had disgorged hundreds of people carrying luggage, cameras and boxes. Ten minutes later, a flight from JFK arrived. The same scene. Everyone looked very young and bedraggled — certainly younger but just as bedraggled as I did. It was January 1996.
I was standing in line when, just outside, there was a commotion. At the door of a minivan with the sign "SUNDANCE – PRESS" posted, a crowd had gathered. A burly fellow was pushing a smaller guy out of the bus onto the street and screaming, "Get the fuck away. Asshole. Prick."
The victim was McNulty, who fell to the ground. The bus door closed. Someone came over and helped McNulty get up. The crowd dispersed. Just another mini-drama among quasi-talented filmmakers at Salt Lake City airport.
The grim woman behind the Avis counter gave me the keys to a Ford Explorer — you need a four-wheel drive for the icy roads — and a printed card with directions how to reach Park City. Before I could say a word, she shouted, “Next.” It was freezing when I left the terminal. Even bundled up in a down jacket, woolen hat and gloves, I was shivering. Without snow boots, which I had stupidly packed in my luggage, my toes turned icy. I scurried to the parking lot, my laptop over my shoulder, rolling my big valise filled with sweaters, woolen socks, thermal underwear and thick ski pants. As I waited at the light to cross the street, Bill McNulty stood next to me.
"Hey," he said.
Only a dozen people remained dancing, drinking, and trying to score as music echoed around the club. Kal Bobby sat alone with a smile on his perfectly tanned face. It was the wrap party for Kal’s film that would never be seen in a movie theatre because it was destined to be Netflix-ed on an iPhone. In the instantly forgettable feature he played a police officer from a small town transferred to New York City to fight zombie-terrorists who somehow steal millions of dollars in gems and buy weapons of mass destruction. As bad as the pitch sounded, Kal was paid just under $1 million with his name above the title – an act of desperation by the producers who faced a rapidly approaching shooting date and no lead after Charlie Sheen pulled out.
Kal wiped his forehead and glanced about. Being alone at an event like this was worse than being invisible. He played with his cell phone, pretending to read nonexistent texts. Kal looked for his date, Carla the redhead. He didn’t know her last name. She was close with Kal’s agent and always good for these events. She’d wandered off when Tony Danza showed up. Kal wasn’t sure if that was more embarrassing for him or for her.
Kal shoved the cell phone into his tasteful Valentino suit jacket and headed for the restroom. A caterer smiled and bowed his head slightly as Kal walked by. Nice to be noticed, Kal thought, until he realized that the caterer was just coughing.
The Actor was relieved to find the restroom empty. He locked the door, rubbed his eyes, wiped his chin and stared into the mirror. The lighting was unkind. He moved closer to the mirror and ran his fingers across his face and — was it the fluorescents? — he could see through his hand. He leaned in closer but the longer he stared without blinking, the more transparent it became. Now he could see through his head and make out the fresco on the back wall.
Later, when I thought about the body of work that had made him famous — his oeuvre, as the fawning critics put it — I was stupefied that I had ever let Bruce Donegal anywhere near me. My God, what did I need, a billboard on Sunset screaming Warning, Danger Ahead? A freeway sign flashing Don’t Go There in six-foot letters?
My boyfriend at the time, a charming loser named David, had been as excited as I was when he learned that I’d scored an assignment to interview Donegal for the Times. Former enfant terrible, now pantheon-certified auteur, Donegal had made his mark with stylish, misogynistic horror-thrillers. His latest feature, as usual a sophisticated slashfest, was getting raves.
I was one of the lucky few to get a one-on-one, and David was eager to help. He even supplied me with a list of incisive cinephiliac questions that were sure to intrigue the famously film-savvy director.
“If you can,” David entreated, “mention my Baby Face Nelson project, would you? The whole psychotic anti-hero gangster thing would be right up his alley. I mean, if you can work it in.”
I made a note to do that.
But once I’d been escorted through the Paramount lot to Donegal’s office (replete with iconic posters of his movies and framed photos of him with his peers: Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma, Ashby and Altman), and we started talking intensely about Film with a capital F, and I began to feel as if he were the visiting guest professor and I his star pupil — I completely forgot about Baby Face Nelson.
Before we begin, congratulations to my show business friend Chris Rock, who is going to host the 88th Academy Awards. I’ve known Chris since he was a Jheri-curled 18-year-old. In 2005, just before he hosted the Oscars for the first time, I pitched this joke to him in the parking lot at the Comedy Store: Do yourself a favor. Go see “Sideways” with an all-black audience. They start talking to the screen like it’s a horror film – “Don’t open that ’68 Pinot, bitch…” He laughed and said, “Tommy Dash! Back on the pipe!” I told you we were friends…
Okay, then. Some egghead once asked Carson (Johnny, not Daly. Jesus, not Daly) how he became a star. “I started out in a gaseous state, and then I cooled,” he said.
Guess whose gaseous state will be cooling once his episode of I Don’t Get It airs next month? Go ahead, guess. And if you guess someone else, don’t worry, I can take it. But can you? Can you take it? Seriously, with all the fuck-ups, misspeaks, oversleeps, bad raps, worse reps, flip phone follies and knocks on Janice’s HR door, can you take it that Tommy Dash just slaughtered a barnful of strangers? (Strangers, and Denard Sharp, who showed up because he “heard some big bad motherfucker-type things.”) Can you handle Danny Musselman putting me in a bear hug and saying, “Thanks a lot, asshole. Now I have to rewrite the finale?” Can you process Sonny Regal asking for the number of MY acting coach? Can you begin to envision the wrap party tableau of Beck Franklin, fucking Beck Franklin, pulling me aside and, as he stared at the floor so I wouldn’t see his glistening eyes, muttering, “Don’t forget me, Tommy. Don’t forget me and Carey. But don’t forget me?” Well, you’ll have to. Because it all happened. I all happened.
You need to believe me. And you need not to believe Chris Rock. I was never on the pipe.
His mother lived in Glendale; it was the house which he had taken when he married and later bought, in which his son and daughter had been born a bungalow in a cul-desac of pepper trees and flowering shrubs and vines which the Japanese tended, backed into a barren foothill combed and curried into a cypress-and-marble cemetery dramatic as a stage set and topped by an electric sign in red bulbs which, in the San Fernando valley fog, glared in broad sourceless ruby as though just beyond the crest lay not heaven but hell. The length of his sports model car in which the Filipino sat reading a paper dwarfed it. But she would have no other, just as she would have neither servant, car, nor telephone: a gaunt spare slightly stooped woman upon whom even California and ease had put no flesh, sitting in one of the chairs which she had insisted on bringing all the way from Nebraska. At first she had been content to allow the Nebraska furniture to remain in storage, since it had not been needed (when Ira moved his wife and family out of the house and into the second one, the intermediate one, they had bought new furniture too, leaving the first house furnished complete for his mother) but one day, he could not recall just when, he discovered that she had taken the one chair out of storage and was using it in the house. Later, after he began to sense that quality of unrest in her, he had suggested that she let him clear the house of its present furniture and take all of hers out of storage but she declined, apparently preferring or desiring to leave the Nebraska furniture where it was. Sitting so, a knitted shawl about her shoulders, she looked less like she lived in or belonged to the house, the room, than the son with his beach burn and his faintly theatrical gray temples and his bright expensive suavely antiphonal garments did. She had changed hardly at all in the thirty-four years; she and the older Ira Ewing too, as the son remembered him, who, dead, had suffered as little of alteration as while he had been alive. As the sod Nebraska outpost had grown into a village and then into a town, his father’s aura alone had increased, growing into the proportions of a giant who at some irrevocable yet recent time had engaged barehanded in some titanic struggle with the pitiless earth and endured and in a sense conquered it too, like the town, a shadow out of all proportion to the gaunt gnarled figure of the actual man. And the actual woman too as the son remembered them back in that time.
Two people who drank air and who required to eat and sleep as he did and who had brought him into the world, yet were strangers as though of another race, who stood side by side in an irrevocable loneliness as though strayed from another planet, not as husband and wife but as blood brother and sister, even twins, of the same travail because they had gained a strange peace through fortitude and the will and strength to endure.
"Tell me again what it is," she said. "I’ll try to understand."
"So it was Kazimura that showed you the damned paper," he said. She didn’t answer this; she was not looking at him.
"You tell me she has been in the pictures before, for two years. That that was why she had to change her name, that they all have to change their names."
"Yes. They call them extra parts. For about two years, God knows why."
"And then you tell me that this that all this was so she could get into the pictures "
If he had been thirty, he would not have needed the two aspirin tablets and the half glass of raw gin before he could bear the shower’s needling on his body and steady his hands to shave. But then when he had been thirty neither could he have afforded to drink as much each evening as he now drank; certainly he would not have done it in the company of the men and the women in which, at forty-eight, he did each evening, even though knowing during the very final hours filled with the breaking of glass and the shrill cries of drunken women above the drums and saxophones the hours during which he carried a little better than his weight both in the amount of liquor consumed and in the number and sum of checks paid that six or eight hours later he would rouse from what had not been sleep at all but instead that dreamless stupefaction of alcohol out of which last night’s turgid and licensed uproar would die, as though without any interval for rest or recuperation, into the familiar shape of his bedroom, the bed’s foot silhouetted by the morning light which entered the bougainvillaea-bound windows beyond which his painful and almost unbearable eyes could see the view which might be called the monument to almost twenty-five years of industry and desire, of shrewdness and luck and even fortitude: the opposite canyon-flank dotted with the white villas half hidden in imported olive groves or friezed by the sombre spaced columns of cypress like the facades of eastern temples, whose owners’ names and faces and even voices were glib and familiar in back corners of the United States and of America and of the world where those of Einstein and Rousseau and Esculapius had never sounded.
He didn’t waken sick. He never wakened ill nor became ill from drinking, not only because he had drunk too long and too steadily for that, but because he was too tough even after the thirty soft years; he came from too tough stock, on that day thirty-four years ago when at fourteen he had fled, on the brake-beam of a west-bound freight, the little lost Nebraska town named for, permeated with, his father’s history and existence, a town to be sure, but only in the sense that any shadow is larger than the object which casts it. It was still frontier even as he remembered it at five and six: the projected and increased shadow of a small outpost of sod-roofed dugouts on the immense desolation of the plains where his father, Ira Ewing too, had been first to essay to wring wheat during the six days between those when, outdoors in spring and summer and in the fetid half dark of a snowbound dugout in the winter and fall, he preached. The second Ira Ewing had come a long way since then, from that barren and treeless village which he had fled by a night freight to where he now lay in a hundred-thousand-dollar house, waiting until he knew that he could rise and go to the bath and put the two aspirin tablets into his mouth.
The ER doctor lifted Sam’s shirt and looked to Susan for explanation. Raised welts covered Sam’s back, already purpling. “Sam? What happened?”
Sam picked at a loose thread on the sheet and shrugged. One of his curls was caught in the bandage above his left eye.
“Samuel McGrath, answer me.” She heard her voice shaking.
“Why don’t you let me have a minute?” the doctor suggested, guiding her to the door. Susan knew what that meant. He had to question Sam alone. Ask if Mommy hits him and whether she uses her hands or a hairbrush.
She stepped into the hall. Wendy was coming toward her. “How’s Caden?”
“His arm’s broken.” Wendy swallowed and took a shuddering breath. “They’re taking a CT scan to check…for swelling. In his brain.”
Susan folded Wendy her in my arms. “Caden’s going to be okay. They’re both going to be okay.”
The door opened behind them. “Mrs. McGrath?”
“What do you mean he landed on you?”
“He said I should lie on the ground. To jump over.”
“He said I had to or he wouldn’t be my friend anymore. And you like Miss Wendy, so—” Sam’s voice broke and he leaned his head into her arm.
Like so many things in Los Angeles, the rain was fake. That didn’t make it any less wet as it pounded onto the heads of the children, dragging Sam’s curls into his eyes. The director yelled cut and then yelled it again. He wanted scissors.
The make-up girl sprang forward, but only wielded bobby pins to secure Sam’s hair with steady hands and a vacant half-smile…products, no doubt, of the pill bottle Susan had seen nestled between the lipsticks.
Sam’s lips were blue. No one seemed the least concerned about hypothermia. Hell, none of the kids would have eaten lunch if Susan hadn’t reminded the A.D. of work rules. The mothers of the other two boys didn’t like that at all. “You can’t cause trouble,” Fake Blonde warned, while Fake Boobs bobble-headed agreement and added, “You want your son to work again, don’t you?” Better to let their kids starve than take a chance at upsetting the D-list director of a cookie ad. They probably thought Susan was some hopeful Okie – but she knew more about this business than both of them combined. She knew people would take advantage of you only if allowed to. And everyone was out to take advantage.
Susan slipped in behind the make-up lady and caught Sam’s eye. “This is the last take, baby,” she told Sam. “This is ridiculous.” Already twenty-six minutes over schedule.
“But Mom,” he protested through chattering teeth, “this is fun!”
I used to wake up at dawn and walk down Barham Blvd, past Forest Lawn Cemetery, to the gates of Warner Bros, then double back down Barham to Cahuenga, up to the gates of Universal. It took two hours and the walk uphill was brutal. I’d peer over the imposing fences and watch the luxury cars drive on. Someday, somehow, I would be in one of them. This is that moment – well, kind of.
Arielle and I are driving to the Santa Clarita movie ranch for the final chase sequence for Other Sidez performed by actor Paul Samuels’ stunt double. The studio execs and producers behind Other Sidez are attempting a Hail Mary so that Paul and director Gary Phillips can put aside their differences and complete principal photography. Most importantly, Arielle leaves her dogs in the backyard to go on this car trip.
Then something even more incredible happens.
“I can’t go to this meeting,” Arielle says to me. We’re in stop-and-go traffic on the 101. Arielle is driving. Someone on the road honks and Arielle accelerates too hard. “I’m giving you an opportunity here.” She drives faster when she’s angry. “I want you to go to this meeting for me.”
“Are they going to ask me about the Ferrari?” I ask, confused. That was the only thing that qualified me to participate in this meeting.
The soundstage set is quiet except for the clicks and whirs of the Mitchell 35mm BNC camera, its lens lingering on the face of a very young actress lying in a hospital bed. After a beat, the girl says, "Now people won’t be scared of me!" It’s shlock but she nails it. Now for the reveal: one eye in the center of her head and fresh bloody bandages covering both halves of her face. She’s a horrifyingly adorable cyclops, and her beaming actress mother speaks. "Dr. Vincent, you’ve done such a wonderful job, better than your father did on me years ago!" The mother, too, has one eye. So do the father and the doctor. “But why does that two-eye mutation still keep happening to everyone!?"
"Cut!" yells a voice offstage. Then another voice yells, "That’s a wrap on Episode Eight. Thanks, everyone!!"
A set bell rings. The lights go up. The director, Tom Sanders, slaps the TV series’ creator on the back and says, "Another one in the can, Hollinger! Love the title, too — See Like Me," using his hands to mimic a marquee. "I don’t know where you get the ideas for these episodes, but you’ve sure got a way with words!"
Clayton Hollinger is 39 years old, single, affable, tall, strong, and black. The year is 1957 and The Galleys is the most popular show in the country, tuned into every Saturday night by viewers numbering in the tens of millions. "Thanks, Tom. I suppose it all comes from up here," Clayton says, putting a finger to his temple. “And believe me, it’s good to get it all out."
Tom replies, laughing, "I wouldn’t want some of the creatures you come up with in my attic, either."
It was the one of the worst flu seasons on record and the shots turned out to be useless because they didn’t include protection against influenza A (H3N2), the particularly virulent strain going around. Public health officials were urging everyone to wash their hands often, with the CDC helpfully suggesting it should last as long as it took to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, or about 20 seconds. People were urged to avoid large gatherings, but no one who’d been invited to Prospero Studios’ screening of Masque was going to heed that warning.
There was a frenzy surrounding the movie, which at an estimated $270 million cost (a figure no one confirmed but plenty of people denied) was the most expensive horror film in years. Privately, Hollywood thought the bloated budget was missing the point considering the huge profits generated by cheap found footage scares like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity.
Publicly, nobody wanted to be like the naysayers who’d predicted Avatar would crash and burn as the budget headed north of an unconfirmed $300 million. So people were falling all over themselves to declare that Masque was going to be a gamechanger. “The next step in the evolution of horror films,” pontificated a New York movie critic in a Sunday essay.
Not that anyone knew much about Masque. Secrecy surrounding the project was so intense that few knew who’d actually been cast in the movie because of draconian non-disclosure agreements. To add another layer of camouflage, the studio set up several dummy productions filming simultaneously. One was called Argo because who doesn’t like an inside joke?
As a hotel employee of some 20 years, Nino was used to keeping the secrets of guests. But this was the first time they ever made him swear to it on a copy of the Old Testament. The request came as he was setting up his bar in the third floor function room of New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria. Nino knew this wasn’t a drinking crowd; if anything, they were a complaining crowd. Because whenever the Hollywood moguls stayed at the swank hotel, they bitched that business was always bad no matter how much money they were making. He recognized some of the guests from their previous visits as one powerful executive after another entered, many greeting each other in Yiddish.
A spread in Life magazine had come out that morning entitled “The Movie Hearings.” Written by Sidney Olson, the article purported to reveal how Reds were trying to take over the movies, and why the House Un-American Activities Committee had summoned a galaxy of star witnesses to expose the supposed conspiracy. Many during the October 10-20 hearings had testified willingly — but others had noisily defied the commiittee, triggering the gavel of HUAC Chairman J. Parnell Thomas. Ten writers, directors, and producers who had refused to discuss their beliefs and associations were called The Hollywood Ten. Now the suite was filling with film studio brass who not only had been friendly witnesses but also shared the HUAC Chairman’s impatience with the First Amendment.
“We’re not supposed to be here,” warned Barney Balaban, the President of Paramount Pictures. “When you get the heads of all the movie companies in one room, it’s called restraint of trade.”
“Who’s restraining trade?” asked Harry Cohn, the President and Production Director of Columbia Pictures. “We’re just talking business.”
“How’s this? Take my right side, fellas. That’s always my best side.”
Grant Strickland and his actress wife Lili Reynolds stood on the U.S. Capitol steps posing before a crescent of jostling still photographers as dozens of fans waved and reporters shouted questions.
“Grant, are there any Communists in the movie industry?” asked one newsman over the din. Strickland and Reynolds hooked arms and leaned toward each other for the press photographers.
“I’m not into ‘isms,’” the actor replied with a chuckle, “—unless it’s capital-ism!”
“And what about you, Lili? How do you feel about your husband appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee today?” another reporter called out. “Are you nervous?”
The former chorus girl who became one of Hollywood’s biggest draws as the sassy dame-next-door type whom men adore glanced up at her husband and then back at the questioner. “I’m here to support Grant — and also our industry.”
Given the seriousness of the HUAC hearings, though, she ignored shouts to dip her chin and show off her steely sultriness.
“Grant, what do you think of these hearings?” asked another reporter standing at the back of the horde.
Abraham Zimmer, the reclusive Israeli owner of Myriad Comics, felt the weight against his chest as he leaned back hard in his chair. It was a very useful weight, reminding him of the here and now, the knowledge that at any time he could just pull the pistol from his holster, pull back the safety and shoot a hole right through the forehead of this Californian prick asking for more money.
But it also took him back 50 years, to a time of blacker/whiter morality. It was him against the world, armies on all sides, and there were only six days needed to push back all-comers and change the world forever.
He wasn’t going to shoot anyone. Not today. Anyway, strangulation was always so much better in these circumstances. Bullets cost money.
Abe had a reputation for being a penny-pinching boss, though some called him pathologically greedy along with volatile. But it was a cred he had purposefully created, because he was always teaching lessons. Like the time he had waited until everybody was in the Myriad Comics office before he started screaming about the use of too many Post-It notes. The same when he roasted the editor-in-chief over booking a car service just because he left the office for home at two in the morning. Abe didn’t give a shit about those individual examples. What, was he a psychopath or something? But over the next quarter, office costs came down by half a million. The quarter after that, by a whole million. He never had to make those cuts himself; everybody did it for him.
Greetings from Gardena! Specifically, the Normandie Casino just off the Harbor Freeway. More specifically, the Crouching Tiger Lounge of the Normandie Casino just off the Harbor Freeway. I’m waiting for a spot at a $1-5 seven-card stud hi-lo table to open up. The woman said it would be 15 minutes, but we’re looking at an hour. Meanwhile, she asks, would Mister Tommy like to play Texas Hold-‘em while he wait? “No,” I said, “Mister Tommy came here to play poker, not this Ponzi scheme with chips where everyone at the table gets to see 70 percent of the fucking deck.” Then she pointed to a spot at the $25 blackjack table, and I didn’t have the heart to explain to her that’s where I go when I’m down to my last $50. Then she pointed to the Crouching Tiger and gave me two drink tickets. It’s 10:00 am, so that should keep me till 10:10.
I got a grand in my pocket, and that’s not counting my Tip and Blow Fund, in case my former dealer, Flacco, returns my text and shows up. Which raises a philosophical question: Is he ever really your “former” dealer? Which raises another question: If your dealer marries your uncle’s daughter, is he your second cousin, or are you just drug related?
The lounge has wi-fi and, my hand to God, there are eight guys at the bar playing Hold-‘em online. One of them is in a full Batman costume, wearing a name tag that reads, “HELLO. My name is MR. AFFLECK.” Seriously, you’re playing online poker while sitting in a casino. I’m sorry, I need to feel the cards in my hand, the chips on my fingers, the Purell in my palms between deals. I, too am online, but only to catch all of you up on why we are dispatching today from Gardena, Monte Carlo without the Board of Health.
Two days ago, I was given the week off. Yes, given. I need to point out that I have done nothing wrong. And I need you to believe me. Yes, I need you to believe the guy waiting for Flacco to show up with some coke.