The world loves entertainment. But everybody also wants to get paid for it. 2,078 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“We should just let him in,” Greer said, watching the cop on their CCTV feed.
“Oh, sure,” Hugo replied. “Just bring him right down and show him the whole setup.”
But his tone wasn’t as confident as his words — not nearly. He was her boss but she scared him with her dismissive coldness and chess-move thinking. She didn’t argue it now; she just hit a couple keys. “Officer?” she said into a microphone. “Or is it Detective?”
“Detective Evan Ridge,” the guy said, clearly knowing that it sounded good. “I’m here because a TV writer exited The Farmer’s Market at closing and crossed to a far corner of the parking lot to his silver-metallic Kia Soul. He carried takeout cartons and grocery bags and was jumped by three black-clad men. They beat him, emptied his pockets, took his stuff, stole his car, and left him gashed and bleeding.”
2,672 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“So it was murder,” Cary Grant said with a regretful sigh. As a member of Hollywood Park’s board of directors, he’d personally hired the young private detective to look into the bizarre death of Eddie Lomitas, who despite dying of suffocation in mid-race had remained in the saddle of a 20-to-1 long shot that had won in a photo finish. “Any idea how it was done?”
“Not yet,” McNulty admitted. “But the former L.A. medical examiner, Dr. Thomas Noguchi is working on it. The tox screens have all been clean. No trace of any known poisons.”
McNulty continued the report to his client.
“Lomitas wasn’t very well liked,” the P.I. said bluntly. “Most everyone I talked to thought he was an asshole. Except for you. How come?”
“Twenty years ago, his mother worked for me,” Grant confided. “She was my live-in housekeeper and cook. I agreed to provide financial assistance to the single mother and her son Eddie for as long they needed it. And I believe his mother deserves to know the truth about how her son died.”
McNulty recalls the Cary Grant case that made the Tinseltown P.I.’s career. 2,623 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
On May 31, 2015, McNulty watched the bulldozers and wrecking balls smash and grind Hollywood Park into dust. It was being torn down to make way for a new multi-billion dollar football stadium. Ironically, it had neither been a park nor in Hollywood. It was a race track. And for decades horse racing was the only legal form of gambling in California. By the mid-1980s, Hollywood Park had become one of the most popular horse racing venues in the world. But now, as McNulty watched its destruction, he recalled how it had helped put the then 25-year-old’s newly-established detective agency on tinseltown’s radar. In later years, newspaper columnists would refer to McNulty as “The Hollywood Eye.” But back then he was just another Hollywood gumshoe looking for a few well-heeled clients.
“A friend of mine is in need of a good private eye,” McNulty’s Pal, comedian Lenny Hazeltine, said over the phone. “I couldn’t think of one so I gave him your name.”
“I appreciate that,” McNulty said. “Who is it?”
“You’ll know him when you see him,” Lenny laughed and hung up.
Ten minutes later, the door to McNulty’s office opened and in walked Cary Grant.
Yeah, that Cary Grant, the legendary actor and leading man from all those old movies on TCM. He was 81 when he walked into McNulty’s office, a bit thicker but still handsome with a full head of perfectly-barbered white hair and chicly-attired in a crisp white shirt, blue blazer and grey slacks.
“Lenny tells me you’re a detective,” Grant said after the introductions. “Are you a good one?”
The L.A. therapist is pursued by his first celebrity sex partner. 3,419 words. Part Seven. Illustration by Thomas Warming
Speed west on the 10 freeway and you fast run out of land. Just in time, you whip through the rightward arc of a tunnel that shoots you out onto Pacific Coast Highway, due north. On your left: blue-green water from here to infinity. On your right: the Santa Monica Mountains, parched and immense. Dead ahead: the promontory of Point Dume. Beat lights and traffic — a long shot, at best, in your soon-to-be late-great Camry — and in twenty minutes you’ll turn onto an asphalt ribbon known as Old Malibu Road. It’s where Dennis Corbin, celebrity therapist, is heading to make a house call. A beach house call. Oh, the travails of a country doctor.
“Did I wake you?”
“Don’t worry about it. What’s wrong?”
“So agitated, I’m gonna scream.”
“Tell me what’s going on.”
“Can’t breathe. God, those crashin’ waves. They’re relentless.”
“Where are you?”
The L.A. psychologist is finding fame and fortune from his celebrity patients and their pals. 1,887 words. Part Six. Part Eight. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
After some back and forth, we agree on a price. More than I’d imagined. I will get a flat fee per gossip tip, contingent on its veracity. There’s a time lag while it’s investigated. The money is payable to Alan Shepherd Black, LLC. Cost me $49 to incorporate in Nevada without my name in the filings. How it works: I give Stop The Presses! a lead. They assign the story to a team who tail and photograph the target, interview friends, neighbors, and colleagues. If they go with it, funds are electronically transferred to the LLC. To encourage speedy payment, I decide to withhold new tips till I’m paid for the previous ones.
I do have ethical ground rules. First, I will not divulge anything a client has told me in confidence that relates to his or her psychic pain or treatment. Gay? Alcoholic? Cheating on a spouse? I’ll take your secret to the grave.
Second, the tip can’t be something that only my client knows, thus traceable to him — and by extension, me. No, it must be a thing two or more people know so as to obscure its source.
But this leaves so much else. What do I consider fair use? Idle gossip. Trash talk. Celebrities love to dish about other celebrities. It’s a stall tactic, a digression, to avoid dealing with their own shit. Every day I get an earful. The married actress sleeping with her nanny; the producer nailing his son’s wife; the Beverly Hills dermatologist meth addict; the talk show host sex offender; the transgender Victoria Secret model; the HIV-positive action star; the sex tape starring “America’s Sweetheart.” And more. Lots more. So much loose talk. Hell, I even hear things outside of therapy. Did you know that Hollywood’s biggest entertainment attorney has a whole second family? Kidding. I would never. But you get what I’m saying.
I’m about to test the system.
The Hollywood therapist needs money quickly. A book? TV talk show? Gossip? 2,050 words. Part Five. Part Seven. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
“So I made some calls.” It’s my college buddy, entertainment attorney Barry, over the car speaker. We haven’t talked in a few days about my book idea
“And?” I say into the hands-free. Looking around for a place to eat.
“There’s qualified interest — Audrey, will you send this to Frank Matteson for signatures? Then you can go home. Sorry, Dennis.”
“What are the qualifications?”
“You said qualified interest.”
I turn off Venice into a random mini-mall.
“The market is saturated,” he says. I park, facing a crimson neon martini glass: the Hi-Lite Lounge, next to an army surplus. “They’ve got self-help books up the wazoo. And since they’re all the same book, you need a hook…”
“Do I have a hook?” I rummage in the console for an Altoid. Starved.
“A great hook, the Hollywood hook. But you need a title they can promote: Tales Of A Hollywood Shrink… Psychoses Of The Stars… How To Get Laid Like DiCaprio… So they can book you on Ellen and the morning shows.”
The L.A. psychologist now enjoys the high-profile life as Hollywood’s favorite shrink. 2,893 words. Parts One, Two, Three, Four. Part Six. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
The restaurant on Culver Boulevard is not far from home — at least geographically. I roll up to the “Valet Parking $9” sign behind Myrtle’s black Escalade. On the sidewalk, a clutch of paparazzi stirs like pigeons. Even in a city not obsessed with faces and bodies like Hollywood, this crew would be a grungy lot. Pungent from catnaps in sunbaked Hondas. Fueled by junk food, stale coffee and masturbation.
Myrtle’s driver walks around to the curbside of the SUV. The windows are blacked. He opens the door as if unwrapping a gift. There! A lightning barrage of strobes hits the two women. They step down in an artful maneuver acquired through practice. All body parts move as one, lest a stray nipple or errant snatch adorn the cover of Globe Magazine. Sadie and Myrtle stride through the flash storm in a herky-jerky silent movie. The shutterbugs glide with them. Their sheer number, all grabbing virtually the same image, ensures a small payoff for the effort. They shout provocations.
“Drinking tonight, Sadie?”
“Who are you screwing?”
“Myrtle, let’s see the new tits!”
“Who said? These are the same old tired ones.”
Hollywood may have too many award shows but everyone still wants to be a winner. 1,929 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Hollywood – 1978
"And the winner is," heralded Artie Edgar, hesitating a beat in an effort to heighten the suspense.
Known mainly for his role in the made-for-cable comedy series, Geezers, Edgar had been tapped to emcee history’s first cable TV awards program, the Inter-Connected-Networks awards, or simply, the ICONs.
The program was being televised nationally on every cable channel, a joint effort to elevate awareness of the non-conventional fare now being offered by a myriad of new programming services.
The year was 1978, fifteen years before the cable industry’s first Emmy nomination. For its time, however, the ICON awards were the symbol of excellence in cable programming.
"The ICON goes to Burlesque Heaven," Artie Edgar gleefully announced.
The wannabe TV scribe meets the show’s head writer who is arrogance personified. 1,637 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Manhattan – 1954
I set up my new working area right by the only window in the room. The glass pane was so filthy you couldn’t see if it was night or day.
Milky came over to inspect. “It’s so crowded in here, Rocky, that you’re gonna have to lose some weight or park your ass out the window to make room.”
I decided to join in. “Is that a window or am I looking at a large glass of tomato juice?”
Milky thought this over and a little smile came to his face. “Okay, not bad. But take my advice: you’re gonna be dealing with four of the smartest and funniest people in television so you better stay on your toes or you’ll be eaten alive. You know how I know this? You see that Emmy award on the shelf?”
I looked over at the bookshelf that hadn’t seen a dust rag in years and found the Emmy with a bra hanging off one of its wings.
“This ’53 Emmy,” Milky continued, “tells you we are the best comedy writing team in television, at least for last year. And that…”
He stopped in mid-sentence, looking at the bookshelf and then around the room. He went to each desk and looked underneath. He even searched in the wastepaper basket and in the closet. He stopped and rubbed his chin and then threw up his hands. He looked over at Hattie.
“Where the hell is it?”
A wannabe TV writer starts his dream job amid the stuff and staff of nightmares. 2,220 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Manhattan – 1954
I guess it was the mid-fifties; the only way I can visualize New York in those days was in the leafy fall and the cold gray days of winter. It comes back to me like one of those art house films. Everything seemed painted in white, black and gray.
I was living a great life back then. I’d survived the Korean War and dodged working at my father’s bookkeeping firm by using the G.I. Bill to get into City College. That’s where I graduated with my English Lit degree and decided to practice my new craft in the NBC mailroom. A great job if you have no other ambitions in show business. You make all the right contacts and you have a little gambling book on the side. If you don’t screw up the mail, you’ll have a job for life. It was there I came to know Mort Schumacher, the Head of Programming, and started dumping my scripts into his mail slot.
I did this for three months: banging away at my father’s old Underwood at night and finishing a script every two weeks. The first one I personally handed to Mr. Schumacher and told him how much I wanted to write for television and why it was my life’s ambition to become the Chekhov of the electronic media age, and on and on. After, I’d just leave little notes attached: “Here’s another one! Hope you enjoy… Rocky.” Or, “Cranked this out in forty-eight hours and no sleep and seventeen cups of coffee. If you get the chance, please look it over… Rocky.”
My real name was Lucius Bauderchantz and my family called me Luther and my friends, Lucky. It was in the service — because of my stocky build, curly dark hair and bent nose — that they started to call me Rocky, after Marciano. This confused the hell out of my parents; when people would call the house and ask for Lucky or Rocky, mom and dad weren’t sure if they’d forgotten about another son hidden somewhere.
All of my hard work finally paid off one day when I was summoned to Mort Schumacher’s office on the thirty-eighth floor, all brass fixtures and wood paneling.
OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: Politically incorrect Tommy Dash reacts post-Oscars after trying out for Chris Rock’s Academy Awards writing team. 3,175 words. Illustrations by Mark Fearing.
Am I too late to call the 2016 Oscars "Straight Outta Caucasia"? Was I the only one who thought Chris Rock wore the white tux so at some point some guy in a bomber jacket would walk up to him on stage, hand a key and say, "It’s the red Lexus…" By the way, none of my business, but couldn’t they come up with a more empowering word for black people not showing up than "boycott?" I don’t think they’ll solve Oscars’ diversity problem by next year. But they will come up with the technology so the Teleprompter cannot contain the phrase "Rihanna’s panties." How about that Red Carpet? I haven’t seen this much side boob since Christie stood next to Trump. I’m confused. Before he started Apple, Steve Jobs was the "Sprockets" guy? Abe Vigoda was left out of the "In Memoriam" montage. But, to be fair, he’d been in it for the last 15 years. Forget his message, let me say this about Joe Biden. Clearly, he learned from listening to Jay Leno rattle off upcoming dates at the end of The Tonight Show… You can never have too many plugs. Right about now, Pope Francis’ publicist, Howard Rubenstein, is calling him saying, "Hey, you got mentioned in the acceptance speech for Spotlight!"
This is somebody’s fault, but not necessarily mine.
I thought I was supposed to be here, working on the Oscars.
OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: What really happens after winning an Academy Award? 1,739 words. Story and illustrations by Mark Fearing.
The Oscar sits on my desk coldly staring at me. I don’t remember bringing it to my production office on the studio lot. But here I am and here it is. Oscar looks great no matter where it’s placed. What do interior designers advise – create a focus in a room? Well, this is the fucking focus.
I don’t remember much about the last three days. Just shreds from the Governors Ball, my speech on stage, walking past George, Brad, Leo, Meryl, Angie and that smug J.J. who’ll maybe return my calls now.
As a producer, nobody in the real world has any idea what you look like, who you are or what you do. But when you win Best Picture and it’s your film – it’s your prize. Granted, I had to share with two more-or-less managers and an actor who magically became a producer when he decided to do the film. He was up for Best Actor, too. Didn’t win. What does that tell you?
Lily buzzes past my open door, she stops, she opens her eyes wide and she rushes in. “Oh my God, Mr. D, I didn’t know you’d arrived yet. It’s here!” Lily has a folder of papers in one hand and her iPhone in the other. She multitasks like a cyborg. That’s what you want in an assistant or office manager or office supervisor… whatever the hell the PC term for what she does is called this week.
“Your speech was awesome. We were all freaking out!” she gushes.
I don’t remember my speech and I can’t find the paper it was written on but I knew enough to thank those that must be thanked. And you’d better write it down beforehand because, at that moment, you lose it. My heart was beating so hard I thought I was going to die. My tongue was stuck to the floor of my mouth.
OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: After a movie studio’s big awards night, the new boss plans changes. 1,442 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
TO: All Employees of Persistent Pictures
FROM: Bradford “Buddy” Newborn, President
RE: Studio Philosophy and Production Slate
We’re all proud of the eight Oscars that Persistent Pictures won last night under Bob Cutner’s management. We hope he gets to use his taste and leadership at another company now that he’s suddenly moved on to make way for me.
Since arriving to head the studio, I’ve seen many of you in the hallways, in the valet parking lot, and as I walk through the commissary on the way to my private dining room. But this is the first chance I’ve had to introduce myself since my father, Bradford Newborn Sr., bought the studio.
To quell some of the rumors and wisecracks I’ve been hearing through our advanced monitoring system, I am well aware that moviemaking isn’t anything like the strappy sandal business. It just so happens that shoes are only one of the many manufacturing interests of Newborn International. We also make small home appliances (“Nothing larger than a toaster oven” is our motto), breath mints and lacrosse equipment. We also had a major investment in the Miami Majors, an ice hockey franchise that I was in charge of running until it folded last year. Let me speak frankly: the Majors died because of poor public support, not because of that lawsuit from 12-year-old Jimmy Brewin after a puck got sucked up into the Zamboni and shot out into the stands, taking with it half his face.
I can report that Little Jimmy is doing well, all things considered, and loves his new nose, mouth and mansion.
Now, for studio business.
OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: A Best Actress nominee has the best and worst time of her life. 2,746 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
The first thing Lyla thought when she found the script for Circle Of Squares in her mailbox was, This has come to me by mistake.
She lived in a guest house on a property belonging to a beloved actress known for a series of “grumpy old lady” comedies that had touched a chord. Though claiming to be retired, the landlady was still very much interested in being courted by filmmakers. Way back in the day, Lyla occupied the same casting niche of supporting comic character even though she was two generations younger than her landlady. But the older actress snagged every part, cashing a nice little paycheck for a couple hours of work.
Lyla was used to delivery people dropping packages on her porch because it was accessible to the road and the landlady’s house was situated down a long driveway behind a tall security gate. But this screenplay had Lyla’s name on the envelope.
She began reading it and her first thought was, It doesn’t make any damn sense at all. It’s even more inexplicable than Cloud Atlas. Lyla had never understood the point of pointless movies.
But as Lyla finished the script, she knew it had Oscar bait written all over it.
The story and characters had everything the old farts in the Academy liked in an indie movie, she realized, beginning with the pretentious and never-explained title right through to the heavy-handed political message and depressing plot.
It was a bonus that the role she was being offered was the star.
OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: The producer of a film nominated for big awards fixates on what to wear. 7,054 words. Illustrations by Mark Fearing.
He didn’t sleep the night before the Oscar nominations, which they announce on television about 5:30 am L.A. time in order to catch the prime morning audience on the East Coast at 8:30 am. He took an Ambien. Watched TCM, which played Hitchcock’s Marnie, not one of the director’s best. Charlie had met Hitchcock once, while working at Universal publicity. The old man was neither rude nor arrogant — like so many of the less talented directors now — just indifferent. His mind always seemed to be elsewhere. He was odd. He was intimidating. He was Hitchcock.
By 5 am, Charlie had his television on KNBC. There was a traffic tie-up on the 405 because of a minor car accident near the Getty. A liquor store robbery in Mar Vista. A seeing-eye dog missing in Griffith Park reunited with its tearful owner.
Charlie had lived in L.A. for 22 years. Why was local television so ridiculous here? His hands were shaking when he poured the coffee. On the TV there was some blather that people should bundle up because the temperature would stay at a chilly 63 degrees (arctic weather in L.A.). Meteorologists were predicting heavy rain by late afternoon in the Antelope Mountains then moving towards the Southland. They made it sound like a tsunami was coming. He put a drop of low-fat milk and a Splenda in the coffee cup.
He heard the trucks from the fire station a block away. On some evenings the noise woke him up but he was reassured when he heard the alarm bells. It was not a bad neighborhood. Only a few blocks from Abbot Kinney. But it wasn’t a great neighborhood, either. There was a gang stabbing in Venice a few weeks back. He wished he could move out of the apartment and live closer to Santa Monica or even in the Palisades.
He heard the two newspapers plunk against the door. He lived on the second floor. He had the Los Angeles Times delivered, though wasn’t sure why. It was a luxury to get The New York Times, but he still considered himself a New Yorker. He didn’t have too many luxuries. But getting The New York Times was one of them. He didn’t go to the door.
On the television now, two young actors appeared on the Academy stage with a grotesquely large Oscar statue behind them. The president of the Academy, who inexplicably got the job despite his years of failures as a producer, seemed nervous. He always wore suits like a banker, The trades always called him a "respected producer." Respected for what?
OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: A director and publicist battle over how to accept the Academy Award. 1,796 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
TO: VICTOR SPOONER, VS-PR
FROM: Corliss “Corky” Monroe
RE: My Academy Award acceptance speech
Dear Vic, I’m writing an acceptance speech in case I get the directing Oscar® next week. You guided my nomination campaign brilliantly, but I thought I’d try my own hand at writing the payoff. Could you take a look at it to see if it does the job? Thanks. Corky.
“I want to thank the Academy more than I can say. As many of you know, I struggled for four years to get this picture made, including shitting out three zombie pictures for the same company. I consider this wonderful award to be in recognition of my perseverance and strong stomach. Making this film was a bitch. After they said yes, everybody fought me all along the way. You know who you are. You’re the vampires who suck the creative blood out of our art. For you, consider this Oscar a middle finger flipped cold and bold for the damage you do. But to those of us who bleed for our art, this Oscar is a glistening reminder that talent and justice always triumph in the end. Thank you.”
TO: CORKY MONROE
FROM: VICOR SPOONER
RE: Your acceptance speech
Very funny. I know you’re still bitter that you had to make the zombie trilogy in order to get a green light for The Keys Of Fate, but don’t you think this is a little over the top, even kidding around with me? Let me put it another way: if you say this, you’ll never work in this town again, not even as a ticket-taker at the Century City AMC multiplex. You’ll have plenty of time to get back at people privately, not on international TV, for crissakes. Just be gracious, thank your agent, your parents, and your producer (in that order) and get off the stage.