Category Archives: Fiction

Takeout Sushi

Takeout Sushi

by Howard Jay Klein

A movie studio executive on the hotseat has to learn how to play hardball – or become the ball. 3,076 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Three hard policy guidelines had trickled down from the board of the Galaxy Gateway Film division of Global Media Corporation, arriving in the development department with the authority of Papal Bulls. The last quarter’s earnings miss had spooked Wall Street and battered the stock. The subtext: no more mammoth budget CGI comic book movies or prissy little art flicks on pain of death. The first email edict ordered the film executives to never greenlight a prestige project. (“We’re in the business of making money, not winning awards.”) The second: never touch prestige sequels to old classics. (“They rarely make money and generational memories are melting faster than ice cubes in a Scotch on the rocks on a sun deck in Palm Springs.”) And third: modern film sequels will be financed only if first worldwide grosses were over $350 million. (“Therefore, Skycatcher 2 may be our last sequel ever.”)

That morning, Amelia Donaldson, head of development, replied to the company chairman as soon as she received the directives.

“Just a fast heads-up. I expect to meet with actress Amy Harding tomorrow to listen to her pitch about a Chinatown sequel she’s salivating to produce now that we’ve bought Paramount which owns the remake rights. Yes, I did point out to her that Robert Towne’s The Two Jakes crashed and burned in 1990 because it was a disjointed clunky mess. She’s undeterred and has that passionate conviction that bats away facts like so many flies. Bottom line: I need to take this meeting but it’s a kabuki dance. I’m only listening because we need Amy to reprise her lead in the medieval Skycatcher sequel. I’m afraid if we don’t at least look like we care, she’ll find any lame excuse to take a pass and break our balls even though a sequel commitment was part of the original deal."

Hal Springer, the studio’s Chairman, emailed back:

“Amelia, think of this as a leadership test. You can shuck and jive but absolutely make no commitments. I don’t need more tsuris from New York. Just get her to confirm she’s in for Skycatcher 2. No Chinatown sequels. If Towne couldn’t bring it off, nobody can. P.S. Wipe these emails.”

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Doubles 2 Alternative

Doubles
Part Two

by John Kane

The Hollywood agent decides to go for it. 2,134 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


They threaded their way through the warren of tiny Chinatown streets, past chicken wire crates of bok choy and racks of silk kimonos for sale, and wound up at a noodle shop that Mr. A was fond of. He smoked while Cliff asked questions.

“How can my double know how to behave?”

“Your brain waves and emotions are digitally transferred to your double. He is acting out your feelings, so he always does what you would do in a situation.”

“How do I know what he’s doing while I’m off playing?”

“We provide you with a video that’s recorded everything your double does. You need only view it to be aware of what has transpired.”

“What if my double malfunctions or breaks down?”

“You have so many questions, Mr. Gehr,” responded Mr. A. “In three decades of business, with over two thousand international clients, that has never happened.”

“How expensive is this?” inquired Cliff.

“Very. Now have some of the chow fun. The sauce is delicious,” said Mr. A as he scraped a bounty of soft noodles onto Cliffs plate.

“As a Hollywood agent, I negotiate everything,” Cliff stated firmly. “Give me your opening price.”

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Doubles 1 NEW

Doubles
Part One

by John Kane

A powerful Hollywood agent is made an offer he may or may not refuse. 2,022 words. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Cliff Gehr slipped outside the Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts and onto its marble patio in Beverly Hills. It was the premiere party for Bobby’s Baby Bump, a semi-offensive PG comedy fantasy about an NFL player who becomes pregnant and decides to have the child. Cliff had arranged the financing for the film through his agency, Gehr Creative Artists. In the past hour, Cliff had congratulated the screenwriter, a client who had recently renounced Scientology on TMZ, and bear-hugged star Carlo Carpetti, the former wrestler turned movie star who was also a client, and winked at the female lead, whose stylist had dusted her cleavage with glitter and who would be, by Cliff’s calculations, a client by the end of the week. He had also conferred in hushed tones with the head banker on an upcoming Japanese video game deal and caressed his wife’s back as she drank her second vodka tonic.

Now, for the first time all night, he was what he wanted to be: alone.

When had he started hating his life so much? It must have been five years ago.

Starting his own agency with nothing more than a bunch of syndicated TV shows, he’d had an enormous appetite for the business. As he stole clients from other agencies and arranged financing for films, he had been thrilled to attend opening nights, Beverly Hills dinner parties and even the Oscars. His natural hunger to make the best deals had earned him the nickname “Jaws.” Famously, he had missed his father’s funeral to close a deal with Deutsche Bank to underwrite ten Sony films.

But lately, returning home from the office, he kept taking a detour to a shopping mall in Reseda. He parked his expensive car in the lot and watched the mostly Latino families as they held hands and walked towards Target or Toy”R”Us. They had no money, no status, and cars that were falling apart. Yet they seemed so happy.

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shooting star 4

Shooting Star

by Michael Brandman

Who in Hollywood can control this hugely talented film actor hell bent on causing trouble? 3,754 words. Illustrations by Mark Fearing.


It was only after he achieved superstar status that Rick Myer’s life issues began to surface. He was twenty seven and totally unprepared for the adulation he was receiving.

He had grown up in South Orange, New Jersey, the son of an alcoholic father and an adoring mother who devoted her life to serving his every need.

At age seventeen, having previously shown no interest in pretty much anything, he announced his intention to become an actor. His mother took it in stride and arranged for him to take private lessons with a Manhattan based acting coach.

Each Saturday Rick would take a Lackawanna local to Hoboken, catch the subway to Grand Central Station, then hike uptown to Fifty Seventh Street where he studied acting in the living room of Dora Weissman’s one bedroom apartment. Weissman, a veteran performer and long time acting teacher, did all she could to guide and inform him, but soon found him to be a difficult and headstrong student. Plus, he frightened her.

One night, at a dinner party held in honor of the Yiddish Theatre luminary, Shmuel Alter, she bumped into the estimable acting guru, Frederic Augsburger, and recommended Rick to him as a possible candidate for his Actor’s Salon.

Augsburger expressed interest and the following week, having watched Rick perform a pair of scenes that he and Weissman had prepared, he invited him to join the Salon.

After barely a month of intensive scene study, and against Augsburger’s wishes, Rick hustled an audition for the upcoming Broadway play, Caged.

"You’re not ready," Augsburger told him.

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Turn To Kill 1

Turn To Kill

by Daniel M. Kimmel

A movie producer and a studio head begin a tough negotiation that ends with a surprise twist. 1,524 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


“Mr. Allen will see you now.”

The middle-aged secretary barely looked up from her computer screen as she flicked her head in the direction of a short hallway just beyond. When no further direction was forthcoming, Movie producer Tim Munson realized it was time for him to move. He rose from the barely comfortable seat in the powder blue outer office, fumbled with his briefcase, and headed past several closed doors to the one that was ajar at the end of the hall. He tentatively poked his head in, not quite sure if this was where he was supposed to be.

At the far end of the room, behind a broad mahogany desk, sat I.F. Allen, head of Tigerslair Pictures. His white hair and neatly trimmed beard were countered by his lively eyes. At this moment, they were focused on his electronic tablet, while he also tapped his ear. He was wearing a Bluetooth and seemed to be engaged in a conversation. He looked up and saw the young producer and waved him in.

As Munson tried to figure out which of the many seats available was intended for him, Allen was wrapping up his conversation. “Look, Barry, it’s my way or the highway. If you think you can make a better deal elsewhere, good luck to you. I’ve got to go.” Without so much as a goodbye, the conversation apparently concluded.

Allen put the tablet aside and then swiveled to face the new arrival, who had taken a seat to the left of the desk. A long table piled with scripts and other documents extended from the center of the desk, forcing visitors to choose whether to go left or right, never being quite sure if they had made the right decision, and Allen never indicating where they should sit. It was one of the many ways that those bringing their projects to Tigerslair were kept off-balance.

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Pauline's Adventures

Pauline’s Adventure
On The Silver Screen

by Anne Goursaud

An impoverished and naïve student is tempted by film acting. Will she succeed or fail? 2,434 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Paris – 1966

Pauline was a young girl.

A busy and broke young girl.

Hustling and bustling from class to class, and working at temp jobs to make ends meet.

One day, Dimitry Fedotoff, a friend who worked as a still photographer on movie sets, announced he had a brilliant solution to Pauline’s financial woes. He had just been hired to shoot an American movie about World War II France at the Boulogne Billancourt Studio. He had learned the production was about to cast French prostitutes as extras, loads and loads of them. He thought Pauline had a great chance to be cast.

“You’re a pretty girl. You could play a prostitute,” he said.

“What exactly do you mean?” Pauline answered, slightly hurt that he could so easily imagine her playing a Lady Of The Night.

“You’re sexy — but you know that. Anyway, you could make more money than you’re are at your meaningless office work.”

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Here is looking at you Sid 01-IMAGE-02

Here’s Looking At You, Sid

by Howard Jay Klein

A once successful film director suffers flop sweat as he starts shooting a high-profile reboot. 2,173 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


News of the retrieval of Sidney Ames out of the A-list directors’ dumpster to direct Zenith Studio’s reboot of Casablanca was greeted with puzzled expressions, tongue-clucking sighs and god-what-are-they-thinking gasps in the creative community. Even though these same people were long enured to the inanities of the movie business.

Sidney was 57, hadn’t directed a major film in 30 years and had last helmed a series of ten consecutive mega-hits that ignited audiences like Chinese firecrackers through the eighties. But his last film was a nuclear bomb, an epic $100 million biopic of Jesse Livermore, the American investor famous for short selling during the stock market crash of 1929 and committing suicide not long after. It detonated on 3,000 screens and posted a twenty million dollar loss on the studio’s books that year. Ever since, Sid shed fifty pounds and two wives, spent a half million keeping a drug-dealing son out of the can, and found plenty of time to markedly improve his tennis backhand. Everyone figured his career was done, fade to black, the answer to where-are-they-now questions on movie nostalgia websites. He was rarely seen in public, ate mostly at home, watched his granddaughter’s swimming lessons in his vintage manor pool overlooking the Pacific and squired under-age-thirty five ladies on ski trips to Lake Tahoe.

Fortune does indeed follow the brave, but it also follows the lucky. And in one aspect of his crazy quilt life, Sidney had proven gifted in the genetic lottery. He’d been born with the right brother. In his case, Hal Ames, a Harvard MBA investor with an impeccable stock market track record. Thanks to Hal slapping Sid’s wrists over money issues, Sid became a multi-millionaire and stayed one. Thus he was recused from the humiliating process of having to sit through endless meetings with development people while proposing film projects he knew would evoke little more than suppressed yawns or head-shaking titters after he’d left the room.

But not his Casablanca obsession. It was Sid’s pet project for decades: a reboot of the 1942 masterpiece. So he erupted into a euphoric scream on December 26th last year when Jack Terranova texted: “Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah. The Casablanca project is go. Meet me tomorrow morning at eight.

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MAX-AND-MONA-02-IMAGE-03

Max And Mona

by Richard Natale

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: A director and editor have a complex relationship that’s even more complicated by Oscar nominations. 3,556 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


NEWS BULLETIN (Hollywood, CA) – Oscar-winning film editor turned director Mona Hessman, whose initial helming effort Once Upon A Midnight earned her a Best Directing nomination this year, has vanished. Hessman has not been seen since the Academy nominees luncheon on February 6, though she was not officially reported missing until yesterday when she failed to show up for her Oscar gown fitting. Hessman’s cell phone was tracked to a dumpster where it was found inside a Prada purse containing her ID and credit cards.

Mona sat up the cold leather sofa. She had a pounding headache and, as she stroked the back of her head, felt the crusted blood in her tangled hair.

She knew exactly where she was. She’d napped on this sofa for the better part of twenty-five years and was familiar with every sag and indentation. The realization of where she was brought to mind the last words she’d heard before being knocked unconscious: “You’re dead. You’re fucking dead.”

How many times had she heard those words before? But this was the first time they’d been directed at her. And she was left to wonder whether, this time, Max Barton might actually go through with one of his heated threats.

Like several other preeminent directors, Max worked almost exclusively with a female editor. Mona was part of a select group that included Verna Fields, Dede Allen, Thelma Schoonmaker, Sally Menke, Anne V. Coates and Carol Littleton. Like her peers, past and present, she was good at what she did. Damn good; the custom-fitted glove on a great director’s hand. And Max was a great director. Inventive. Fearless.

At least when he was in the director’s chair.

When he stepped into the editing bay, he lap dissolved from Genghis Khan into Chicken Little. This was Mona’s signal to take over. As editor. As surrogate mother. As therapist, confidante, cheering section and, for two months at the very beginning of their twenty-five year collaboration, lover.

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Another Red Carpet

by Ann Hamilton

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: Part Three revisits Nat and Best Actress Erin Teller’s meet cute. 2,593 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


Backstory. Again. I’m Nat. I work in the mailroom at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and last year I went to the Academy Awards. I met Erin Teller on the Red Carpet and she wound up winning Best Actress for When The Mountain Sings with me sitting beside her as her date for the evening. We even went to the Governors Ball together. After that we sort of hooked up for a couple months and it was pretty amazing being with Erin Teller and having paparazzi following us around. My picture ended up in In Touch with the caption, “Erin Teller and her new Mystery Man share a black and white cookie at Art’s Deli.”

I still have the napkin. She wrote the date on it and did a drawing of a penguin. “It’s the only animal I can draw. Isn’t that weird?” she told me. We were eating outside because she said people in the Valley didn’t recognize her as much as people on the other side of the hill. Only one photographer took her photo. No one else approached her, not that she would’ve cared. The entire time we were together, I never saw her get impatient with fans or paps, even when they were crowding around her when she took me to the premiere of her latest starring vehicle Rogue One. I was afraid she would get suffocated, but she kept waving “hey” to people. She saw treating everyone well as part of her job. Like making sure she didn’t gain fifty pounds or get a giant ‘#RESIST tattoo across her forehead.

“It’s stupid the way some actors are so rude,” she told me later when we were in her bedroom. “Here you work your ass off to be a success in this business and you finally make it and you’ve got fans everywhere and then you go like, ‘How dare you interrupt me when I’m eating? Sign an autograph? Go fuck yourself.’ Do you think I’d have a career if people didn’t like my movies? D’oh.”

She sounded exactly like Homer Simpson. At that moment, Erin was leaning back against the headboard. You probably want to know if she was naked. And what the sex was like. I’m too much of a gentleman to disclose that. (Well… use your imagination. And then multiply that by a billion.)

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Oscar revenge

Revenge, Thy Name Is Oscar

by Nat Segaloff

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: A movie producer relentless at awards time is blindsided by rivals. 2,398 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Most independent producers who strike it big at least make an effort to distance themselves from their bottom-feeding beginnings. Not Herschel Wechsler. It wasn’t the expensive suits that hung on his doughy frame as though he’d slept in them. It didn’t matter that he sprayed spittle when he talked. Nobody even held his flyshit toupee against him. It was that he had the kind of face you just wanted to push into the front of a 1958 Buick.

Hollywood has known its share of ogres with good taste. Joseph E. Levine, Harvey Weinstein, Joel Silver, Scott Rudin, and Otto Preminger readily come to mind. Okay, maybe not Otto Preminger. But the others possessed that rare combination of passion, guts, showmanship, charisma, and intelligence that dignified them and their productions despite the controversy they sometimes courted.

Hershel Wechsler, however, was irredeemable. You didn’t even have to use his last name. Everybody just said “Herschel.” Sure, his pictures made money — and you’d think that would absolve him of the town’s enmity. Except he did it in the one way that Hollywood found unacceptable: at the expense of the motion picture industry’s dignity. As more than one of his competitors — they bristled if called his “colleagues” – remarked, Herschel always found a way to scrape underneath the bottom of the barrel.

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academy_2

How I Produced The Oscars

by Bernard Weinraub

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: Not everyone can win Academy Awards. But the few, the proud, the drafted will produce them. 2,152 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


I had been to the Academy Awards once in my life, for a film I produced because the writer and the supporting actress were nominated. My dearest friend, Graydon Carter — I’m kidding — did not invite us to mix with that crowd of actors and executives whose eyes always wander over your shoulder to make sure there wasn’t someone more important than you. After my nominees lost both our categories, I took them to the Beverly Hills Hotel and we all got drunk. The writer was only thirty-two but the terrific actress was no longer young and this was probably her last chance. She burst into tears. And, inexplicably, so did I.

The Academy Awards are the most boring and self-important awards show on TV. At least the Grammys and Tonys have music. And, in a weird way, those shows are more authentic. As for the Oscars, I have four words for you: Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. What is that? Humanitarian? Who’s kidding who? That’s why the Academy moved this farce off the broadcast and into the untelevised Governors Awards. As for the rest of the show, there were all those clunky dance numbers and awards for sound effect editing and set decoration? And… I could go on and on. Yawn.

My Academy odyssey began one morning in November. I went to the Soul Cycle class in Brentwood at 6 a.m. Only the hardcore show up at that time — the producers and agents and managers and studio executives who shower afterwards and flee in their Teslas and Maseratis to UTA or Paramount or NBC to start another happy day in Hollywood.

I drove to my office on Sunset which is in the same West Hollywood building as Soho House. Julie, my assistant, was already there drinking her green health food breakfast -– a thirty-five year old woman who seemed to work day and night and was more protective of me than my mother.

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And The Oscar Goes To

And The Oscar Goes To…

by Robert W. Welkos

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: An actress thinks the Academy Awards are all about her. 2,991 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


The party is swirling and Eleanor Gautier is already drunk.

Charles Dumont had been silent throughout the long drive from Malibu to the Hollywood Hills and silence is rarely a good sign for the moody French director. He’s wearing that brown silk shirt that Eleanor absolutely abhors. She wonders why so many items in his closet resemble the result of an intestinal virus. He’s also smoking, another way to irritate this year’s Oscar-nominated actress who stars in Oscar-nominated Charles’ gritty cop drama Brutal Norms, which received a standing ovation at Cannes and the Palme d’Or.

Tonight’s hostess, Liz Fontaine spots the gloomy couple from across her living room and quickly makes her way around knots of party guests. “You made it!” Liz exclaims as she air kisses the pair. “I wasn’t sure you’d come. As you can see, everyone is here and they adore you both. You’re the buzz of Hollywood, you know.”

“She knows,” Eleanor says as the stir of her vodka martini punctuates her statement. When she’s drunk, she refers to herself in the third-person.

Liz introduces the couple around. Eleanor’s eyes stray and then narrow. “Is that Melanie Milapeed?” she asks Liz.

“Yes, how thrilling I have the two leading Best Actress nominees here at my party,” Liz replies.

“Are there any Oscar voters present?” Eleanor asks, her eyes tick-tocking between her rival and Liz.

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The Dull One
Part Two

by Laurie Horowitz

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: At Oscars time in Hollywood there are only winners and losers. 2,884 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


When I came back from New York a week later, Rebecca insisted on picking me up at the airport. The Los Angeles weather looked good on her. She was wearing a simple shift and sandals. Her muscular arms were tanned. Very obviously, her Oscars’ makeover had changed her.

"I have something to tell you," she said, as soon as I got into the car. She could have asked me how my business trip went, but no — she couldn’t wait to tell me what was going on with her. I waited. I could always tell her later about my boss and love interest Billy Ward finally asking me to join him for lunch on my second to last day at The W in Times Square. We ran into each other in the lobby. Billy had just checked in. I didn’t see him after that lunch, but I was sure I had made an impression.

“Shoot,” I said.

"Jaxson and I got married in Vegas." I was too flabbergasted to respond. "I know it’s a shock, but we drove out there and got a little tipsy, and before I knew it I was a married woman again." She held up her left hand to show me a slim gold band.

"You can get it annulled," I finally said.

“I don’t want to get it annulled."

"Are you in love with him?"

"Of course not." She moved her rental car into traffic carefully.

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The Dull One 1

The Dull One
Part One

by Laurie Horowitz

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: You don’t have to win an Academy Award to have your life transform. 2,476 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


By the time my cousin Rebecca called to ask if she could spend February with me, I’d already planned a business trip right after the Oscars. She said she’d be fine staying in my house by herself. And who wouldn’t be? I have a condo in Venice with a view of the Pacific. It would be a great place to visit if I didn’t already live there and, since Rebecca lives in Vermont, I can see how it would appeal to her.

We are first cousins and were born only one month apart which is a problem when it comes to her visiting because I’ve been cutting seven years off my age since I arrived out here and Rebecca is likely to blow my cover. She doesn’t even dye her hair; that’s the least a woman can do. I went trophy-wife red five years ago. I’m a regular Rita Hayworth in a business suit.

I didn’t have the heart to refuse Rebecca who, at forty-three, was a widow. Five years ago, her husband, Harold Braddock III, was lost while climbing Annapurna. Rebecca has still not forgiven him even though he left her his enormous fortune.

Rebecca would be here for my boss’s Oscar Party. Billy Ward, the fearless leader at Spectacular Talent Agency, was holding it in the The Theatre at the Ace Hotel. Digging up a date each year for the Oscar party was a chore, especially this year since my sights were set on Billy Ward who was between wives. I’d been in love with Billy since my first day at STA. He had buckets of charisma and charm enough to land the whole entertainment industry at his feet.

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Kaelin2

The Incalculable Hours
Part Two

by James Kaelan

The fustrated filmmaker goes on a TV talk show to save his movie. 2,295 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Hollywood – 1969

It was nearly four o’clock when Tall parked in a loading zone at the CBS lot, and ran into Stage 17. From the lobby, Tall could hear The Dean Keller Show orchestra welcoming a guest, and the audience applauding. Above a set of double doors, a red “Live Show Recording” sign blinked.

“Mr. McCollum!” a woman said in a low, excited voice.

Tall turned to see Tandy Dale, the associate producer who’d handled him the day before, walking toward him with a clipboard against her chest. “When I heard the door open,” Tandy continued, “I thought a civilian was trying to sneak in.”

“Would it be possible to get backstage?” Tall asked. “My wife Diana lost a little enamel compact that belonged to her mother when we were here last night for my appearance, and it’s the only place we haven’t looked.”

“They cleaned this morning, and didn’t turn anything in. But I suppose it could’ve fallen in the couch cushion?”

Tall followed Tandy around the perimeter of the stage. As she unlocked a door marked “PRIVATE,” she looked back at Tall. “Would you like to know your audience scores from last night?”

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The Incalculable Hours
Part One

by James Kaelan

A rebel filmmaker struggles to deter professional and personal disaster. 2,334 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Hollywood – 1969

“You’re a fucking kamikaze pilot, Tall,” said Jack Benton from behind his teak desk. “And you just crashed into your own fucking ship!” He wore a chambray blouse and a necklace of mahogany beads, but on his wrist dangled a gold Rolex. And only two days earlier, Jay Sebring had flown back from Las Vegas just to give him a haircut.

“And you didn’t just kill yourself,” Benton continued, pounding the heel of his palm onto a year-old issue of a Black Panther newspaper he’d never read. “You killed me, you killed your wife, and you killed that little band of outlaws you have marooned out there in the desert with you. I’m sure they’ll pretend like it’s a blessing — since they think they’ve transcended the fucking material world like an order of fucking Tibetan monks. But let me tell you a little secret. If anyone had gotten famous from this stillborn movie of yours, they’d be buying Jaguars and houses in fucking Malibu.”

“I just earned you lines around the block!” yelled Tall, standing in the middle of the office, rocking from his toes to his heels with the violent energy of a wrestler on his starting line. He was short, but broad across the shoulders, so that with his arms crossed, his buckskin jacket stretched taut across his upper back. His old tan boots chirred as he pitched onto his toes, and his wavy blonde hair curled down his neck.

“How the hell do you figure that, Tall? From my experience, people go to movies to be entertained — not to feel like they’ve fallen off a roof.”

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