Category Archives: Moguls

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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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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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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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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Kaelin1 NEW2

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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All in the Details 01

All In The Details

by Richard Natale

Major media maguls are control freaks not just about their business but also their life. 2,652 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


No matter how he crunched the numbers, Darby Morton saw little chance of making it to graduation with a roof over his head. He’d exhausted almost all of his maternal grandmother Nan’s allowance and what was left, to the penny, was committed to tuition and textbooks. Moving was not really an option though his Greenpoint apartment in Brooklyn was so small that, if he accidentally knocked over a bottle of mineral water, it might flood.  In all likelihood, he would be out on the street by mid-March, the dreaded Ides. And then there was cruel April.

He’d been planning to spend the weekend studying for Monday’s economics test when he was interrupted by a call from Janis Shokovich, who ran Hi Society, a cross between a temp agency and a P.R. firm which specialized in odd assignments – personal shoppers, apartment sitters, assistants – for the well-heeled. She prided herself on having on hand a stable of the city’s most “appealing” (air quotes not optional) young men and women easy on the eyes with an aura of good breeding. She was impressed that Darby came from old money. What he didn’t mention to her was that there was no new money since his parents had poured most of the old money down a shot glass.

Darby had first heard of Janis after some dubious flatterers suggested he pursue modeling. But he was dismissed by a top agency because his face was more a freehand pencil sketch than a completed drawing. But the agent who delivered this damning criticism slipped him Janis’ card. She was a petite poodle-frizzed blonde who ran her business out of a snug one-bedroom on the upper East Side. She bore almond eyes, the hallmark of one too many encounters with a scalpel and paring knife. Though unmistakably a native New Yorker, her speech frequently lapsed into pseudo-British phrases like “other side of the pond.”

The modeling agent had been right: Darby was Janis’ type. To date, the only assignment she had come up with was as a walker for an octogenarian dowager who was going to the Met to see La Forza del Destino. In addition to paying for the rental of his tux, the old woman had tipped him with a folded-over twenty as if he was a maître d’ and she wanted a table by the window. But that was six months ago. Now Janis was on the phone to him.

“Bet you thought I’d forgotten about you, dearie,” she said. The assignment sounded easy enough: checking a “major media mogul” into the Hesperia Grand Hotel. The nabob’s name was Jace Wagner and she said he was gay. “But not for publication. Which reminds me, you have to sign a confidentiality agreement.”

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Walt's Last Wishes revised

Walt’s Last Wishes

by Nat Segaloff

The pioneer of children’s entertainment gives the leaders of his legacy some adult advice. 1,075 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


When Walt Disney passed away on December 15, 1966, he left an artistic and commercial legacy that his successors are still mining. He also – according to persistent rumor – left behind a private film that was to be shown to his top executives exactly one year after he died. When the anniversary day arrived, they were led into “the sweat box,” the tiny airless room where animators used to screen their rough footage, and shown to assigned seats. The lights went down and Walt appeared on film. He spoke to each of them by name and told them exactly what they were to do for the next five years. When the film ended, the stunned men returned to their corner offices and the sole existing print they had just watched was destroyed — again, on Walt’s posthumous orders. Always known for meticulous, if not compulsive, planning, Walt had issued instructions for the completion of Walt Disney World in Florida, its expansion into European and Asian countries, and development details for WED Enterprises and RETLAW. He even cautioned against releasing the animated features too quickly on home video, a medium whose commercial debut was still nine years off but which his studio contracts had been predicting for decades.

It was therefore an extraordinary moment when the transcript for this film was discovered between the pages of story conference notes for The Jungle Book, the picture Walt had been developing when he died. We present it here for the first time as a tribute to the man who built an empire upon a mouse:

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JULES AZENBERG 05

Tyrannis Rex
Part Four

by Richard Natale

The screenwriter’s script is completed. But how will the studio mogul react to the brutally honest biopic? 2,802 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


After finishing Act Two, Dave went on a one-night bender, polishing off a fifth of Jack Daniels and falling into a deep sleep on his living room sofa. He awoke with a start in the middle of the night and ran to the typewriter. Through bleary eyes and a cracking headache, he began to type out the opening scene of Act Three: a close-up of a television set.

The Argot Pictures board keeps a safe distance from the blond wood TV cabinet, as if it were some alien life form. But studio mogul Jules Azenberg approaches the contraption and gently strokes it. With that one motion, he demonstrates to the members that he is not threatened by television and that he plans to tame the medium just as he did the movies.

Forced to divest itself of its theater chain following the 1948 Consent Decree, Argot is running a deficit for the first time since the early ‘1930s. There is the smell of blood in the boardroom and Jules must convince the members that he is still in control of the situation. The advent of television gives Jules a new sense of purpose after the prolonged depression he suffered in the wake of his sons’ WWII deaths.

Rather than retread radio stars for television, Jules strikes on an original idea. The next scene is set in a quiet isolated booth at The Brown Derby where Jules is lunching with Madeleine Devane, one of Argot’s biggest stars. Her contract is up for renewal and the aging actress is clearly nervous. They chat for a while as she waits for the boom to fall. In the middle of the meal, Jules lays his napkin on the table and lets out an extended sigh. The color drains from Madeleine’s face, fearing that she’s about to be fired.

“How would you like us to renew your contract for five more years?” he asks.

“Don’t tease me,” Madeleine responds tersely.

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JULES  AZENBERG 04

Tyrannis Rex
Part Three

by Richard Natale

The screenwriter’s challenge for Act Two is seamlessly threading the studio mogul’s public and private lives. 2,260 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Hollywood – 1969

The second act of his screenplay, the Untitled Jules Azenberg Biopic – First Draft, gave Dave problems as second acts generally do. Determined to push ahead, he rose every morning at seven and, hangover or not, sat down at the typewriter with a pot of coffee and waited for his fingers to magically click into action. On a day when his hands just sat there stiffly poised on the keys and not a single coherent scene emerged, Dave took a break. He and his pal Joel Rodgers went out on the town for a movie, dinner and drinks at Trader Vic’s where Joel regaled him with the details of the latest showbiz scandal. Dave listened, but without much enthusiasm. Like most current gossip, it was graphic and tawdry and destroyed what little illusion was left about movie stars’ private lives. What was Hollywood without glamour? Without fantasy?

When the muse finally revisited Dave, she came equipped with a metaphor. Act Two opens with Jules at a gaming table tossing dice in a visual motif establishing the studio mogul as an inveterate gambler and a smart one at that. For Jules proves himself an expert crapshooter, knowing exactly how long to play, how high to raise the stakes, and when to walk away from the table.

By the early 1930s, his Argot Pictures is on a roll. Most of its B-movie competitors fall by the wayside, victims of the Depression. Argot slowly buys up all the rivals and establishes itself as a viable rival to the A-list studios like MGM and Warner Bros. Here, the script hones close to the real story by assigning Jules due credit. Given his brother Mort’s cautious nature, Argot might have survived the transition to sound but not the economic reversal of the times. It took more than business savvy to keep Argot afloat: it took Jules’ ingenuity and daring.

His risky gamble is to jump head-first into larger budget movies at a time when everyone else, including the established major studios, is cutting corners. And for that he needs an ally because Jules feels inferior to the task of convincing talent to sign with Argot rather than a more deep-pocketed institution like MGM. He needs someone with the polish and finesse to talk to theater types. So he enlists a celebrated and ceaselessly charming German-born director and appoints him vice president of production. It’s a curious choice and, at first, the board expresses concern that a creative type will run financially amuck.

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JULES AZENBERG 03

Tyrannis Rex
Part Two

by Richard Natale

The screenwriter of the studio mogul’s biopic works on Act One. 2,036 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Hollywood – 1969

Weak, Dave, weak. Just like your ex-wife said. Or soft, as Jules used to say. Driving out the front gate was like stepping from inside a fun-house mirror. He felt a headache coming on, the kind he used to get when he worked at Hollywood mogul Jules Azenberg’s Argot Pictures – like a nail being hammered into old plaster, making a hole twice its size and sending dust flying everywhere. He never did work for anyone remotely like Jules after leaving the movie business. Television was a completely different animal. Writers like Dave were hired for a series episode for one reason only: to fill in the intervals between commercials. There was no pretense of making art, or quality entertainment. It was called programming for a reason. The beats were all laid out; writers merely inserted new words inbetween. No one expected Dave to pour his heart and soul into a teleplay the way he had with a movie script in the vague hope that a scintilla of what he’d written actually made it to the screen intact. It never did but it never stopped screenwriters from trying. Keeping that kind of delusion going took a great deal of energy. And Dave had paid for it with big plaster cracks.

The next night, over dinner, Dave and his friend Joel Rodgers discussed Azenberg’s offer to write a warts and all biopic of Jules’ life and career.

“You said yes, I hope,” Joel said.

Dave nodded, but couldn’t conceal his unease.

“Good. For once in your life, maybe you’ll be smart,” Joel chided him. “Take the money and run.”

“It’s not that simple, Joel. It’s just that I’ve never been a leech.”

“It’s a wonder you’ve survived,” Joel chortled. “In this town you need to be either a leech or a lemming. Or a rat. So tell your agent to squeeze that little fucker’s balls until he screams. Then, once you have your money, write whatever the hell you want. He gave you permission. Now call him on it.”

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Jules Azenberg 01

Tyrannis Rex
Part One

by Richard Natale

A screenwriter turned TV scripter gets a shocking assignment from his old studio boss. 2,996 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Hollywood – 1969

Dave Peterson was racing against a deadline. The F.B.I. teleplay was due in the morning and he planned to pull an all-nighter to finish it. Glancing up from his typewriter, he stared directly at a bottle of booze and sighed. Not tonight, buddy. But I’ll take a rain check. He was alone. Tiki, his Greek-born ex-wife, had run off with her boss, a fruit wholesaler from Woodland Hills. Didn’t even ask for alimony. Had even joked that, if he tried to divorce her for adultery, she would sue him for alienation of affection and name Jack Daniels and Smith Corona as correspondents.

He was jolted by the telephone. He checked his watch. No one called at this hour except for his buddy Joel Rodgers when he needed a loan or a ride for poker night, and that wasn’t until Friday.

“David. It’s Doreen, Jules Azenberg’s assistant.”

“Doreen?” he replied, surprised. No, not surprised. Flabbergasted.

“You must be thinking, ‘How long has it been?’” she said with a brittle chuckle.

“Yes,” he replied, trying to recover.

“You sound busy,” she continued.

“Actually, I was in the middle of…”

“So let me get right to it. Mr. Azenberg would like you to come in for a meeting tomorrow.”

“A meeting? Dave asked. “With me?”

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Prison 02

Prison
Part Two

by Zak Shaikh

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.

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Prison 01

Prison
Part One

by Zak Shaikh

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?

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Necessary Monsters 02B

Necessary Monsters
Part Two

by Steven Axelrod

A famous actor interrupts a studio meeting with a struggling scripter, first-time producer and inexperienced director. 2,871 words. Part One. Part Three. Part Four. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Most Hollywood executive offices are piled high with scripts, their titles magic-markered on the spines. But there were none in Bob Janse’s second floor office at the Wilhelm Brothers executive building. No framed movie posters from the studio’s movies. Not even a computer. The only phone was an old black rotary model, but the inconvenience of dialing didn’t matter to Janse. People called him. On the rare occasions when he returned a call – there were still five or six people more important than he was – his secretary handled the mechanics.

Shrewd and MBA-educated, he was given to vivid turns of phrase so that someone years ago had christened him “Sam Goldwyn with brains.” And however bitter and resentful they might be, the people he fired generally left with a quote or two to share with their next employers. No one wanted to be the target of Janse’s conversational ice-pick. But the group he had assembled in his office today was even more uneasy than usual. Because they were going to have to explain why they were proceeding with this misbegotten movie. Lenny Feinstein, Executive VP of Production, had brought the project to Dwight Goforth, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Production, who had just green-lighted a $125 million budget for a film written, produced and directed by unknowns.

They weren’t “hot off the film festival circuit” unknowns. They weren’t “music video and British TV ad” unknowns. They were just unknown.

The writer Jim Hotaling had scripted some episodic TV, the producer Mike Garth had worked for some Video on Demand outfit, and the director Bill Terhune who was the ringleader in this circus and hadn’t done anything except make friends with the world’s most famous and highest paid film star, Douglas Troy. The actor hated everyone so that was an accomplishment in and of itself. But perhaps not one sufficient to warrant a film budget for quite this many millions of dollars. The answer was simple and obvious: Troy wanted this director to make this film. That’s why Troy was at the meeting. Having Troy’s young actor sidekick Rick Haigley on the picture and in this confab wouldn’t hurt matters.

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A mix Up

A Mix Up

by Leslie Epstein

During WWII, Hollywood entombs a studio mogul while burying a greater tragedy. 3,191 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


The line of limousines, all with their lights on, stretched out forever. Here and there I could make out a sedan, a convertible, a coupe — even a bright yellow taxi or two. We turned right on Van Ness Avenue and continued south across Sunset, then Fernwood, then Fountain. One car ahead, just behind the gleaming new 1941 Packard hearse that carried studio owner Victor Granite’s remains, his widow Giselle rode in the Cadillac De Ville. His brother Manfred followed in a rented Lincoln. I, Peter Lorre, was in that vehicle, too: Moto in the motorcade but thankfully without anyone to buck my teeth and slick my hair and stain my skin the color of weakly brewed tea. I sat low in the seat, so as to avoid the gaze of the mounted policemen, who, as we rolled slowly by, touched their white gloves to their caps. Still, I couldn’t help seeing the crowds that lined the sidewalks. Anyone would have thought a Harlow had died, or a star like Valentino. But Victor?

He’d been responsible for a million feet of film; it had spun from his brain like thread from a spider. Yet that sad, sallow face had never appeared on so much as a single frame. Was that the reason he never took off that horrible hat? So as not to appear in even a still photograph? He used that broad brim the way a gangster, confronted by the press, used his overcoat or his hands.

The press had been waiting, just minutes before, when our cortege, then on Hollywood Boulevard, stopped in front of Grauman’s Chinese. Sid Grauman himself had opened the door of the De Ville. We stepped out, all in black. Off went the flashlamps, like milk splashed from a bucket. Newsreel cameramen shot their film. The crowd surged forward, against the line of police. One car back, I watched as the studio publicist Les Kahn came up to the widow. He held a cushion from the Granite prop department, plump and red, with yellow braid.

"I’ll be right back," Manfred told us, before he climbed out of our Lincoln. He hurried over to where Kahn was standing. "What the hell is going on?" Manfred yelled at the publicist.

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