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.
A celebrity dead pool puts this deeply in debt showbiz agent on tilt. 2,371 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Hollywood agent Jason Axelman sat down at his dining room table and did the math. His client, Louie Morales, had left at the beginning of the year, taking with him his show, his production company, and the two other shows his company had on FOX. That was about two million a year in billings. Jason’s divorce from Robin had cost him a million and a half plus thirty five thousand a month in alimony and child support. That weekend in Vegas, an attempt to recoup some of these losses, ended up costing him another half million. The consolidated bank loan — to cover the mortgage, the car payments, the shrink, the gardener, the grocery bills, even the flowers he sent the few clients he had left when they won something — was fifty thousand, due the first of every month. Perhaps Wells Fargo could be persuaded to accept a partial payment, he thought as he bit into an apple. Perhaps Israel and Palestine would declare peace in the next month. Anything, he felt, was possible.
But not this. He was broke. Broke the way a junkie is hooked, and Jason couldn’t get out of it. He had lived well, the bottom had fallen out, and there was no reserve. The agency was probably only weeks away from asking him to leave. And he would have to sell the house. He had fought for that house in the divorce. A house in Bel-Air had once seemed to mean something. When he was a young agent, his mentor Abe Saperstein had told him, “An agent must never lose his house.” Abe was dead now; he’d never know.
Jason walked into the living room and sprawled out oon one of his two matching chocolate leather sofas, designer pieces that would have been repossessed had it not been for the bank loan. He picked up the remote, clicked it, and Turner Classic Movies appeared on the 55-inch television screen.
A female Hollywood executive takes a friend on a tour of her misogynist showbiz world. 1,957 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
On the afternoon of the evening in which Lacey Blaire’s life was irreparably altered, the sun cascaded through a French window pane onto Lacey and her best friend from childhood having brunch. It made tiny prisms of light dance against the rims of two diamond-cut cocktail glasses which had been filled with blood orange vodka martinis. The crisp white linen tablecloth had a stain of red where drippings from the lingonberry-braised lamb chop, plated on fine china, had dripped.
“More cocktailS, ladies?” the waiter asked, in a tone that suggested they could request the hair of an Egyptian prince and he would gladly produce it.
Lacey glanced up at him with eyes bright, hair glossed, her 26-year-old freshly microdermabrasion-ed skin glowing. With an air of humble kindness, which meant that she belonged there, Lacey replied: “Why, yes, thank you.”
And Lacey did feel like she belonged there because she had earned her seat at Hollywood’s table. Arriving straight out of college with no help and no contacts, she’d worked her ass off as an unpaid intern until she proved that she had value. Value in keeping a desk organized, value in finalizing multiple calendars, and then, once she scored the chance to offer ideas on story and project execution, value in conceiving ideas that got her recognized as… yes, someone of value in a labor pool inundated with bobble-headed value-less people.
That struggle bludgeoned her idealism but not her drive. Tonight a movie she had helped produce was premiering. That made her worthy of white linen-ed brunches. And she was glad to show Jenny what the “good life” felt like. There was no freshly imported Swedish lingonberry back home. That was for sure.
The down-and-out actor finds himself wanting the wrong woman. 2,032 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
As late afternoon approached, Rubi was beside himself knowing that another night in the airport would be torture. Kate hadn’t returned his last phone call but he knew he had a date with Kristen the day after tomorrow so if he could just survive till then. His first offensive move at the airport was to call his brother and see if Carlo would change his mind about providing funds or shelter. If anatomy was destiny, it was clear why the younger brother was an aging playboy actor and the older a good-for-nothing loafer living in Turks And Caicos.
Carlo was hypersensitive to perceived slights and was rude to the many people he thought treated him like he was a no-talent who basked in the shadow of the famous Rubi. Most people ignored Carlo but even those who gave him a fair shot determined he was indeed a worthless replica of the original. And even though they didn’t look that much alike, Carlo pretended he was Rubi to inebriated women who were seeing double. The older bro’s only steady job was when he’d worked as Rubi’s stand-in back when Rubi was so busy he was turning down acting jobs.
But when Rubi finally got Carlo on the phone, Carlo pleaded poverty and then tried to hit up Rubi for a loan.
With less than $25 to his name, Rubi planted himself near the American Airlines Admirals Club and acted like a man about to embark on an unfamiliar journey. He hoped to be lucky enough to spot an acquaintance he could solicit for funds, even if he had to descend to some lost wallet excuse. Athletes, rappers and other actors came in and out of the club, but Rubi was a stranger to them and to this place. So he settled in for the night right outside the club’s entrance.
The actor knows he’s down but plots to ensure he’s not yet out. 2,271 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
At ten after 8 pm, Rubi strode into the sexy gourmet Chinese restaurant that was lit with pools of colored light. The music was just loud and contemporary enough to make him feel out of sorts. Miami didn’t have many decent Asian restaurants but this one, with its dark wood ambiance and pan-China cuisine, was a notable exception.
The actor went to the bar, then the bathroom. A man of his age could hardly go an hour without finding urinary relief. Rubi looked into the mirror as he peed. Sometimes he still saw himself as bold and beautiful. This was one of those times when his caved cheeks, sagging throat and receding hairline flashed warning signs. Even if he got lucky with one of the Ks would his receptors that measured pleasure still function? Was he was losing his looks, his mind and, worse, his senses? Would the maid show? Rubi was vulnerable and he didn’t like it.
When he scanned the restaurant for the third time he still didn’t see her. That was because when Porfiria left the ladies room and walked past him she didn’t look like the housekeeper he’d seen two days in a row. This Porfiria had had her hair done. This Porfiria wore red lipstick. This Porfiria was in heels. This Porfiria snapped her fingers when she made eye contact with Rubi.
Rubi joined Porfiria at an out-of-the-way table he would not have tolerated if he was with either of the Ks, but with Porfiria it was better that they were discreet. He sat down, then reached over and lifted her hand to examine her wedding ring.
“How much do I want or how much did my ring cost?”
Rubi smiled, still surprised that Porfiria had a personality.
An aging actor down on his luck is hoping to become a kept man. 2,798 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
It came down to the two Ks. Either one would do and Rubi had little preference at this point.
There was Kristen. A soft-spoken, senior partner in the entertainment law firm her deceased husband had founded. The same firm who used to represent Rubi back when he needed dealmakers. Her hair was long and reddish blond.
And then there was Kate. Her hair was short, stylish and black. This trust fund baby was on the board of every museum in Miami. She had swagger, not to mention a five bedroom condo on the 44th floor of Zaha Hadid’s new downtown tower, a palatial home in the Gables, a four bedroom condo at the Ocean Reef Club on Key Largo, and a cabin on a mountainside in North Carolina decorated impeccably in mid-century modern.
Kristen’s big advantage was that she was absent from her penthouse ten hours a day. Her eye-opening terrace overlooked the Port of Miami with its humongous floating buffet boats that moved with the precision of a clock as they docked on Fridays and set sail on Sundays. Rubi could imagine having her place all to himself until she returned from work when they would enjoy a cocktail hour that stretched well past 8 pm. The perfect capper on a day he spent doing nothing but walking Kristen’s annoying little dog before primping for the night. And although Kate was the more attractive of the two, Kristen even though she had just turned 59 was more creative in bed than her slightly younger competition.
A plus in the Kate column was that she could speak four languages when she and Rubi travelled or made love. Who cared if she occasionally objectified the actor as a living work of art? Truth be told, Rubi liked thinking of himself as a possession, a man who could please a woman in a variety of ways, and by any means necessary.
The most difficult task Rubi faced was not confusing the details of his two paramours. His increasingly unreliable memory made him prone to mixing up the names of the significant people in the Ks’ lives, especially their investment bankers, lawyers, ex-husbands, children and grandchildren. Still, one or the other would have to do. Unfortunately, the choice between the two Ks was not Rubi’s to make but it did have to be made soon. He was an ex-soap opera star who’d recently turned 70 and was in desperate need of a woman willing to make him a kept man.
Is Jason going to spy on his celeb friends for a gossip mag? 2,304 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Beverly saw Jason sitting at a corner table under the heavy drape of bougainvillea. He looked like his dad with some of his mother’s refinement thrown in. He definitely wasn’t movie star material but he was cute. Beverly didn’t like her staff to be too great looking. It made them memorable. Memorable was definitely not good. A few years ago, she’d had a reporter with a purple streak in her hair. Jenifer Lopez referred to her on the red carpet as Juicy’s Miss Purple. Subsequently, the reporter had been thrown out of a posh hotel in Cabo because Jennifer’s security people recognized the hair and knew she was a gossipmonger.
Looks are fine, but not too out there. Jason could blend in wherever he went.
He stood up when she approached the table. She never saw that anymore, thought Beverly, who would have raised an eyebrow but that expression had been wiped out by Botox long ago. Melody must have been awake enough during his childhood to get some manners pounded into him, Beverly surmised. Actually, he’d learned that from Big Jack. Stand up, look them in the eye and shake hands, but only if they offered theirs first. “It’ll get you laid, I promise you." Big Jack had been right.
Beverly went into her no-nonsense mode, shotgunning questions at him. Asking Jason what he did for fun. What he read. Where he went with his friends. And what he was studying. Then she got down to it. Did he know Selena or Kendall? What about Demi’s kids? Does anybody still care about Britney Spears anymore? Is Jennifer Lawrence going to keep so private she’ll fade? Which clubs were hot right now?
This "son of" is smart and celeb-connected but desperate. 1,965 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Dude, I am so screwed, Jason Alden muttered to himself as he sat up in bed alone late Wednesday afternoon to find his apartment trashed, as usual, his grubby sheets kicked to the floor. Earlier he’d had a fight with his girlfriend, Nicole, and she’d thrown him out of her Santa Monica beachfront condo, which her daddy, the guilty party in her parents’ nasty divorce, so generously paid for. That was considered only fair in a L.A. divorce war: he’d been caught sleeping with Nicole’s tennis teacher, then was stupid enough to knock her up and marry her.
Nicole never did get her backhand down.
Jason had slammed out of Nicole’s posh apartment’s parking lot at 5 a.m. in his three series BMW – overdue to the leasing agency, with no replacement in sight. Now he was in his own apartment on the wrong side of town. His study pad, as he described it to his parents when they rented it for him in a sort of safe neighborhood near USC. But even that was about to come to an end. Daddy Dearest wasn’t going to renew the lease and had told Jason in no uncertain terms that he’d have to cover any damage that had been done. There was plenty of that, for sure. Holes in the walls and carpets, vomit in the closets. It was a sty and now he was stuck with the clean-up.
A lot of things were coming to an end for Jason. His dad, Teddy Alden, was a washed-up director-writer-producer who was still talking about his glory days with Spielberg in the 1980s and 1990s. But the senior Alden never made Spielberg money, never had his drive and most importantly hadn’t had the sense to hire his accountants. Teddy Alden had been a partier of the first degree. Right up there with Don Samuels, the producer who famously died on his toilet, stoned on a pharmacy worth of drugs. It was a miracle Teddy was alive, but as he hit his fifties he’d started to slow down. Jason wasn’t sure it was because of the natural inclination of the elderly to get to bed early, or, that he had blown through a Hollywood-sized fortune and had to stop leasing jets to go for lunch in San Francisco.
A humongous Hollywood merger has unforeseen consequences for all involved. 2,559 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Margaret Sewell sighed as she sat across from her friend, Lou Delray, at the Fox studio commissary’s outdoor patio. She had little appetite and barely touched her salad. “My boss said, ‘I wish I could take you with me.’ And he didn’t even bother to try and sound sincere. Then he gave me a holiday gift card to Neiman-Marcus. As if that was supposed to make me feel better. ‘Hey, clown,’ I wanted to say, ‘how about a gift card to Ralphs, so’s I can buy some food after I start collecting unemployment in 2018.’”
Lou was only half-listening. He hadn’t filed for unemployment since losing his first job right after college. For the past twenty years he’d been a teamster driver on a succession of studio TV and film projects. The studio facilities would remain and his boss, Henry, claimed Lou had “nothing to worry about.” But when your boss tells you not to worry, that’s precisely the time to start making other plans.
With the departure of the television and movie production units, sooner or later, probably sooner, something was bound to give. And that usually meant the older and more expensive workers.
“They’re saying that, after the merger, ten thousand jobs are going to be lost in all. Screw Murdoch and screw Iger twice,” Margaret said as she threw her salad into the trash. A number of heads turned and nodded, some eyes rolled, and a couple of mouths uttered sarcastic laughs.
Buoyed by the reaction, Margaret added, “I might as well tattoo ‘Roadkill’ on my forehead. Am I right?”
And the award for most hated man in Hollywood goes to… 708 words. Illustration by Roll Call editorial cartoonist R. J. Matson.
I’m just back from an emergency meeting of Make Acronyms Great Again (MAGA) in Hollywood.
As chairman of MAGA’s Crisis Committee (CC), I called the meeting in response to a recent survey showing that most Americans believe President Of The United States (POTUS) nor Son Of A Bitch (SOB) adequately defines Donald Trump. The debate was spirited, acronymists being famously passionate.
“POTUS describes only the office, not the individual,” I began.
“And SOB is much too narrow,” said a linguistics scholar from Berkeley. “It addresses bad character but fails to take into account the buffoon’s low Intelligence Quotient (IQ).”
“Make it Stupid Son Of A Bitch (SSOB),” cried out a ventriloquist who does Trump impressions. “Or Stupid President Of The United States (SPOTUS).”
“Hear, hear,” added his dummy.
CHRISTMAS FICTION: Ghosts visit a nasty old showman to unmask his not-so-entertaining lies and life. 836 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
The darkened penthouse of Scrump Tower on Christmas Eve….
Ebenezer Scrump, asleep after hours of heavy tweeting, is jolted awake by loud clanking sounds and a terrifying sight.
Scrump: Who are you?
Ghost: Look upon me, Scrump, for I am the Ghost of Your Past.
Scrump: What do you want of me at this hour, ghost?
Ghost: I’m here to show you the errors of your ways.
Scrump: Errors? Where are you taking me?
The flirting and gossiping ends badly for someone on this TV series. 3,759 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
The wrap party was being held at the cheesy cowboy theme bar at Universal CityWalk. Caleb hated that development next door to the lot where he worked. Even the name grated on him: “CityWalk.” It was everything that pissed him off about L.A.. The antiseptic tourist trap was so utterly un-urban. He could rattle off at least a half-dozen bars on nearby Ventura that were far superior. But he was just a lowly writer’s assistant so it wasn’t his place to question the chosen location for the wrap party. Actually, he wasn’t surprised. He worked for a cookie cutter network procedural, and the powers-that-be had chosen to end the season in the most uninspired way possible. Little wonder that he always could predict each show’s ending.
As he parked his car, he thought about Nora, the staff writer considered a “diversity hire.” She had once confessed to him that she loved the City Walk. Of course, Nora loved the City Walk. Caleb hated Nora. He didn’t see her talent, or what she offered to the show, or why Bryan gave her two scripts. Caleb was really hoping he’d get to co-write the finale, like Matt Weiner’s writer assistants, but instead Nora got it. Like she needed another credit. Caleb had read her pilot back when he was Bryan’s assistant. It was fine, the dialogue was cute, but the story was nothing special. Rom-com chick stuff. He’d been working for Bryan for four years, and Nora had never worked on a show, but she was a staff writer and Caleb was the writer’s assistant. Bryan told him it was because of money. The show had spent too much of its budget on upper level writers, and the studio would pay for a “diversity writer.” That was Nora. A Korean girl from Encino… How fucking downtrodden.
While she would never tell any of her fellow writers, Nora loved Universal CityWalk. As a kid growing up in the Valley, it was the closest she ever got to actually walking onto a studio lot. L.A. kids aren’t supposed to get starstruck. But Nora just couldn’t be jaded. She wanted to belong to the business, not merely be adjacent, and write for a real primetime TV show with millions of viewers. Now that she was, Nora still liked to visit CityWalk to remind herself how far she’d come. About once a week, she’d arrive an hour before work, go to Starbucks, drink her latte and think about how she was about to go work in a bungalow on the real lot. Though she questioned whether she deserved to be there. But if she really was nothing more than a token, Bryan wouldn’t have given her two scripts. She knew Caleb resented her and coveted her job. But she was working her ass off, agonizing over every word of procedural exposition instead of scripting for people to ignore while they did their laundry. Nora had long ago learned that hard work was the best remedy for insecurity.
A TV exec hears a comedy pitch from a couple of over-50 showrunners she’s never met. 5,110 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Calling in his last ancient chit, Warren had talked a former junior colleague into issuing a drive-on to get them through the front gate. The rest would be up to him.
He piloted his old BMW convertible, its torn roof folded down out of view so as not to humiliate its occupants, toward the visitors’ lot. Fifty-eight and no longer an athlete –- he was even done with pick-up basketball, the risk of injury now far outweighing the pleasure he got from playing — Warren wore a sports jacket, faded jeans, and a bright new T-shirt with a hip (his son Clay had assured him) image of an audio cassette above the slight paunch that poked over the top of his seat belt. After extensive experimentation with hair coloring he’d left the gray specks in his beard, which he’d carefully trimmed to look untrimmed. Just this morning he’d noticed the beginnings of what he’d assumed were facial warts. Warren, once a Golden Boy, had begun to believe he’d be an odd-looking old man.
Mitch, four years younger, nearly a foot shorter and more informally unshaven, with hair another former colleague had described as “bozine” after her favorite frizzy-haired TV clown, wore red Converse sneakers and a flowery Hawaiian shirt that most people who’d never known a joke writer would consider antithetical to his dignity. Under the shirt, on his left shoulder, the Charlie Chaplin tattoo he’d treated himself to upon moving to Hollywood decades earlier had aged to look less like Chaplin and more like Hitler.
Mitch glowered at the dashboard clock. “We’re over an hour early,” Mitch said. “I told you there’d be no traffic.”
If Warren had told his partner the real reason he’d picked him up at 9 AM for an 11 AM meeting less than half an hour away -– that there was no 11 AM meeting and they were in the midst of a con job that Warren had been meticulously planning for months in an effort to resuscitate their drowned careers -– Mitch’s pride and rage would never have permitted him to get into the car. “I knew they’d make us park out where the slaves are picking cotton,” said Warren as he drove them farther and farther from their destination on the lot. “And you have to get into costume.”
The L.A. psychologist follows the seductive allure of his new-found showbiz fame. 3,152 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
“The mailbox is full and cannot accept messages at this time.” What a difference an anonymous tip makes.
Say hello to Dr. Dennis Corbin, Hollywood guru. My client list now rivals that of a boutique theatrical agency. The driveway is a Red Carpet arrival ceremony, sans couture. I feel bad for Caroline. She held onto Dennis Corbin stock forever then bailed before it popped. Like selling Apple in 1997 before Steve Jobs’ return.
Sitting before me is my latest celeb. Welcome to Corbin World, Monica. You may have seen her standup on one of the late night shows. Monica Reardon, with her Nordic noir hair, tattooage and piercings. I know what you guys are thinking: get a load of those big tats.
She started out doing random, disconnected jokes: I stuck a pin in a pincushion and my couch dropped dead. I like to feed unpopped corn to pigeons and watch them explode in the sun. Realized non-sequitur comedy was a dead-end and developed more personal material. The result was a trifecta of well-received HBO specials: Potty Mouth, Old Maid, and No Immediate Survivors. She dug deep and hit a gusher.
At the moment, she’s fidgeting with a soft pack of Pall Malls, unfiltered.
When he’s thanked on TV, the L.A. shrink tries to become Hollywood’s new must-see. 2,354 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
It’s one of those nights, rare in L.A., when you can hear the quiet. There’s a faint but audible electric buzz. The Adirondack chair is as hard and cold as slate. Across the black void a woman in a lighted window washes a single plate. The sprinklers whoosh on. I flick my cigar into the wet grass.
Stop The Presses! is great. I love my recurring role on it. I’m their Keyser Söze. Three days in, the Dr. D mystery — a non-story, if ever there was one — is kept alive by my client Sadie’s trendingness and a slow entertainment news week. Not that you’d guess it from Carlito’s caffeinated hysteria. But it doesn’t take an “entertainment reporter” to know that with no new news, this story will soon die. Then I can forget about a bonanza of new clients. About turning things around.
I freeze-frame on the show’s closing crawl: Got a tip? Submit tips anonymously: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I read a line once in a self-help book that stuck: the best way to escape from your problem is to solve it. This thought is accompanied by dramatic music: the startup chord of an iMac. Followed by these words on the screen: the ease & simplicity of Gmail, available across devices.
Create an account.
The L.A. psychologist is more focused on his bumpy marriage than his showbiz clients. 2,512 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Food Merchant is a family-owned Southern California supermarket housed in a former warehouse on Lincoln Boulevard. Step inside and you enter a world of specialty foods lovingly displayed in a Disney theme park version of the Kasbah. A colossal indoor souk divided into sections with names like Marrakesh, Algiers, and Casablanca posted on banners overhead. It’s 10:40 a.m. and I’m here, as on most days, killing time. My next (and last) appointment of the day is at 4:00. It’s why Caroline’s lost all respect for me.
Her Big Grievance #1: Not holding up my end. I could surprise her with FM’s Natural Turkey Bacon, smoked over hardwoods without preservatives. See, Caroline, I’m bringing home the bacon. A joke, Caroline. Ah, forget it.
Big Grievance #2: Dr. Dennis Corbin, Day Trader. I studied the financial markets. Study may be too strong a word. I skimmed business news on the Internet. Watched that morning guy on One For The Money. He rated E-Tec a strong buy. “Lithium-ion batteries — it’s the future, Caroline. Cell phones, electric cars, personal computing. Green technology. Trust me, I’ve done my homework.”
Big Grievance #3: Buying more on the way down (technically, #2A).
Big Grievance #4: We were going to start a family when we had the savings.
I won’t get into the Little Grievances.
My new ringtone: Kubrick’s 2001 theme. “Hello?”
“Sadie Cowen gave me your number.”