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.
“Don’t suppose you’d stop the meter for a smoke break?” She catches my eye and returns the pack to her purse. What brings her here? Anger (an angry comic, shocking). Make that fury. At her parents, society, men, The Business. She can go on. And does, gnawing at a cuticle. What’s wedged in her craw these days is her Emmy loss — for Outstanding Variety Special — to redneck comedian Coy Chesbro. You know, the one with the eighties Rod Stewart look. And in his first cable TV outing yet. A sop to the fly-over states. Why does she even care? Winning little gold statues was not on her to-do list. But the indignity of getting beat by a guy whose catch phrase is “Happy as a puppy with two peckers!” is too much. Monica, who can spend a day on the precise wording of a joke, disdains Chesbro. “Fucking yokel. He’s parlayed one flimsy tired premise into a ten-year career.”
Coy’s signature bit is a redneck word-association game he plays with his audiences. Someone in the crowd calls out something like “roadkill!” and he fires back, “Thanksgiving!” Or the reverse, it doesn’t matter. At this point, Coy has a white trash response for nearly every word in the dictionary. It’s a real audience-pleaser, a regular sing-along, she says. And it made him the permanent closer on the Honky Tonk Comedy Tour, comprised of Coy and three other hayseed comics. So, Monica brims with rage over her loss to “this rodeo clown.”
Oh, yeah. She’s also pissed at having married him. True.
How did it happen? She’d been serious with a few guys, and a couple of chicks, she says, but nothing that went anywhere. One night, she was breaking in some new stuff at the Comedy Store. “Coy was working there too, not breaking in new stuff — “Buick!” “Cinderblocks!” — we went for a drink or six, had a few laughs, and I figured what the fuck. We’ll be the Matalin-Carville of comedy. As if that were something. Three and a half years of wedded hate.” She adds, “I wouldn’t mind his womanizing… if I were one of the women.” Rarely a day passes that she doesn’t beat herself up over it. Other days, he beats her up. “Self-sabotage,” she says. “Some atavistic need, as I was nearing forty, to be a bride. Ugh. I have to deal with this before I stick a Beretta in my mouth.” Until then, a pack and a half a day will do.
Twice a week.
Today, I dumped Joel. I know, I know. But here’s what I said: “I’ve taken you as far as I can, Joel.” Not really a lie. I didn’t say: I can no longer stand your droning self-pity, Joel. I didn’t say: After a session with you I’m depressed for the rest of the day, Joel. I didn’t say: Your refusal to take even the smallest step to improve your life makes me feel like I’ve picked the wrong profession, Joel. I didn’t say any of those things.
I just dropped the bomb. Sure, he looked dejected. Didn’t see it coming. But I blamed it on my own inadequacies as a therapist. Flawed methods. It’s not you, Joel, etc. I gave him a list of referrals, colleagues whose technique might be “a better fit.” And who’s to say it’s not the case?
I need to open those two hours. I’ve got a waitlist of bold-faced names. There’s that babe from Rich Bitches of Bel-Air. Hot, in a dominatrix sort of way. And the singer — Celeste. So, I mean, who needs fucking Joel?
Can I say something? I’ve come to love my celebrity neurotics. I pamper them. You have to. I retired the 50-minute hour. A quaint artifact of a bygone Hollywood, like the 500-dollar call girl. I mean, you don’t tell George Clooney — not a client, just an example — “That’s all the time we have for today, George.” Uh-uh. In its place, I rolled out the 90-minute hour. I’m an innovator. No biggie, just upped my fee. Celebs never see the bill anyway. I even throw in a post-session stroll back to the client’s G-Wagen. And a handoff to the assistant, texting at the wheel.
Kleenex is now a big deductible expense. I’ve got a second box on my desk, a third on the bookcase. Actors, in particular, like to get up and move. They know when a scene is static. They cry easily. So convincing. You want to say, “Wonderful! Can you come back and read with Bradley?”
Sessions fly by. Entertainment people love to talk – and they’re entertaining. They’ve got stories. Stories about themselves, stories about others. Especially others.
I have no down time. I’m on 24-hour call. Celebs need to see you now, tonight, this weekend. They demand “emergency” sessions — after a breakup, a substance relapse, a dressing-down by a director, the suffocation death of a purse pooch. They miss appointments. Require double appointments. House calls. But always: they want, they need, they want. Every session is a special pleading for sympathy, for validation, for love. And I do love them. They are my flock. I bless them and give them dispensation.
“Are you sitting?” says Blondie, Facetime-ing.
“Sitting,” says Caroline. She’s at the dinette, near to bursting with anticipation.
“Is your husband there?”
“He’s here,” she monotones. Don’t get too excited, Caroline.
“Sitting,” I say, standing in the doorway. I finger-wiggle. Caroline aims the phone elsewhere.
“We have an offer!” says Blondie. “A very good offer.”
“Great news, Bonnie,” says Caroline.
“A pre-qualified buyer!” Her feverish tone suggests there’s only one or two of these in the entire world.
“Great, great,” says Caroline.
“When can I come over and present this?” says her new bestie.
She will be here in an hour. Caroline is flying around the house like Maddie Ziegler in a Sia video. Her escape from me and from “this chapter,” is so close it’s palpable. I’m thrilled I can still inspire such joy. But. Our marriage has been such a disappointment, she never imagines I can disappoint further.
Caroline’s cell phone rings.
Caroline listens. And listens. Says: “What second loan?”
I pad over to the dining table, snatch my keys and sidle toward the door.
She looks up. “Why don’t you go buy some fucking beer!”
My thought exactly.
“Personal service” has a number of meanings in L.A. It can be something you receive from Hornburg Jaguar or an unlicensed masseuse. Personal service is also what you call it when a young guy in a T-shirt and ripped jeans rings your doorbell and asks if you are Dr. Dennis Corbin. If you answer yes, and he hands you a sheaf of Corbin v. Corbin court docs, you have been personally served. Then if you say, “Thanks a lot, fuckhead,” he may say, “I’m just a messenger, man,” and climb back into his Honda Civic and go.
From Coppola to crapola. That’s the career arc of two legendary actors now starring in Senior Moment, director Adam Lessig’s so-called comedy, opening Friday. If wringing laughs from Alzheimer’s disease is your cup of Metamucil, have I got a film for you! Senior Moment is the story of retired plumber Cleve Nordlinger who, heartbroken over wife Molly’s increasing dementia, does what any retiree would do. He breaks her out of the Albany, N.Y. nursing home to which she’s confined and schleps her on a cross-country road trip to San Juan Capistrano where they honeymooned 48 years ago. He’s convinced that by reliving their wedding night her memory will be restored — though trust me, she’s better off remembering none of this. I only wish I could forget it. –– The Hollywood Reporter
I lock the Camry and walk north on Almont. Across Wilshire a crowd funnels into a square, glass-faced office building dedicated to the movie business, accent on business. Block letters above its doors read: Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences. There is no marquee. No crisscrossing beams in the night sky. But they are making an effort. There are floodlights and aluminum barriers. Security personnel in black suits and ID tags. A tired red carpet. It’s less King of Kings, more medical building grand opening. Paparazzi shout, “Olivia! Olivia!” I am here for the premiere — my first — of Senior Moment, inside at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. And I am jazzed.
In the lobby, an actress with green eyes and flaming hair strikes a pose in front of a silvery backdrop. On it is printed Senior Moment, over and over, like a shower curtain. Cameras click. I push through the horde to a desk.
“Corbin,” I say.
A pert ingénue in a headband looks up.
“Dennis Corbin and Guest,” she says, drawing a line through it.
“Guest couldn’t make it,” I say. “But if you’re free…?” I flash my most winning smile. She writes a “1” after my name, looks behind me. “Next?”
I’m a natural with women.
Everywhere there are faces you know. Stunning women roam in packs. I’m swept along with the tide, past showcased storyboards from Vertigo and Gone With The Wind and up the carpeted stairs. In the upper lobby, Chaplin and Pickford stare out at you from two-sheets. I step into the Goldwyn, blood red like the inside of that horse in The Revenant. Right and left of the proscenium stand palace guard-sized Oscars. Blocks of seats are taped off and reserved. I grab an open one on the aisle.
It’s a Showbiz High reunion. Everyone knows everyone. Lenny Trumbauer stands in a row down front, facing the room. He’s finger-shooting and winking and waving. He is the voluble producer of Senior Moment, or as he says, the producing producer. Lenny invited me. I was hesitant. You don’t socialize with a client. I voice my misgivings and he says, “The joint’ll be filled with important people – why would I waste time talking to you?” He laughs to let me know it’s a joke. Has one of those in-your-face New York personalities. Big guy, a compulsive eater. All cheeks, fore and aft. We’re working on it. And no matter what Lenny spends on clothes, such as the lavender cashmere sweater now draped over his shoulders, sleeves tied, preppy style, he looks like a slob, nothing he can do about it.
The theater lights dim and there’s a shiver of expectation — like before the door opens on a blind date everyone says is great. The crowd keeps yammering. Lenny makes a megaphone of his hands: “Shut the fuck up!” They laugh, sit.
A series of animations spells out a tangled co-financing deal and the film begins. There are plenty of laughs; it’s a big hit in here. Lots of applause at the end. And more laughs at the reel of outtakes — actors blowing their lines and cursing — that plays on the left side of the screen. Even I know this is shameless. The crowd stiffs the end credits scrolling on the right. Though a few names in attendance get a mercy woo-hoo!
Downstairs, a crush. A young woman with a dancer’s body, her hair in a French braid, gapes at a pyramid of pastries, says to her date, “The cheesecake looks epic.” I get in line at the bar, check my phone. Finger in one ear, listening to a message with the other. A Valley lilt: “Dr. Corbin? My manager gave me your number?” I’ve been depressed, ya know, over a breakup? And, ya know, um, career stuff?” Her name is Ronika Leon. She spells it out: R-o-n-i-k-a. Is that even a name? I pocket the phone.
“What have you written?”
I turn. On line behind me is a woman, mid-thirties, café au lait skin, shoulder-length black hair. Silver & turquoise hoop earrings. Lots of bracelets.
“You must be a writer,” she says.
“Why do you say that?”
“Cord jacket, desert boots, well-worn black jeans. Am I right?”
“Well, if you were playing a writer, this would be the look. The hair too.”
“I have writer’s hair?”
“It hasn’t been styled. So I know you’re not an actor. You have to un-style an actor’s hair for them to play an actual human person.”
The bartender: “What can I get you?”
I scan the display. “A Corona.”
He pulls one from the ice, pops the cap.
She: “Diet Coke.” As the bartender pours, she head-points at him and whispers, “Now he’s an actor.”
We move off with our drinks.
“And — let me guess,” I say. “You’re a gypsy private eye.”
“Costumer. I worked on,” from the side of her mouth, “this piece of shit.”
Lenny appears, genie-like, flushed. He’s in his sweater now, a big ball of lavender yarn. “Been looking for you.” He throws a heavy arm around me. “I need to borrow him, Neema.” And as we walk off: “Don’t bother, she’s trouble. The fucking you get won’t be worth the fucking you get.” He laughs so I’ll know it’s funny and leads me through the crowd. We pass a charter member of the Languid Models Club saying to her willowy friend, “I got off Lexapro.”
I am steered to a Talmudic-looking man in tweed jacket, black tie and curly beard, holding court. The cluster around him is hyper attentive, as if they fear a quiz. We squeeze in. “What’s interesting —” the word hangs there as he thumb-nudges wire-rims up the bridge of his nose, “— is the extent to which my work is still influenced by the masters. You can take the kid out of AFI,” he laughs. “Kurosawa is my god. And I know that when this picture opens, I’ll be slammed for the wedding night sequence because it’s so Lubitschian — but there was really no other way to shoot it.” They nod in sympathy. A small woman in an asymmetrical coat sneaks a nibble of her brownie.
The man trapped in Lenny’s headlock is pushed forward.
“Adam, this is Dennis Corbin,” says Lenny. “Dennis, our director, Adam Lessig.”
“Nice to meet you,” I say. Lessig regards me with hawk eyes.
“Writer?” he says. I should have worn the Hugo Boss.
“He’s only the hottest shrink in Hollywood,” says Lenny, proud dad. “Treats half the people in this room.” Jesus.
“Yeah? Who’s the most fucked up?”
“Probably me,” says Lenny, laughing, nodding at the others.
“What’d you think of the film?” Lessig asks me.
“Very funny,” I say. This strikes him as inadequate.
“Really? What other romantic comedies have you liked?”
Shit. This is payback for coming.
“Well, it’s not really my field.”
“You must have some favorites. Everyone goes to the movies.” Yes, but with all eyes on me, I can’t think of a single one.
“Woody Allen,” I come up with. “I like some of his films.”
“Sui generis. What else?”
“Well, there was Silver Linings Playbook.”
All heads turn to Lessig.
“You liked that?”
“Two offbeat characters,” I shrug. “And the parents were funny.”
I am no longer worth his time. He turns back to the others, who try not to be embarrassed for me. “Blake Edwards was a huge influence. But with Blake you never knew what you were getting. His work was either insane off-the-wall brilliant or a pile of steaming dog shit. In many ways, this film —“
I slip from the circle. Thanks, Lenny. My shirt is damp with perspiration. No line at the bar. On my way, I pass a guy dressed in my outfit’s doppelgänger. He’s saying, “My agent is excited. It’s the first novel written entirely in emoji.”
“What’ll you have?” says the bartender.
What I want is a Tito’s, but I’m driving. So I take another Corona and head to a sparsely populated corner. Nearby, a woman not used to listening listens as a black man sounds off in a resonant baritone. She has blonde ringlets and purses her lips to hide a serious overbite. His precise diction cuts through the din. “The script calls for three men sitting in a diner. They are described as: ‘Jerry, well-dressed and immodestly successful; Ned, phobic and living his life of quiet desperation; and Darrell, a black guy.’ That’s his whole character: black guy. No hopes, no dreams, no quirks. Black guy. I thumb through the part and it’s nigga this, nigga that, nigga, nigga, nigga…” She nods earnestly as her eyes scan the room.
I check my phone for messages and IMDB Ronika Leon. Two short films, some minor TV. An alluring face. I look up and see two more of them headed my way.
“Now he’s attendin’ premieres. Ah’ve created a monster!”
Sadie throws her long arms around me. Smells great.
“My coming here was probably a mistake,” I say.
“Tell me about it, right? Say hello to my friend Myrtle. I may have mentioned her?” Winks.
“Lovely to meet you,” she says, and seems to mean it. She’s softer in person, with sandy brown hair dusting her bare shoulders. “You’ve done wonders with my girl here.”
“Well, I had a lot to work with.”
“Now wait just a minute —“
“Too much, I’d say!” says Myrtle.
“Not sure that came out as the compliment I intended,” I say.
“You’ve been very insightful,” says Myrtle. “Of course, I’ve been telling her much the same for years, but never mind. She listens to you.”
“Maybe you have a future as a therapist,” I say.
“It would spoil the fun. My calling is as a busybody.”
“Lady Buttinsky,” says Sadie. She looks around. “What say we blow this joint?”