Ambition. Jealousy. Just another day at the movie studio. 2,435 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
My name is Daniel Kennedy. I died, you may be interested to hear, on a Monday. Evening, not night, as so many of the rumors have stated. The film title Secrets & Lies was the last words I heard. A brash-looking Sonny Wortzik, who incidentally must have been on parole, had just finished running through the list of Best Picture nominations for 1997 when euphoria seized me and The English Patient won all the things that make life worth living: glory, prestige and recognition. (A quick side note: when you check out, you know for the first time who you are without the categories that define life: your age, your race, your gender and yes, your occupation.) And before you ask, the answer is no, I was not at the show. I was at home watching it on the boob. The momentary euphoria I just mentioned came from gasoline poisoning. So I here repeat my oath: anything that happened on March 24th, 1997, after the words Secrets & Lies were uttered, I myself cannot personally verify.
Prior to dying, I spread many false rumors about families and had been complicit by remaining silent whenever I, in return, heard rumors that I knew were false. My father was rare. He had an I.Q. only slightly above 50 and was put down when I was just a child. Believing that something other than natural selection (although I didn’t, of course, call it that back then) has the right to gas stupid people, I became increasingly afraid of the “steak.” Something I learned later, when correctly pronounced, is called the “state.”
My mother, who was a beautiful bird, told me that he wasn’t Darwined-out by the steak just because he was fat and dim, and promised to tell me when I turned sixteen why he went the way of the dodo, and how it involved the murders in “the Hills.” Or she may have said the murders in “the Stills.” I could never quite understand her. I never did find out what kind of monster he was, not because my mother had terrible diction but rather, right before she had the chance when my sweet sixteen arrived, she choked on her dentures and suffocated.
I was an only child; I never married, and had no children. So this is my one chance, when I tell you about the Roomers, to make things right.
I never met them, however. They moved into my Mulholland home (the only one on the block without a chimney) on June 24th, 1997, three months to the day after I had moved on. I’m still unsure how they managed to talk a moving company into working on the 24th, a date that is neither mid- or month-end.
It’s only natural given the decade in which I expired that in my mind Gale Roomer, when I first heard about her, looked like Calista Flockhart. Her husband Seth, like David Duchovny, and their twin daughters Violet and Rose like Poison Ivy. Whereas now when I tell you about them (despite this having taken place twenty years ago), you will be convinced that Gale looks like Elizabeth Banks; Seth, a certain Michael Fassbender, and the twins, a younger version of, oh I forget her name, the one in The Constant Gardener. This is why I am forgoing, despite just having done it, character descriptions.
That is not to say that the Roomers are concepts. It’s just that my source, from whom this story originates and who is unavailable for comment, is the only ostensible source capable of describing and doing, in your mind, the Roomers justice.
There is a slight chance, very slight, that the Roomers have always existed and therefore only two things can be said about them that are absolute: one, they moved into my Los Angeles home after I died, and two, they hated movies.
Which brings us, before we begin talking about the Roomers and the ad in Variety, to Jerry Lyne and Steve Meyer (and other notable elves) and to our final bit of housekeeping. I must be forthcoming about who my source is.
Santa, you see, is not as you may have heard an evil “spell,” dwelling in a hot place, holding a pitchfork and prone to exaggeration, gossip, hearsay, or speculation. To begin with, he has no name. (I’ll just call him Santa to protect his identity, and refer to him as a he.) He has no age, no gender, and this is the one that will really get you, no occupation. At first blush at least, as the more news he passes on to me, the more I sense his only joy in life is being present and ironical. Or perhaps, rather, he only knows how to manufacture that one present called irony. I do feel, however, that he is not telling me that the Roomers hate movies to hurt me, as movies are something I love and gave my life over to as an executive and was rewarded in return quite handsomely. But rather that if one wishes to live a full life, irony is inevitable. And must find its right place. In your home.
Before it can be unwrapped.
I am in total and absolute darkness, and therefore have reason to trust Santa, as he does not benefit in the slightest from making any of this up. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t stress this point: if the Snowman, who lives “upstairs” and compassionately melts over anything and everything, were whispering to me about the Roomers, then I’d be much more incredulous. As to begin with he would have some serious explaining to do as to why had he made the Roomers in His own image (as we all are; are we not?) and so bloody cold.
Oh, I knew I forgot something. There is ⎯ sorry ⎯ a third and final point that is absolute other than that the Roomers bought my old home in Los Angeles and hated movies. The Roomers can pass, although they’ve never had to, a polygraph. Normally this would imply that they hate people.
Not true. It’s just that their eyes do not melt when reading other people’s emotions. In other words, they have never been victimized by anything.
And, before you ask, the answer is no. That only happens in movies.
Scoring high on Hare’s PCL-R, although they’ve never been tested, does not automatically indicate one is Mensa material. The Roomers, at best, are average from what I hear. I.Q.s in ascending order: Rose, 86, Violet, 88, Seth, 97, and Gale 107. We’ll get to the Roomers, I promise, but first…
Jerry Lyne is a real dry eye. The only kitten that I know who pulled, due to his tendency to hiss whenever he climaxed, the astonishing double act of protecting such an embarrassing detail from entering the pages of both Julia’s and Joanne’s You’ll Never… books. It’s also been said that in the bedroom he had a nasty purr when it came to instructing women on how to peel off their lingerie. But when it came to Jerry’s inability to formulate an opinion, let alone take a position, on a rather significant "hot button" topic (in spite of his best interest to do so) such as the Gaza Strip, it bothered more than just a few rather influential lions in town. Especially after a rumor had surfaced that Jerry, anytime he got the upper-hand in closing a big studio deal, would immediately feed his pet piranha while calling it in private “Buchenwald.” It was later discovered that it was an innocent backfire, a smear campaign orchestrated ironically by him and one of his traffic-stopping regulars (the only one he ever paid to humiliate him). However, she misunderstood his instructions. The executive that Jerry intended to associate and target his fabricated and vulgar rumor with is still unknown.
Jerry was also at my funeral the only person who scream-cried. And he knew who would be there to watch as he milked it. Gawd himself: Hailstone Studios Chairman, Steve Meyer. What Jerry didn’t know, which I was to learn later, is that Steve was a bedwetter until the age of eleven. Which gave him a certain amount of expertise in spotting genuine grief. Better than anyone, he understood that the violent bouts of yelling, the slapping, the punching and the various other declarations of anguish are what one does to a cotton mattress when one is disappointed in oneself ⎯ not what one does to a titanium coffin after one has just lost a friend. (By the way, Gawd is also, ever since Dorothy Mensers got the chair at Magnum, a she and a gentile who from what I hear is happily married to her partner now that bumper-to-bumper is legal in California.)
Steve had an MBA from MIT, was mentored by Dick Bolles and hated cats (essentially anyone who, like Jerry, always seemed to win). After reading Bolles’ book What Color Is Your Parachute?, Jerry as a joke wrote a business book of his own, in 72 hours, called What Color Is Your Bullet? It made no sense, written either by someone who had Asperger’s, or someone who had not read the warning label on his Compazine before mixing itwith cocaine. Either way, Ten Speed Press bought the 600-page manuscript for two hundred thousand. Win. But Jerry also needed help.
Because just before I died Jerry had ended his career in a matter of seconds after making a random, off color, slightly self-incriminating not to mention swamp-like admission about his own character ⎯ worse than his hissing ⎯ to Steve’s wife Edith at the Breast Cancer Awareness dinner at the Bev Wilshire. He told her that bell-shaped breasts, the kind that are slim at the top and full at the bottom, have always made him feel like an underdog because they are so powerful. And, ever since he was little boy, anytime he saw a pair he got an erection and thought he was turning into a werewolf. She was, understandably, affected by his candor about how he “compensates.” And it was I, not Jerry, who had to spend a good part of the night on the phone after the dinner convincing Steve to rehire my hostile friend under the auspices and reassurance that Jerry was not; one, a misogynist; two, a full Moonie; or three, an Egyptian Mau.
I explained that Jerry’s self-esteem, much like Qantas Airlines in Rain Man, never crashed. Any time you try to get him on board with a banquet dinner that does not revolve around him or one of his philanthropic efforts or one of his films, he acts out. And it was here, on this very phone call, after what seemed like an unbearable pregnant pause, that Steven delivered:
“Dan, why would you stick up for Jerry after what he said about you behind your back?”
Whatever Steve was about to tell me, I knew, I just knew, Jerry did not parent. Rumors in this town are like belly buttons: they scar yet mysteriously have no source other than the stork. Yet I found myself acting like an obedient orphan.
“What,” I asked, “did Jerry say?”
“That you taunt Rosemary.”
“Harris?” I quipped, “I championed her role in Hamlet.”
Steve cut me off, “The other Rosemary, Dan. The other Rosemary.”
With Steve, you get points for being quick on the uptake but I didn’t know where he was going so I began to stall.
“Listen,” I said, “I already know that Jerry tells everybody that I was a Mass-hole when I was fourteen and that I witnessed the Chappaquiddick Incident.”
Again, Steve cut me off, “Jerry is going around telling everybody that you’re a Satanist. I don’t believe it. But come on: you’re an easy target, living in that four-bedroom Mulholland home all by yourself. Forty-two years old, no wife, no kids, no Pomeranian. ‘Bizarre rituals,’ he said, ‘purchasing the Cielo Drive crime scene photos, sexual hang-ups that can only be quenched by Saturn.’”
“I never bought them,” I protested. “I never bought them. Some guy brought them to a party. I just happened to see them.”
“Didn’t I just say that I don’t believe Jerry? But he’s trying to make you look bad, Dan.”
I turned so quiet that I think I gave Steve an idea, or perhaps I just put a spell on him, because he suddenly agreed to rehire Jerry with a hook. In return, I had to substantiate “the poster” rumor.
You see, when Jerry first came to Hailstone Studios from UA, he brought a framed The Man With The Golden Gun poster with him. Something that, seeing it hung in Jerry’s corner office every morning, gave Steve an itch. Because, although the James Bond shtick is part of Jerry’s brand ⎯ turtlenecks, weapons enthusiast, Vesper martinis, AMC Coupes, and barrel rolls inside expensive women ⎯ Jerry had absolutely no involvement in making the film. Yet the rash that gave Steve such an itch went much deeper. The poster had a rumor attached to it, one that Steve could not disprove. He stopped at nothing and even hired, multiple times, the town’s top P.I.s to follow Jerry to L.A.’s firing ranges and gun clubs and even had them search his home in an attempt to find “it.” Jerry, it had been said, was the one who, at an auction and under the name of Mr. Jude Ophilia, had won the bid for Hitler’s 7.65 mm gold-plated Walther PP.
See how I am being leveraged? Steve, by saying that he doesn’t believe the rumor of me being a Satanist, is willing to go on the record, in exchange for me supporting the gun rumor, even though I am sixty-three percent certain that it is false.
I said yes, it is true. It wasn’t the first time, although it was the last, that I sold my soul. Jerry got his job back. But I had just betrayed my best friend. The guilt was unbearable. Not, however, why I committed suicide six days later. That’s a story I’ll get into when we start talking about my new homeowners.
In the meantime, back at my funeral while I was being lowered into the ground, Steve saw Jerry behaving like a penitent man: gasping for air and choking on his crocodile tears which Jerry thought was what got him his job back and what earned, I may add, the phony terrier an unearned bump to VP the following week. However, It was a promotion now that I am out of the picture and no longer able to “protect” Jerry that was really a disguise designed, I suspect, to take Jerry out for good.