OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: The producer of a film nominated for big awards fixates on what to wear. 7,054 words. Illustrations by Mark Fearing.
He didn’t sleep the night before the Oscar nominations, which they announce on television about 5:30 am L.A. time in order to catch the prime morning audience on the East Coast at 8:30 am. He took an Ambien. Watched TCM, which played Hitchcock’s Marnie, not one of the director’s best. Charlie had met Hitchcock once, while working at Universal publicity. The old man was neither rude nor arrogant — like so many of the less talented directors now — just indifferent. His mind always seemed to be elsewhere. He was odd. He was intimidating. He was Hitchcock.
By 5 am, Charlie had his television on KNBC. There was a traffic tie-up on the 405 because of a minor car accident near the Getty. A liquor store robbery in Mar Vista. A seeing-eye dog missing in Griffith Park reunited with its tearful owner.
Charlie had lived in L.A. for 22 years. Why was local television so ridiculous here? His hands were shaking when he poured the coffee. On the TV there was some blather that people should bundle up because the temperature would stay at a chilly 63 degrees (arctic weather in L.A.). Meteorologists were predicting heavy rain by late afternoon in the Antelope Mountains then moving towards the Southland. They made it sound like a tsunami was coming. He put a drop of low-fat milk and a Splenda in the coffee cup.
He heard the trucks from the fire station a block away. On some evenings the noise woke him up but he was reassured when he heard the alarm bells. It was not a bad neighborhood. Only a few blocks from Abbot Kinney. But it wasn’t a great neighborhood, either. There was a gang stabbing in Venice a few weeks back. He wished he could move out of the apartment and live closer to Santa Monica or even in the Palisades.
He heard the two newspapers plunk against the door. He lived on the second floor. He had the Los Angeles Times delivered, though wasn’t sure why. It was a luxury to get The New York Times, but he still considered himself a New Yorker. He didn’t have too many luxuries. But getting The New York Times was one of them. He didn’t go to the door.
On the television now, two young actors appeared on the Academy stage with a grotesquely large Oscar statue behind them. The president of the Academy, who inexplicably got the job despite his years of failures as a producer, seemed nervous. He always wore suits like a banker, The trades always called him a "respected producer." Respected for what?
He looked weird. Charlie squinted and looked at the producer’s face and realized that he’d undergone cosmetic surgery. Bad cosmetic surgery. His facial skin was pulled back so tight that his eyes were almost slanted. He actually looked Chinese.
"God almighty," Charlie said to no one.
The actress announcing the nominations was dressed in a sleek pants suit with a big diamond necklace and clunky diamond earrings. At 5:30 in the morning. She looked ridiculous. Perky and smiling, like a local morning newscaster. In contrast, the actor was clearly resentful that his agent had insisted he stay up virtually all night to make the announcements. He was surly, unshaven, bored.
Abruptly, the announcements began. With each name there were "ooooohhhs" and "aaaahhhs" from the television dimwits and the PR flacks. Everyone kept talking into their cell phones as the names were announced. Some of the television types behavcd as if it were D-Day. "Here’s a bulletin from our correspondent at the Academy…"
The Academy only released the top categories. Charlie’s mouth turned dry when they announced that the writers for his film were nominated. He started to breathe heavily. His heart was thumping.
They read the names of the actresses in the Best Supporting category. The second woman named was Margo. Actually, he applauded. She wasn’t even in his film. But he had done the publicity for one of Margo’s first films in the late 1970s, a lame imitation of Chinatown. Margo played the Faye Dunaway role. Although she wasn’t as good. She made five films, but then a serious heroin problem coupled with a case of MS killed her career. She disappeared. He sometimes wondered about her. Several years later he saw an ad in the Sunday New York Times’ theater section for an off-Broadway play. Margo was in the cast. Two more off-Broadway plays followed. Fox put her in a family sitcom where she played, essentially, Archie Bunker in a wheelchair. The bigoted grandmother who said all the wrong things about Latinos, blacks, Jews, gays, Muslims, the Pope, whomever. She stole the show. Margo had gained a lot of weight. She now walked with a cane. But she had, somehow, dealt with her demons. She won Emmys two years in a row and returned to Hollywood to make the dramatic movie that led to the nomination. She played a troubled mother who goes on a cross-country trip with her estranged daughter. Hardly a great film. But Margo played the role with heartbreaking sadness.
He wondered if she would even remember him.
He would look her up on Facebook and send her a congratulatory note.
The Best Director category was read. And when they announced Tom as a nominee for Best Director, the sweat began beading up on Charlie’s forehead. There was no nomination for Best Actor for the film. He knew the Academy wouldn’t nominate the pic’s male star. Whatever that guy once had — the handsome face, the blue eyes, the lopsided smile, the charm — all gone. They’d wanted a Harrison Ford-type, a movie star, but instead they’d cast this angry British prick who knew his career was over. He looked old and tired. He was losing his hair. He had sleep-walked through the part and was nasty to the crew. His next movie was a Netflix feature. And he wasn’t even the star.
Charlie knew Angela would be nominated for Best Actress. She dominated the film. Compared to her co-star, she was Audrey Hepburn. He wasn’t surprised when they announced her name first.
And then came Best Picture.
The names were read quickly. Charlie’s hands weren’t shaking. But his fingers were moving back and forth, a quirky tic. The two movies expected to be nominated were announced. And then the name of his movie was read to scattered applause.
Charlie just sat there. His shirt was wet with sweat. He was panting quickly. It took a minute before the phone rang. It was Mike, a PR guy at Warner Bros. They had once worked together on an Elizabeth Taylor bomb. They had lunch once a month in the Valley, which had made Charlie uncomfortable because he knew Mike was just being nice to him and hadn’t disappeared like most of his other friends when things slid downhill.
Charlie’s cell phone started ringing. It was Susan, his daughter. She was a senior at Barnard. He had never been a good father. He’d tried to make it up to her in recent years. And now she was calling to say how proud she was of him. He began to choke up. “I love you, sweetheart," he told her.
He checked his messages. A few emails. One from the director of photography on the film, a talented Israeli kid. Another email from the assistant director, who had commiserated with him during the tough days in Fort Worth when they made the film and the director was not only an asshole but abusive to the crew. Then an email appeared from the original writer: "We did it."
No calls or emails from the other producers, or the director or the stars. Charlie didn’t expect any. They had treated him dismissively, like hired help, even though it happened to be his film. He had nurtured the screenplay, found the studio and was on the set every fucking day.
The phone rang sporadically. But he turned it off and put on a new message: "I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. I’m celebrating." It made it appear as if he were swamped with congratulations. He sat and sipped the coffee which was cold by now. He should have been exuberant. But the small number of calls and emails were a letdown.
It was 7 am now. He went downstairs to go to Starbucks, his usual breakfast stop. He walked past the fire station and the large bin outside labeled "Clothes for the Homeless." People dropped unneeded garments in it. He had some old sweaters and shirts that no longer fit him because he had gained a few pounds. More than a few pounds. Two weeks ago, he put the castoffs in a black plastic bag and dropped it in the bin. It made him feel good. Someone would be grateful.
At Starbucks, he knew Randy, the kid behind the counter with the earring and the pink-streaked hair. Randy immediately filled up a large cup of black coffee. "Wasn’t that your movie?" Randy asked. Charlie smiled. "Hey man, congratulations," said Randy. "That’s a big deal."
Charlie reached into his pocket to pay Randy. But the kid said, “No way. Starbucks congratulates you."
Charlie nodded. It touched him. He was getting a free cup of coffee from this kid in pink hair and it made him feel… good.
Cup in hand, Charlie walked over to the circular table with chairs around it in the center of Starbucks. Usually, pain-in-the-ass kids sat there for hours working endlessly on laptops. Some of them were writing screenplays, of course. But at this time of the morning, the chairs were mostly empty. He sat down. The store was cluttered with weeks-old magazines — People and Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker. The free coffee tasted good.
He picked up a People magazine from three weeks ago. The cover was about one of the Kardashians, those jokes. Charlie tossed it. The magazine fell to the floor, splayed open to a different page, and his eyes fell on a photo of George Clooney. It was a Beverly Hills charity event and there, smiling at the camera with his beautiful wife, was George. And the caption began, "George Clooney, in a Tom Ford tuxedo…"
Staring at George Clooney — or rather George Clooney’s outfit – made Charlie’s mind think of something so strange, so uncharacteristic, so laughable: What was he going to wear to the Academy Awards?.
He would rent a tuxedo from the store on Wilshire. Cheap fabric tuxedoes. Big boxy shoulders. Who would care? He wasn’t a famous producer. He wasn’t a movie star. The paparazzi weren’t going to clamor to take his photo.
His cell phone was ringing. But he didn’t answer it.
What was he going to wear? What happens if the film wins and he gets in front of one billion people around the world. He couldn’t look like a loser. More importantly, he had to look like a winner.
I need to buy a tuxedo! I need to buy a tuxedo!
Charlie was just a producer, a struggling producer, a producer who had faced hard times. A producer like dozens, maybe hundreds, of other men and women who call themselves producers but work out of their shitty apartments in Hollywood or Mar Vista or Santa Monica. A producer who fantasized that he would find that one screenplay, the one project, that would work its way to to an A-list director who would bring in a star or two and find a studio only too happy to lay down $30 million or $40 million or maybe even $80 million and then make money around the world.
And then, God almighty, win an Oscar or two.
He finished the coffee. He bought a chocolate croissant and asked Randy to fill up the cup. He insisted on paying this time. He left Randy a $5 tip.
Charlie stared down at the photo of George Clooney. Or rather George Clooney’s tux. It looked perfect, of course. But George would look great in a clown’s outfit.
But… why not? Charlie would buy a Tom Ford tuxedo. He would wear it at the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild and the Producers Guild and every other boring awards ceremony that leads to the Academy Awards. And then he would wear it that night at the Dolby Theatre and if the film won — a slight possibility — he would stand before the world in this fabulous tux.
Charlie wasn’t poor. But he never knew when the next check would appear. He had been given a $150,000 fee for the film, with a promise of more paydays if the film won the Oscar and succeeded in Asia and Europe and Latin America. He had never earned this much before. He owed the final tuition bill for his daughter at Barnard, and a $25,000 debt to his brother, now a lawyer in New York. How much would be left?
But Charlie had to have that Tom Ford tuxedo.
He walked back to his apartment to shave and shower. He put on his newest suit, which he had probably bought ten years ago at a Barney’s sale. He buttoned up his white shirt. Put on his best shoes, a pair of black Italian loafers. He couldn’t look like a schlep going into Tom Ford’s. He got into his Toyota and drove to Beverly Hills. He laughed. He was obsessed.
Maybe he would stand up in front of a billion people, a successful Hollywood producer now. Give a brief bullshit speech thanking his co-producer, a fraud who’d never showed up on the set, and the once-talented director who had made a string of flops and was practically unhireable until this film came along. And he would thank the actress Angela, whom he had plucked out of oblivion but was spoiled and mean now.
Charlie parked in the underground lot on Dayton Way. He realized it was too early for the Tom Ford store to open. He went to Rosti and had a double espresso. He checked his voicemails: a few friends from New York, his former wife, his brother, the studio PR woman, a few producer-friends who were both envious and pleased. Also the kid executive who was assigned the picture and with whom Charlie had shared a hundred meals. Still no calls from his lawyer. His agent. The stars. The director.
He got to the Tom Ford store on Rodeo Drive ten minutes after it opened. The woman at the door, beautiful and sleek, pointed the way to the men’s department. The salesman’s name was Vincent. He had mocha skin and blue eyes and was probably the handsomest kid in L.A. People who looked like him didn’t have normal jobs. He was destined for modeling or the movies.
To Charlie’s surprise, Vincent turned out to be eager to assist him.
"I need a tuxedo," said Charlie..
"It’s the season," responded Vincent. "For the Oscars? I’ve already seen all the nominated films."
Charlie nodded. Why not tell him what film he had made? So he told him.
"Oh my God. I saw it at The Grove. I loved it," gushed Vincent. "You’re going to win."
Charlie didn’t care if Vincent was lying. He liked the kid.
Vincent pointed to the rack of tuxedoes. Mostly black. A few blue. And an orange. "I’ll skip that one," said Charlie. "Is it for Elton John?"
Vincent smiled. "You’d be surprised. We don’t sell many of these for the Oscars. But the Grammy’s — oh my God!"
Vincent narrowed his eyes and looked at Charlie up and down. "Now we have a fairly eclectic collection," the salesman said. "But I think for a man your age and build, we need something… slimming and elegant at the same time. Not boxy. But not too tight." Vincent touched one of the sleeves on a tuxedo jacket. "Here. Feel this. It’s the softest mohair and wool blend you can find." Vincent took the jacket off the hanger. "It has Tom Ford’s distinctive shawl collar. And look at these lapels. The satin is lustrous. And the inside of the jacket is silk-lined so it’ll fit perfectly over your shirt. Now what size are you?" Vincent asked.
Charlie tried on a few jackets. He stared at himself in the full-length mirror. Jeez, he needed a haircut.
Vincent finally found a jacket in who-knows-what size. "Now this one I like because it elongates your body. The shoulder is narrower and the padding softer. It’s modern. It’s classic. The buttons are covered in silk. We’ll open it at the waist just a bit."
Charlie wished Vincent would shut up about his weight.
Vincent opened a drawer and took out a photo of Tom Ford in a black tuxedo. "This is from last year’s Academy Awards. That’s the look we’re going for. See the turn-down collar shirt? It has three diamond studs and a large butterfly bowtie. Perfect. Of course you’ll need trousers," added Vincent. “You should try on a few. They’re exquisite Italian-crafted tailoring. The silk satin waistband adds a flattering silhouette. The entire ensemble will actually make you look taller and thinner."
Charlie was sure Vincent doesn’t tell George Clooney that he needs to look taller and thinner
"And you’ve got to finish it off with some Dunhill cufflinks and, of course, shoes. Do you have the right shoes?"
The kid was a good salesman. The subject of cost never came up. Actually, Charlie didn’t want to know. He wanted the entire ensemble. Head to toe.
Charlie handed Vincent his Mastercard, which was rejected because it was over the credit limit. Whatever the limit was. Vincent shrugged. "It happens a lot. Just call them now and straighten it out."
It was noon by the time Charlie walked out of the store onto Rodeo Drive. The tuxedo would be ready in three days. Charlie put the receipt in his wallet without looking at it. He wanted to celebrate. He walked to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and sat down at the bar. He ordered a martini. Finally, after all those down years, it was time for him to celebrate.
How many producers are there in Hollywood? Or, more to the point, how many people are there in Hollywood who call themselves producers?
Charlie had come to Hollywood from New York for a job as an assistant at one of the big PR firms representing movie stars. Within a year, he was handling several young TV actors. His client list grew. He expanded into the film business, which paid well. It also put him on 24-hour call to these spoiled brats. He saw them at their worst. Demanding. Childish. Entitled. Insecure. God, were they insecure. Even the stars who made $20 million or $30 million a film were frightened it was all going to disappear tomorrow.
The head of one of the big studios liked Charlie and urged him to come over and run publicity. The money was very good. The studio chief and Charlie –both Bronx boys — went to Lakers games and golfed at the Riviera and even took their then girlfriends for a weekend at an estate in Palm Springs once owned by Frank Sinatra.
The studio chief next urged Charlie to become a producer. “You’re a smart guy, you know movies, you know stars, you know agents. You’ll be a great producer.” Charlie’s first movie was a teenage comedy with two television actors who later became movie stars. It was successful. His second film, a black-and-white buddy picture about two bumbling cops who hunt down the leaders of a drug cartel, made even more money and was especially successful in Europe and Latin America.
Charlie was riding high until the studio chief got fired. His replacement purged the place of his predecessor’s appointees. Charlie’s contract wasn’t renewed. So he moved into his own small office on Sunset. He had made two successful films. Agents returned his phone calls.
But for reasons Charlie could never understand, his career went sour. The remake of the buddy film flopped. A western that resembled High Noon opened badly. Charlie returned to the teenage genre. But on the first weekend his film was pitted against a horror pic that got surprisingly high audience scores. The teenage movie opened dismally and disappeared after just two weeks.
His other projects came close to being greenlit. But one studio dithered so long that the star dropped out so the feature went into turnaround. The director of another film became embroiled in an under-age sex scandal. So that movie was abandoned. Another project was close to production until the screenwriter tossed a pitcher of water in the face of the director while they were having lunch in the studio commissary. It was the most watched YouTube for 24 hours. The project died.
Charlie had saved up money from his studio days and the first few films, and still had some of it left. But his career was on a downhill slide. Agents and studio executives didn’t answer his calls for days. Charlie became worried. The months without a film turned into years. There was an option here and there – a $25,000 payment each time — but the pics were put in turnaround.
He taught at UCLA film school for a while, and during awards seasons he was called by one studio to quietly help out on PR campaigns. He got a lecturing gig in, of all places, Mexico City where they treated him like Harvey Weinstein.
Back home, all the petty humiliations got to him. He could no longer get good tables at The Grill or Craig’s. He flew to New York in coach, and dreaded seeing the agents or producers or executives sitting in first class. Studio underlings half his age passed on his film ideas without so much as a meeting. ("Let’s talk on the phone instead.") He even enquired discreetly about returning to his old PR firm. Without explicitly saying so, the new owners indicated they were looking for younger reps.
From November to January, he met other producers like himself at Academy screenings where the studios fed everyone dinner afterwards. One night, Charlie looked around and saw all these producers piling their plates with sushi. He turned to a friend whose career was also struggling and declared, "This is Hollywood’s version of the Salvation Army.".
Charlie still received residual checks when those early films played on TV in places like Brazil and South Africa. Sure, money was tight. But he wasn’t desperate, like some other producers. It wasn’t about the money, really. It was about the seven or eight years of… nothing.
One Sunday afternoon, he went to a matinee of a play he had read about in the L.A. Weekly. Theater here was often ridiculous. The newspaper reviewers were pathetic. Plus, L.A. is a movie and TV town. But Charlie went to a 99-seat theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard and was startled at the power of the drama on stage. It was about a military veteran returning from Afghanistan and suffering from severe post-traumatic stress. But the vet was a young woman, which made it intriguing. And her problems masked even more serious problems in her early life which led to her breakdown in Afghanistan. An older Army doctor, with his own issues, helped her take the first steps to recovery. Half the audience was weeping by the end.
That Monday afternoon, Charlie was having lunch at Hugo’s with the author, a woman who had served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. She was shy, private and probably not unlike the woman in the play. Charlie knew it was a movie, a potentially terrific and timely feature. He asked her to start writing the screenplay on spec. By late Monday he was calling the various studios’ vice presidents who brought in the scripts for their bosses. The excitement in his voice led a couple of them to reluctantly agree to meet him and the writer.
At the very first meeting, as soon as the writer began pitching the play to the studio vice president, Charlie knew it was going to work. The president of production was fascinated and gave the writer a $10,000 advance for the screenplay. Charlie’s payday was the producer’s fee of $25,000.
It came together quickly after that. The writer completed the script, but the studio said it would need to hire a more experienced screenwriter to trim the dialogue. They all talked about actresses for the role and Charlie suggested they watch Angela in her TV series where she was Claire Danes, she was Julianna Margulies, she was Mariska Hargitay. The studio said they wanted a movie star, not a TV star. But Charlie insisted they see this actress.
And then came the news that made Charlie uneasy. He had envisioned a first-rate director. Bigelow. Zemeckis. Mendes. Payne. Boyle. Someone of substance. The president of production had other thoughts.
“You need a co-producer, Charlie,” he said one morning. "You can’t do this on your own."
"Why not?" challenged Charlie.
"Because we’re not going to spend $20 million on a film produced by a guy — as experienced as you are, Charlie — who hasn’t made a movie in ten years."
The president of production mentioned the names of Barry and Tom, a producer-director team that was, in Charlie’s mind, second-rate even when they’d made a few decent films years ago. They were now mostly producing for television.
"I don’t need Barry’s help," said Charlie. "You and I know, and the whole town knows, he’s a fucking fake."
The president of production just stared at Charlie. Finally, the exec said, "But the studio wants him, wants them." And, in a low voice, added, "The boss likes Barry." The president of production then tried to appease. "It’s your movie, Charlie. You got the actress you wanted. It’s a risk for us — not our usual movie — but we feel good about doing it."
Even with Barry and Tom.
Barry was a snake, a short guy with a loud voice, and a sleaze who had no taste in movies. He had a perpetual suntan. He dropped names like "Graydon" or "Ari" or "Ronnie." He was constantly being quoted in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. He said things like, "I was playing golf with Jack the other day at the Riviera." And he was always around — at the parties, at the premieres, even at the funerals. But he was a producer who didn’t show up to work on films. He had readers giving him two-page synopses for every script that came in so he wouldn’t have to read any. In fairness, he got some things done. He had a successful series on Lifetime. He sold a show to Netflix.
His partner Tom had made two films a while back that showed some promise. One had been nominated for Best Picture by the Golden Globes. But then he made two bad comedies in a row that lost money. He stopped getting decent scripts. He did a few Law & Order: SVU shows in New York. He helmed an episode of The Affair. He switched agents. And then Tom read the Afghanistan script.
The deal was on.
Charlie lived with the cast and crew in Fort Worth and Cincinnati for two months. He was always on the set. Which meant always resolving tensions been Tom and Angela, who had overnight become a nightmare. Everyone said she was just frightened. No, said Charlie. she’s a horror show.
Then the playwright left the shoot midway because the new screenwriter was making changes at the behest of the studio and they outraged her.
Barry never showed up once.
The first test screening of the movie was in Dallas and the scores went through the roof. Men loved it as much as women. There was a second screening in Phoenix. The same. By now, the studio was waking up from its stupor and hearing Oscar buzz. Online sites began dropping hints about it.
Charlie was at the studio every morning by 8 am. He worked until midnight. He oversaw everything: the musical score, the edits, the marketing meetings, the strategy for the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
Barry never called. It was Charlie’s baby.
Now it was awards season and Charlie went to the dinners — the boring, self-congratulatory, formal sitdowns held by the directors, the writers, the screen actors, the producers, for themselves. The film won Best Picture at two of the big events. Angela won Best Actress at all of them.
Charlie wore his Tom Ford black tuxedo. Several people said, "Charlie, you look terrific."
And then at the Golden Globes, something odd happened. It was going to be a triumphal night. But Charlie wasn’t sitting at the table with the co-producers and stars. He was sitting four tables away with the washed-up movie star receiving the Life Achievement award. He knew no one at the table. Yes, the studio had sent a limo to pick him up and drive him home. But he had a bad feeling. Charlie knew the studio PR man had lied when he’d said there were just not enough seats at the other table. On the way home, Charlie didn’t stop at any of the after-parties even though Angela and the director won top prizes. He didn’t feel like celebrating. Something was wrong.
Two weeks before every Oscars, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences holds a luncheon at a Beverly Hills hotel. Every nominee is introduced and has a group picture taken as if it were a high school graduation class. Charlie went to the reception desk to find his table number. It was #14. He looked at the little cards. Angela, Barry and Tom were at table #9.
Charlie had arrived early. He went in search of the president of the Academy. "Hey, Walter," Charlie said. Walter look at him with indifference and then Walter’s eyes wandered over Charlie’s shoulder. Walter’s mind was somewhere else. "Walter, I have a question,” Charlie continued. “I’m not sitting at the same table with the other folks from the film."
Walter looked down at the table card and explained. "We talked about this. When we announce the film on Oscar night, if you all win, then only three producers will go onstage. That’s the rule."
"We don’t want to look like the Tonys or the Emmys where 200 people run to the stage. Our limit is three."
"The three are Barry, Tom and Angela’s manager. That’s what the studio told me. Three. That’s the limit. Those are the names they gave me."
Charlie turned and walked into the dining room and sat down at table #9. In Barry’s seat. When the crowd began drifting in, he saw Barry wander over and look to sit down. "I think you’re in the wrong seat," Barry told Charlie.
"No," replied Charlie, "you’re in the wrong seat. Get the fuck away. I’m the producer of the film. This is bullshit."
Barry’s voice was steely. "You’re not the producer of the film, Charlie. You’re the executive producer. Next time get a good fucking lawyer to do your contract."
Charlie punched Barry in the face. Bloodied his nose. Chaos. Charlie simply turned and walked out. He called his lawyer who was supposed to have read his contract and said he would not pay one cent for such incompetence. Charlie next called the studio production chief, who’d already heard about the fight.
"Charlie," the exec said calmly, "I’m sorry. Barry was signed on as co-producer. Tom had a stipulation in his contract that, if the film were nominated, he would be the producer. And last week Angela called us. She claimed her manager had been instrumental in her taking the role and was entitled to get producer credit. Off-the-record, she has us by the balls. We just signed her to two more films."
"I’m going to the Producer’s Guild," said Charlie.
"That’s a useless exercise. Everyone in town knows it’s your film, Charlie."
"I’ll talk to the press," said Charlie.
"Let’s have lunch."
"You motherfuckers have stolen my credit."
"Next week. We’ll talk."
"No, I’m going to make this a big fucking deal "
But Charlie didn’t make it a big fucking deal. He was crushed.
The studio sent him a limo and a ticket to the Dolby Theatre. He sat ten rows behind the others. The film won the Best Adaptation writing award. Of course the hack who rewrote the play made a brief self-serving speech, while the playwright stood silently behind him.
Tom lost. Charlie was glad.
When Angela stepped onstage, she offered tearful and fake thank-yous to her mother, her acting coach, her agents, the veterans she met while preparing for the film. Finally, she thanked the director and the producers. She did mention Charlie’s name. He was grateful.
By the time, Julie Andrews walked on stage to present Best Picture — he had no idea why she was there except it was like the 200th anniversary of The Sound Of Music or something — Charlie stood up to leave during the live broadcast even though it wasn’t intermission. It caused a bit of a commotion.
Charlie didn’t care.
He walked outside to Hollywood Boulevard. He saw all the fans and, on impulse, turned east. He walked four or five blocks. He was tired. His head hurt. He passed the tourists and freaks. He felt lost. And then he saw the sign, Musso & Frank. He had not been there in years.
He walked into the bar. The young crowd was watching the post-Oscar nonsense and he turned away. To his relief, a guy at the end of the bar shouted, “Put on the Lakers game.”
Charlie didn’t know or care who won Best Picture. The bartender dutifully picked up the remote and changed the channel. The Lakers were, of course, losing. Charlie ordered a martini. Musso & Frank used to have great martinis. Because of his black tuxedo, Charlie got a few glances but no one bothered him. It seemed a safe refuge.
Charlie turned to the guy beside him. "Who won Best Picture?".
The guy named Charlie’s film.
Charlie nodded, sipping the martini. Charlie felt, for the first time, relieved. It was over. His weeks-long rage had subsided. Agents and studios knew he was tied to the film, although how many knew it was his film. Tomorrow was a new day. He’d wake up in the morning and go to Starbucks and then return home and make phone calls and maybe he’d find another project. And maybe he’d make some money out of this one. And maybe Barry would die in a car crash on the way to the Vanity Fair party.
Charlie didn’t notice her until she was just a few feet away.
It was Margo, gripping her Oscar. A twentysomething woman walked beside her. Margo still used a cane. Of course the Musso & Frank maitre d’ fell over himself to welcome the two women and escort them to a table.
That’s when Margo saw Charlie. Stared at him. "Charlie, is that you?"
He smiled. She had noticed him. "An older version," he said.
"Well, look at me, for God sake," she said and kissed him awkwardly. "Congratulations," she added.
"For the film," she said.
"It’s my film. But they fucked me over."
He didn’t mean to sound like that. It was a stupid thing to say. But Margo touched his shoulder. "Well, whatever they did, it’s your movie, right? Everyone knows it. And that’s a gorgeous tux you’re wearing. You look fabulous." Margo turned to the young woman beside her. "I want you to meet my daughter, who’s also my date for the evening. I wanted to show her the place I used to get drunk every night. In the bad old days." Margo was still beautiful. Heavier in the face and body. But she still had that throaty, sexy voice. "I actually wanted to take Sabrina to the old Hollywood where I used to go with my boyfriends. And I wanted her to try the cheese fondue."
"She’s been talking about the cheese fondue for days," interjected Sabrina, who looked like her mother. The same blue eyes, the same high cheekbones, the same smile. But she was more light-hearted. Margo’s dark side – visible in the eyes — made her, well, not a star but an appealing actress.
Margo said to Charlie, "Come, join us at the table. And thank you for your nice note."
Sabrina’s cell phone rang. She whispered into it.
"I can’t believe you remembered me," Charlie marveled. "I was just the PR guy –"
"You were the smartest PR guy I’d met. By the age of 25 or 26, I was so experienced that I already knew the smart guys, the creeps, the frauds, the good guys and the bad guys."
He had so many questions for her. But Margo turned to her daughter and said, “If you want to go now, I’ll Uber back to the hotel. You take the limo."
And to Charlie, Margo explained, "She’s been dying to go to the parties. I refuse. I wanted to come here, have a drink and a fondue, but then go back to the Beverly Wilshire." She turned to her daughter. "You take the invites. Just be back at the hotel by 5 am. And don’t believe a thing anyone tells you. They’re all scum." To Charlie, she said, "I have a 7 am flight. You’d think Fox would give me a day off." She said it with no anger. Margo turned to her daughter again. "You should thank my old friend, Charlie, for meeting us here. It’s because of him you’re free to go now."
Her daughter grinned. "Thank you, Charlie." She rushed off.
Margo looked at Charlie. "I actually knew you were fucked over," she said. "I read it online. One of those sites."
Charlie shrugged. He began to explain. But he stopped. "Hard to talk about."
Quite suddenly, tears came to his eyes. He was so humiliated.
"Everyone gets fucked over, Charlie," Margo said matter-of-factly.
He didn’t know what to say in return. "I’m so pleased for you," he told her. "You made it. You survived."
"You know why I didn’t get fucked over?" she asked. Just then, the waiter came with their martinis. She took a sip. "I had no illusions about Hollywood. Everyone else does. I had no fantasies. I know what this place is. So nothing surprises me. You hear what I’m saying?"
Charlie looked at her. He thought he knew what Margo meant.
"You know I was born here," she said. "Unlike everyone else in town. And my mother was a monster. A true monster. Joan Crawford was nothing compared to Mom." Margo smiled. "I worked in Hollywood from the time I was three. I had no childhood, no friends, no life. And a greedy, evil mother. Is it a wonder I had a heroin problem? I’ve seen the place at its worst. You have no idea, Charlie. You think you know this town, you don’t. I self-destructed just to get even with Mom. She died in the Motion Picture Home. Alzheimer’s. I visited her once. I told her how much I hated her and how much I wanted her to die. She understood. I walked out. Never saw her again."
Margo sipped her martini. The fondue arrived. She smiled at Charlie. "Shall I repeat myself? Everybody gets fucked over here."
"I got lucky. I was unemployable. I fled to New York. I went into rehab. I got out. I actually lived on unemployment for six months. Food stamps. That’s right, food stamps. Then one little play came. And a second and a third. And someone from Fox saw me and put me in the series. Now I own a home in the West Village that cost me $800,000 and it’s worth $5 million. The show’s in syndication. I won some Emmys. And here I am. Eager to get out of L.A. as soon as I can."
She looked at the Oscar in her hand. She smiled..
"How are you feeling now?" he asked.
“Stable. Thanks." She laughed. "For the Oscars, the studio actually wanted me to go on the Today show with not one but two canes. For the sympathy vote. I said, `Why not a wheelchair?’ So I went on with two canes. How could they vote against me?"
"I voted for you," Charlie said.
"The point is I have no illusions about this place, about the Oscars, about the Golden Globes, about the Screen Actors Guild. All lies. And frauds. And mean people." She drained her martini and ordered another. "Don’t have any illusions about anyone, Charlie. Expect the worst. Like me. If you expect the worst, you’ll survive."
Later that night, in his apartment, Charlie finally turned on his iPhone. There were at least twenty emails. Simply because he’d been mentioned at the Oscars. He had enough money for a while. To keep afloat. He had a meeting in a few days with a screenwriter just out of USC on a story about a group of college kids who accidentally murder a fraternity pledge. It was a so-so idea. He would go to an old-time studio executive he knew and pitch it. Otherwise the cupboard was bare. But he never knew who would call tomorrow.
He thought of Margo. No illusions. Expect the worst. Survive.
He took off his Tom Ford tuxedo and unbuttoned his shirt and went to bed in his underwear. But he couldn’t sleep. Every day was a new start. That’s the life of a producer. He heard Margo’s voice. He got out of bed and took the suit, the shirt, the tie and even the shoes and put them into a black plastic bag. He opened his wallet and looked at the receipt: $9,780.
He put on jeans with a t-shirt and walked to the fire station. It was 3:15 am. No one was around. He saw the bin. "Clothes for the Homeless." He dropped the black plastic bag into the bin and walked back into his apartment building.
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