A commenter thinks he can do better than the newspaper’s lead film critic. 2,681 word. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Griswold had promised himself never to look at the online comments to his reviews, but he heard the snickering all over the newsroom so he finally had to see for himself. It was his review of a supposedly feminist comedy that featured such empowering scenes as projectile vomiting in the middle of a wedding, and then went downhill from there. He had condemned the flick as the witless and moronic trash that it was. It made $100 million on opening weekend.
“Shouldn’t comedies be assigned to reviewers who actually have a sense of humor? Or a life?” was one of the kinder remarks.
Many were personal attacks on the person they imagined Griswold to be: “He’s apparently too cool for the room. Go back to your decaf almond milk lattes and leave hilarious comedies like Sisters Of The Bride to a critic who doesn’t have his head up his ass.” Some attempted to be clever: “My idea of the date from hell: going to see this movie with Griswold. While all of us are laughing our heads off, he’s choking on his own bile.” A few were so profane or threatening that they were “removed by moderator for violation of rules.”
And then this comment caught his eye: “Reviews like yours are the problem with modern film criticism. You’re so obsessed with the bodily function gags that you can’t appreciate how the editing cleverly juxtaposes the protagonist’s conflicted feelings about her wedding with her incestuous interest in her maid of honor. This was patently obvious to anyone actually watching the film. Perhaps you should focus on what’s on screen instead of that tub of popcorn…”
Griswold was startled. He rarely ate popcorn at the movies. When seeing four or five films a week, such indulgence would have quickly made it impossible for him to fit into the seat to do his job. However, knowing what he was in from the hack who had directed this one, Griswold had decided to order a box. But how could this commenter have known that unless he or she was at the private press screening?
EXCLUSIVE: Michael Tolkin debuts the beginning of his novel-in-progress about a veteran executive’s humiliation when he has to start over in Hollywood. 2,974 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Chapter 1 – Out With A Scream
For thirty-five years, I was the right hand man to John Brine Trubb, the legendary producer who would have been immortal if he hadn’t died. I had the privilege of being at the old man’s side when he went out with a scream. It’s the great puzzle of Rosebud that no one was in the room to hear Kane’s last word, but three of us were there to hear the Trubb’s final adios. JBT’s attorney, Redoubtable Maize, always too fancy with his allusions, heard in the old man’s dying expression the horror of Don Giovanni dragged into Hell at the foot of the Commendatore’s statue, agony after defiance. JBT’s special friend Auspicia Renn, his Abishag, said that it was the sound her rather older lover made when he was in ecstasy on Ecstasy. A logical guess, but wrong; from my catbird seat forward of the curtain that hid his day/nite bed on the Gulfstream, I knew too well the shape of the sordid bellow she was able to draw out of him and I can arbitrate the credit for his final yodel; she loses. No, JBT’s death shout was a blend of the old man’s two favorite moments in all of cinema, opening with the start of the cattle drive in Red River, the close ups of cowboys waving their hats in the air, calling Yee-Haw! And blended with the "Yah-hoo!" at the end of Dr. Strangelove, when the great Western actor Slim Pickens rides the nuclear warhead out of the bomb bay, setting off the end of the world. I kept this observation to myself, as JBT would have wanted. “Hum this every morning when you brush your teeth: never share your personal taste,” he used to say to the people he knew in the business, the people who looked up to him. It was a ridiculous mantra, bad advice, meant to send his enemies, which meant all of you, in pursuit of wasting someone else’s money. Pursue failure. That was the message inside the advice however justified by the circumstances. He had plenty of good advice, too, look at what he did, but he never shared it, not even with me.
The funeral service was austere but per his manifesto, surprisingly well catered for a crowd of three hundred or so, although I had no appetite after my first pass at the pastry table, when attorney Redoubtable took me aside. When his first words were, “Look, Martin,” I could have written the rest of what he said, or hired a writer to do it, at scale.
An ambitious scripter rethinks his relationship with his writing partner when they can’t see eye to eye. 4,233 words. Illustrations by Mark Fearing.
They had been sitting in this airless room for six hours and the empty spaces in the conversation were becoming unbearable, at least for Alex. The morning session had passed with the usual peaks and valleys but by now time had slowed like the last half hour of algebra class. Alex was enough of a pro that he tried not to let his boredom seep into his partner’s creative process, but for the last three or so months he’d been fighting a losing battle to disguise his disgust with their lack of progress. For a second he found comfort in a fantasy where he sprinted out the door screaming, “I’ve spent my whole life with people who don’t exist!”
But instead Alex corkscrewed his 62-year-old spine, realizing the too-comfortable chair he was anchored to neutralized his caffeine rush from an hour ago. His interior rant about fictional characters was, in screenwriter parlance, First Thought Theatre, a bad idea that built a bridge to a more workable one. He had to leave, but a tantrum would be counterproductive. His frustration needed to be dramatized with nuance. So Alex strode along the wall of framed movie posters to the office’s lone window and cranked it open, letting in a slight, cool breeze that carried signs of life from the street three stories below, hoping to lure Santiago’s thoughts to the outside world.
Santiago was sprawled on a convertible sofa that had yet to be used as a bed. He started to speak and then stopped, discarding his idea mid-sentence, further irritating Alex. As the only one in the room with an IMDb film credit, Alex’s primary job was to pitch ideas. Santiago’s was to evaluate their worth. This was teamwork, although there was an unacknowledged competition that occasionally resulted in Santiago’s bruised ego. Alex was the pliable one — the matador, not the bull. Alex was also the manipulative one since it was relatively easy for a writer with his acumen and experience to come up with suggestions with a minimum of effort. Occasionally, he even sat on a good idea till he felt Santiago was ready to hear and understand it. Once, at a dinner party, Alex sat across from a cardiologist who asked him where he got his ideas. “It wasn’t coming up with ideas that was difficult, it was eliminating the ones that got in the way.”
Even though he wasn’t born into wealth like his Dominican benefactor, Alex had worked hard to give himself the bearing of a New England preppy, and every woman he had ever dated thought he was two inches taller than he measured. Santiago, with his hunched posture and endless involuntary burping due to a lack of rigorous exercise, looked like a character actor in a sci-fi B movie who advised the handsome lead on the chances of survival if they took the shortcut through the meteor storm. Santiago was 90% blind in one eye and completely blind in the other since his Caribbean boating accident at age eight, one that cost his twin brother his life. So even though he knew what most things looked like, he had to visualize them from distant memory. This enabled him to add distortion to visual concepts that on rare occasions produced a happy screenwriting accident, lifting them out of the realm of the mundane. But most of time Santiago was just rampaging in Alex’s china shop of ideas.
This new mogul may be expert in Big Media business but now he’s being schooled by the art world. 2,819 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Luck was with Pincus “Pinky” Peterman that day. Here he was, CEO and the largest shareholder of one of the biggest entertainment conglomerates in the world, including a film studio, television network, and a lot of new Silicon Valley ventures he didn’t totally understand. And now he’d acquired a prized online news service. Immediately some CNBC analysts said once again he’d purchased at too high a price. At first Pinky was hurt and depressed. After 24 hours, he snapped out it. He may have overpaid for what he’d bought so far, but he’d also learned a lot. An education, he realized, always comes at a price. Besides, he was the newest Big Media mogul and about to enjoy it.
Tonight, he found himself at a posh dinner party seated next to the most exquisite leggy blonde he’d ever seen. Not bad for a 48-year-old guy from Merrick on Long Island, he thought to himself, enjoying the view as his dinner partner shifted in her seat and allowed her skirt to ride up a little further so he could see what pleasure lay beneath.
Then the impossible happened. Somewhere between the appetizer and the main course, this vision named Natasha Rostova ran her fingers lightly down his thigh. Could he dare to imagine what would happen later? Peterman knew he was short, paunchy, and balding and that this was happening because his hostess had told Natasha that he was powerful and worth billions of dollars. But he didn’t care. His heart — and other parts — were pounding in rhythmic overdrive.
As Natasha lifted her manicured fingers from his thigh, she handed him a card which announced that she was the director of the Michael Simeon Gallery. As it happened, Pinky’s decorator had just started his huge new Holmby Hills home, and there were lots of bare walls crying out for art. After all, he was a mogul now and needed all the high-end accoutriments.
He suggested that Natasha check out his needs — all of them — by having dinner with him at the house the following evening.
HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST SERIES – On November 24-25, 1947, forty-eight studio moguls surrendered to HUAC’s Red-baiting. 2,492 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
As a hotel employee of some 20 years, Nino was used to keeping the secrets of guests. But this was the first time they ever made him swear to it on a copy of the Old Testament. The request came as he was setting up his bar in the third floor function room of New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria. Nino knew this wasn’t a drinking crowd; if anything, they were a complaining crowd. Because whenever the Hollywood moguls stayed at the swank hotel, they bitched that business was always bad no matter how much money they were making. He recognized some of the guests from their previous visits as one powerful executive after another entered, many greeting each other in Yiddish.
A spread in Life magazine had come out that morning entitled “The Movie Hearings.” Written by Sidney Olson, the article purported to reveal how Reds were trying to take over the movies, and why the House Un-American Activities Committee had summoned a galaxy of star witnesses to expose the supposed conspiracy. Many during the October 10-20 hearings had testified willingly — but others had noisily defied the commiittee, triggering the gavel of HUAC Chairman J. Parnell Thomas. Ten writers, directors, and producers who had refused to discuss their beliefs and associations were called The Hollywood Ten. Now the suite was filling with film studio brass who not only had been friendly witnesses but also shared the HUAC Chairman’s impatience with the First Amendment.
“We’re not supposed to be here,” warned Barney Balaban, the President of Paramount Pictures. “When you get the heads of all the movie companies in one room, it’s called restraint of trade.”
“Who’s restraining trade?” asked Harry Cohn, the President and Production Director of Columbia Pictures. “We’re just talking business.”
HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST SERIES – A superstar couple with a secret grapples with HUAC’s purge of Communists inside the movie industry. 4,474 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
“How’s this? Take my right side, fellas. That’s always my best side.”
Grant Strickland and his actress wife Lili Reynolds stood on the U.S. Capitol steps posing before a crescent of jostling still photographers as dozens of fans waved and reporters shouted questions.
“Grant, are there any Communists in the movie industry?” asked one newsman over the din. Strickland and Reynolds hooked arms and leaned toward each other for the press photographers.
“I’m not into ‘isms,’” the actor replied with a chuckle, “—unless it’s capital-ism!”
“And what about you, Lili? How do you feel about your husband appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee today?” another reporter called out. “Are you nervous?”
The former chorus girl who became one of Hollywood’s biggest draws as the sassy dame-next-door type whom men adore glanced up at her husband and then back at the questioner. “I’m here to support Grant — and also our industry.”
Given the seriousness of the HUAC hearings, though, she ignored shouts to dip her chin and show off her steely sultriness.
“Grant, what do you think of these hearings?” asked another reporter standing at the back of the horde.
HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST SERIES – Decades after the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee held hearings, a son confronts his father’s accuser. 4,692 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
We were halfway through Silas Raymond’s funeral when I realized that the fellow mourner I had been struggling to recognize was the man who had blacklisted my father. Two days later, I saw him again at Musso & Frank’s. He sat alone in a booth, watching the door as if he expected J. Edgar Hoover to burst in and arrest him. Then I thought, no, they won’t arrest him, they’ll arrest the people he named to Silas Raymond’s Motion Picture Industry Council.
Silas Raymond was the most notorious Red-baiter of the witchhunt era. Even though he didn’t sit on the House Un-American Activities Committee, he walked in goose-step with them. He said he could spot a Red within five minutes, and he decimated Hollywood’s creative community with a campaign of intimidation, guilt by association, and outright lies. That’s why I went to his funeral back in 1995; I wanted to make sure the son of a bitch was dead.
They planted him at the stroke of noon (though the stroke of midnight would have been more fitting) at Forest Lawn, and I remembered thinking that the low turnout for such a one-time heavyweight wasn’t because he was forgotten. It was because he’d outlived all of his friends and most of his enemies. I was one of the latter.
I behaved myself during the services, even though I wanted to put a stake in his heart right there in one of Forest Lawn’s smaller chapels. I needed to see who would show up to honor him. Among his handful of mourners were, appropriately, his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
And Marcus Gottfried.
That was the name I finally connected with the face. A former film director, he was now in his low eighties, twenty years older than my father was when he died. We swapped glances during the services and then went our separate ways. Maybe he was wondering who I was, too.
A film editor gets the opportunity of a lifetime with the world’s greatest director. 4,163 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
I liked Martin from the get-go. He was extremely polite, with an unexpected sense of humor, and eyes so intelligent and intense that most people feared him. Fortunately, I had grown up around a man with fierce eyes, my grandfather. Being his favorite, I was the only one of his grandchildren permitted to sit on his knee and – privilege of privilege – play with his beret.
This day of my interview to work at Kaleidoscope Studio, Martin was wearing a checkered brown and white shirt and brown corduroy pants, but no beret. Not that day.
“May I ask a question?” I say. He nods. “Why am I here?”
Martin breaks into laughter. “We have three films and three films in trouble,” he declares. His producers Forest and Gary nod in agreement.
Martin wants to take me on a tour of the studio. Once outside, something quite weird happens. He points to a black bicycle leaning against a wall.
“Come on the bike.”
Martin repeats, “Come on the bike.”
“I haven’t done this since I was two years old,” I tell him. But I jump on the front of the bike and off we go.
A woman’s boyfriend gets seduced by Hollywood. Will he take her along for the ride? 2,277 words. Illustrations by Thomas Warming.
Until that day I had never been to Hollywood, and I still have never met Jeremy Botz with the red hair, not really. He was an A minus celebrity, the street cred version of a producer. Two thirds of the people I’d mention his name to would say, “Jeremy Botz? Who’s that?” And when I told them, they’d nod their heads and say, “Oh yeah, that guy.” So he commanded respect. OK, props. But he still ruined my relationship.
It started casually enough. My boyfriend Brody had this friend – an actor, “super talented,” whose work “showed his diversity.” Anyway, this actor showed Brody’s novel to Jeremy Botz who got a major hard on for it and informed the actor that Brody’s novel “had Sundance written all over it.” Published over a decade earlier, it was a roman a clef about a writer who develops severe agoraphobia after his divorce.
It sold well enough. There was buzz — not bee buzz, more like fly buzz — but still buzz. There were even write-ups, the kind that are sufficiently impressive like Vanity Fair or The Guardian. Brody managed to never sound like he was humble-bragging when he brought these up, thank god, just regular bragging. With a big personality like Brody had, he could get away with shameless bragging because people assumed he was being self-deprecating somewhere deep inside even though he wasn’t. It’s the best way to network.
Mr. Botz sent emails on the regular about turning the book into an independent film because he really liked Brody’s “juvenile yet scathingly sardonic sense of humor.” Then Brody told me that Jeremy Botz — “get this” — really liked his “juvenile yet scathingly sardonic sense of humor.”
But, before I continue, let me explain about Brody and me.
A female screenwriter heeds her agent’s social media advice with unexpected results. 1,029 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Truth is stranger than fiction, but nothing is stranger than Twitter. Which is too bad because I might be spending the rest of my life here.
That’s right. I’m a successful screenwriter, stuck in Twitter. Find me. @GinaS
Correction: Truth not stranger than fiction, just way more stupid. Especially here in Hollywood.
Backstory: I’m Gina, 42, and I’m good. Writing creds: 2 dramas right out of USC, 3 romcoms and new script (all-girl theft ring on cruise ship).
Beating the odds, right? WGA 2015 stats say 89% screenwriters male. And over 40? Well, I can’t even. But I, Gina Sampson, was nailing it.
Also had boyfriend with no kids, no exes and no mommy issues. At 42. BOOM!
But no, not good enuf for my agent (male). Pious confabs urging Hollywood diversity just made him scared of losing the beach house.
Instead of encouraging me with new Meryl Streep program funding over-40 women in H’wood, my male agent just got more spooked.
So, wait for it: my agent (56, b’day party at Sugarfish) pulls me aside to say I’d seem more youthful if I had more Twitter followers.
Smash cut to me throwing up my yellowfin.
An ex-studio boss hosts Hollywood’s hottest acting couple at a dinner party that turns disastrous. 4,268 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Ben Robbins was sitting at his desk, considering the best approach to take with Rob Tracey. Many in Hollywood had tackled this test. Few had passed.
Tracey was nothing if not elusive. He had been pursued for many projects over many years. Early on, he had learned always to say yes. So he did. The most seasoned veterans would heed his siren song. Even those who knew that “yes” was his fallback position could not resist. Having Tracey star in a movie was worth any amount of effort. Years were lost, sometimes the entire project, as filmmakers tried to get a script into the shape he wanted. He seemed far too young to have enticed so many pictures onto rocky shoals.
But getting him from that first “yes” to the first day of shooting could prove a treacherous, even deadly, effort for any project.
Tracey, was a serial enthusiast, warming up to an idea quickly, only to drop it without a backward glance. That’s what lawyers are for. He was a master juggler – keeping projects in various stages of limbo, as directors or producers or studio executives or other bankable stars waited for him to decide up or down on moving forward.
He was the Svengali of reworking. Subplots were changed, or added, or subtracted; supporting roles beefed up – unless they cut, changed from men to women or women to men. Or he might want the location shifted to Europe or China or New York, with appropriate supporting roles and accents gained or lost; or moved from mountains to coastline or small town to megalopolis – or the reverse. He might need key plot points re-focused or details blurred. Or positive traits made provocative, or negative traits written out.
Many movies had improved during this process of trying to lure him in – emerging as better iterations. Some hadn’t. Projects could be caught in the Tracey quagmire for years, only to be substantially overhauled for another actor or actresses. But many other projects died waiting for him to commit.
A meditation on what it means to be the lens watching U.S. culture – even if you’re foreign. 1,757 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
A movie star had died. It used to be these things were good money, plus a relatively easy “get.” You had to have connections, sure, have been around for a while to make your way into the location, but Mick was an old hand and had been around since, what, 2007? The business was getting tougher.
Mick was from Slovenia. He had the body of a broken pen – slim, slightly twisted and with something coursing through it but it wasn’t always blood. He was a good paparazzo. The language barrier had hurt and helped him. It made him determined to listen, hear even the syllables, keep them straight: aah, eeh, eek, ooh. Also, to keep his receptors out at all times. He hadn’t always liked celebrities but he’d grown to do so, and even when he didn’t like someone — did anyone really enjoy working with Jonah Hill, Robert Downey? — at least he knew all their names. The shooting was a way to be independent at the same time that it paid the rent. If Mick had heard of legend Ron Galella, which he hadn’t, he might have felt a sense of tradition, even artistry. But he didn’t. Still, it wasn’t a bad gig. America was working for him.
The funeral was to take place at Westwood Memorial. He’d heard on E! that it was Hollywood Forever but no, Memorial was the place; his friend Rupert had confirmed it.
Rupert was another pap, and an ally most of the time. Mick himself got the name of the valet there — hey, you had to do leg work — and Mick told Jecky, I will help you if you help me. The words had been wrong, cracked in places of course, but Jecky didn’t care. Jecky would give him the go-ahead for a cool $250. Mick knew it might be a slice of profit but he would just have to up his game.
Nobel Prize-winning author and screenwriter William Faulkner wrote one short story about Hollywood: a 1930s real estate tycoon is driven to drink after his daughter becomes a scandalous starlet. First of two parts. 3,555 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
If he had been thirty, he would not have needed the two aspirin tablets and the half glass of raw gin before he could bear the shower’s needling on his body and steady his hands to shave. But then when he had been thirty neither could he have afforded to drink as much each evening as he now drank; certainly he would not have done it in the company of the men and the women in which, at forty-eight, he did each evening, even though knowing during the very final hours filled with the breaking of glass and the shrill cries of drunken women above the drums and saxophones the hours during which he carried a little better than his weight both in the amount of liquor consumed and in the number and sum of checks paid that six or eight hours later he would rouse from what had not been sleep at all but instead that dreamless stupefaction of alcohol out of which last night’s turgid and licensed uproar would die, as though without any interval for rest or recuperation, into the familiar shape of his bedroom, the bed’s foot silhouetted by the morning light which entered the bougainvillaea-bound windows beyond which his painful and almost unbearable eyes could see the view which might be called the monument to almost twenty-five years of industry and desire, of shrewdness and luck and even fortitude: the opposite canyon-flank dotted with the white villas half hidden in imported olive groves or friezed by the sombre spaced columns of cypress like the facades of eastern temples, whose owners’ names and faces and even voices were glib and familiar in back corners of the United States and of America and of the world where those of Einstein and Rousseau and Esculapius had never sounded.
He didn’t waken sick. He never wakened ill nor became ill from drinking, not only because he had drunk too long and too steadily for that, but because he was too tough even after the thirty soft years; he came from too tough stock, on that day thirty-four years ago when at fourteen he had fled, on the brake-beam of a west-bound freight, the little lost Nebraska town named for, permeated with, his father’s history and existence, a town to be sure, but only in the sense that any shadow is larger than the object which casts it. It was still frontier even as he remembered it at five and six: the projected and increased shadow of a small outpost of sod-roofed dugouts on the immense desolation of the plains where his father, Ira Ewing too, had been first to essay to wring wheat during the six days between those when, outdoors in spring and summer and in the fetid half dark of a snowbound dugout in the winter and fall, he preached. The second Ira Ewing had come a long way since then, from that barren and treeless village which he had fled by a night freight to where he now lay in a hundred-thousand-dollar house, waiting until he knew that he could rise and go to the bath and put the two aspirin tablets into his mouth.
The life of an actress isn’t all glamour and money. Often it’s about humiliation. 2,029 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
So one morning later in the month, I was again facing the relentless onslaught of overdue bills. And once again, I faced an unpayable mortgage. I managed to stretch a few paltry residuals and my unemployment benefits to cover my cell bill, utilities and the minimum payments on my credit card balances. It struck me that “balance” was an interesting word to call mounting debt. What would they call it once it came tumbling down all around me? Bankruptcy, I guessed. Foreclosure.
My chest began its now-too-familiar objection to thoughts of financial matters and squeezed in on itself while my heart sped to a dangerous pace. I tried some exercises to prevent the stroke that I was certain was coming, but I couldn’t even get air to fill my lungs let alone the deep breaths I’d been taught in yoga classes. I was becoming light-headed.
Then the phone rang. It was my agent, Kim.
“Hi, Ruby, good news! I have an audition for you. It’s a new show. Something about cops with ESP versus vampire teens. It’s actually called Sexy Dicks With ESP Vs. Gangster Vampire Teens.”
“You have to be kidding me.”
“It’s a Mentalist/Sopranos/Twilight hybrid with amazing buzz. You’re lucky I was able to get you in.”
It’s his first Hollywood job. So his film producer boss changes his life – but not for good. Part One. 3,498 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“This is Cara in Arielle Castle’s office. Is this Scott?”
“So you’re looking for a job?”
I jumped out of my seat, suddenly extremely conscious of the fact that I was wearing nothing but boxer shorts. It was 104 degrees in Burbank and, despite what the advertising tells you, they don’t have air-conditioning in every unit at the Oakwood Apartments. I wanted to be in “the business” more than anything. When people told me it was a brutal industry and that I should try something else, it just made me want it more. My parents had told me in no uncertain terms that I had better get a job, and soon. "Because," my mom had said, ‘your father and I are only paying that exorbitant $1,050 for a studio apartment for one more month." I wondered if Arielle Castle had air conditioning in her office.
“Yes. Absolutely,” I answered, quickly navigating my laptop to IMDb.com. I typed in “Arielle Castle.” I had applied for hundreds of jobs online: the UTA job list, EntertainmentCareers.net, studio job portals – you name it. This was the first time anyone had called back.
“Can you come in for an interview tomorrow at 11 a.m.?”
“Yes. I would love — That would be great. Yes. Thank you,” I sputtered, scanning Arielle Castle’s list of credits. There were 29 of them – nearly one movie a year for the past three decades, including some major franchises and Oscar winners. She was always credited as “Associate Producer”.
“Okay. Arielle will meet you at her house. It’s 974 Knob Tree Avenue, Sherman Oaks.”
Book excerpt from the Monty Python legend: a wisecracking, ambitious and horny film/TV comedian goes to a pitch meeting. 4,096 words. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Los Angeles – January 2003
My name is Stanley Hay and I’m a professional writer. I write movies, I write sitcoms, and I write gags for TV shows. You may have heard some of them. “I believe in the separation of Church and Planet.” That was mine. Caused quite a stir. I don’t mean to cause trouble. It just seems to be what I do best. I make a pretty decent living writing and rewriting, but I have always wanted to write a novel, and this year, in January 2003, I decided it was time.
It didn’t quite turn out the way I’d planned.
Steve Martin says that the problem with fiction is you’ll be happily reading a book, and all of a sudden it turns into a novel. You should hear the way he says that. “It goes all novelly.” He’s a hoot, Steve. He cracks me up. It’s the way he says things. “Alllll novelly.” But it’s true isn’t it? That is the problem with novels. They are so palpably fiction. Maybe we’re a bit sick of plots with stories and characters, the usual bull. Oh she’s going to end up in bed with him. He’s going to do it with her. They’re all going to run away and join the navy … After all we’ve been reading books for centuries and watching movies and TV for years, and we’ve sat through hundreds and thousands of tales by the time we’re adults, so we know all about plot twists, and sudden reversals of fortune, and peripeteia and all that Aristotelian shit they cram into you at college. But real life doesn’t have a plot, does it? It just kinda rambles on.
So that’s what I set out to write. A reality novel. A novel about a Hollywood writer who is writing a novel about a Hollywood writer writing a novel about Hollywood.