An ex-studio boss tries to cast a crazy music superstar in the first film he’s producing. 3,704 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Ben had been working on Art Manning, hard, for almost a week now.
They had done business together in past, since Manning was a powerful lawyer whose roster of A-list clients could set a deal in motion and often helped close it. He was regarded as a combative litigator, but also as a top-notch negotiator – something not always said about powerful entertainment attorneys.
When Manning came in to negotiate a deal, he never inadvertently killed it. He was not one of those lawyers whose art collections were more celebrated than their legal skills.
Ben knew that many industry lawyers were only too happy to have Manning in on a negotiation. It was one way of assuring that they would get the best possible pay-out for their client – as long as they were on the same side of the table as Manning.
Now Ben needed help for the new independent production company he was starting. He didn’t want to admit it, but he’d been unnerved by his most recent industry party. He had never thought that roughly a third of his guests would leave once he was no longer head of a studio. Was this something he needed to worry about now? Should he prepare for a life of slights? His name falling off an important agent’s call list? Never making it to the top of the queue to buy a Gursky? Ben cut off this line of thought. It was a waste of time. He had built his many relationships over years of doing business. Relationships were what mattered in Hollywood. People would always take his calls.
This picture was a good starting point. It would grab that attention of everyone in town. Over the years, many different directors and producers had tried to set up this script. But it had eluded, even stumped, them all.
Ben was certain that he had the key. Howard would make it work. Ben decided that it was going to take longer than he had planned to assemble a deal. A slog, not a quick march. But he had the skills – and patience – required to win. And winning was all that mattered.
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Salvador Dali flew crosscountry to have sex with Mae West. But could he? 2,648 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Mae West, shop-worn goddess of stage and screen, was in deep Tinseltown hibernation. Whenever her name was mentioned, though it seldom was, the masses dimly recalled a tough Brooklyn babe who cracked wise. Flesh-and-blood Mae had started screwing at twelve and never got what she wanted, or not enough. Whoever still wanted her really only wanted an idea of sexual freedom that had nothing to do with sex or freedom. Sex, ideas and freedom vanish the instant they become story, image, memory. They don’t come back. Mae’s sexual moment was long gone.
A certain crowd still worshipped her, but invisibly, and in silence. Mae depended heavily on dinner invitations from interior decorators, but even those had grown fewer and farther in-between. She often went to bed hungry, but Hollywood tourists still asked for autographs whenever she went out for a toddle around the block. Her rooms at the Ravenswood Apartments on Rossmore Boulevard remained firmly in place on the Movie Star Homes map.
However dark and cold the Hollywood night, Mae West was still a star.
Not many people knew that Salvador Dalí was a fantastic driver. He could’ve given Juan Miguel Fangio a run for the money, but brush and pigment were a better escape from hard reality than pistons, spark plugs and gasoline. Hard reality, in Dali’s case, was erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. Hard reality drove Dalí insane. His sexual obsessions drove him to Los Angeles.
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An aging actor down on his luck is hoping to become a kept man. 2,798 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
It came down to the two Ks. Either one would do and Rubi had little preference at this point.
There was Kristen. A soft-spoken, senior partner in the entertainment law firm her deceased husband had founded. The same firm who used to represent Rubi back when he needed dealmakers. Her hair was long and reddish blond.
And then there was Kate. Her hair was short, stylish and black. This trust fund baby was on the board of every museum in Miami. She had swagger, not to mention a five bedroom condo on the 44th floor of Zaha Hadid’s new downtown tower, a palatial home in the Gables, a four bedroom condo at the Ocean Reef Club on Key Largo, and a cabin on a mountainside in North Carolina decorated impeccably in mid-century modern.
Kristen’s big advantage was that she was absent from her penthouse ten hours a day. Her eye-opening terrace overlooked the Port of Miami with its humongous floating buffet boats that moved with the precision of a clock as they docked on Fridays and set sail on Sundays. Rubi could imagine having her place all to himself until she returned from work when they would enjoy a cocktail hour that stretched well past 8 pm. The perfect capper on a day he spent doing nothing but walking Kristen’s annoying little dog before primping for the night. And although Kate was the more attractive of the two, Kristen even though she had just turned 59 was more creative in bed than her slightly younger competition.
A plus in the Kate column was that she could speak four languages when she and Rubi travelled or made love. Who cared if she occasionally objectified the actor as a living work of art? Truth be told, Rubi liked thinking of himself as a possession, a man who could please a woman in a variety of ways, and by any means necessary.
The most difficult task Rubi faced was not confusing the details of his two paramours. His increasingly unreliable memory made him prone to mixing up the names of the significant people in the Ks’ lives, especially their investment bankers, lawyers, ex-husbands, children and grandchildren. Still, one or the other would have to do. Unfortunately, the choice between the two Ks was not Rubi’s to make but it did have to be made soon. He was an ex-soap opera star who’d recently turned 70 and was in desperate need of a woman willing to make him a kept man.
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CHRISTMAS FICTION: An artist thinks he’s come up with a wonderful way to find film content and wow Hollywood. 2,674 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
I had never been treated so rudely in my life. I was in a meeting at a major Hollywood studio, sharing my creativity and insight with a top executive, only to be given the bum’s rush by three security guards. As if the humiliation of being dragged out of that office, down the hall and through the lobby wasn’t enough, I was also thrown, literally tossed, onto the street. Onto asphalt, not gold.
The indignity began that November when I read that a major movie studio had bought the film rights to The Christmas Cottage. Not only was opportunity knocking on my door, it was ringing the bell. Hollywood, an insatiable beast, had run out of ideas. Filmmaking was and still is a lowly art form rising to its greatest level of incompetence. While most studios keep producing re-remakes and re-re-remakes, this studio was trying to be an innovator.
The Christmas Cottage is a painting by Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light” as he is affectionately known in America’s shopping malls, who composed a warm-hearted landscape featuring a snow-covered cottage nestled in cozy woods.
I saw this new development as opening a Pandora’s Box in the world of cinema. Why stop with a painting? There are many images and objects that can have a high concept. Hollywood has already made films from board games and Legos. Sculpture, conceptualism, postcards, Campbell Soup Cans and traffic signals could also be made into blockbuster entertainment.
I wasn’t sure what the studio had in mind for its feature about The Christmas Cottage. Wouldn’t Picasso’s Guernica make a better movie? How about the hard “R” of any Odalisque by Matisse? Or, given the current trend for Christian entertainment, would not The Garden Of Earthly Delights by Bosch scare a heathen back to God? But who was I to question the superior intellect and creativity of the Hollywood sensibility.
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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.
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An artist, his dealer and a studio mogul begin the most shocking of negotiations. 2,606 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
“No! No! It can’t be done. The Post Office changed the rules and they can’t be sent through the mail any longer.” Why did I pick up the fucking phone? “Going through the U.S. Mail was an essential part of each artwork.”
Sue comes stumbling down the hall, half asleep and half naked. I’m staring at her pussy when I realize she is mouthing, “Who is it?” The bull shit on the phone continues.
“I don’t give a fuck how rich the S.O.B. is. I’m not in the movie business and never heard of the dude.” Doug, my art dealer, has some studio mogul on the hook and is determined to land him. I continue trying to explain why this simply can’t happen. “The Post Office changed the rules ages ago. It can’t be done. Final! End of conversation!”
I return the phone to its cradle with a crash. Can’t do that with a cell phone. I grab my shirt from the hook and feel around for rolled joints in the pocket. One left. Perfect.
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A studio head throws a LACMA party for VIPs but only cares about the invited guest who replaced him. 3,647 words. Art by John Mann.
Ben Robbins circulated with a finesse that came from years of working a party. He played tennis regularly and was a serious student of martial arts. But this was his strongest sport. Usually, he was aloof — which he knew had been key to his allure as the head of a studio. Until tonight.
He didn’t move more than a few steps in any direction without reaching out to someone – and he was a master of the nuances and calibrations of movie industry relationships. He understood the minuet of manners as if at a levee of the Sun king.
Some, particularly Oscar winners and big directors, he greeted with a bear hug, ending with an extra few slaps on the back using both hands. Others, including influential directors, producers and the most powerful agents he dealt with regularly, got the hug, but pats from only one hand. Longtime colleagues or in-demand younger agents got the hug, but no accompanying pats. For older agents who handled actors he might need soon, as well as some of these intense younger actors who played both action and art movies, he would laugh a greeting as he grabbed both elbows, and a variation involved clutching both forearms. With some of the most gamine of actresses, he would stand close enough so that he could put a hand affectionately at the back of their neck as he kissed their cheeks, often standing on his toes to do so; others, including the sylph-like young actresses swanning about the garden, received a kiss as he held one of their elbows. He would also use that affectionate back of the neck grab for some younger actors, since he regarded this maneuver as almost shorthand for a hug.
Ben felt so relieved his party was working that he extended his physical repertoire down the food chain and became demonstrative. If some people were worth only a handshake, he reached out with two hands. Or he enclosed the person’s wrist with his other hand. Wives got a hug in addition to his ritual air kisses. It was all about creating the illusion of close contact. And maintaining his presence at the top of the food chain.
There was no way Ben could have known how bad the timing of this party would be.
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