A legendary songwriter’s assistant is determined not to make the same mistakes twice. 2,668 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Throughout dinner I listened to the veteran songwriters discuss their craft. They had both written hit songs for the Troubadours. They described composing straight from the heart and then handing the songs to one of the most famous bands of all time who imbued them with their signature style. The songwriters would struggle when performing their songs in public. They wanted to perform their music as they had written them but the audience, naturally, would want to hear the songs as they had come to know them through the Troubadours.
I was fascinated by the conversation, feeling like a fly on the wall of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, when a distracting image crossed into my peripheral vision. Reflected in an oversized mirror on the wall across from our restaurant table was my ex-boyfriend Leo Sing, hand-in-hand with his new working actress girlfriend. They were walking toward a table.
Gaping, I watched them join Leo’s agent, his manager and his assistant — his usual entourage.
Leo was a half-baked film and TV screenwriter who had used his exotic looks, charmed breeding and Cambridge elitism to finagle his way into the entertainment biz. He surrounded himself with power players and fit right in very successfully — even though, in my humble opinion, his talent was somewhat lacking .
Our first date had started and ended at Leo’s gorgeous home way up in the Hollywood Hills after an evening of fine wining, dining and martinis. Leo had laid eyes on me at a party six months prior and decided without reservation that I was the next Monopoly property he would acquire. When he invited me to go out with him, it hadn’t occurred to me that a lady deserved to be fetched from her apartment as opposed to be beckoned to a gentleman’s home. When I saw Leo’s house and his view of the twinkling city lights, it became clear that he was making sure I knew how lavishly he lived. After dinner, Leo chivalrously held my hair away from my face while I puked in his porcelain toilet. He carried me to his bed, coaxed my knees apart and proceeded to have sex with me although I had protested. I slurred “no” repeatedly while slipping in and out of blackout. I was even wearing my “there-is-no-way-I’m-having-sex-tonight underwear” but that hadn’t seemed to bother him. The next morning I was mortified, but I could only blame myself. Of course it had been my fault. I was sloppy. He was fancy.
The young assistant reluctantly grows closer to the veteran songwriter mentoring her. 1,697 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Unspoken words screamed between us when I picked up Jake curbside at Burbank airport after his trip up north. I had never responded to his evocative email and It hung heavily in the air. We had a quick sushi meal, then he commanded me to drop him at his Hollywood bungalow without saying much at all. There was no communication over the weekend or on Monday. I worried that my lack of openness had pushed Jake away. Did I blow my shot with him? What about my job? It made me want both more.
Tuesday morning I held my breath until around eleven when Jake finally called. I jumped for the ringing phone.
“Hello?” I tried not to sound eager.
“How about you pick me up for lunch and then we get on with what we do?”
“Yes, I’ll be there by noon.” I sighed relief.
We resumed our usual songwriter/assistant deeds as our work week got rolling. There was an acute sexual tension inherent to our escapades. We had a blast running errands and laughing. Halfway through the day, Jake took the wheel and drove my car toward the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art. A new Modigliani exhibit had opened and Jake had added it to our work agenda.
“Now I know one of a songwriter assistant’s duties is to take field trips to museums,” I teased as Jake parked. “I’m learning as we go.”
Rule #2 for showbiz assistants: don’t bed a stranger instead of the man you love. 1,927 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
I walked into my apartment like a zombie.
I knelt on the floor of my bedroom. Stared at the wall. The SoCal summer sun sank outside my window. I watched shadows shift. Jake would not leave my mind or my body. He had taken over.
I had not managed the effort to switch on the light. Now shadows faded into darkness. My thoughts crashed. My power of denial faded. I absolutely loved him and I hated myself for it. I hated him for it, too.
“Why, why, why?” I asked the empty room.
I dropped my head into my hands. The moment solidified. I was head-over-heels in love with Jake Easton — a songwriter older than my father would be had he lived — and my resistance was circling the shower drain as I let the water run. I pulled myself up, out of paralysis, and dressed. I fetched my purse, walked to my car in a daze and drove the two blocks to The Brentwood, my local Regal Beagle.
Rule #1 for showbiz assistants: don’t fall in love with the boss. 1,416 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Jake Easton caught me in the middle of a mani-pedi at the nail shop. I pulled one hand away from the manicurist to answer the phone.
“Listen, on your way to my house, I need you to stop by Aida Thibiant for me.”
“Aida Thibiant,” he pronounced with an arrogance that sent daggers through me. “It’s a spa in Beverly Hills. I’ve ordered a bunch of skin and hair products that need to be picked up. There’s a sale so I decided to go to town for the best that money can buy. It’s the stuff I used back when I took good care of my skin. Also, I need you to book me a facial and a massage with the receptionist. Her name is Jenny. Make the appointments for Saturday morning. Nine for the massage with Bridget and ten for the facial with Lauren. Do you have a pen? I’ll give you the address.”
This guy annoys the fuck out of me. He’s a 58-year-old legendary songwriter/recording artist who’s written tons of hit songs for notable artists on the seventies Laurel Canyon music scene. As well, Jake has enjoyed a pretty successful acting career over the years. Also, he’s a notorious ladies man/lothario who has been romantically linked to a plethora of beautiful iconic female singers. By contrast, I’m thirty years younger than Jake and hired to transcribe his lyric journals for an upcoming album, but also to perform unclear personal assistant tasks. I’m a struggling actress/writer and still hopeful that working for Jake will be my ticket into the Hollywood elite.
“No,” I snapped. “I don’t run around with pen in hand waiting for you to bark orders at me. Sorry.”
He must make a choice: become the out-of-control young starlet’s BFF – or her babysitter. 2,778 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Jimmy Sakamuru talked a lot about art, but he cared more about money. It’s the only way a director can get anything done. Jimmy would try to stick to dollars and cents around Barney but he was sure to look for a chance to tell us how his movie was like Italian neo-realism or some damn thing. He had directed a few studio pictures but none of them had been hits. It meant that now he could make a studio distribution deal but he’d have to find his own financing. Jimmy had lost his pipeline to studio financing. To claw your way back from that took a fierceness that wouldn’t be denied. The ins and outs of this were tricky.
And now Jimmy was bringing Caitlin Harper to our office. We mostly got business people coming through our doors. This would be our first pop diva.
Barney was wearing his best suit — a blue pinstriped double-breasted model that he wore to bank meetings. He seemed a little anxious. It hadn’t occurred to me to dress for the occasion. I was in my usual khakis and an old grey herringbone jacket. Jimmy was dressed in leather, jacket and trousers, though not the James Dean-Marlon Brando biker sort. Jimmy’s leather was buttery and so tight that it must have caused pain. He was wearing Japanese running shoes that had air pumps in them. The shoes looked like the 1980s to me but, as I came to see, those shoes and much else with Jimmy were worn in an ironic manner that mostly went over my head and certainly over Barney’s.
Jimmy showed up solo with a song and dance about Caitlin being ill. Her absence was an unmistakable sign of how things would go if we got in the Caitlin Harper business. Jimmy was full of assurances about how well he could handle her. Before Barney could throw him out, we were treated to a disquisition on the finer points of the shooting scheme for Overdrive. "I don’t want to just tell the story. Not a biopic, you know?" Barney knew what a biopic was but not much more. “The influence here is the nouvelle vague," Jimmy added with an aggressive French accent that irritated Barney.
Who’ll be tapped to tame a young starlet with wild ways? 2,762 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
It was two o’ clock in the morning and Caitlin Harper was weaving her way east on Sunset Boulevard in her Cadillac Escalade. She’d had a lease on that enormous black beast for all of two days. Three of her pals were on board. Caitlin had sworn up and down to her agents, her manager (who was also her mother), her lawyer, possibly her accountant and to her one friend who had some common sense, that at night she would always have a driver. She would never, day or night, drive after drinking. She probably meant it when she said it, but Caitlin was twenty years old and famous. She did whatever she wanted to do whenever she wanted to do it. Caitlin had recently seen Bonnie And Clyde and was in a Faye Dunaway mood. She’d taken to wearing a black beret, imagining herself an outlaw on the run.
Caitlin Harper might have been the only pop diva I had heard of. That’s because everybody had heard of her. You couldn’t look at a screen or a magazine without encountering her round and lubricious face. She pouted her way across the American media with her high and swollen breasts pushed nearly out of her famous swooning necklines. I couldn’t name any of the songs she was associated with though I had seen a few of her movies.
On this night all that weaving from lane to lane, complicated by those Dunaway dreams, sent her diagonally across Sunset, over the lushly planted road-divider and into a telephone pole near the Beverly Hills Hotel. The pink palace as it was known was the property of the Sultan of Brunei, a personage that I’m sure Caitlin had never heard of though it’s entirely possible that the Sultan had heard of her. A woman in one of the big houses on Foothill Road was awakened by the noise and called in the accident. Caitlin had been drinking, which is what she was usually doing at two In the morning, unless she was having sex or possibly both at once. She was wearing her seatbelt, though I doubt it was buckled at the moment she wrapped the Escalade around that pole. It was a triumph of ingenuity that despite the inconvenience of interference from two airbags, Caitlin had enough of her wits about her to buckle up even if It was too late to do much good. Caitlin had banged her head on the side window which caused a mild concussion, but that was all. Concussions are one of the many things that seatbelts prevent. No one seemed interested in such pesky details. Her chums were bounced around a bit though the serious damage was to the pole and the Escalade.
Hollywood is known for horrible executives. But some are way worse than others. 1,697 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Jeff Sterling, the President of America’s pre-eminent TV network, GBN, bought Lincoln HIgh in the room. Or to be more specific, in his cavernous Hollywood office. He liked the synopsis and had listened raptly to my proposal. He said yes before I even finished. Sterling was legendary for trusting his gut, for making split second decisions based on his instincts.
"This is just what I’ve been looking for," he exclaimed.
In our youth, we had worked together for the legendary Hollywood mogul, Len Richmond, and I had shamelessly exploited that connection so as to pitch the project directly to him.
But by going over the head of Conrad Cadwallader, the Global Broadcasting Network’s V.P. Of Movies, turns out I had unwittingly raised Cadwallader’s ire.
"There’s nothing like it on TV," Jeff Sterling pronounced as he escorted me down the hall to Cadwallader’s office. "I bought it," he bellowed when we entered unannounced. "I love it."
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.
The director makes the hottest film of his life – at the expense of everyone else’s. 2,157 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
If the goal was to keep film director Frank O’Leary intrigued, then Abigor Productions & Effects had already succeeded. Apparently, Seth Abigor was rolling the dice to impress him. Not that he would let Abigor know that. As a company with no track record, the helmer figured he should be able to get its services for a song. Fair is fair. The effects house would cash in after Firebug was released and everyone was blown away by its work. O’Leary simply had no reason to pay top dollar for it.
Abigor removed a gold cigarette case from his jacket and offered O’Leary one of its contents. The helmer passed but examined the case. He’d only seen such things in old movies. Placing a non-filtered cigarette between his lips, Abigor snapped the thumb and forefinger of his right hand together and lit it with his fingertip.
O’Leary responded with a nervous laugh. “You’re quite the magician.”
“Nothing magical about it, Frank. Haven’t you guessed who I am?”
The director glanced at the door to make sure he had a direct exit in case the situation got any stranger. “Why no, Seth, who do you think you are?”
A semi-successful film director has a burning desire to reach the next level. 1,983 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
This movie was going to be his claim to fame. Frank O’Leary was no Scorsese or Tarantino, no Spielberg or Nolan. But he wasn’t exactly a hack. His films garnered good reviews as often as not, and while he hadn’t won any Oscars, he had several nominations from the Golden Globes, the Director’s Guild, and the People’s Choice Awards. His mantelpiece might be bare, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
His problem was that he had no personal vision. He would be brought into projects developed by a studio or some actor’s production company, and they knew he would turn out a solid film on time and on budget. Several of his films had been big hits, although it had been a while since the last one. Audiences didn’t have a clue who he was, and the announcement that he was attached to a project never went beyond the trades. Who cared about “A Film By Frank O’Leary?” Even fanboys were hard pressed to name his last big hit, though it had topped $200 million worldwide. Unfortunately, most of that came from overseas as the film had tanked in its U.S. release. Bad luck it released the weekend that the U.S. President was removed from the White House in a straitjacket. O’Leary couldn’t blame anyone. It was the biggest spectacle since Election Night.
His latest was Firebug, a thriller that would mark the film debut of Jon Petroni, a pop star whose last three albums had gone platinum and fan base was in the millions. The so-called bad boy of the tweens and teens, he had a few tats and a ring through a pierced nipple that got prominently displayed in every video he did. He had an exclusive recording deal with Galaxy Entertainment, whose film division had looked for a project that would take him to the next level. In Firebug, he was playing a disturbed young man, Dante, who sets fires, leading to a massive manhunt. However, the script made him a sympathetic figure: abused as a child, he tried to avoid hurting anyone. His goal was to destroy property, not people.
As far as O’Leary was concerned, it was all claptrap. If the director had developed the script, the character Petroni played would be a psychopath, and the hero would be the investigator who brought him to justice. There would be a fiery climax all right. It would be Dante burning in the electric chair.
A dispirited film journalist in Hollywood is having a dismal time in this book excerpt. 2,777 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
It sucked being on the Red Carpet again. It may seem exciting on TV, but in real life it’s a drag. It’s always at the end of the day, your feet are hurting and you just want to go home but, no, you’re in a scrum down. And you’re not even guaranteed the “talent” is going to talk to you unless you’re Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood or some other high-power purveyor of poop, which Renny Aucoin was not. Instead he was a low-power purveyor of poop, writing for Wonderwall and MSN. Could be worse, he thought, could be August and 100 degrees and sickening with the smell of perfume and sweat. Mercifully it was May and pissing rain instead.
He hadn’t done a Red Carpet in years, but the damn intern didn’t show up, and his editor threw it at him. What could he say? The venue was 6925 Hollywood Boulevard. A quintessential movie palace from the golden age, this kitschy Chinese deco gem upstaged only by its famous courtyard featuring an endless array of handprints dating from Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks through C-P3O, whose imprint had to be reworked after Regis Philbin stepped in the still-wet cement during a broadcast.
Renny knew all this on account of his life-long love affair with movies. Since childhood they represented an aspirational universe, a shining city on the hill, and Old Hollywood was the Garden of Eden. He quoted movies the way others quoted scripture, and the Chinese Theater was his Vatican.
Are humans hard-wired to gather in mourning for Hollywood celebrities? 1,848 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
June 25th is my birthday. Most years. Not this year. This year it’s 2009 and the day Michael died. And Farrah. And it makes me very sad. If you looked at me, you’d probably figure why would a white, divorced, middle-aged accountant — okay, unemployed accountant — give a shit? You’d think I’d have more important things to be sad about. Like the fact that I’m unemployed. Or that I’m middle-aged and fat. Moonwalk? Hell, sometimes just plain walking normally gives me shooting pains in my left arm.
I should be sad that I live in a crappy apartment in Hollywood, the part where the glam is insane homeless men and drug-addled whores. Or that my ex took my kids to Ohio. Or that she did it because I lost my job. In other words, she did it just to be a bitch. Was it my fault that all of a sudden I couldn’t make good money being an accountant? That’s my skill. I didn’t complain that she didn’t make good money being a bitch.
Anyway, let’s not go there now. Lots of nights, I sit around drinking cheap scotch being sad about that. Not this afternoon. This afternoon, I’m sitting around drinking cheap scotch being sad that Michael’s dead. And Farrah.
So why do I give a shit? Because Michael and I were close. We were bros. Not that I ever met him. We probably didn’t have many values in common. Fill in your own pedophile joke here. But we did sorta have stuff in common. We’re the same age. Well, I’m two months older. And I’ve outlasted him. I never thought that would happen. I mean, I never really thought about it at all. But he was a rich singer-dancer -actor who breathed purified air, and I’m a fat accountant who recently began drinking too much cheap scotch. Just since my kids left.