The young writer loved listening to the Hollywood history that the veteran shared. Was it true? 2,451 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Hearing more and more stories about Hollywood in its heyday, Kaplan often found himself musing about how much he had missed. Not that his life had been boring or circumscribed, coming as he did from an industrial town in New Jersey where he had been a part of worlds never seen by kids from suburbia. In that blighted but interesting environment, he grew up with sons of the local Mafia, became one of only two white kids on the high school basketball team, and by the age of 16 financed excursions into Lower Manhattan by selling bags of oregano, catnip, and twigs to rich kids. Later he was an impoverished American in France with an expense account, thanks to a gig he hustled writing the Paris section of a travel guide for the youth market.
But the Hollywood that Kaplan later encountered was run by MBAs rather than moguls, and populated by “bankable" actors who seemed more like flavors-of-the-month than the stars of yesteryear. But as a young screenwriter then lunching with a stuntman turned writer-producer turned director on nothing but margaritas, chips and salsa, Kaplan was hooked.
Long enamored of the original version of Kiss Of Death — and even more of Richard Widmark, who carved a special niche for himself in film noir history by pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs — the scribe was stunned to learn that his lunch partner, in drag, had done the stunt. Even more astonishing was that Verlaine had arrived on the set that day simply to visit his girlfriend, an actress who had landed a small role in the film. Only when every professional stuntman on the shoot balked at the far too dangerous gag did Verlaine, who had been searching for a way to make a name for himself in the business, volunteer.
Ironically, the largely alcohol-based lunch set up by an agent attempting to steer Kaplan away from feature films and into episodic TV was in many ways a mistake professionally. Because it came on the day when Verlaine, deluged with ridiculous network notes, received one that was a deal-breaker.