The twin brother of TV’s hot sitcom kid grows up a film junketeer and grapples with near infamy. 4,511 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
"Hey, I know you, right?"
The overpaid megastar who asked the question leans forward intently, flashing his trademark lopsided grin. His elbows are on the immaculate white linen tablecloth that goes all the way to the floor. He stares at me. This ruggedly handsome prick seems genuinely amused by the concept that he might actually recognize someone he knows in a setting like this, where everyone else is supposed to be his social inferior.
Oh, Christ, I think. Here we go again.
Here we fucking go.
I try smiling and maintaining eye contact, but that’s like staring down a goddamned god. He’s so clean-shaven it’s as if his flawless face has been waxed. That doesn’t keep him from appearing unmistakably masculine, though. A stylist probably took half an hour putting his thick blond hair in such deceptively casual disarray. The top two buttons of his blue oxford cloth shirt are undone. His sleeves are rolled up far enough to show off his thick, well-tanned forearms.
Mr. Wonderful flashes a mouthful of radiantly white teeth and adds, "I’ve seen you in something, haven’t I?" He makes the question sound like friendly conspiratorial banter. All that’s missing is a knowing wink.
One of my fellow journalists — although using that term to describe this talentless, eager-to-please asshole is like referring to a two-dollar whore as a physical therapist — starts to speak up. Round-headed neuter Bennie Doolan already has a receding hairline and a gut, even though he’s only in his mid-twenties. He freelances for some website with a name as idiotic and hard to remember as most of them. God only knows how the thing gets enough hits to stay in business, much less pay its writers. Then again, Bennie may be one of the countless losers in this line of work who thinks that seeing his byline in print is reward enough for his inept efforts. Or seeing it in pixels, as it were.
Bennie says, "Actually, he’s the…"
Mr. Box-Office silences him with an imperiously raised hand. "No, no, don’t tell me. I’ll get it. It’s right on the tip of my tongue." He’s still displaying his lazy, shit-eating grin and looking comfortably dumb. I swear, it’s almost possible to hear the smoothly rounded rocks in his manly skull bumping against each other as he tries to think.
He’s seated with his back to the wide window of this Beverly Hills-adjacent Four Seasons Hotel suite. That’s unusual for this kind of publicity junket. Interviewees usually make it a point to sit near the hallway door. That’s so each of them — star, writer, director or anyone else from the production who bothers to show up and shill — can slip in and out as quickly as possible. The vast majority allow only the exact amount of access time promised to each group of entertainment feature writers before moving on to the next room full of our contemptible kind.
The bigger the movie, the more bottom feeders like me show up. I’ve seen as few as three and as many as a dozen of us sitting around tables in rooms like this. We easily satisfied interrogators often are separated into subsets of online, print, radio, international media and TV. Like docile zoo animals, we obediently wait in our respective confines to be fed easily digestible morsels, instead of going to the trouble of hunting down anything nutritious in the wild. Then we dutifully regurgitate those bland scraps to satisfy the equally undiscriminating appetites of the celebrity-obsessed public.
It’s a sickening job, but somebody has to do it.
None of the seven of us lowlies seated around the table says a word while the Great Man continues to cogitate. We peons are present to hear him promote his latest sure-to-be success. We are supposed to be spending this 20-minute session asking him innocuous questions whose answers we will spin into unnecessary articles to be read by the utterly oblivious. That’s 21st-century entertainment journalism in a nutshell.
He’s wasting everyone’s precious time right now, but all of us know the drill. The questions he should be fielding right now typically would include inquiries about how much fun he had making the movie, how many of his own scary-dangerous stunts he performed, how well he and his fabulously gifted costars got along on the set and whether he will be back in two years for the equally awful but financially inevitable sequel.
What we are not supposed to ask about are his recent stint in rehab, how that ugly lawsuit with his ex-manager is coming along and whether he has any plans to marry the one-night-stand he knocked up with his latest bastard.
Nobody here wants to do that. Like the delusional moron who gratefully shovels elephant shit at the circus, none of us wants to give up the illusion that we’re in showbiz.
The room is so quiet I can hear the tiny reels turning in two of the old-school cassette recorders on the table. Six digital recorders are on the table, too. They don’t make a sound. Anal-retentive Bennie is the reason there are eight recorders in a room with only seven reporters. He doubles up.
A dewy young publicist from Everest Studios hovers in a corner of the suite near an unused silver tea service. She’s trying to appear inconspicuous. That would be a hell of a lot easier if she didn’t look like she bought her tight jacket and even tighter skirt from the "Career Bimbo" rack at Victoria’s Secret. Her puffy lips glisten with very wet-looking red lipstick. She’s probably hoping the star will notice her during today’s promotional duties, ask for her number, wine and dine her, impulsively bed her and unintentionally impregnate her. Then she will be set for life financially, after the brief unpleasantness of a paternity test and a child-support lawsuit. Happens every day. Journalists aren’t the only whores in this town.
God’s gift to the cinematic arts is staring at me with narrowed eyes now, as if I’m an especially tricky math problem. For this dimpled doofus, that category probably would include the equation "two plus one."
Which is kind of funny, considering that Two Plus One is the very name of the long-cancelled TV series he is having so much trouble recalling.
A few more seconds crawl by. Just when I’m ready to lie by telling this Hollywood headjob he must be mistaken about recognizing me, he slaps a ridiculously well-manicured hand flat on the table. The two reporters sitting closest to him flinch in surprise. Pussies.
"Got it!" he triumphantly announces. He points a finger at my face, grinning like a retard on Christmas morning. "You were that kid on that show!"
I manage to keep a straight face. I don’t try nailing him down to anything more specific. Both of us know what kid he’s talking about, and which show. There’s no reason to prolong things by going over the pathetic details.
Still, I do have enough pride to make a small but crucial correction.
"Actually, that was my brother."
He looks crestfallen, then disbelieving, then slightly angry. It’s easy to see why this guy gets close to 20 million per picture. You can read his emotions with no trouble at all. Audiences these days don’t go for "subtle."
"What are you, kidding? You’re him! I used to watch that show all the time when I was a kid!"
That one hurts. I happen to know that both of us are the same age, a ripe old 28. But he makes it sound as if I’m some doddering fool from a bygone era who can’t even remember that I was a TV star back when he was growing up.
I really would love to punch this stupid, arrogant jackass in his well-moisturized face. I want to feel the cartilage of his perfect nose snap sideways under my knuckles. I want to watch him go over backwards in his chair, flailing helplessly, spitting broken caps from the filed-down stubs of his fucking teeth.
I picture tomorrow’s headline over a picture of him in bloody bandages: "Sex Symbol Not So Sexy Anymore."
The ever-helpful Bennie Doolan keeps me from risking an assault charge. "He’s Jimmy Mickelberry," Bennie blurts, seemingly unable to keep this information to himself a second longer. "His twin brother was Timmy Mickelberry. That’s who you’re thinking of. Timmy."
God, how I hate the sound of those ridiculous names. Jimmy and Timmy, the Mickelberry twins. That probably came across as really cute and catchy in the maternity ward.
Our parents didn’t even have the decency to dub us James and Timothy on our birth certificates. At least that would have given us the option of switching to more respectable and adult-sounding monikers when we got older. Instead, we were stuck with being Jimmy and Timmy for life.
Then again, Timmy’s name didn’t seem to do him any harm. Or maybe it did, in the end, depending on how you look at things. It all gets kind of complicated when everything is taken into account.
Timmy Mickelberry had been the perfect brand name for a sickeningly cute, precociously precious child actor who got into various forms of sweetly telegenic mischief for seven successful seasons on the tube. The producers of Two Plus One could not have come up with a better label for my brother if they’d tried. He sounded as wholesome and all-American adorable as a freckled cub scout carrying an armload of puppies.
America, and the rest of the world, watched Timmy age from 11 to 18 on the idiot box. In all that time, the character he played never stopped acting like a hyperactive eight-year-old. The writers were not about to mess with the formula that kept the show in the top 10 every year. That meant Timmy came off like some kind of immature moron in the later seasons, when he was old enough to shave twice a week and drive.
Timmy didn’t care. "They can put me in a goddamned diaper and make me shake a fucking rattle every week, so long as they keep signing the checks," he once told me. "Cashola is the only credibility I care about."
The name Jimmy Mickelberry was equally hard to take seriously. I always thought mine sounded like the name of some pratfalling, vaudeville-era stooge. Then again, maybe it fit. That was me all over: Jimmy the joke.
I know, I know. I could have changed my name by now, if it really bothered me as much as I say. I guess the reason I hang onto my birth name is because it’s one more thing that keeps me pissed off at the world. It’s a constant, nagging reminder that everything sucks. You might say I’m one of those miserable, self-loathing bastards who would rather curse the motherfucking darkness than light a goddamned candle.
Works for me.
Mr. Hollywood leans way back in his chair, mulling over the unfathomable concept that he possibly could be wrong about anything, ever.
"Wow," he says to Bennie, although he’s still staring at me. "No kidding. Twin brothers. But what do you mean, his brother ‘was’ Timmy? Did Timmy change his name when the show went off the air?"
It’s as if everyone else in the room stops breathing. Those slowly turning cassettes sound even louder now. Even the busty, blank-eyed publicist appears to know what this egomaniac airhead doesn’t.
Every face turns toward me, awaiting my reaction.
I could make things very uncomfortable. I could get all indignant, or even pretend to be outraged. But you know what? I’m really not in the mood for drama.
A minute ago, I wanted to punch this Tinseltown turd’s lights out. Now all I want to do is change the subject, change it to absolutely anything else.
Timmy probably had mood swings like that, too. I guess that’s sort of a given, considering what he ended up doing. I mean, if he had spent 24 hours a day as a violent, perverted maniac, the son of a bitch never would have gotten any work done.
All I bother to say is, "Timmy died."
A pause. Then today’s featured celebrity remembers. I can tell he remembers, because even this self-centered shithead abruptly looks the teensiest bit embarrassed. All of a sudden, he recalls exactly how my dear brother left this sorry vale of tears.
He runs a hand over his mouth, which has been described as everything from "expressive" to "sensuous." My initial, admittedly uncharitable thought is that he is pausing to process the information I just gave him so he can dredge up a believably sincere dramatic reaction. He probably forgot how to give genuine responses to other human beings shortly after he stopped flying coach.
My second even more uncharitable thought is that this Ken-doll dope wouldn’t know thespian process from processed cheese.
He lets out a long breath that smells like peppermint. He opens his eyes very wide. "Hell, man, I’m sorry." He almost sounds as if he means it. "I definitely feel like a grade-A jerk. Yikes!"
He is saved from further showy apologies by another of my less-than-esteemed colleagues. She takes advantage of the awkward lull by yanking the interview back on track.
"I’m Cassie Columbus from Moviemakers Newswire," chirps the perfectly made-up blond, always one to get her name out there as soon as possible. "With all of the projects you get offered, can you tell us exactly what attracted you to this particular script?"
Just once, it would be nice to see someone respond to that kind of useless inquiry with genuine candor. "The script was a complete piece of crap," he might say. "But the money was good, and my Gulfstream payment was due, so what the hell? It ain’t like I’m in this racket for the art!"
What we get from today’s man of the hour — or of these 20 minutes, anyway — is the sort of pat answer that everyone in the room has heard a hundred times. The script was "completely original." The project was "a great ensemble piece" filled with "really terrific characters" and "genuine emotional truth."
All the while, the noncreative monkeys in the room dutifully scribble notes as if they are taking down the pithy teachings of a modern-day Aristotle. This is despite the fact that every precious pearl of this witless wonder’s wisdom is going straight onto each of their recorders for them to transcribe later.
None of the writers in this room, and I include myself, could be regarded as first-tier entertainment journalists. The heavy-hitters in our line of work are the ones who get flown first-class to location shoots, never have to beg for exclusive one-on-one interviews and are courted as if they are royalty by the studios. That A-list category is reserved for big-newspaper reporters, national magazine feature writers and network TV personalities.
Right up there with them are members of the sacred cow Hollywood Foreign Press Association, especially those who get to vote for the Golden Globe awards. The way those foreign fuckers get gifted and pampered by the studios is positively shameless. That’s because a lot of movies make more money outside the United States than domestically. Getting good press in Europe, South America and Japan is something any Hollywood honcho with an eye on the bottom line knows is crucial enough to be worth a lot of craven kowtowing to those cunts.
Several miles below them in this profession’s pecking order are syndicated hacks, reporters for smaller newspapers and local broadcast-outlet stringers.
At the very bottom of the barrel are online writers who aren’t hooked up with major-traffic, household-name companies. Many of their bare-bones sites are nothing more than one-man operations with stupid, jokey names. The proof that publicists do a shitty job of vetting the people who get invited to these events is that if anyone in charge ever bothered actually looking at those douchebags’ amateurish, typo-filled sites, the perpetrators would be stricken from screening and junket RSVP lists in a hot second. The sickening exception to that hierarchy is the category known as "mommy bloggers." It seems that any stay-at-home bitch with a laptop these days can set herself up as a tastemaker for fellow toddler-rearers and get herself taken seriously by the studios.
As for Yours Truly, I’m in that rarefied category known as "set for life," bankroll-wise. Considering the way I got my money, though, I doubt anyone present would want to trade places with me. I look at my blank notepad with a familiar sense of free-floating disgust. I don’t need to do this kind of work. Or any other kind, for that matter, thanks to my dead-before-his-time brother.
Still, what pisses me off the most is that Timmy didn’t manage to get himself cast on Two Plus One at a younger age. If either of us had been tapped for a movie or TV series a few years before Timmy got his big break, both of us would have been mega-rich stars. Or at least celebrities, which is almost as good.
That’s because twins under age 10 usually both get hired for single-character roles on TV shows. That way, producers get around Hollywood’s child labor laws by working each twin the maximum legal number of on-set hours, each kid doing half of the character’s scenes. When the footage of both kids is combined, it’s the same as if one worked a full-time adult schedule.
Instead, Timmy was just old enough when he got the Two Plus One gig at age 11 that the assholes in charge decided I wasn’t required as a backup. Maybe they had figured out a way to be more efficient with their shooting schedule, so they could get what they needed from Timmy all by himself. Maybe they were paying off whoever had to certify that they were operating within the limits of the law. Whatever the reason, I was left out in the cold.
Then things got worse. Over the years, Timmy started raking in increasingly larger salaries and gracing more and more magazine covers. The movies he made during two of the show’s hiatus periods were moderate hits. He even put out a CD that cracked the Top 20. The fact that he couldn’t sing didn’t matter. The producer hired by the label used computer magic to fix things up so he sounded just fine to all of the little panty-pissing tweens who screamed for him wherever he went and thumbtacked his posters on their bedroom walls.
Meanwhile, I was having doors slammed in my face everywhere I went. Nobody wanted "the other one." You might think an industry that thrives on imitation, fakery and outright plagiarism would have no problems with hiring a guy who was identical in every way to a multiple People’s Choice Award winner.
No such luck. Aside from bit parts in a few no-budget, direct-to-DVD indies that I don’t want to talk about, the best acting offer I ever got came from an adult-video producer on my eighteenth birthday.
The money that slimeball waved under my nose was more than I had earned from everything else I had done in my short and sour life combined. He wanted me to star in a porno parody of my brother’s sitcom. The title would be Two Dozen Plus One — me being the "one." The two dozen, I was assured, would be "24 of the hottest, horniest sluts you’ve ever seen, guaran-fucking-teed."
Imagine hearing those words on the same day you turned legal. Just imagine.
I listened to the guy’s entire pitch instead of hanging up on him right away. What can I say? I still was living at home at the time, same as Timmy, in the mini-mansion his money had bought for the family. Like any guy that age, though, I wanted to be out on my own. And I sure as hell didn’t plan to flip burgers or pump gas to make my nut. I said "no" because I thought I would be killing my chances of getting legit mainstream jobs later if I was seen boning on camera. TV networks aren’t known for recruiting their prime-time talent from the casts of hardcore beat-off DVDs. Film studios don’t check out the Adult Video Awards in hopes of discovering future Oscar winners. If I ever wanted a shot at seeing my name in the credits of anything worthwhile, I thought I should keep my nose and everything else about me clean.
The irony is that I may as well have gone ahead and made the goddamned porno, plus a dozen more besides, considering what Timmy did later that same year. I should have gotten sucked off by schoolgirls, raped nuns and fucked dogs on camera, while a guy in a Nazi uniform skewered me up the shitter with a dong-shaped ivory crucifix. It wouldn’t have made a bit of difference to my career.
Timmy’s final act pretty well poisoned any chance that a guy with his face—with my face—ever would be welcomed into America’s living rooms or multiplexes again.
That explains why I spent most of the decade since then catching rays, catching up on my reading and not catching a single break. At least I didn’t put much of a dent in my sizeable inheritance. If you’re not on drugs, don’t care about decking yourself out in a lot of bling, couldn’t give a fuck about what you drive and don’t knock anyone up, it’s actually possible to avoid bankruptcy in this town.
Plus there’s the fact that I got the deed to the house, paid in full, when Timmy checked out of this life. Thanks to a mortgage insurance policy that his business manager wisely advised him to purchase, Mickelberry Manor became mine-all-mine the day Timmy relocated to Hell. I was his only immediate next of kin left alive at that point, after all. That meant I ended up with everything.
I sold his four cars, a couple of motorcycles and the boat he had no business buying in the first place. With Timmy and both of my parents dead, the house makes a perfectly acceptable sanctum. I’m not one of those delicate, sensitive idiots who can’t get past life’s little tragedies. I’m also not superstitious enough to think that the place is haunted by any lingering specters of malicious evil. A thorough cleaning and disinfecting got rid of the blood, brains and body parts. Then I kicked back and farted away more years doing nothing than I care to think about.
You’d be surprised how easy that is to do. Wake up, remember who you are, face the fact that you have no chance of getting work in anything more noteworthy than a celebrity boxing match, feel extremely sorry for yourself, realize you’ve pissed away another day, go to bed. Repeat.
I got into the writing game by accident. I sent a bitchy letter to a local "alternative" newspaper that ran a looking-back cover story on Timmy’s sitcom last August. I guess seeing Timmy’s face on the paper’s cover above the headline "Remember Me?" just pissed me off. That face still looked exactly like mine. Maybe I took the question a little too personally.
The editor called to ask if I wanted to expand my letter into a first-person article, giving some of my reminiscences about Timmy and his show. I pounded out a thousand words over a weekend, pointing out everything that the other writer got wrong and providing some anecdotes. Even though I didn’t delve into any sensitive — as in criminal — areas, the editor liked the piece well enough. She even asked if I might be interested in contributing other stuff to the paper: celebrity interviews and the like.
I knew the offer had as much to do with my discredited-but-still-recognizable name as with any innate journalism skills I may have possessed. I say "innate" because it’s not as if I ever bothered going to college. If you had my kind of money and a paid-off place in the Encino hills, would you? The editor probably thought my D-list name on a byline would lend the entertainment section some small measure of novelty.
By then, I didn’t mind that I was being exploited. I could live with the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome and writer’s cramp. If I couldn’t be in front of the cameras, at least it might be a laugh interviewing the ungrateful, talentless pricks who were. Shit shoveler, meet elephant. The gig has its good points. One of them is the nasty sense of satisfaction I derive from having my most cynical suspicions about the entertainment industry confirmed. It really is a business run for the most part by greedy, no-taste crap merchants with zero respect for the dumb clucks who buy tickets to their trash. Any actual artists are so few and far between they seem like representatives of an alien species. Cynical as I am, I actually hope each new release will turn out to be a winner, or at least watchable. Maybe that explains why bad movies always feel like such betrayals.
The only bad thing about this line of work is the work itself. Interviewing and writing about the most egotistical chuckleheads on the planet gets to be a real chore. Yes, some Hollywood residents are friendly and genuinely appreciate the obscene riches they receive for playing let’s pretend. Most of them, though, have their heads so far up their asses they never see daylight.
And still, to this day, I would give my left nut to be one of them.
I may be hypocritical, but at least I’m honest.
Not that I’m doing anything about it. I haven’t been to an audition, even an open cattle call, for years. In a lot of ways, I’m worse than a nobody. I’m a nobody whose brother used to be a somebody, then turned into somebody bad.
I abruptly realize that the star in the Four Seasons suite who actually is a somebody is staring at me across the table again. He’s not saying anything, just giving me his world-famous grin, the one that writers inevitably describe as "wry," "boyish" or "knowing."
After a few uncomfortable seconds, he asks, "What about you, sport? Don’t you have any questions today?"
More than 15 minutes have gone by. I haven’t been paying attention to what anyone else has asked, much less to any of the answers they received.
This is the point where I could prove that I’m better than anybody else at this table. I could ask a quick series of questions that are so rude, direct, incisive and personal that everyone in the room would gasp in astonishment at my journalistic courage. And I could kiss goodbye any chance of ever covering one of these events again. It almost would be worth it, just to see those reactions.
I turn toward the shining star. With a perfectly straight face, I calmly ask, "Can you tell us your favorite color? I’ve got my money on blue."