Part Two of a book excerpt from the Monty Python legend: the film/TV comedian tries for a Hollywood kiss-and-sell publishing deal. Part One. 2,352 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Los Angeles – 2003
I’m very good at bullshit.
It’s what I do best.
And that’s not just me speaking. My writing partner Sam says I have dropped more bull than a Spanish matador. That’s not insulting by the way. Bullshit is the art of Hollywood. I’m really good at it. If you can’t pitch you’re dead. That’s what they do all day, all night, on the phone, in their cars, at the office, in the bedroom. After you’ve been to a hundred Hollywood pitches you can do it in your sleep. It’s akin to advertising. Or stripping. I call it laptop dancing. You have to tease the customer into paying something without showing anything. You lure. You tempt. You paint a dream they can’t possibly imagine living without, which they need to own right now. It’s a hooker’s art,
I’m driving along Sunset when a perfect parking slot opens up in front of Book Soup. I’m still intending to go home and start work immediately on my Hollywood reality novel, but I’m high from the conversation with my William Morris agent Morty who’s set up a lunch tomorrow at Le Dome for me with a New York publisher. But you should never look a gift parking slot in the mouth. So I decide to give myself a reward. I make a U-turn and take it.
I’m an inkoholic, you see.
I love books. And I really love bookshops. I find them sexy places. Warm. Comfortable. Filled with intimate thoughts. I love the way everyone tilts their heads as they scan the shelves. That’s how I think of us book readers: we’re head tilters. Magazine readers don’t do that. They tilt the magazine, or flick through them backwards. You don’t do that with a book. Book Soup is my closest, but Dutton’s in Brentwood is very good, and there’s another Dutton’s in the Valley which has second hand books as well.
One book, and then I’m home all night writing. I’ve got to be prepared for tomorrow.
I’m feeding the meter when I see her.
It’s Joanie Collins.
I can see her clearly through the window. She’s by the counter. In those dark glasses. I could tell her anywhere. It is a sign from God. My novel is meant to be. And she is meant to be in it. I mean Joan Collins for heaven sake. She’s legendary.
I am standing on the pavement outside Book Soup staring through the window, and I want to go in and say “Hi Joanie” because you can do that with celebrities and they will assume they have met you and forgotten who you are, so it’s a great way to meet them. You just say something like “Hey Joanie, Stanley Hay, remember we met at Morty’s thing for Goldie at CAA?” and they go “Oh yes, how are you?”
But I can’t bring myself to move. This moment is too good. I want to remember it forever. Somewhere I can hear a heavenly choir. It’s coming from inside her limo. The chauffeur has opened the door and Joanie walks out of the bookshop with her dark glasses on and slides into the waiting limo and I’m still rooted to the spot as she pulls away with a slight wave.
Did I imagine that wave? Never mind, there’ll be a slight wave when I write it. I turn back. The window of Book Soup is filled with copies of a new book. Floor to ceiling, hundreds of copies of a brand new book. It’s mine. My new novel. Starring Joan Collins. My face is all over the window on the back jacket. The front cover is clear and simple. A pair of scissors, open, cutting through the words. The Writer’s Cut, by Stanley Hay. A blow by blowjob exposé of what goes on behind the scenes and between the sheets in Tinseltown. A Reality Novel.
OMG. It’s meant to be. I’m hyperventilating. I go straight home and work very hard all evening.
Well, I go straight home and start to work very hard all evening but of course I have to stop and watch American Idol. I’m rooting for Clay Aiken. He’s adorable. My girlfriend Tish prefers Reuben, but I like Clay. Tish is Chinese-American, her grandparents from Singapore, which means she has great genes, jet black hair, long legs and a terrific body. She’s an actress waitress. “I’m waiting to act,” she says. It’s her little joke, but she is always busy with auditions and taking yoga classes, Pilates, acting classes and modern dance and whatever else those classes are that take all her time. She occasionally writes coverage for the studios too. It means she is absent a lot and works nights waitressing at Little Dom’s, which means she comes home very late. This suits me fine as I write my book at night. Or I will. And I shall dedicate it to Tish.
Probably. Tish or Philip Roth.
We’ve been going out for six months now – me and Tish obviously, not Philip Roth. Six months is a little scary. In this town it is some kind of big deal. I think it might even be a legal thing, six months. Nobody I know is married. There’s a whole generation of men approaching forty who are not gay, who have never been married and who are not even in a serious relationship. No kids, no alimony, no commitment. Oddly enough most of my gay friends are married and have kids. I think we’ve all swapped roles. Anyway six months is a kind of crucial date in a Hollywood relationship and I think I am becoming anxious about the whole commitment thing. Hell, I’m only 26, well, 29 if you go by birthdays, but nobody in this town does, and I already know you have to lie about your age to survive, even as a writer.
I want my book to be very modern, and I’m wondering just how many sex scenes to include. After American Idol I contemplate the smut question for a while. We all assume the modern novel is smutty, and yet the sexually obsessed modern novel is only fifty years old, born in 1959 with the publication in Britain of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It was considered the most scandalous book of all time. It’s a virginal tract compared to most books today. There’s hardly an epithet out of place. No bestseller can hope to get by without more pages of smut in the first few chapters than Lawrence’s book has in its entirety.
So my book will have smut. And lots of it. I have some good stories from the front line. My friend H actually fell asleep on top of a major actress. He compounded his mistake by sending her flowers the next day and apologizing for not turning up.
“But you were here,” she said.
She was almost more insulted he forgot he was there than that he fell asleep on top of her. Rotters. They have great tales.
Occasionally I’m asked to do punch ups, touch ups, polishes, what Producers like to call “inserting humor.” Sounds vaguely sexual. And as a matter of fact, it is. For instance, a few years ago when I was a new boy in town working as an AD on a yucky comedy Paramount were making, I was given a ride home to the Chateau Marmont by the female star of the movie. She saw me hanging around by the Paramount gate, pulled up and offered me a ride. How could I turn it down? This gorgeous girl in a tiny red sports car. You’d recognize her name, no question. She’s blonde with trademark lips you could carve a sofa out of. She had just appeared stark naked with a cigarette between those fabulous pillow lips in an award-winning European film. Now she is in my hotel room. Instead of dropping me off she insisted on coming up to see where I live. Just for nostalgia, she says. She lived here for five years, before husband number one. That’s long before current husband, number two, who is an above the title action star who is rumored to be more than a little fond of his fellow actors.
I dodge around between her and the bed in the narrow space of my tiny room, trying not to bump into her. She is the most gorgeous creature I have ever seen. I swear that not even in my most erotic dreams would I dare jump her, she is so far out of my league. Not to mention that heavily buffed husband of hers. She is looking out of the window now and sighs. Her mind is far away.
“I was so young,” she says, “and I had so much fun here.”
She turns suddenly.
“How old are you, Jake?”
“That’s Stanley,” I say. “And I’m 21.”
I’m old enough at least to lie about my age in Hollywood.
“Twenty-one and never been kissed,” she says, pouting.
There is simply no answer to that, so I gawk at her. I find her closeness extraordinarily arousing. She notices of course.
“Um look at you,” she says. “Is that for me? How flattering. Perhaps I can do something about that.” And I swear to God she pushes me backwards on to the bed. I sit up and try and kiss her but she impatiently pushes me back, undoes my belt and begins tugging at my jeans. I raise my hips and she slides off my pants.
She smiles, gives my dick a little look of appreciation, says “Well, hello there,” flicks her hair behind her ears and suddenly that famous mouth, those fabulous lips that I have watched 80 feet wide across my local screen, are wrapped firmly around me, and with deft fingers, this multimillion dollar screen goddess is pleasuring me, her red-nailed fingers expertly drawing me into her. I’m being mouthed by a Hollywood legend. Her golden head is bobbing in my mirror and I can see her fabulous ass moving up and down reflected in the dark gray of the TV screen. And with that I explode.
“Welcome to Hollywood,” she says.
That actually happened. I’m definitely going to use it in my novel. I might hint at her name but frankly I’m a little scared of the husband. He looks a vindictive shit to me.
The publisher thinks I’m the answer to their prayers, according to Morty. But Richard Hume is their editor and a New Yorker and he’s very smart and not so easily sold. Richard Hume is wearing tweeds and a bowtie at lunch. He has elegantly manicured hands and big blues eyes. Morty says he’s a WASP in sheep’s clothing. “Go get him, kiddo,” is his advice.
Le Dome on Sunset is packed. It’s the place to lunch. Anyone who is anyone is looking hopefully at longtime owner Eddie to see if he can squeeze them in. I can see Joanie Collins hiding conspicuously in a corner with sister Jackie. Warren Beatty is beaming his short-sighted smile waiting for his lunch date. Bruce Willis sits across from him with Demi. There are several head-turning high-class hookers, clusters of Armani-clad agents, the odd disheveled Director, drop-dead beautiful actresses, the occasional studio head, A-list screenwriters sprinkled with a frosting of rock royalty. The room is abuzz with bullshit.
As I say Richard Hume is very bright and a New Yorker. New Yorkers hate LA. They pride themselves on it. But they can never resist a bit of slumming so you have to play on their weaknesses. They’re tempted by all that flesh and all that power. And of course the weather, which they pretend to hate. So out they come to stay in friends’ beach houses, to drive around getting lost and hating it all.
When I told him I was writing a Reality Novel, he almost choked on his asparagus.
“A reality novel?”
“There’ll be real people in it. I’m in it.”
“Yes. It’s a novel posing as a memoir disguised as a novel.”
“Every book is now a celebrity book. Authors have become more important than their creations. Novelists have become stars in their own novels. When Truman Capote wrote La Cote Basque, he betrayed his friends and was cast into social hell, some people say deservedly. I don’t agree. I think the very job of a writer is to betray what’s happening in the world. What other point is there? With In Cold Blood he actually became the star of his own book. You can see the novel right there saying ‘fuck fiction’ and taking a giant leap where celebrity reigns.
“Philip Roth is in several of his books.”
“Yes, but as Zuckerman. This will be me, Stanley Hay, writing as Stanley Hay. Reports from the frontline, the wenches in the trenches.”
He looks unsure. I need to go upmarket.
“Maybe it was Norman Mailer who did it first, but he did it kinda archly, calling himself Aquarius or some such, or perhaps, come to think of it, it was Martin Amis who was the first to put himself into his own novel by name. But the point is the novel has taken on the documentary aspect of television, stolen the stardom factor from the movies, added the celebrity cult of People magazine and, voilà, it is not dead: it has simply mutated. Pure intellectual Darwinism.”
“And this is The Writer’s Cut?”
“This is The Writer’s Cut.”
“When can I see some pages?”
“The minute it’s finished. I’m white hot at the moment.”
“How far have you got?”
“I’m almost at the end. I’m just doing a final rewrite.”
Which is what we in Hollywood call a creative stretch. A lie to the rest of you. “Almost at the beginning” would have covered it.
“Can we read it soon?”
“We may want to rush release this. I’ll call Morty.”
And with that he picked up the check, stood up and left the restaurant, leaving me speechless.
Dear sweet Jesus, can I bullshit or what?