AUTHOR’S NOTE: Three years ago, I received an email from an old college classmate. He wanted me to write a memoir about the time he spent in Hollywood from 1988–1992 trying to become a screenwriter. He felt his experiences might help anyone who migrates to Los Angeles chasing dreams. I was skeptical at first, but as we talked, I became fascinated by his sordid adventures. What you’re reading is a serialization of his story.
The devastating news came on July 1, 1991. I was watching television, per Matt Steele’s suggestion. Entertainment Tonight was my new favorite source of Industry gossip. The chatty hosts announced the big story of the day: Michael Landon had lost his battle with cancer. He was dead, and countless fans mourned the passing of the man who played Little Joe Cartwright so well.
I stared at the screen, wondering what Landon’s death meant for my script. Was my handshake deal with Irwin Allen now dead as well?
Much to my surprise, Irv called me the following afternoon. “I’m sure you heard the bad news.”
“Yes, last night.” I was in mourning. Not for Michael Landon, but for my deal. Irv intuitively sensed my despair.
“Don’t worry, son,” Irwin Allen said. “Every setback is also an opportunity. John Wayne turned down the role of Dirty Harry, and that lucky break sent Clint Eastwood to superstardom. That’s how this town works. Bad news for Landon becomes good news for someone else.”
“Is our deal off?” I was trembling inside.
“That depends. I put on my thinking cap and made some major adjustments.”
“I want to attach a big-name writer. A reliable name. It’s for the good of the project, and you’ll still get paid with a ‘story by’ credit, but that’s the best I can promise.”
My heart sank. Irwin was flushing me like a turd with barely a backward glance into the bowl. Without Landon, his confidence was waning and attaching a writer the studios were already familiar with was the safest move.
“So I am out,” I said.
“No, not entirely. I need you to do me a favor.” I could almost hear Irwin Allen smiling. “I think you’ll like the screenwriter who is coming on to rewrite you. But he wants to meet you.”
“I don’t understand. If he’s rewriting my script, why does he need me?”
“He said, and these are his exact words, ‘I don’t titty-fuck anybody’s bitch without an invitation.’”
“Who said that?”
My heart skipped a beat. Milius was a living legend for writing Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn, Big Wednesday, and Dirty Harry. Without his Conan movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger might have remained an obscure muscle head. Milius was magic. He was the macho wordsmith every aspiring screenwriter idolizes and wants to be. He wrote some of the most memorable dialogue ever uttered on film. To many, myself included, he was a screenwriting god.
He was also taking my baby and sticking his cock up the baby’s ass.
And he’d be well paid for it.
I felt elated and betrayed all at once. I gritted my teeth.
Any sale in Hollywood is a step toward legitimacy in an industry that rewards success above all else. On the other hand, there would be little left of Sam Reuben when Glamourville was rewritten by Milius’s grubby paws. It would be like watching another man raise your children and French kiss your wife in public.
Every creative person who isn’t certifiably insane becomes jaded over time. But I still believed in my dream. My delusions of grandeur kept me going when common sense and Matt Steele reminded me I was an idiot. Maybe I hadn’t fully blossomed into a professional writer yet, but I was ready to act like one.
“So will you meet with him?” Irwin Allen asked.
“It would be an honor,” I replied.
In spite of the name, the Beverly Hills Gun Club was actually located in a quiet neighborhood bordering Santa Monica. Matt Steele pulled his black Audi into the parking lot, killed the engine, and tossed his sunglasses on the dashboard.
Then we climbed from his car and headed toward the entrance of the gun club.
“You’re doing the right thing meeting Milius,” Matt said, carrying his personal pistol case. “Even if he does a full rewrite, you’ll still gain legitimacy. Remember the power meeting tactics I told you?”
We reached the building and stopped walking. I pivoted to Matt and recited my instructions: “Look Milius in the eyes. Give a firm handshake. Swear like a goddamn motherfucker. Be a man. I got it.”
“Milius may be a burly asshole who hates all forms of authority, but he’s a writer first, and he’s also a Jew. You both stand on equal ground.” Matt studied his reflection in the glass door and groomed his hair. “If you start to panic, remember I’ll be shooting in one of the other lanes. Just signal me, and I’ll come save your ass.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said. “I can handle my business.”
“I know, but it won’t hurt your reputation if Milius knows your manager is a gun enthusiast.”
There was a mad twinkle in Matt’s eyes.
“You’re excited about meeting John Milius,” I said.
“Sure I am. That smell in the air? It’s not gun smoke. It’s money.”
Matt smiled, and then we entered the gun club.
A range officer gave me a pair of ear protectors and led me to the indoor firing range. We walked down a fluorescent-lit hall to the shooting lane where John Milius was firing a pistol at a paper bull’s-eye target. Even with ear protectors on, the noise was deafening.
Milius squeezed off three more shots, then saw me and laid his pistol down on the desk in front of him. The range officer nodded at Milius and left.
John Milius was a bearish man much larger than me. He removed his ear protectors, sliding them around his fleshy neck, then thrust an oversize hand at me.
“You must be Sam.”
I was expecting a bone-crusher handshake from the man who penned Conan the Barbarian, but his grip was soft and his palm sweaty. He had the smooth, callus-free fingers of somebody who spent his days typing.
“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Milius. I’m a big fan.”
“You know why I wanted to meet, don’t you?”
“Irv said you wanted my blessing on a rewrite.”
“I hate rewrite jobs,” Milius grumbled. “Always end up sweating over a piece of crap that’ll get rewritten into crappier shit by somebody else. But Glamourville’s actually pretty good. So I wanted to give you the respect of telling you man-to-man that I need to change every last word.”
We had a staring contest that lasted seconds before he grinned amiably.
“That’s very kind of you,” I said.
“You should be pissed as hell at me. I’ve been in your shoes. You’re about to get screwed.”
“Feels like grudgingly raped,” I observed.
“Couldn’t’ve said it better myself. You wrote a nice script, but you need a powerful bastard like me to make it wildly entertaining.”
“I will, but I’m gonna offer you something in return. A little payback rewrite job, in fact.”
“I rape somebody else?” I said.
“I want you to rape me!” Milius threw a meaty arm around my shoulder, pulled me closer, and lowered his voice. “I’ve been working on a new script, a Viking epic. Loads of research on the Norse invasion of Britain and all the raping and pillaging they did. I haven’t been this excited about a project since Apocalypse Now, but I’m struggling with the barbarous sex scenes. Every sexual moment strikes me as false. I never felt the work I did on Conan was completely honest, and I view my Norsemen script as atonement. So I need help.”
“What do you want from me?”
“Sex it up. Take a pass at my orgy scenes and add truth to them. Sometimes I’m too romantic for my own damn good, and my writing suffers for it.”
“Why me?” I asked. “You must be friends with dozens of other screenwriters. What about William Goldman?”
“Goldman can suck my balls. I wouldn’t let that Jew prick touch one of my screenplays if it brought John Ford back from the grave. I want you.” Milius jabbed a plump finger at me. “I loved how you handled the filthy sex in Glamourville.”
“As in hot tub party?”
“Precisely. That kind of dirty writing is anathema to my generation, but sometimes a script needs raw animalistic sex to make it sing. Will you rape my Norsemen?”
Before I could quip to John Milius that it would make my day to work on his script, Matt joined us and said, “I’m Matt Steele. Sam’s manager.”
John Milius shook Matt’s hand vigorously. “Didn’t realize we were supposed to bring representation. Thought this was informal.”
“It is,” Matt said, fighting hard not to grimace. “I just happened to be target shooting when I saw Samuel walk in, so I thought I’d pop over and say ‘hi.’”
Milius released his handshake. “What are you packing?”
Matt Steele carefully opened his pistol case. Inside were two handguns nestled in foam padding. They were compact weapons, ones that could be concealed under a tuxedo jacket.
Matt removed the smaller of the two pistols first. It was a tiny thing that looked like a toy. Not even six inches long. “This is an exact replica of James Bond’s gun in the first five novels. A Beretta in twenty-five caliber.” Matt placed the Beretta back in the gun case and picked up the other pistol. It was slightly bigger than the Beretta but not by much. “I also shoot Bond’s Walther PPK.”
Milius snorted. “Those are girly guns. No stopping power. They belong to your kid sister?”
“They’re perfect weapons for spies,” Matt said. “Easy to conceal and deadly if you’re a crack shot.”
“Pansy British iron. Ian Fleming was such a ponce. Do you know what they call that raisin pudding they eat in England? Spotted dick. It was one of Fleming’s favorite foods. Anybody who eats spotted dick is not to be trusted with guns.”
“What’s your favorite gun?” Matt asked.
“Dumb question. Like asking me to pick my favorite screenplay. I love all my children. But if you must know, today I’m shooting Dirty Harry’s forty-four Magnum.”
“The most powerful handgun in the world,” I cut in, excitedly. “It’ll blow your head clean off.”
“Actually, that’s not true,” Milius said. “It was never true. I made up that bullshit for the movie because I thought it sounded cool. It’s a beautiful weapon, and I was trying to convey that beauty poetically. Want to fire a few rounds from it?”
I held up my hands defensively. “Not me.”
“How about your manager?” Milius nodded at Matt. “Bet he’d like to get his hands on a piece of firearm history. Or is Dirty Harry’s rod too big to handle?”
“The coach of the West German Olympic team taught me how to shoot,” Matt said.
Milius chuckled. “You must be a marksman then.”
“I don’t like to brag.”
“Sounds like we better lay our schlongs on the table and see who’s the bigger man. Six shots each? NRA scoring? Loser buys the beer?”
“Make it Cuervo Gold and you’ve got a bet,” Matt said.
“Maybe you’re not such a pansy after all.” Milius picked up the Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver and showed it to us. An engraved silver shield set into the grip read: TO JOHN MILIUS FROM WARNER BROS & CLINT EASTWOOD FOR DIRTY HARRY & MAGNUM FORCE, 1973.
“Holy fuck,” Matt stammered. “This is the actual gun from the actual movies.”
“It was used in the first two films.” Milius flipped open the cylinder and loaded in six .44 Remington Magnum cartridges. Then he snapped the cylinder closed and handed the historic revolver to Matt. “Be careful. She kicks a bit.”
“I imagine so.”
We put on our ear protectors and eye protectors. Matt assumed a shooter’s stance, took steady aim at the target, squeezed the trigger, and BOOM!
The revolver recoiled violently, nearly slamming back into Matt’s forehead. In the process, he lost his grip and nearly fumbled the pistol to the floor.
John Milius quickly stepped in and took the gun from Matt’s shaking hands. “I think that’s enough for today. Maybe you girls should go get an ice cream.”
Climbing into Matt’s Audi, I said, “What the hell was that?”
“I’m managing your career. That means I step in to keep you from fucking yourself.”
“He wanted me to work on his script!” I yelled.
“Calm down. He was exploiting you.” Matt turned the ignition, and the engine purred to life.
“Exploiting me? We were two writers bonding over shared projects.”
“Keep dreaming.” Matt dropped the Audi into reverse and squealed out of the parking lot. “Milius doesn’t want you.”
“But you’re a John Milius fan.”
“Formerly a fan. I was testing the great man to see how he’d handle adversity, and he failed.”
“What? How?” I asked.
“He was scared I’d wreck his dumb movie gun. He claims to be a Zen anarchist, but he got all bitchy and nearly pissed himself when I pretended to drop his precious pistol. It’s often that way with blowhards who talk a big game. Underneath they’re the biggest pussies of all. Never meet your heroes. That’s our great lesson for today.”
(to be continued…)