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.
Dreams are harder to kill than cockroaches. That was my new mantra. I had my dreams, and they would not die. Wearing a suit and tie, I headed back to the film studio where I was formerly employed before being kicked off the lot by security.
Carrying a large, white file box that weighed fifty pounds, I marched up to the guard at the east gate and nodded confidently.
“I have a rush delivery for Marty Silverman at Rosebud International Pictures.”
“Do you have a pass?” the guard asked.
“I better. These are scripts from Jeff Berg’s office at ICM.” Disguising myself as an agent-in-training and claiming to be from one of the Big Three agencies should sway suspicious minds.
“What’s your name?”
“Sam Steele,” I lied.
“Wait there.” The guard disappeared into his booth. He shuffled through his paperwork and then frowned at me. “You’re not on my list.”
“Silverman’s assistant probably forgot. Happens all the time with Phyllis.” Another name dropped. I hoped the bitch still worked for Marty.
The guard picked up the phone. “Where’d you say you’re from again?”
“I work for Jeff Berg at ICM.” I tried my best to sound annoyed. “This box weighs a ton.”
The guard dialed Silverman’s office. Sweat beaded on my neck, but I knew I could count on Rosebud International Pictures being disorganized. Whoever answered the call would be clueless. Or so I hoped.
“This is Alex from the east gate,” the guard said into the phone. “I have someone from Jeff Berg’s office with a delivery for Mr. Silverman, but he’s not on the list.”
The guard bobbed his head twice and then hung up. He stepped out of the booth. “Next time get on the list.”
I hurried toward the Rosebud office, but when I sensed I was no longer being watched, I detoured left and entered the executive building instead. I nodded and slipped past another sleepy guard seated behind a desk of video monitors. Nobody checked security inside the gates. I walked briskly to the stairs and descended into the basement like I had many times before when I was actually working for Marty Silverman.
A carpeted corridor. Walls lined with old posters of forgotten movies. I hurried along with purpose until I came to the studio mailroom. I ducked inside.
By design, I had arrived when all the mailroom clerks were on their lunch break. I was the only one there. I opened my box and dumped the contents into an outgoing mail bin. Sixty catalog envelopes, each marked with the mail code from Rosebud International Pictures. Given the volume of mail the studio churned through each day, no one would notice me sending out copies of Glamourville on Rosebud’s dime. But I would save hundreds of dollars in postage.
Task completed, I calmly left. To any guard watching on the security cameras, my behavior appeared perfectly normal. I was just another studio intern doing grunt work, trying to climb the ladder of success by grabbing each shit-smeared rung.
As I was walking down the basement hallway, two senior executives exited a private screening room. I froze for a second and then nonchalantly followed after them. The carpet muffled my footsteps. The executives, intent on their business, didn’t hear me eavesdropping.
“How does it work?” the first man asked.
The second answered, “One of the accountants in charge is a Yale buddy of mine. All we do is tell him who should win, and he makes it happen.”
“This can never come back to bite our balls.”
“It won’t. During the voting, they split up the ballots so nobody counts an entire category. Nobody knows the results except the accountant who adds up the subtotals.”
“Our accountant,” the first man said.
“Yes, our insider. We tell him which name to put in the little white envelope and on the big night, we pop the champagne. Works like magic.”
“I love it.” The first man pressed the button to the elevator. “How much will it cost us?”
“Depends on what category. Best Picture is expensive, of course. Best Actor and Actress are a little less.”
“Can we buy a slot and fill in the names later?”
“Abso-fucking-lutely. Provided we secure the nominations, naturally.”
“Fixing nominees is already in the budget,” the first man said. The elevator doors glided open, and the two executives walked in. “I heard Nicholson is presenting Best Picture this year. I’d love to buy that slot today.”
“I hope you brought your checkbook.”
Both men chuckled as the elevator doors closed.
That night at Bamboo, I told Matt Steele what I had overheard at the studio.
He rolled his eyes. “Big deal.”
“Big deal? The Academy Awards are supposed to be a celebration of the cinematic art form. It’s criminal to turn them into something that can be bought by the highest bidder.”
Matt made the sound of a wet fart with his lips.
“What?” I said.
“Sam, it’s all about marketing. You’re a Jew. How can you not understand this? Our people are good at four things: science, medicine, telling jokes, selling crap, and making hats.”
“That’s five things,” I pointed out.
“Clever boy. But our people understand the power of a star-studded show that attracts enough eyeballs to make advertisers jizz in their pants.”
“Why rig the results? A billion people will watch the broadcast no matter who wins.”
Matt shook his head. “You still don’t get it, Sam. This is America. Winning is all that matters in a mercantile culture. Capitalism is a giant game of king of the hill — winner take all.”
“Ethically speaking, if it’s rigged, we all lose. Cheating is wrong.”
“What are you, a Puritan?” Matt laughed.
Nacho placed his hands on the bar in front of us and leaned forward, overhearing bits of our conversation. “Did you say the Oscars are rigged?”
“Yes, indeed,” Matt said.
“I’ve known that for many years,” Nacho said.
“What? How?” I asked.
“It became obvious to me the year The Omen was passed over for Best Picture. Even a boy can spy through a keyhole and know what he sees is very dirty.”
Matt Steele called me ten days later, excited about the hot new contact who had agreed to read Glamourville. He suggested I pose as a delivery driver and drop off the script myself, to save time and money.
I’d done plenty of delivery work for others. I knew how to dress for the role. Baggy shorts, T-shirt, backward baseball hat. When I walked through the doors of Hughes Entertainment, my heart almost stopped.
Sitting behind the reception desk was one of the sex workers I had visited just four nights earlier. I didn’t know how to react. Should I acknowledge we know each other? Or pretend we were strangers? It was an awkward moment, especially given the seediness of our encounter and the foul acts we engaged in.
“Can I help you?” She was playing it cool. Then she tilted her head oddly. There was a flicker of recognition in her eyes.
“I have a delivery for John Hughes.” I handed her my screenplay and did my best to avoid looking her in the face.
“Do I need to sign anything?” she asked, staring at me quizzically.
“You look familiar.” She touched a finger to her glossed lips. “Do you go to yoga?”
I shook my head. “Not me.”
“Huh. I’m usually great with faces. I know you from somewhere.”
“I make a lot of deliveries.”
“But you’ve never been here before. I’d remember that.”
“Maybe the grocery store,” I offered, too embarrassed to tell her the truth. I obviously had made no impression during our depraved sexual liaison.
“That could be it. Oh well. It’ll come to me.” The phone rang and she answered, “Hughes Entertainment. How may I direct your call?”
I retreated out of the production office without saying another word. The receptionist might not remember where we met, but I would never forget it.
The previous Sunday night, after scouring the LA Weekly for a suitable adult entertainer, I found an escort who went by the name of “Sindee.” In her ad, she claimed to be a Kathleen Turner look a like. I phoned, and thirty minutes later, I was knocking on her door.
I had expected the eroticism of Body Heat. Instead, I was greeted by an overweight woman with flabby tits whose only resemblance to Kathleen Turner was her gender.
Under any other circumstances, I would not have been attracted to her. But it was after midnight. We were alone. In my mind, I had already spent the hundred and eighty dollars stuffed in my pocket. Plus, I was horny.
She had a nice smile. Who would ever know?
Her apartment reeked of marijuana. Sindee, obviously stoned out of her mind, unbuttoned her night gown. Her formless tits hung like rotten fruit.
“I liked what you said on the phone,” I said.
“About getting your asshole licked?”
“Right,” I answered.
“You’re in for a treat, sweetie.” Sindee spread a bath towel across the floor. “I love licking ass. Lay down.”
I laid face down on the towel and tried to relax.
After popping a porno tape in the VCR, Sindee used a warm wash cloth to clean my anus. Then she spread my buttock cheeks wide, buried her tongue up my butthole, and started licking away. Five minutes later, she reached under my hips and jerked me off until I ejaculated on her mauve fluffy towel. This was the highlight of my week.
A few days after delivering my script to John Hughes, I was in a listless fugue state when Ruth, my handler at the Fishman Agency, phoned me.
“I have a potential job for you,” she said. “A producer is looking for a new development boy. It’s a full-time position, with benefits. Could be a perfect fit, considering your screenwriting background. Are you interested in being a d-boy?”
“Who’s the producer?” I asked, tepidly.
“Leslie Schur, at Schur Fire Productions.”
“Never heard of her.”
“She used to be Brian De Palma’s agent back in the seventies. Switched to producing a couple years ago. Are you interested in the job? There’s an interview process.”
I hesitated. Saying yes would be a capitulation on my part. Working in development, I’d forever be sweating over other writer’s words, not my own. But I’d suffered some severe blows to my ego lately, so I gave in.
I told Ruth, “Sure, set it up.”
(to be continued…)