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Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Werewolf Paradise. Or, Killing People Is Fun

Chris said, "Shit, Cole, I think we just died and went to Heaven!"

I didn't reply. I was too busy gawping at the reason for Chris' speculations in Theography.

Only minutes before we had lunched at a restaurant conveniently located many floors below the production offices of Werewolf, where we worked as story execs for our old buddy Frank Lupo. After paying the tab, we'd climbed aboard an elevator which had clambered ever upward, dropping people off at each level, until finally only the two of us remained.

Then the elevator doors open-sesamed and we found ourselves gazing out on an absolutely stunning tableaux:

A veritable sea of gorgeous, scantily-clad women.

Skirts up to you know where. Shorts cut so high that many parts of the "where" were nicely outlined. Tiny blouses and tops overflowing with feminine bounty. Long, graceful, silken limbs wherever you looked, all shod in heels so high that one wondered how the wearer could remain upright. Scented air direct from some fabled perfumery billowed over our frozen forms.

Chris murmured, "If it's Heaven, it's probably a Muslim Heaven. Let's count and see if there's 72, Allah willing."

"You're supposed to get 72 Virgins," I reminded my partner. "Not hookers." (No disrespect intended, but that's what they looked like - hookers. Albeit very fancy hookers. Girls from high-toned Storyville brothels, or maybe they were channeling the Everleigh Sisters, God bless them.)

Chris snorted. "You're such a nit-picker, Cole," he said. "Whatever it says, I'm definitely converting."

We stumbled forward, as thoroughly pixilated as any poor souls who had ever wandered into a magical forest.

None of the women paid us the slightest attention, but swirled around the hallway, eyes fixed on the carpet, or the ceiling above, muttering to themselves, sometimes gesticulating as if making a point to an invisible audience.

Then I realized that they all had pages in their hands, which they were glancing at for a few seconds, followed by a several moments of closed eyes, accompanied by frowns of concentration. Then they'd start muttering again, while waving their arms about.

"Oh," I said. "They're here for The Unicorn."

"Toldja they were Virgins," Chris said. "Otherwise no self-respecting Unicorn would have a thing to do with them."

But, now he was laughing, because he got it too. The ladies were actresses here for a casting session to pick the lead, and the lead's best friend, for an upcoming episode of Werewolf, titled, "The Unicorn."

In the story the two characters were ladies of the night. One would be murdered by the evil Skorzeny werewolf, played by Chuck Connors, while the other would be rescued by our hero/werewolf played by John York.

So all those gorgeous women actually were working girls, but not the sort that their attire might imply. In Hollywood, an actor pretty much has to dress the part when she/he is trying to land a gig.

Chris and I moved through the crowd, doing our gentlemanly best to avoid bumping into, or boorishly brushing against, so much pulchritude.

When we rounded the bend we were once again brought up short. But this time it was not Beauty that did us in, but a multitude of Beasts.

This portion of the hallway was jammed with the most evil looking men you have ever seen. Thugs one and all. Muscular thugs. Scarred thugs. Tattooed thugs. Snarling thugs. Grimacing thugs. Thugs of every size, shape and hairy-scary countenance.

"Guess we got kicked out of Heaven," Chris said. "And this is the other place."

Fortunately, the thugs also proved to be actors, dressed in character, while milling about the hallway, gesticulating, committing scenes to memory, and muttering lines.

"Must be here for Skinwalker," I said.

In this episode of Werewolf our hero finds himself pitted against a Skinwalker/werewolf, who is murdering members of an Indian tribe stranded in the big city. It was written by Christian Darren, son of James Darren, the former teenage hearthrob, who had gone on to become a helluva television director. (He directed several episodes of Werewolf, including one of ours.)

Chris said, "Either that, or they're here to scalp everybody."

We weren't as gentle with this crowd, elbowing through, getting snarls of resentment, silenced immediately when they saw us open a door that led into the Production Office's inner sanctum.

"If they knew we were just writers," Chris muttered, "instead of something really important like casting agents, they'd probably knife us."

"If they catch on," I said, "you hang back and reason with them while I scurry off for help."

A few seconds later we were safe in our office, which was rather nifty; potted palm in one corner (a gift from Kathryn and Karen), some Sten and Reckoning For Kings book cover posters, (from Kathryn), shelves packed with books (mostly dealing with witchcraft and lycanthropy), two desks with comfortable chairs, two IBM-type computers, and one studio-veep-type wall of glass, which offered a spectacular view of beautiful downtown Burbank, with the Black Tower of MCA/Universal menacing in the distance.

As we settled in, Frank's right-hand man, John Ashley came calling. Ashley was a handsome man in his early 50's. He'd started out as an actor, playing mostly in B-movies, melodramas and horror flicks, then moved into production, putting his long experience and degree in economics to good use. His credits included Apocalypse Now, as well as many hit TV shows, such as The A-Team, which is where I assume he and Lupo became tight.

"Jesus, you guys have been writing up a storm," he said. "Got our fax machines working overtime."

This was no exaggeration. Chris and I had been hammering steadily at our keyboards, producing finished script after script. In all, we wrote eleven episodes of the first season, and did extensive rewrites of most of the remaining eighteen. For The Unicorn episode, for example, we had basically jacked up the title and moved a new script under it. Skinwalker, on the other hand, needed very little help. Christian Darren was an excellent writer.

"Gotta keep feeding the monster," Chris said.

"Well, I don't know if this will help," Ashley said, "or if we're stepping on your Creative Toes."

He dropped a file folder on my desk, flipped it open, and fanned out sheaves of paper with photographs clipped to them. Chris came over to look.

"We've got ourselves a gung-ho location guy in Salt Lake," Ashley said. "Whenever he goes location hunting, he checks out other places he runs into that catch his eye."

For budgetary reasons, the show was being shot in and around Salt Lake City, which proved to offer an unexpected treasure trove of resources. First off, the nice people in Utah had invested a lot of money in the arts, both fine and popular. Set decorators, wardrobe and makeup people, musicians, and just about any other below the line talent we needed were readily, and cheaply, available.

Key people from each department were camping out in Salt Lake and employing experienced locals to work under them. Same with actors. Turned out there were plenty of people with stage experience in Salt Lake, so we only had to send our regulars and guest stars there. Stunt people, of course, were almost always Hollywood pros.

When we finished the first draft of a script, we drew up a rough location and character list, which would be faxed to Salt Lake and the hunt would immediately commence. The final draft usually followed in the next 24 hours, and the cameras would start whirring. A typical shoot was six days, with a one-day turnaround. This meant that on the Seventh Day the actors did not rest, but set to work memorizing their lines for Monday.

Chris and I shuffled through the pictures. One was of a really cool old rollercoaster. Another was of an old black freight train. A series of shots limned a beat up mall, with boarded over windows.

Ashley tapped the train picture. "It's a working train," he said. "And the tracks it's sitting on are part of a small, private rail line. Guy who owns it says we can get the train and as much of the tracks as we need for ten grand for three days."

We both perked up. "Shit, that's cheap!" Chris said.

A sudden thought: there'd been a rash of bum-beatings and murders at the LA yards in recent days. One or two people seemed to have been involved, the cops told the Times reporter. So far, there were no arrests, and no reported clues.

I said, "A werewolf stalking hobos. That'd be a cool story."

Chris and John agreed. "Keep the whole thing on the train," Chris said. "Like we did with Black Ship." (Eventually the train would be featured in an episode titled King Of The Road. A piece of the track and train was also used for Blood On The Track, a boxer story written by Christian Darren.)

Tucking that one away, we went through the other photos. The bankrupt Mall was intriguing as all hell. Malls were all the rage with young people in those days.

"Maybe something with runaways," I said. "Hiding out at the Mall. A kid's paradise. Throw in a werewolf and it could be one scary story."

Everybody liked that too. (A few weeks later, we turned it into something called "A Material Girl," dircted by James Darren.)

Ashley indicated the roller coaster. "They claim it's the last wooden roller coaster in the country," he said.

"Does it work?" Chris asked.

"That's what they told me," Ashley said. "The amusement park went belly up a few years ago, so the owner will let us have the place cheap."

I shrugged. "Yeah, but we'd need a ton of extras, right? And some working rides, besides the roller coaster."

Ashley thought a minute, then said, "I have a buddy who's a honcho at Seven Flags. We could maybe get some second unit guys over there and steal some candid pickups with handhelds."

"That'd look cool," Chris said. "We'll make a definite note of it." (That eventually became an episode titled "Blind Luck," written by Chris' buddy, Dennis Foley.)

Next, there was this crazy-looking junkyard, with cars piled all over the place. This, too, was abandoned - you never think of junkyards going out of business. (Where do you junk the junk in a junkyard?) And it became the setting for Norman Spinrad's Gray Wolf episode, mentioned in the previous Misadventure. Norman's story was about a werewolf who went back to Neanderthal times. The junkyard - with lots of smoky fires adding to the atmosphere - became his lair.

Finally, we were done. And it had proved to be a most productive meeting. Ashley left, bearing many words of appreciative thanks from us to the "gung-ho" location director.

"This is a fucking great job, Cole," Chris said. "Every sucker on the show is pitching in to make it work."

Indeed. So unlike many of the other staff jobs we'd had, where everybody seemed to be working against each other.

We went down the hallway to the coffee room to further fuel our afternoon, once again pushing our way through faux thugs and hookers.

As we were filling our cups, a round little man scurried into the room. He was breathing hard and his eyes were wide with fright. The guy looked a lot like a mouse (with a comb-over) who had just escaped the claws of a hungry feline.

He pointed back through the door and gasped, "Did you see those... those... uh, uh... strange people out there?"

"What strange people?" Chris said in pretended puzzlement. He looked at me. "You see any strange people, Cole?" he asked.

I shook my head. "Nope."

Chris looked back at the little man. "You work around here, buddy?"

The little man nodded. "Down the other hall," he said. He named an accounting firm, whose sign graced the door at the far end of our floor. (Frank had snapped up all the other available space, leaving the accountants stranded in a sea of Hollywood weirdness.)

But, Mr. Mouse was not to be put off. "Surely," he said, "you saw all those, you know, girls... and... and... well, men who look like they belong in prison."

Chris shrugged. "Just folks looking for work," he said. "As it happens, our company is hiring."

Mr. Mouse was startled. "You mean, you... uh... work for ... uh... That Company? The one that's hiring?"

"We certainly do," Chris said.

"Uh... what kind of... you know... business are you in?" the little man asked.

Chris gave him his most wolfish grin. "We kill people," he said.

The little man jumped. "Oh!" he said.

Then higher still: "Oh!"

And he whirled about and scurried from the room as fast as his little legs would carry him.

Chuckling, we got our coffee and made our way back through the throngs of actors. We were still laughing about it a little later, when Frank came into our office.

"It's time, guys," he announced.

"Time to take out Chuck Connors?" I asked.

"You got it," Frank said.

"Fuckin' A," Chris said.



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort.  However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out.  Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think. And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    


  1. For a fly-over town, Salt Lake City does have a pretty significant theater scene. In fact, Utah as a whole is much more artsy than many folk might suspect, unless they'd lived here or had to come here on some kind of art or theater related business. Shit, when I moved back after 14 years gone, I was floored by the number of selling, professional writers in this state. We have our own little writing empire going on out here.

    Was that private railroad the Heber Creeper? I have to think the wooden roller coaster was the big white coaster they have at Lagoon over in Farmington. Hard to believe, but Lagoon has ballooned into a regional theme park, drawing tourists and thrill-seekers from Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, and Washington. The old wooden coaster is still a major attraction at the park. My Dad tells stories about riding it all summer when he was a teenager in the late 1950s.

    As for walking into a sea of Hollywood Hookers, ahem, that's the sort of scenery description that puts spring in a man's stride!

  2. I don't recall the names of the railroad or the amusement park. The park you mentioned must be the same place because everybody swore the wooden roller coaster was the only one left in the States. As for the railroad - we set the whole episode in a boxcar. (it was a hobo trial, with our hero as the murder suspect) Ran that train up and down the track a zillion times to get the exteriors. Or course, the interior of the boxcar was a set - resting on huge springs, like I described in the episode about the Rock Wrangler. Got some muscular grips to rock it back and forth, to give the impression that they are on the train the whole time, when actually, they were only aboard for placement shots that showed the exterior. In the old days they would have just run a film of countryside speeding past, but unless you want to spend a lot of dough on computer imaging, you can't get away with that these days. Audiences are too sophisticated.