The occasion: we were celebrating my brother's graduation from DLI (Defense Language Institute) where he'd finished first in his Arabic class. (Greek was this Irish kid's first language - see why in Lucky In Cyprus.)
We'd been to Universal Studios for a Wrap Party and enjoyed a late dinner at Musso & Frank's Grill, where the drinks were strong, the food grand and the average age of the of waiter/owners rivaled Methuselah's 969 years.
There was a full moon hanging over the Hollywood Hills, and somebody made a Lon Chaney joke, and Chris said, "Hang On," and popped Werewolves Of London into the tape player, cranked it up and we heard Warren Zevon wail:
"Ahhhooooo, werewolves of London!"
We all joined in, warbling: "Ahhhooooo... Ahhhooo... Werewolves of London..."
And then Mr. Zevon goes: "Well, I saw Lon Chaney walkin' with the queen, doin' the werewolves of London."
We all sang the next line with him: "I saw Lon Chaney Junior walkin' with the queen, doin' the werewolves of London..."
Then, just as we hit the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica Mr. Zevon growls: "I saw a werewolf drinkin a Pina Colada at Trader Vic's... And his hair was perfect!"
And Chris cries, "There's Trader Vic's," and sure enough, up ahead was the distinctive Tiki Bar outline of Trader Vic's, and quick like a werebunny, Chris whips the wheel over and we bump into the parking lot, singing, "Ahhhhhoooo... Ahhhooooo... Werewolves of London."
Giggling like fools, we piled out of the BMW and trooped into the place. Thank God it was empty and there were no witnesses, because we all bellied up to the bar, behaving pretty much like a bunch of underage kids with phony ID's.
Chris pounded the bar, crying, "Barkeep! Barkeep! Pina Coladas for the House."
This was a drink none of us would normally imbibe - firm believers all in the ancient dictum, "Thou shalt not drink strong spirits Thou can not taste the alcohol in."
The umbrella-and-silly-fruit drinks arrived and Chris called for a toast: "The Werewolf Of London."
We all cheered and drank. Wiping the foam from my lips I swiveled in my tiki-basket stool and saw that we were not alone in the bar after all. A vaguely familiar figure was ensconced in a booth with a lovely young lady.
I stared. And stared. And then it gradually dawned on me that I was looking at none other than David (The Fugitive) Janssen! As recognition dawned, I saw him reach up and smooth an amazing head of expensively coifed hair.
"Look," I stage whispered to the others.
They looked and immediately got it.
"Fuck me," Chris said. "His hair is fucking perfect!"
And so it was. Smooth, and wavy and carefully parted and frozen into place with some kind of spray-on gunk. We all burst into uncontrollable laughter, spewing Pina Colada all over the place. And it was just perfect, because so was Janssen's hair. Here, see for yourself if you don't believe me.
Anyway, I don't know what poor Mr. Janssen must have thought about the laughing idiots at the bar. From what friends have told me since, the late actor was a gentleman of the first order. But that night we couldn't control our mirthful fits. So, we polished off our Pina Coladas and fled giggling into the night, leaving the bartender a huge tip and Mr. Janssen, no doubt (carefully) scratching his perfect hair.
The next day... which would be too good to be true, but what the hell, this is my story so it was the next damned day.. I was humming Werewolves Of London when the phone rang. Chris grabbed it, face brightening when he heard who was calling.
"It's the Lupo," he announced.
He toggled the speaker phone in time for me to hear Frank Lupo's distinctive voice gravel: "Hey, guys, How ya' doin'?"
We said we were fine, thank you, boss and what could we be doing for you on this fine morning.
"Got a new show on Fox," Frank said. "Maybe you heard about it?"
We hadn't and Frank said, "It's called Werewolf."
Chris and I looked at each other, flashing on the previous night's hilarity. We almost burst out laughing.
"Come again, boss?" Chris managed to say. "What's it called?"
"Werewolf," Frank said. And before we could lapse into hysteria, he added, "The hero's a kid who's a werewolf."
"But werewolves kill people, Frank," Chris said, coming off his humor high.
A patented Lupo chuckle. "That's what the guys at Fox said, and I told them, 'Wait'll you see the fuckin' bad guy.'"
We said pray tell us more and Frank said, "It's a Fugitive kind of thing," and both of us flashed on the perfectly coifed David Janssen with his girl.
Lupo went on to explain that the hero is bitten by the king of the werewolves, becomes a werewolf himself, then is unjustly accused of his best friend's horrible murder. So, he's on the lam from the law - represented by a Javert-like cop named Alamo Joe - searching for the King Werewolf. If he kills him, he'll not only get his revenge, but will break the werewolf spell.
"Whaddya think, guys?" he asked. "Wanna do a script for me?"
Chris said, "Is the Bear Catholic? Does the Pope shit in the woods."
I translated: "Damn straight, Frank!"
And in blink of the eye (in television time), Frank messengered over a tape of the pilot episode and, voila! - we sold the first of what was to be a string of eleven Werewolf scripts - The Wolf Who Thought He Was A Man. Two blinks later, we'd delivered that script, made the changes, then were on to yet another: "The Black Ship."
The show was a writerly blast. It was a half-hour, two-act, drama - a throwback to the days of yore when that format wasn't reserved for laugh-track comedies. Less commercials, that was twenty-two minutes of airtime, which Chris and I always thought was the perfect length for tasty little short stories with crackerjack endings.(If you think about it, most one-hour shows are ridiculously padded out to fill the hour and if you blew away all the fluff, you just might have a decent half-hour left. Other means of padding include the current craze for many-leveled flashbacks: Twenty Minutes Earlier, or Twelve Months Earlier, or It Happened Before - But, Fuck If I Know What Day, Much Less What Time, It Was)
In Frank's new series, John J. York played the unfortunate young fugitive and werewolf in training. The detective obsessed with his capture was limned by Lance LeGault, a marvelous character actor who played on many of Frank's shows. (Most famously, the character of Col. Decker in The A-Team.)
The King of The Werewolves - Janos Skorzeny - was portrayed by none other than the late Chuck Connors. And when Chris and I saw him menacing young Mr. York in the pilot we Believed that his character was pure villainy.
As we watched, Chris said, "Where in Hell has he been hiding his Bad Guy chops all these years? Old Chucky Poo is the perfect TV series Son Of A Bitch, if I ever saw one."
How big of a son of a bitch old Chucky-Poo was in real life, we'd learn just a little bit down the road.
(BTW: Here's a Chuck Connors interview with Arsenio Hall about Werewolf on the Fox Network's Late Show.)
We were still working on the "Black Ship" when Frank called yet again.
"Hey guys," he said, "how'd'ja like to come over and run my story department?"
Halle-damned-lujah! Would we!
Lupo was bar none the most fun producer we had ever worked for. I don't mean, party, hilarity, fun. I mean, pure writer-type fun. He had even made Galactica 1980 (where we first met him) almost bearable. Okay, even he couldn't work that miracle, but he by God tried.
Frank was a lot like another favorite writer/producer, Nick Corea (See "Showdown At The Incredible Hulk), in that he was a serious writer, himself. He gave you free rein to write what you wanted, as long as you hit the basic marks in the series. Which in Werewolf meant that you had to have a last act Wolfout. You could have more than one transformation, but you didn't want to overdo it because of (a) expense, and (b) the audience might become jaded and bored.
As Chris put it: "You gotta keep to the Steven King Rule (Danse Macabre) which is don't show the monster until you absolutely have to. Tease 'em, tighten the scare-me screws, then, Fucking Rowllll! and they're guaranteed to piss their goddamn pants."
Anyway, for a change we really loved the idea of working on staff. It was Frank Lupo, for crying out loud! The only wrinkle was that we had two other offers at that time: High Mountain Ranger, starring Robert Conrad and The New Zorro, helmed by another buddy of ours - Michael Halperin.
The reason we were so sought after at the time, was partly due to the publication of the paperback version of our Vietnam novel - A Reckoning For Kings. (Dead Tree Edition; Kindle Edition) Although the hardcover had gotten zip support from the publisher, Atheneum Books, (we were "orphaned" three times, plus the company was bought out by Scribner's) the reviews had been universally fabulous and the book was nominated for many awards.
Then Random House (or, as Chris called it: Rum-Dum House), the parent company of Ballantine/Del Rey Books, which also published the Sten Series, stepped into the breach and bought the paperback rights for ten times what the pikers at Atheneum had paid us for the hardcover.
The first print run was one million books. You heard right - One Million!
Chris and I realized exactly what that meant one day when we made a mid-day run to Boy's Market in the Marina Del Rey.
As we approached the entrance, the automatic doors hissed open and we stepped out of the bright sun into the cool interior of the store. Blinking like Mr. Mole and His Cousin emerging from spring cleaning chores, we found ourselves staring at an impressively tall revolving paperback rack.
It was an amazing sight, because from top to bottom there was not one, but three rows of A Reckoning For Kings. Each slot packed five or six books deep.
Chris hissed, "Son of a bitch, Cole, look!"
"I'm looking, I'm looking," I said.
Numb, we tottered over to the rack. Took a couple out. Flipped pages. Examined our picture on the back. Looked at the cover again. Studied the bylines.
"Shit, it's really ours!" Chris said.
Then he was yanking at my arm, saying, "Would you look at fucking that, Cole!"
I turned to see where he was pointing. At first, all I noticed was row after row of check out aisles. Cash registers. Check out people operating them. Racks of candy and magazines and...
Damn! And there was Reckoning again! Stuffed in every single rack for what must have been twenty aisles.
Except for a few scatological exclamations, we were left speechless.
Then awareness partly returned. Chris said, "Come on. Let's get the stuff and split, before I come down with a case of the fucking vapors."
We got the stuff, then stood in line as the check-out person punched in our purchases. (This was before the days of the carpal tunnel destroying SKEW scanners.)
It was Chris' turn to pay and he scribbled a check, tore it out, reached into his pocket for ID. Then stopped.
A huge grin split his face and instead of his pocket, he reached for a copy of Reckoning.
Then he turned and slapped the book and check on the counter, telling the Check Out Lady, "I've waited my whole life to do this. Here's my check. And here's my ID."
The lady smiled, but looked confused.
Chris tapped the book, indicating his byline. "That's me," he said. "Chris Bunch." He flipped it over, displaying the authors' picture on the back. Indicated his mug shot. Then pointed at his real-life face. "See? It's really me!"
The light dawned for the Check Out Lady and she laughed. "Congratulations," she said.
The other people in line got the spirit. Vacant-shopper looks turned to smiles. Everyone congratulated us and a few people even grabbed copies of the books for us to autograph in the grocery store line.
The store manager came over to see what the noise was about and he immediately joined the show. He set up a card table and some chairs at the entrance to the store, stacked up piles of books and we had an impromptu autograph session right there and then.
We drove home euphoric as all hell.
"Fuck a bunch of lunch," Chris said. "I'm for getting plotzed."
"Here, here," I said.
And so that's what we did.
Before long the word about Reckoning spread, and job offers started pouring in. We turned them all down except the before mentioned High Mountain Ranger and Zorro. We were thinking those over when Frank phoned with his Siren, "Ahhhooooo... Werewolf Of London..." call.
In the end, they say, Blood will out. In our case, that was literal. Gobs of it.
So, we packed up our silver bullets and headed over the Hill to join Frank on his new show.
After we got settled into our office, found the coffee alcove and the men's room, Frank came by to see us.
"Guys," he said, "I know you're busy on your next script."
We said we were - by now we were on to "Let Us Prey," a Werewolf episode set in a monastery.
"Great," he said. "But while you're workin' on that, I want you to start thinking about something else."
"How can we help you, boss?" Chris asked.
Frank grinned and said, "I want you guys to fucking kill Chuck Connors for me."
NEXT: THE SILVER BULLET SANCTION