|Your Intrepid Hollywood Writers|
Chalk in one hand, pointer in the other, the teacher skritched her name on the blackboard, then made a squeaky, swirly underline beneath and announced loud and clear for all to hear:"I'm Miss Susan Fordyce and I'll be your Journalism Advisor this year."
With her pointer, she tapped a large banner above the blackboard, which read: LA VISTA
And informed us, "This is where we publish Mira Costa's student newspaper, La Vista."
The kid in front of me snickered. "No shit," he said in a stage whisper that I'd come to learn was his trademark.
Miss Fordyce whirled on him! "Chris? Did you have something you wanted to share with the class?"
The kid named Chris said, "No, Ma'am. I was only expressing my pleasure that I wasn't in the wrong room. And I almost forgot the name of our school newspaper. Thanks for setting me straight."
Miss Fordyce paled and her lips, which were already thin, became pencil lines. For a minute I thought she was going to give the kid a righteous piece of her mind, but then she sighed, adjusted her stylish (for 1960) cat's eyes spectacles and returned her attention to the rest of us.
She said, "For your first assignment I want each of you to write a short biography about yourself, and then-"
The kid named Chris raised a laconic hand to half mast, saying, "You mean autobiography, don't you Miss Fordyce?"
She gave him a confused look - what the hell?
But before she could speak, the kid named Chris explained, "A biography about yourself would be an autobiography, wouldn't it, Ma'am?"
Another long sigh. "Yes, Chris," Miss Fordyce said.
From her tone I guessed she'd endured previous encounters with the guy. Probably last year, when he would have been a Junior. Only Juniors and Seniors could be in Journalism. I was a senior and the kid had that Don't Mess With Me, I'm An Upperclassman look, so I figured he was a senior as well.
It was my first day at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach - I'd transferred in from Hollywood High. The semester before that I'd attended three different high schools - one in Florida, two in Philadelphia. And before that, Kubasaki High School, in Okinawa.
How all that occurred is another story, and you can read all about it in my book, Lucky In Cyprus. In brief, I was a young nomad - a CIA brat who'd spent his life bouncing around the world, leaving everyone he knew behind and mostly forgotten.
And now I was in sore need of new friends.
Up front, Miss Fordyce was telling everyone that she expected the biog... mmm... autobiography... at the end of class. She would review them overnight and in the morning she would announce which of us were to be editors and which of us were to be mere reporters on "our award-winning student newspaper - La Vista."
Somebody asked, "How many pages."
Miss Fordyce raised three fingers. "Three," she said.
There were groans. In an outraged tone, somebody said: "Three pages?!?" (I would occasionally remember those groans years later when I'd routinely turn out a hundred or more pages a shift for whatever newspaper I was working at. And they were typed, not handwritten.)
Miss Fordyce remained firm. "At a minimum," she said.
There were more groans - but not, I noticed from the kid named Chris. Miss Fordyce told us to get started and he just shrugged, got out paper and a pen and started writing.
I glanced around, noting there were about two dozen of us. All girls, except for me, the kid named Chris, another kid whose name I'd later learn was Tom, and another guy whose name escapes me. Among the girls was a petite blond named Carol Cavanagh who was destined to be my ex-wife. But that catastrophe was in the future and so in my blissful ignorance I was of good cheer when I got to writing.
It only took a few minutes. I was a good writer, a fast writer, and besides I was used to this sort of thing. By the time I hit Mira Costa, I'd attended thirty one schools and had explained myself to so many people so many times - both formally and informally - that I had the whole thing down pat.
The kid named Chris had finished his assignment as well and fetched a book from the stack beneath his desk, opened it and became instantly absorbed. Hmm, I thought. A reader. That's a good sign.
I took further note. He was still in his skinny teenage stage, but from his long legs I could tell that he was tall. And he had a huge head topped by a buzz-saw haircut.
I craned to get a better look at what he was reading. From what I could see it was an odd-looking tome, with weird symbols and illustrations.
I whispered: "What's the book?"
He glanced back, displaying a long, shovel-shaped face and steely blue eyes. He shrugged and showed me the cover. It was The Encyclopedia Of Witchcraft And Demonology.
Damn, I thought. Now this has got to be one interesting guy.
I gave him a thumbs up and a grin. "Name's Cole," I said. He nodded. "I'm Bunch." Then went back to his book.
The following day, Miss Fordyce announced that she and the editor of the paper, a girl named Carol Chadwick - whose family owned a nursery across the street from the school - had made their choices. The other Carol - the one who was to be my future ex-wife - was named editor of Page One. I forget who was made editor of Page Two.
Chris Bunch was to be editor of Page Three, the feature page, on which he would soon establish a humor column titled, Phantasmagoria. It was packed with puns, some obscure, some not, and the column gave Miss Fordyce conniptions each week trying to ferret out rude double meanings. Without great success, I'm pleased to say.
I was named co-sports editor, along with the kid named Tom, whose last name I learned was Mead. This decision, no doubt, was made because, besides the kid whose name I forget, we were the only other males. And in those days only human beings bearing the XY chromosome were deemed suitable for the Sports Beat. The kid whose name I forget was a genial jock, who could barely spell, so that left him out of the running.
Of that group, three of us would become pros. Me and Chris, plus Tom Mead who would go on to become a reporter for Copley News. (Chris and I used him as a war correspondent in our Vietnam book - A Reckoning For Kings)
It was at Mira Costa that Chris and I hatched our first conspiracy.
The school was building a new indoor Olympic-sized swimming pool as well as a new auditorium. Why anyone would construct an indoor pool in Southern California where it rains maybe once every seven years is anybody's guess.
But Mira Costa was blessed with an enormous amount of vacant land, and in those days California schools were brimming with money, thanks to Baby Boom parents shelling out taxes so their little darlings would be decently educated to deal with a future made uncertain when the Russians shamed us by beating us into space with the Sputnik.
Wondering how Mira Costa had acquired so much land in a beach community where property values were golden, Chris did a little research. When he kept coming up with Japanese surnames attached to the previous property owners, he really dug in. Manhattan Beach was an upper middle class, very white, aerospace community where there was only one black family and a young Japanese American guy and his wife who ran a restaurant across from the pier. And they were newcomers.
Chris learned that prior to World War Two there had been many Japanese families who had lived in the area for years and owned well-established farms and nurseries. When World War Two broke out, so did mass hysteria and xenophobia and despite the fact that most of the farmers were native born Americans, they were rounded up and stuck in concentration camps. Their land and possessions were seized, or sold for less than a song.
The law that permitted this enormous ripoff was Executive Order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt and later upheld by the Supreme Court. (More than 120,000 people of Japanese descent were interred. Most were native-born Americans.)
And guess, what, folks? The land our school sat upon and was building new auditoriums and lavish indoor swimming pools upon had been stolen from Japanese-American families not many years before.
Chris wrote a series of articles exposing this wrong-doing, and a companion editorial urging that the families be located and properly reimbursed.
The articles never saw the light of day. No surprise there, right? But, Chris dug in and fought the censorship, enlisting first my support, then others, but nothing ever came of it.
Except that Chris ended up on Miss Fordyce's permanent shit list for causing so much trouble.
Well, what could she do to even the score? She could give him a poor grade, but other than myself, he was easily the best writer in the class. Nothing less than an "A" would be acceptable.
She bided her time until the annual Navy Day came round. Navy Day was a rather clever U.S. Navy PR (meaning Recruiting) program, in which student journalists spent a day and a night aboard one of the nation's battleships or aircraft carriers, and then wrote an article about the experience for their school newspaper. The article would be entered in a contest and the winners in various categories would win a handsome plaque, or framed scroll - I forget which. Maybe it was both.
Considering the times, you won't be surprised to learn that only boy journalists were allowed to participate in the program - just like only boys could cover sports.
That was when Miss Fordyce struck. She handed official invitations to me, Tom, and the kid whose name I forget - but, not Chris.
"Your classroom attitude leaves something to be desired," she informed him when he protested. "And, so I must withhold your invitation."
In later years, Chris would have told her where to put that attitude business, but he was too close to graduation to take the risk. It seemed that nothing could be done about it. The real pity was that Chris was the only one of us who really gave a damn. Sounded like fun, sure, but not that much fun.
Chris, on the other hand, loved everything military. Read stacks of books about wars and battles and weapons. Plus, his father had served aboard an aircraft carrier in WWII. (The same carrier the First President Bush - father of the Shrub - flew off of during his wartime service, and then crashed into the sea where he was rescued after a harrowing time afloat. Some of you might think the rescue was a good thing, others might not.)
"This is totally screwed, Cole," he complained. "If an editor spikes your story you're supposed to have the balls to kick, right?"
Unfortunately, the First Amendment stops at the gates of your local school, and even bitching about it brings down the wrath - and pettiness - of The Powers That Be.
I tried to plead his case to Miss Fordyce, but she had put her Mean on and could not be budged. So, I got together with Tom Mead and the other guy and we joined forces and told her that if Chris couldn't go, none of us would.
These were the days of Teacher Loyalty Oaths and Commie Scares, so in the end she had to cave. Otherwise, she'd look unpatriotic.
We went. Had a nifty time. And when we returned we elected Chris to write the story about our experiences. He filled it with authentic detail, colorful quotes from officers and enlisted men alike and eventually it was Chris Bunch who snapped up the Navy Day prize for Best In The State, bringing honor to La Vista and pissing Miss Fordyce off to no end.
Although Chris' articles about Executive Order 9066 never ran, many years later he and I sold a story based on that travesty to Jack Klugman for ten grand. Which ain't bad for a little high school research.
And thus began a friendship that lasted over three decades; twenty of which we spent as writing partners. Our first collaboration was a very bad thriller, which we wrote by mail while he was humping jungle in Vietnam and I was pounding a typewriter in a newsroom.
The book was kind of a game. I'd write a chapter with a cliff-hanger ending, then ship it to Chris. Chris would solve the cliff-hanging business, continue the story, ending his chapter with a cliffhanger. If one guy couldn't solve the puzzle, he owed the other guy a bottle of scotch. If the guy who set up the cliff-hanger was stumped himself, he owed two bottles of scotches. I don't remember how it all came out.
We also collaborated on the world's worst porn novel, but gave up midway, bored out of our skulls.
Both of us had dreamed of becoming novelists and screenwriters well before our ages hit the double digits. And in 1976 we made a pact to team up and launch a concerted effort to crack the literary walls of both Hollywood and New York.
We worked 35-hours a week, while holding down stress-ridden full-time jobs. We got so many rejections you could have papered an executive bathroom at Universal Studios.
But we persisted.
Finally, in the summer of 1979 we got not one, but two breaks.
We sold our first novel, Sten, and our first TV script, Quincy, M.E.
A month later we quit our jobs and never looked back.
What follows are the sometimes frustrating, but always hilarious adventures - or misadventures - of Bunch & Cole, who became known far and wide as the fix-it boys.