Luck is the by-product of busting your fanny. (Don Sutton)
Chris was cussing a blue streak in my ear.
In between Eff words and Em-Eff words, I could sort of make out that he was in some kind of a pickle, but with all the sounds of a busy newsroom around me I was definitely missing the meat of the matter.
Something about a distributer. Well, a Fucking Distributer, actually. At least that's what I think he was saying.
"What about the distributer?" I asked.
Then the presses started rolling - hitting about two thousand feet a minute in no time. And then the whole building started to shake. It was the Home Edition.
I put Chris on hold and went into the computer room, which was soundproofed and air conditioned. The computer was a 1979 marvel to behold. Huge, with flashing lights and spinning reels of tape, it looked like something off the set of The Forbidden Planet. The Outlook was the first newspaper west of the Mississippi to computerize, making some of us proud, and others scared shitless of being run over by the Future. Thinking back on it, that whole damned machine probably had fewer brains than my six-month old Brandsmart Microwave, so maybe the scaredy-cat group really did have something to freak over. I mean, after that came Sexting.
Lifted the phone extension and punched up Chris. "What's going on, partner?" I asked.
"The new fucking distributer Russ' boys bolted on to my bike is fucking fried, is what's going on," he said. The bike - a blown out Kawasaki Z1 - was normally his pride and joy. The mechanics at racing champ Russ Collins' speed shop tried out experimental Go Fast gear on it, and let Chris keep the stuff if it worked. If it didn't - well, they'd fix it when they had time.
Unfortunately, mechanical things have their own schedule when it comes to going Kaput! And this was the worst possible time imaginable.
"Shit, we're due at Universal in an hour and a half," I said. "No time for me to pick you up and then make it to the studio. Not with you all the way over in fucking Compton."
Chris' voice was weary. "Well, I know that, Cole," he said. "What I don't know is what the fuck to do about it."
Unspoken, was that there was no way we could cancel. Mr. Jack By-God Klugman was personally giving us a shot at breaking into The Game and if we blew the meeting we'd both feel like blowing our brains out as well.
There was a clicking sound on the phone and Chris said, "Hang on. Got another call. Maybe it's Gunsmith Bob."
Bob Willy - aka Gunsmith Bob - was not only a great friend, a wealth of technical information of all kind, but possessed an old Rambler station wagon that regularly poisoned the atmosphere, but was reliably capable of getting from here to there.
Maybe… Just maybe…
Chris clicked back on the line. "Hot damn," he said. "Bob and Big Dave are dropping the Rambler by. See you in a bit."
A half hour later I was off work and Chris pulled into the newspaper parking lot as I exited the building. Double checked the chain lock on my Suzuki, then popped open the passenger door of the Rambler. Empty beer cans came rolling out, but who the hell cared at a time like this?
We dodged traffic over the hill, the car choking and coughing past Mulholland to the very top, then diving down to where many possible Freeway Cloverleaf routes leap up with no warning.
Quite by accident, we merged onto the correct freeway. Over the sputtering engine, I was shouting, "That way, Chris, that way," while jabbing my a finger in the wrong direction.
But my warning came too late and Chris was forced by traffic to make the proper choice and before you knew it we were approaching the Universal Studios off ramp, with the legendary Black Tower marking the spot just up ahead.
Even as red-ass rookies we knew the Black Tower was a scary place. That’s where the Guys With The Big Telephones held forth. GWTBT types like Lew Waserman - the Pope of Hollywood, who started out as a theater usher in the 1930’s and cut, slashed and machinegunned his way all the way to the top of the mountain - CEO and majority share holder of the biggest, baddest motion picture and music company in the...well... universe.
You know that scene in the Godfather with the horse's head in the producer's bed? If you had met Waserman and his Number Two - Sid Sheinberg - you'd know that there isn't a Mafia boss in the world with balls enough to pull such a stunt on either of them.
As Chris once put it, "The blowback would be fucking ferocious."
Once you become familiar with Universal Studios, it's no surprise when you learn that it was founded on the back of a string of horror movies. The House that Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolfman built, with a little Francis The Talking Mule and Abbott and Costello thrown in to lighten things up. It's like General Motors getting its start with Funny Cars. Which, come to think of it… Oh, never mind.
We stopped at the gate and a tall, silver-haired gentleman in a perfectly creased uniform emerged from the guard shack. He politely inquired what our business was, established that we had an appointment at the Quincy offices, and as he handed us a map of the Lot the Rambler gave a hacking American Motors wheeze and expelled a big fat smog fart.
The gentleman gate guard didn't react, or sneer at our poverty on wheels, but just leaned closer so we could hear him over the ailing engine noises.
(Later, we learned his name was Scotty, hands down the most well-liked gate guard in all of Hollywood. From that day on he remembered our faces and names and always smoothed the way with prime parking spots and a cheery, "Good luck, boys.")
Scotty indicated a score of lines painted on the roadway. They made up a rainbow of broad stripes: red, green, blue and yellow - and they all went off in different directions.
"Like the Good Witch said, boys, just follow the yellow brick road," Scotty quipped, smiling at what was obviously a joke he told many times a day, but still enjoyed.
He added, "Mr. Klugman’s production offices are just about all the way to the back of the lot. When you go by Mr. Hitchcock’s and Miss Lucille Ball's dressing rooms you will be almost there. If you find yourself in front of an old fashioned white house with a picket fence you have gone too far. That's the Ozzie and Harriet house, you know."
We didn’t, but figured we would when we saw for ourselves. Of course, Hitchcock was retired (he died the following year) and Lucy was in a long hiatus, and Ozzie and Harriet went off the air long ago, but we didn’t point any of this out to the dignified guard and set off to find the wizard whose name was Quincy along the By God yellow brick road.
The broad yellow stripe twisted and turned through a maze of sound stages and bustling crowds of workmen operating strange machines with even stranger gadgets attached. Electric carts whizzed this way and that, whipping around the occasional black limo carrying some "Suit" or other to meetings at zillion dollar a plate bistros, or maybe even the dreaded Black Tower.
The sound stages were the size of aircraft hangars and here and there alarms blared, doors into the sound stages slammed and red lights blinked on to warn one and all to stay the hell out - people were performing magic in there.
In some places costumed actors, actresses, and Star Standins hung out of open doors to catch a quick smoke break. We caught glimpses of everything from green-skinned aliens, guys with movie blood-spattered bandages, and fabulously beautiful women in every variety of scanty attire. Mingling with them were burly stuntmen and lithe stuntwomen.
We couldn't help but goggle, and by and by we came upon a tram ferrying some fellow lookee-loos around the lot. But these were rubber-neckers of the paying variety. They were enjoying what was then called the Universal Studio Tour. A primitive, low-bucks affair with no special effects, or rides, other than the trams, which were usually helmed by young actors and actresses who did their best to entertain the rubes with quips and show biz tricks, like stopping the tram in mid road, and juggling purses and cameras, or walking on their hands.
Anything to get in a little of the old razzle dazzle. Who knows, maybe a producer in a passing limo or electric VIP cart would see them and hire them on the spot. (Factoid: In those days the trams were called "Glamour Trams." Not very.)
The tourists were milling around two little cottages set side by side. One had Alfred Hitchcock’s shadow profile painted on the door; the other was graced with a caricature of Lucille Ball. The studio had turned them into mini- museums and the people seemed to be enjoying themselves wandering in and out.
Chris glanced over at me. "You a little nervous?"
I shrugged. "All they can tell us is to fuck off," I said.
"I didn’t ask you that," Chris pointed out.
I shrugged again. "Yeah, I’m nervous."
Then before we knew it we were cruising over a rise and below us we saw a white house with a picket fence.
"That must be Ozzie’s place." I observed. "Except in color, instead of black and white."
As Chris came to a stop he snorted. "Ricky Nelson’s a no-talent wimp," he decreed.
Then we were turning left into a parking area in front of a fairly large white cottage. Not only did the number on the cottage match the address scrawled in our notebook, but we spied an empty parking space with the name Jack Klugman painted on it.
"Guess Jack's not home," I said.
Inside Jack’s place we were greeted by a middle-aged woman, with a practiced smile meant to put us at ease. She advised us that the wait would be short and fetched us some cold drinks. The reception area was cool and dark, with comfortable furniture.
The walls were decked with posters illustrating Klugman's long and varied career. Films like 12 Angry Men and Days Of Wine And Roses. TV series like The Odd Couple. There were Broadway posters, like Gypsy. A framed picture of Klugman with Gypsy co-star, Ethel Merman. And any number of cards from his countless appearances on the Twilight Zone.
Before all this had time to sink in, the lady ushered us into an office where three men waited: Peter Thompson, the executive producer, and two other producers whose names I was too nervous to catch. We learned later that they were William (Billy) Cairncross and Charles (Diz) Dismukes and they both not only taught us a lot but saved our young asses innumerable times.
Peter was a handsome devil, with a British accent. He was the Quincy Showrunner - TV lingo for the guy who runs the show, okay? And, as we would soon learn, a genial conniver of the first order. Even so, he was hard not to like.
Copies of our script about a boxer falsely accused of murder were laid out around a large meeting table and as we settled into our chairs, nervously getting out notepads and pens, Peter said, "Hold on a tick, lads, Jack's going to join us."
I could tell from Chris' expression that he was as surprised as I was. We heard Klugman's gravel voice issuing orders to his assistant at the front desk, then the door opened to frame the Great Man Himself - Jack By God Klugman.
He was tall, well-built and he came charging into the room boiling with energy. Talking a mile a minute, grabbing our hands and giving them firm shakes, telling us to "Sit, sit," and all the while asking questions and issuing orders non-stop to his producers.
The assistant ducked in to tell Klugman so-and-so was on the phone. He waved at her, looking disgusted. "I don’t have time for Suits," he said. "I’m talking to my writers."
Chris and I exchanged looks. The guy was growing larger in our book by the second. (Later, we'd learn that sort of thing was routinely staged, but it was still a thrill that a big TV star like Klugman had taken the trouble.)
Then he got down to business. Grabbed a copy of our script and started flipping through it. "Great story, boys," he said. "I could almost shoot it as is. Maybe a couple of suggestions I might have, but bottom line - this is a damned fine job."
We were enthralled, to say the least. We were in. Finally in. The big door kicked down. We were made, Baby, made. Wait'll Kathryn hears the good-
"Unfortunately," Klugman continued, snapping off my thoughts, "we can’t use it. We’ve already done a boxing show for this season."
My heart fell from a far height. I could almost hear Chris' bouncing on the floor beside mine. Shit, so close. You almost get there - just like all those other times - then, wham, they sucker punch you flat on your ass.
"You couldn’t have known," Klugman went on. "The episode won’t air for a couple of weeks. It doesn't have the same angle as yours - the aneurysm deal - but what're you gonna do?"
He kept flipping through the script. Stopped at one point, read for a second. Then looked up.
"This boxing business is right on the money," he said. "That’s one thing that really caught my eye. You've got it down good. I oughta know. I was a Golden Gloves boxer back in the day, and I've had ringside seats at all the top fights ever since."
I couldn’t believe our good luck. "Well, sir," I said, "I’ve been nuts about boxing and boxers myself since I was a kid. My grandfather, Frank Guinan, and his brother, Joe, were founders of the Philadelphia Boxing Association. You know, the gym where they shot Rocky and -"
"No shit?" Klugman said, breaking in. "The Philadelphia Boxing Association? Know it well." He sat back in his chair. Impressed as all hell. "They must have been pros, then."
"Yessir," I said. "Back in the Twenties they not only won championships, but in several different names." Klugman laughed knowingly. I went on, "They had to feed their families, you know? So they’d fight two, sometimes three times a week. But under different names. Besides that, my grandfather was lightweight Fleet Champion when he was in the Navy, and something similar when he was in the Army. My Great Uncle Joe later became president or vice president of the association."
He looked at me, interested. "Are you a Philly kid?"
I hadn’t been there more than a few months at a time since I was a baby, but I said, "I was born in South Philly, sir. Twenty First and Tasker, that’s me. Just down from Bishop Neumann High School."
"No shit?" Jack said again.
I was only lying a little bit. My Aunt Cassie and Uncle Tom had a row home at Twenty First and Tasker and I had attended Bishop Neumann for practically a whole month. (Uncle Tom was Thomas M. Grubb, a decorated, thirty-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department. To learn more about him, check out "A Cop's Life," by me and Uncle Tom.)
Klugman closed the script and sat silent for a few seconds, thinking. After the verbal barrage, it felt like a storm had just passed through.
Then he said, "Okay, Philly, here’s what we’re gonna to do." (Over the years that's what he called me - "Philly.") He looked over at Peter Thompson. "I want them write a script for us," he said. "Call their agent and make the deal."
Peter smiled that charming smile of his. "Sure, thing, Jack. And I have just the story for them. That notion about mistreated children you wanted to explore."
"Fine," Klugman said. "Get on it right away."
Then he rose, stuck out his hand for parting handshakes, and said, "You go get 'em, Philly." He grinned at Chris. "You too. I want to show those Suits in the Tower that they can’t keep a lock on this town forever."
Then he was gone and there was a sudden vacuum in the room. The two other producers (Billy and Diz) congratulated us, then shot out of there, leaving only Peter behind.
He said, "Jack’s been wanting to do something about child molesters. It’s become one of his pet causes."
"Yessir," Chris and I said in more or less unison.
"I want you to research the subject thoroughly," Peter added. "I have a few names at the LAPD you can contact and a psychiatrist or two who specialize in that area."
"When do you need the story?" Chris asked, naturally enough.
Peter gave a wide - and in retrospect - wolfish smile. "Don’t worry about that, boys," he said.
Thumped his chest. "I’ve got the story."