A conman was caught impersonating a Hollywood producer. One of his victims - a rising young actress - told the judge: "I should've suspected he wasn't a producer. He didn't hit on me more than once."
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HAL: Look Dave. I can see you're really upset by this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over. (From 2001: A Space Odyssey)
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"It's not the most intellectual job in the world, but I do have to know the letters."
(Vanna White - Wheel Of Fortune.)
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Chris was hammering furiously on the keyboard. He paused to glance at his notes, then snorted his complete disgust. He said, "Man, this is some seriously sick shit."
He shuddered. Something I had never seen him do before. "Makes my skin crawl just thinking about these assholes. And here we have to write a whole fucking script about the suckers."
I settled back from my own work and sighed my agreement. "I keep saying to myself, this is our big break. Don't fuck it up."
Chris said, "If this wasn't for Jack Klugman I'd pack it in. At least we know he'll make good use of this shit. Get some Congressional hearings going, and such."
Then he hunched his shoulders, his face took on a fierce light, and he started blazing away at the keyboard again.
When I tell you that the project we were engaged in had to do with Pedophiles - the scum of the Earth - you'll understand our feelings. Especially since the whole business with Jack Klugman started out with a nice, gentle story about murdering boxers.
As Chris put it: "On a scale of one to ten: Murdering boxers Versus Pedophiles, the baby rapers rate way down on the shit scale."
It happened like this: We'd written a spec script for Jack Klugman's TV show about a crusading corner - Quincy, M.E. It was about a boxer falsely accused of murder, with Quincy to the rescue.
Klugman had liked our script so much he had called us in for a personal meeting. Turns out that he was an ex-Golden Gloves boxer himself. What's more Jack was a South Philly kid like me. Man, did we look like we were made in the old shade.
But, not so fast, boys. Quincy had already done an episode about a boxer - which hadn't aired yet, so how were we to know?
Instant descent into the dumps for your favorite writing team - Bunch & Cole.
Then, just like a good Hollywood story, there was yet another twist. This one to the good. Klugman had liked our script so much that he'd ordered his executive producer, Peter Thompson, to buy a Quincy script from us.
This was pure gold, we thought. We had finally won our break into showbiz. All we had to do was make good on our first sale and fame and riches would be ours. (This will tell you just how young and dumb we were.)
Peter told us that Klugman wanted to do something on child molesters. Klugman thought it was a much-ignored problem and wanted to bring the public's attention to it.
When we asked Peter when he wanted us to deliver the story (the first step before "going to script") and how long it ought to be, he said, "Don't worry, boys. I have the story. You just do the research."
After we got home from the meeting and had poured a couple of scotches, Chris said, "I don't feel right about this somehow."
"What's wrong? We got the deal didn't we?" I replied.
Chris said, "Are you sure you got that right? We're just to do the research. And he'll give us a story which he already has worked out?"
I started to nod, then stopped to drag out my notes. Flipped through them. Found the place.
"Yep, he was adamant about it," I said. "We said two or three time - are you sure you don't want us to come up with a story. And he said - No. He had the story. I looked at the heavily scored pen marks beneath his exact quote and read it to Chris: "Not to worry, boys. I've got the story."
"Before he said it," I pointed out, "he thumped his chest like he really meant it."
Chris sighed and shook his head. Then, "What did you think about the guy?"
"24-carat British charm," I said. "At least that's how he comes across."
"Think it's actually gold wash?" Chris said.
"I do," I said. "I won't be surprised if he tries to pull some sort of con," I went on. "But, I still can't help liking him."
Chris laughed and topped up our drinks. "What the fuck," he said. "The Guild's got our back. And so does Klugman. What can he do?"
So, we jumped head first into the sex crime cesspool and researched the hell out of the son of a gun. It was a skin crawly subject, but with Klugman we knew it was for a good cause. Also, it was our entry through the gates of Hollywood.
We spent a couple of weeks taking to cops who specialized in busting the miscreants, and shrinks who specialized in treating young victims, as well as those who were experts on the mindset of the perps.
When we were done, Chris and I came away pretty much of the opinion that the perps were incurable and ought to be locked up for two largish forevers.
We called Peter's office and his assistant set up an appointment. But, while I was on the line with her I made double-damn sure of our instructions.
"Peter said he didn't want us to write the story," I told his assistant. "He said he had one he wanted to assign us. Is that still on? Or, should we get busy writing?"
The assistant said, "I know for a fact that he has a story. He had me call Business Affairs at the Tower and pencil it in on the production pay schedule."
Chris and I liked the sound of that: Pay Schedule. Rolled that around on our tongues a little. Went well with the scotch.
Couple of days later we were once again making our way over the hill from Santa Monica to the San Fernando Valley where most of the major studios, including MCA-Universal - were planted.
Scotty was at the gate like before and he whisked us on our way with a cheery, "Break a leg, boys." Made our way along the yellow brick road to the Quincy offices - about a hundred yards up from the old Ozzie and Harriet house - and with barely a wait we were ushered into the inner-sanctum of the Executive Producer.
Imagine our surprise when we were greeted not by Peter Thompson, but a smooth, well-made fellow who wore a quirky little smile as if he viewed the world with great amusement.
He said, "I'm Al Godfrey, the new exec producer." He shook our hands, then waved us into seats.
We must have looked like we were in shock, because he kindly hastened to explain: "I know you boys were expecting to meet with Peter - and you will in a minute or two. But first, let me reassure you that I've talked to Jack and he's impressed with you boys and so I know all the background."
I heard Chris give a sigh of relief. I could tell Godfrey caught this, but he just went on to explain that Peter had been promoted to head of production for MCA/Universal.
In other worlds, he was now one of the Guys With The Big Telephones who resided in the Black Tower.
"Peter still wants to handle your script," Godfrey said, "as his last contribution to Quincy." The crooked smile of his grew a little more crooked, with a little cynical twitch at the edges. It made you wonder what he was really thinking.
Godfrey looked us up and down, measuring. Then said, "I know you're both new to the game, and might not realize it, but you now have a friend in a very high place."
Chris and I nodded. "Head of production. It's just starting to sink in," I said, still a little numb.
The desk phone buzzed. Godfrey picked it up, listened, thanked the person on the other side and said, "Let's go see Peter. He's ready for us."
Godfrey chatted as he drove us over there in his Mercedes, but I don't remember much about what he said. I was too busy absorbing the fact that Chris and I were actually going to enter the infamous executive tower.
I saw it rising in my view like an obelisk. Cue the 2001 A Space Odyssey theme music. And damn was that sucker black. Black as a producer’s soul. And it really does tower. The closer you get to the son of a bitch, the more it looms over you.
As you approach, you know that no building in the earthquake prone City Of The Angels can be really very high. But if you are an aspiring anything, and either your doom or your dreams are to be found at Universal’s Black Tower, I guarantee that it will look like the Empire State Building when you arrive.
Here's what it's like when you enter:
After being examined for hidden grenades and genital warts by security, you are allowed to go to the elevator reception area. Generally men and women dressed in million dollar business outfits are waiting there. Very rarely shabby writers. The Suits stare at you, smiling - everyone in Hollywood cultivates a special smile - but it's about as shallow as a Casting Director's good intentions.
The elevator stops at each and every floor as you ascend. And if you dare to peek out at each stop, you will be struck at how amazingly well decorated each floor is. Lovely paintings. Plush rugs. Antique furniture. Beautiful secretaries and receptionists.
But as you rise, you’ll also notice that the carpets get thicker and richer, the paintings become originals, instead of just expensively framed copies, and the secretaries grow more and more beauteous.
When you reach the rarefied atmosphere of the very top floor - which overlooks all that the Guys With The Big Telephones choose to survey - you will step off into wonders unknown to a common writer like yourself. While you wait, they practically put out towels on the furniture so you won’t drip nervous flop sweat on the Louis the XXXZZZZ antiques.
You don’t dare look at the paintings, for fear that the light of wonder shining from your Commoner eyeballs might somehow harm them and lessen their value.
Your feet sink into the carpeting up to your ankles and janitors in gold-braided uniforms approach to make you wipe your feet on portable scrapers with handles made of polished wood.
And the secretaries - well, let me put it this way. These are women who have been genetically altered so they do not sweat, or do any of the ordinary human things regular women do. The wondrous ladies there smell only of faint, incredibly expensive perfume, have modulated voices that are eternally sweet, yet commanding, and have eyes that can warm you to the quick, or turn you into ice if you offend the dignity of the Very Top Floor Of The Black Tower. Oh, and no matter what their race, color or creed, they speak with a charming British accent, with a little French thrown in here and there for variety's sake.
Got the picture?
Okay, back to the action... After a small eternity, Peter’s exquisite executive assistant summoned us. The three of us followed her lovely, silk-clad posterior into Peter’s Office.
It was a marvelous office. As head of production at Universal, Peter commanded a space only a few places under the legendary Lew Wasserman and his mail-fisted Knights Of The Golden Box Office. There were so many floor to ceiling windows, you felt like you might fall off the face of the Earth.
And, although you could not see All The Way To Tomorrow, the view did offer a scary glimpse of your immediate future - if All Did Not Go Well.
Peter rose from his fabulous Prince Something Or Other Desk and graced us with that roguish smile. "Thanks for coming, boys," he said. He nodded at Godfrey. "And you too, Al... How are things progressing with Jack?"
We didn't realize it then, but Klugman was famously difficult with producers, but I did note the knowing look Peter gave Godfrey.
"Every thing's coming along fine, Peter," he said. "Thanks to your smooth handover."
Peter nodded, smiling a smile of such great sincerity, that I knew it was at heart, deeply insincere. In other words, Big Shot though he might be, he was worried Godfrey might show him up.
Then he turned to us, oozing warmth and charm. He made polite conversation for a minute or two, then paused. Planted his elbows on his desk and leaned forward.
Looking me right in the eyes, and holding that gaze, he said, "Okay, what's the story, boys."
It was like someone had rammed a big fat screw directly into my chest. I knew Chris must feel the same. Shit, the guy had insisted that HE HAD THE STORY. He'd said it several times over the past weeks. His assistant had confirmed it only a couple of days before.
What the hell was he doing? He was fucking us. Sure, I got that. But for the life of me I didn't know why.
I looked over helplessly at Chris, who had gone pale. I could see in his eyes that he was thinking, shit, shit, shit.
Then - without a beat - Chris said, "Go ahead, Cole, tell Peter the story."
If I'd had a gun, I'd have shot him. No, I would have shot myself first, then let the gun spill before his feet so he could follow me into that deep, dark place where ink-stained wretches are condemned to abide in an afterlife, where there is never a period to end a sentence, but only an endless series of commas.
This all happened in a split second. However, I hadn't been a newsman for fourteen years to not have several shovels of bullshit ready at all times.
So, I just started spouting our research. Spewing it out in way that might indicate that this was just the prelude to the story - a fabulous story yet to come. In the back of my mind I was hoping that I was giving Chris time to come up with something so I could toss the ball back to him.
Then Peter's phone rang. Peter raised a hand, "Sorry, Allan. This will just take a tick."
As he spoke to someone on the phone I gave Chris a look of desperation. To my horror, the look I got back was one of equal desperation.
I glanced over at Godfrey, but he was just staring at the floor, that crooked smile twitching his lips.
Then Peter hung up. "Sorry, boys, but I have to run down the hall to see Lew for a second," he said. "I'll be right back."
Then he was gone. In the silent room you could sever the tension with splicing shears. Godfrey cleared his throat, getting our attention.
My head came up to see a look of great pity. "You poor putzes," he said. "What the fuck is going on here?"
Quickly, we explained. We were told not to develop a story. Just do the research.
"Peter insisted he had the story," I said once again. "But now..." my voice trailed off.
"Never mind that shit," Godfrey said. "Let's stick our heads together and come up with something before the son of a bitch comes back."
Twenty minutes later Peter swept into the office, took up residence in his plush executive chair. He gave us his total attention.
And once again he asked, "What's the story, boys?"
But this time we told him.