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Friday, April 29, 2011

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD


Hooray for Hollywood
That screwy ballyhooey Hollywood
Where any office boy or young mechanic can be a panic
With just a good looking pan
And any barmaid can be a star maid
If she dances with or without a fan
(Johnny Mercer)
***
Get it in your head,
Baby, Hollywood is dead.
(Michael Buble)
***

The earnest young reporter asked, "What do you miss most about Hollywood?"

Chris said, "Not a fucking thing."

The reporter switched off his recorder and said, "Can I paraphrase that?" He shrugged. "It's a family newspaper, you know."

As an ex-newsman I thought it was my duty to help. I said, "How about swapping 'not a damn thing,' for 'not a fucking thing.' That work?"

The kid thought a minute, then nodded and scribbled a note to himself. "Long as I don't put God in front of it," he said, "Damn is okay."

He switched the recorder back on. "What about you, Allan? Do you feel the same?"

I said, "Not entirely. Chris is probably a little more burned out than I am. When I think back on it, mostly I had a helluva good time."

Chris scoffed. "It was mostly shitty, with occasional bursts of piss."

"We made a lot of money," I pointed out.

More scoffing. "What most people make in a year will get you through maybe a month in LA," he said. "It hooks you. Then you're always Jonesing on money."

I couldn't disagree with that, but persisted, "Didn't you at least have a little fun?"

Chris grudged. "Okay. Maybe a little."

"And we learned a lot, right?" I said.

Chris nodded. "I could write a write a big fat natural science book on the Assholes Of Hollywood - with illustrations."

"Can't use that," the reporter said, but laughed anyway. Then he asked, "As a writer, what's the most important thing you learned in Hollywood."

I said, "Story, story, story. You have to come up with so many ideas, so fast, and so frequently, that any smell, sound, or movement turns itself into a story possibility."

"What about you, Chris?" the reporter asked.


"How to tell a boy stunt person, from a girl stunt person," he said.

The kid chuckled. "Isn't that kind of obvious?"

"Not really," I said. "Even these days the Town's pretty sexist. In a lot of stunts involving women they substitute a small guy. You can usually catch the switch just before the big gag. If the hero's best girl is dressed in pants and a jacket and sensible shoes, she'll probably only do some of the action. She'll run away from, or after someone, and it'll most likely be the actress running."

Chris broke in: "In the old days, actors and actresses had to take fencing and riding lessons. These days they've practically got to be fucking marathoners."

I nodded agreement, then got back to the point. "So, the actress is running. But then there's a big jump coming up. One rooftop to the next... whatever."

Chris said, "At that point you get a closeup of the chick - reacting - Holy Shit. Then camera pullback and they swap a small stuntman dressed just like the hero's best girl to do the jump, or the fall, or whatever."

I said, "They try to make the costume loose, so they can hide the lack of a figure and also to put protective gear under the costume."

Chris said, "Of course, if they want the shot to be sexy - the audience gets to see her pretty ass, and so on - they use an actual stuntwoman. But, then they can't wear protective gear so they can get pretty banged up. In that kind of situation, it's a helluva lot more dangerous - and takes more moxie and guts - to be a stuntwoman than a stuntman."

"The best Tell is when the action has a woman jumping or falling off a bridge into a river," I said.

The reporter leaned forward, interested. "How so?" he asked.

I said, "If it's a woman, she'll protect her tits." I demonstrated, hands on my chest.

"If it's a dude," Chris said, also demonstrating, "he'll protect his balls."

More laughter from our audience of one. "What about the writing part?" the reporter asked. "You obviously prefer books to scripts. What's the difference?"

Chris snorted, "You'll never hear anybody say they curled up last night with a good script. And if you do, it'll be some lying sack of a producer who moves his lips when he reads."

I agreed. "A script's more like an architectural drawing. A model for a whole lot of other people to stick their own ideas in."

"But what really sucks big fat greasy donkey dicks," Chris said, "is that Hollywood is the only place where a writer doesn't own what he writes."

The reporter made a note to paraphrase the donkey business when he played the tape back, then looked up. "I don't get it," he said. "You write it, then it's yours. Or should be."

Chris said, "That's true everywhere but fucking Hollywood."


I said, "When you sell a book you're actually just leasing certain publication rights to the publisher. And they can't change a damned word without your permission. It's a piece of property. And it's yours for 99 years plus whatever the latest copyright law says it is. You can will it to your wife and kids so it'll take care of them when you're gone."

"Same with a play," Chris said. "A playwright physically owns the play. Like a book, nobody can change it without his okay."

"During tryouts," I said, "when they're getting ready to run the play up to Broadway, the playwright fine-tunes his work after every rehearsal, and every performance."

"But if the director tries to insist on something that the writer doesn't like," Chris added, "The writer can tell him to go fuck himself."

The reporter hesitated. I could see that he was still having Eff-word issues. I took pity. "Just say 'bleep' whenever we say 'fuck,'" I offered. "After fifteen years in journalism and almost twenty in Hollywood, foul language is an impossible habit to break."

"Plus, I did six fucking years in the fucking Army," Chris said. "Getting shot at will knock all the 'oh, dears,' and 'gee whizzes,' the fuck out of you fast."

The kid gave an apologetic shrug. "A lot of our readers are regular church goers," he said.

"Then God Fucking Bless them," Chris said.


"But back to Books Versus Scripts," I said. "When Hollywood started out it was the Silent Era. The only thing you needed from a writer was to map out a scenario, then do Title Cards. They figured, who needs an actual Writer, writer? Anybody can do 'I Can't Pay The Rent,' and 'You Must Pay The Rent,' Title Cards."

"That's why the writer is the lowest man on the shit pole in Hollywood," Chris said. "Never did get any respect."

"But the big thing..." I put in... "the really major thing, is that when the whole system of screenwriting evolved into talkies, the hacks they had on staff got a salary to write whatever crap the Studio bosses wanted. They might get a little extra if somebody actually exposed film and made a movie, but everything in the script - story, characters, dialogue - was owned outright by the Studio."

"In the end, you were just a hack for hire and they could do anything they wanted with your script because They owned it, not you," Chris said.

"But you get paid a lot," the young reporter said. "Plus you get rerun money."

"You do," Chris admitted."And, like I said, it's is a bitch of a habit to break. If you're serious about being an ink-stained wretch you should be working on your books. But, then some producer calls and whispers sweet dollar figures in your ear and you shove the book aside."

"That's why we got the hell out of La-La Land," I said. "And now we're in Writers' Rehab in Ilwaco, Washington. Writing books and looking over tons of ideas we've both had for future books."

Chris thought of something else. He said, "Another thing you learn fast is how to lie like a rug."

The kid's eyebrows rose and I put in, "He means Writer's Lies. It's the only way to deal with producers. You have to have a lie ready on zip notice."

Chris said, "Sometimes you get a producer who calls for a progress report every fucking minute. Gets so you can't think to write."

"Also," I said, "if you are a freelancer you'd better be working on several projects at once, or you'll be Broke-City in no time. So, more than likely when the producer calls you're not even on his project. But, you can't tell him that. He wants exclusivity."


Chris said, "I'll give you four of our favorite lies... Number One: 'No worries, boss. We've got a good fucking start on it."

I translated: "In reality that means that you're thinking about writing 'Fade In' - but only when your hangover lets up."

Chris said, "Number two: 'We're smokin', babe! Half fucking done.'"

"This means," I said, "that you maybe have the First Act firmly in mind - now, if only that hangover will let go."

Chris said: "Lie Number Three: 'Man, are we fucking whipped. Finished a First Draft. Pretty rough, yet. But we're already marking it up for rewrite.'"

I said, "This means that the Fade In is a definite possibility."


Then I put a hand to my forehead like Johnny Carson doing The Great Carnac. Eyes closed, I said, "Writer's lie Number 4: 'We're almost there, boss. Just need to do some character tweaks.'"

Chris mock-plucked an envelope up and blew into it - Poof. Pulled invisible paper out and pretended to read: "We must have written these fucking notes drunk. Can't make heads or tails of them. What's this, Hero does Talk, Talk, shit?"

The reporter loved it. "Maybe I'll censor that part," he said. "With a couple of changes, those lies would work just as well on my editor."

"We've tested them out on Random House," Chris said. "Works for book editors too."

I said, "Another list a writer has to know - if he wants to eat and pay the rent - is the lies a producer will tell about a deal. "

Chris said, "If the producer says the deal is fucking set..."

I finished, "It means the contracts may or may not be in the wind."

Chris said, "If he says, 'No worries, boys. This deal is not just Set - it's fucking Set-Set...'"

I translated, "... It means he's possibly had his 'girl' mail the check to your agent."

Chris said, "If you're agent calls and says the deal is not only Set, but Set-Set-Set..."

"It means the check has not only arrived, but cleared the bank," I said.

The reporter had a laugh at that. Then moved on. "You hear a lot of scuttlebutt about censorship in Hollywood," he said. "Especially on television. How did you deal with that?"

"When we started out," I said, "we fought like hell.'

Chris came in: "We'd say, 'Hey, this is fucking America. What about Free Fucking Speech?"

I grimaced at the memory. "And they'd say: "We're all for Free Speech. Just as long as it doesn't violate Program Practices." I sighed, adding: "Then we learned a couple of tricks to get around the censor."

Chris said, "Put shit in there you don't care about, then give 'em hell when they try to make you take it out."

"Then, you very reluctantly give up the point," I said. "They get so full of themselves they miss the stuff you really wanted to get in."

"Another thing you do," Chris said, "is fuck with the descriptions of action that might get you into trouble."


"If you have a big fight scene on an eight o'clock show," I said, "Program Practices will go bananas if they think there's going to be massive bloodshed."

"So, you don't say the people are wounded, or killed," Chris said. "You say they're stunned. You know - car full of bad guys fleeing the scene... hero shoots the tires out... car goes over canyon wall... crashes and burns... but the guys inside somehow roll out - stunned."

"You had to do that on A-Team a lot," I said. "Nobody was ever killed on that show - even when Hannibal Smith let loose with his machinegun and chewed down brick walls."

Chris raised a finger. "Actually, one person was killed," he said. "In the pilot. And the A-Team was on the run because they were 'falsely accused' of the guy's murder."

I said, "A producer friend - an old timer - was hired to do a mini-series about the Roman Empire. Wanted lots of T&A, which was no problem. Tits and Ass come cheap in Hollywood. But they also wanted some big set piece battle scenes. Which was a definite problem. They gave him shit for a budget, but said they'd had the foresight to buy the rights to some old Italian flicks about ancient Rome. Said he could use all the footage he wanted for the battle scenes and so on."

Chris said, "It was pretty gory stuff. Especially the big Aftermath Of Battle Scene. Arms and legs and guts all over the place."

I said, "When they screened the rough cut for the network, the Program Practices Lady pitched a fit. Said, no way, Jose ."

Chris said, "So our buddy scratched his head. Then got a flash. Rearranged the footage some - but not cutting anything out, because then he'd be fucked for time."


I said, "Then he looped in a guy shouting: 'Help me with these wounded men!'"

"Showed it to the Network again," Chris said, "including the program practices chick. And they bought it, guts and gore and all. Easy as bacon through a goose."

I said, "On the other hand, once in a rare while you agree with the censor."

Chris said, "Like the time we were doing a fire show and sold a story about a pyromaniac. The bad guy, who was no fan of Smoky The Bear, was burning up half the State and Federal parks."

I said, "The producer asked us how somebody could do that much damage and get away with it for so many years."

Chris said, "It's a simple trick. Cheap. And almost untraceable. We told the guy how it was done."

I said, "The jerk got all excited and said, 'Put it in! Put it in!'"

"We refused," Chris said. "And it took some convincing to make the Dimbulb realize that maybe fifteen million people would be watching a show about firemen and there was bound to be a potential firebug among them. And guess, what? We've just taught him how to burn down our National Forests."

"Another screwball case we agreed with," I said, "was when we worked on a Lindsay Wagner cop-type show. She played a shrink working for the police department."

"Before we went in to pitch the show," Chris said, "we got a call from the Network warning us that beautiful as Ms Wagner is... and talented as she is... She's got a few screws loose about a couple of things."

I said, "Like, they said she was an True Believer in homeopathic cures."

"Dipshit science," Chris said. "Dilute the medicine until maybe only a lonely fucking molecule is hanging around, then feed it to a cancer patient, or whatever, and bingo - They're dead."

"The Network said Ms Wagner was determined to get some of her ideas about homeopathic medicine into the show. You know - 'For the good of Mankind...'"

Chris said, "The Network didn't give a shit about Mankind. But, they were scared shitless that as the original Deep Pockets they'd end up in a big class action suit."


I said, "It wasn't easy. She was really, really nice to us. And so damned... Well, we're only human... even if we are writers."

The kid reporter grinned. "But you resisted, right?" he said.

Chris sighed. "Should've gotten a medal or something. But, yeah - we resisted."

I said, "Another way you can have some fun getting around censors is by substituting foreign words for smutty language."

The young reporter, who had smutty language problems of his own, perked up at that. "How so?"

Chris said, "Instead of calling a guy a dick, you say he's a putz."

"Which is Yiddish for 'dick,'" I said.

"We got that through a lady censor who was Jewish," Chris said. "Back brain she had to know, but it went right past her."

"Instead of saying that your hero has big brass balls," I said, "you say he's got big brass cajones."

"But, that's 'balls' in Spanish," the kid said.

"No shit," Chris said.

"You mean, no 'drek'," I said.

Chris laughed. "Try that out on your editor," he told the reporter. "Bet you lunch it gets past him."

It did.


FADE OUT: BUNCH & COLE

Chris and I struck out on our own not long after we left Hollywood. He went on to write books like the very popular Star Risk Ltd. Series, while I ventured forth with books like the Timura Trilogy - loosely based Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat. I'd dreamed about writing such a work since I discovered a battered old book of his poems at a Middle Eastern bazaar when I was just a lad.

I also labored for more than three years on Lucky In Cyprus - about my experiences as a CIA brat during the height of the Cold War.

During our years together Chris and I sold more than 150 screenplays, and published 16 novels together, amounting to many millions of words.

And, as Chris said more than once: "That's a fuck of a lot of dead trees, Cole."

NEXT: STEN IN HOLLYWOOD: THE NEXT TO THE LAST MISADVENTURE


IT'S A BOOK!
THE COMPLETE HOLLYWOOD MISADVENTURES! 




WHERE'S WHERE YOU BUY IT
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 Amazon.com. Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!

THE STEN COOKBOOK & KILGOUR JOKEBOOK



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.    

Friday, April 22, 2011

THE BIG RIPOFF - HOLLYWOOD STYLE


Everybody comes to Hollywood
They wanna make it in the neighborhood
They like the smell of it in Hollywood
How could it hurt you when it looks so good?
......Madonna 
***


"One thing I've learned from straddling two worlds: Hollywood is way more gangster than the streets. Hollywood is colder. Way more vicious." ... Ice-T
***

A guy, who kind of looked like Dracula, except he had to remove his fangs to talk, asked: "All those horror stories about writers getting ripped off in Hollywood - are they true?"

Chris said, "Rip-offs in Tinsel Town are like muggers in The Big Apple. Sooner, rather than later, it's gonna fucking happen."


A cute girl vampire - with two bloody puncture wounds on her pretty neck - said, "Isn't there anyway you can protect yourself?"

I said, "Sure, but sometimes you forget... Just like you forgot to wear your garlic wreath to the party."

The girl giggled and gave her Vampire boyfriend a swat. "You should see the hickeys," she said.

During the laughter and catcalls Chris and I signaled one another. Time to switch to our spiel about Theft: Intellectual Property Of.


We were at DagonCon in Atlanta, Georgia to hype The Far Kingdoms Series. The second book - A Warrior's Tale - was about to be released and Del Rey had come prepared with many, many cartons of books. Over the course of the convention Chris and I would sign more than ten thousand books (That's right - 10,000!) and would leave happily grinning through our carpal tunnel pain.


Besides the wall-to-wall signing events, we managed to participate in a few panels, and now we were putting on our specialty act -The Bunch And Cole Show: How To Survive Hollywood With Only The Loss Of All Bodily Hair. It was delivered sort of Improv style - taking cues from the audience, then moving in that direction.

Chris said, "It's like riding a motorcycle. It's not a matter of If You're Gonna Go Sky-Ground - it's When You're Gonna Go Sky-Ground. And if you pitch stories in Hollywood for a living there's a theft - or three, or six - in your future."

I said, "And there's not a lot you can do about it."


A black girl in a Lt. Uhura outfit cut to show off her long legs, said, "You could sue them, couldn't you?"

"Sure - if you've got Gene Roddenberry to pay for the attorneys," Chris said, giving her a sly grin. (He was making a reference that probably whisked over everyone's head: The long-time affair between Gene and Nichelle Nichols, the beautiful and talented actress who played Lt. Uhura.)

"Even then," I said, "it can be tough. Art Buchwald is a famous syndicated newspaper humorist. Pulitzer Prize winner. But he ended up suing Eddie Murphy and Paramount for ripping off 'Coming To America.' Eddie said it was his idea. Art claimed that he had it first, and his agent had sent it to Eddie as a movie idea. Eventually the Court agreed with Buchwald and gave him a piece of the profits. But, then Paramount said that although the picture grossed nearly $300 million, that it didn't break even. In fact, they suffered a big loss."

Gasps from the audience. "Hollywood economics," Chris said. "$300 million minus the $20 million it cost to make and distribute the flick, equals not just Zero, but less than zero."


"For a couple of years," I said, "the only satisfaction Buchwald had was they made the Studio put his name on the VHS Story-By credits. Later, another court declared Coming To America profitable and Art finally got paid for his work."

"Guy wins the fucking Pulitzer Prize," Chris said, "and he still gets ripped off."

"And then there's Harlan Ellison," I said. "Harlan had to sue The Great James Cameron over the Terminator. Cameron said it was his idea. Harlan said it was ripped off from a couple of Twilight Zone episodes that he wrote.

"Who was right? Chris and I screened the episodes and we agreed with Harlan. In the end, the evidence was apparently strong enough that they settled out of court in Harlan's favor."

Chris added, "But Cameron couldn't let it go. Said Harlan was a parasite who could 'kiss my ass.' Big mistake to play word games with Harlan. His reply? 'Anybody who sticks his hand in my pocket is going to 'pull back a bloody stump.' When it comes to suing, Harlan is a Terminator all on his own. He just keeps coming."

I said, "In both cases, it would have cost a whole lot less money to just pay Buchwald and Harlan for the rights. You'd think it'd also be less of a public embarrassment."

Chris said, "Never happen. You can no more shame a Studio Suit for being a greedy ass than you can a politician or a crack whore."

I said, "As for Cameron and Eddie Murphy, they were motivated by pure Ego. Nothing more. James Cameron wanted the writing credit to go with his director's credit so he could maintain his 'artiste' pose."

"Same thing with that knuckle-head Eddie Murphy," Chris said. Can't be just a great comedian, or comic actor. He wants to pose as a guy who writes his own material as well.


I said, "Eddie Murphy's agent once set him up with the legendary scriptwriter, William Goldman. We're talking All The President's Men, Butch Cassidy, that sort of legendary writer. But Murphy spent the whole meeting giving Goldman a lot of shit. No respect whatsoever."

Chris said, "So Goldman walked out. Told Eddie's agent: 'I'm too fucking old and too fucking rich to put up with his shit."

After the applause for Goldman's line died down, a guy in a Robocop outfit asked, "What about you guys? Have you been ripped off?"

Chris sighed. "So many fucking times we lost count," he said.

I said, "On our first sale we got ripped off for half the story money." (See Episode #6 - How To Steal A Million Dollars.)

"But you know," Chris said, "if somebody had told us before that getting a break in Show Biz was sort of like joining the Pipefitters Union - you had to cross somebody's greasy palm with silver - we would have done it sooner."

"On our second sale," I said, "we lucked out by running into an honest story editor. He could have ripped us off easy - plus made some major points with a Network Bigshot. But he didn't."

"We not only got paid," Chris said, "but we got paid fucking double. Plus we shared credit on a TV series pilot. " (See Episode # 7 - The Shark That Ate Bunch & Cole.)

"On the other hand," I started...

"...You have a foot," Chris broke in, going for the cheap laugh and getting it.

"Okay," I said, "on the other foot - sometimes what you think is a ripoff is pure coincidence."

"Your Genius Idea comes from something you read or saw in the news," Chris said. "Naturally, you can't be surprised if a zillion other writers come up with the same thing."

Somebody shouted, "But what if you had the idea first?"

"There's no copyright on ideas," Chris replied to the audience's great surprise. "It's only what you do with the idea that counts."

"Sometimes," I said, "It's not theft, but a weird kind of convergence," I said. "It's in the atmosphere. If you pitch for a living, you're always thinking story, story, story."

Chris said, "Then, fucking boom! Out of nowhere you get this God damned notion of pure genius."

"But so do all the other writers in town," I finished for him. "And if then you read that some Studio or Producer is going to do something exactly like your idea, you think - 'Hey, I've been ripped off.'"

"Except, to prove theft," Chris said, "you have to prove access. Art Buchwald's agent apparently had proof that his notion about an African prince in America had been sent to Murphy, or Murphy's people. Otherwise they wouldn't have fucking settled out of court.


"Harlan's stuff was televised. Seen by millions. How could you miss it? And if you watch the episodes yourself, you'll think - 'Damn, that's The Terminator!'"

"So, if you can't show access," I said, "the conclusion of most Legal Eagles is that it must be a coincidence. And mostly, that's what it is. It's also the main reason Studios and Producers refuse to look at unsolicited material - and insist on some kind of go-between like an agent before they'll read a script, or treatment for a script."

"But what if the agent rips you off?" asked a guy dressed like Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Show.

"Oh, they do," Chris said. He shrugged. "And then, you're just fucking fucked."

I said, "Some thefts are the result of what Chris and I call the Dishonest Subconscious Syndrome."

"Guys who hear pitches," Chris said, "have so many ideas thrown at them that they forget Who's On First. Sure, the stupid asses pass on your brilliant idea during the meeting."

I said, "But, then later on something triggers a vague memory.

"Maybe they're in the shower," Chris said. "Maybe they're sitting on the toilet with the drizzles from too much Blow. They get the Big Ah-Ha! But they don't realize they're the same numb nuts as before and it was somebody else who not only had the idea, but pitched it to them in a meeting."

"We've had cases where we've made a sale on a show," I said, "but then later, something else we pitched that they passed on ends up in a story by one of the people on staff. People we know and like and there's no question of their honesty."

"Besides, we know where their kids go to school," Chris said to laughter.


"Had it happen on Magnum," I said. "We pitched half a dozen ideas to Don Bellissario. He passed on them all. Finally we sold something we made up on the spot." (See Episode # 21: Tom Selleck Meets The Ugliest Dog In Hawaii.)

"But later in the season," Chris said, "we saw an episode on the show about dope growers in Hawaii who plant their shit in the boonies. Not your friendly neighborhood pot dealers, but fucking thugs armed with automatic weapons who set deadly man traps on the paths leading to the marijuana crops."

I said, "We pitched that very idea, but Don passed. Much as we think Bellissario is a jerk of the first order, we doubt whether he deliberately stole the idea. Our idea was sitting in the back of that raisin Producers call a brain, but he thought it was original to him."

"Then there are situations, where producers deliberately set out to rip you off," I added.

"Mostly happens at Cattle Calls," Chris said. "That's when they call in twenty or more writers. Show them the pilot. Give them a little talk. Then invite them to pitch."

"They have no intention of buying," I said. "The Guild has this rule that shows have to interview a certain number of freelancers a season. The idea is to discourage the staff from Bogarting every script, and thereby encouraging the freelance market."

"There's a fucking big ass Catch 22, though," Chris said. "The rule says they have to let freelancers pitch, but it doesn't say they have to buy."

"We refuse to attend Cattle Calls," I said, "unless the Exec Producer guarantees our Agent up front that they'll buy a script. Then we go, sit with all our fear-soaked brethren, then when the dog-and-pony show is over, we're whisked through a secret entrance to the producer's office."

"Meanwhile," Chris said, "they hear pitches from the other writers. Tell them not only 'No,' but 'Fuck No,' and send them on their way. But they keep notes of the best stuff then have their staff fuck with it so the theft can't be proven."

A girl in a Sigourney Weaver Alien get-up called out, "They're just cherry-picking people's brains."

"Right fucking on, sister," Chris said.

I said, "They can steal any idea they like, change it just a little, and there's nothing anybody can do about it."

Chris said, "Then there's the really big rip-offs. Not just ideas for single episodes of television, but whole fucking movies."

"For example," I said. "We pitched a modern version of Robinson Crusoe to Touchstone, not long ago."

Chris made a face."That's Touchstone, as in Touched By A Mouse," he said.

I grimaced. "It's a division of Disney," I said. "As you might gather, we're not big fans of Disney."

"What's wrong with Disney?" a guy in a Teen Wolf getup shouted.

"Long story," I said. "Remind us some other time to tell you about the Pissing Dwarves. (See Episode # 55 - Screwed By The Mouse: Or, Michael Eisner And The Seven Pi$$ing Dwarfs.)

I continued, "It was a Romancing The Stone type action comedy. Our lead was an outdoorswoman. A descendant of the real Robinson Crusoe."

"Guy named Selkrik," Chris interjected. "A Scotsman and an actual castaway whose rescue was played up big by what sufficed as the British media back in the early 1700's. Old Danny Boy Dafoe interviewed Selkrik and even paid him real money for the rights to his story. Which is where the novel came from."

"Meanwhile, back at Touchstone," I said in mock exasperation. Jerked a thumb at Chris. "He knows shit like that, so don't get him started, or we'll be here all night."

After a few guffaws, I said, "In our story, the lady winds up on a desert island just like her ancestor. Except, instead of a shipwreck, she's in a plane crash. Then it's just her and her hunky but flaky pilot."

Chris said, "Instead of threatening them with cannibals, we had bad ass drug smugglers who use the island as a midway stop on the way to the States."

"Pretty good idea for a shoot-em up, don't you think?" I said.

There was enthusiastic agreement.

"It's so good," Chris said, "that it was announced in Variety two weeks ago that they're gonna make the movie. Harrison Ford starring."

There was applause. I held up a hand to stop them. "You won't see our name anywhere on it," I said. "Not our movie."

"They passed at the meeting," Chris said. "But now, guess what? They're doing a movie just like ours."

"You're so damned suspicious, Bunch," I said. "It was just a coincidence." I turned to the audience. "Right?"

There were loud replies of "Bullshit!"

Chris and I grinned at each other. An audience after our own hearts.

"Second example," I said. "You've all heard of Nightmare On Elm Street, yeah?"

Man, had they. Lots of applause for Freddy Krueger and his young victims.

Chris said, "Our former agents - CAA, the worst of the fucking bunch - also repped some of the guys at New Line, the company that makes Elm Street. One of them was Mike De Luca, their fair haired boy."

"He was on his way up then," I said. "Later he became head of the company."

"And became infamous for his X-Rated public behavior at a party with the top celebrities in Town in attendance," Chris added. "His host was so disgusted that afterward he threw out the chair De Luca was using during the incident." (Click Here For Dirty Details. Parental Guidance Very Much Advised!)

"We'd met De Luca before on a show called Dark Justice," I said. "He was on loan from New Line and we thought he was pretty much of an asshole then. Our buddy, Jeff Freilich, spoke up for him, though, so we let it go."

Chris said, "Long story short - CAA sends us to see De Luca who had just been put in charge of the last Elm Street movie. Mainly because he'd worked the last season on the Elm Street TV series. The really important thing about the project was that it was supposed to be the final movie in the Franchise. The last Nightmare On Elm Street."

"What we didn't know," I said, "was that De Luca's writing credits were mostly bullshit, and he really needed something major he could call his own if he wanted to climb the Suit Ladder To Success."

Chris said, "We didn't particularly want to write an Elm Street, but we were asked to go pitch as a favor to our agent. So we watched two of the movies they sent over, came up with some ideas, and went in to see De Luca."

"Mike passed on a couple," I said, "but we figured he was the kind of jerk who dumps the first two stories on general asshole principle. But we were holding back a really killer idea - a for sure sale - that Chris had come up with."

Chris said, "I asked Mike, 'This is supposed to be the last Elm Street, right?' He says, yeah, the last one. So, I said, 'After all these Elm Street Movies and TV shows about Freddy in other people nightmares, what if we do a big switch?'"

I said, "Mile looks real interested. He asks Chris - 'What big switch?'"


"And Chris told him, 'What's Freddy's Nightmare?'"

I said, "Mike jumped at that. Like he'd been goosed. He started to get real excited. And Chris went on to pitch him the idea, which started with Freddy having an accident - hits his head on a rock, or something - and gets amnesia. Then it spooled out from there, bringing in characters from the past."

"Mike went along at first," I said. "Damn, was he excited. I figured we had then sale. Then he drew back. Started hating the idea."

Chris said, "I asked him what was wrong. "And he said, 'It's a premise breaker. We can't do it.'"

"I jumped in then" I added. "And said, 'It's the last fucking Elm Street. There's no reason you can't break the premise.'"

"But he didn't see it," Chris said.

"Or, at least he told us that," I put in. "And so we packed up and went back to our office to do something sensible, like write books."

Somebody in the audience shouted, "But they did the movie. I saw it last year."

"No shit," Chris said. "And guess who got the writing credit?"

"If his initials are Mike De Luca," I said, "you guessed right."

Once again, somebody yelled, "You could sue them."

Chris and I both shook our heads.

"Life's too fucking short," he said.

I said, "Every hour you spend in court, or in an attorney's office, is an hour lost writing books."

And Chris said, "The only time it's worth suing, is if it's the only idea you'll ever fucking have."

In the back of the hall where Kathryn and Karen sat keeping time for us, I saw Karen point to her wristwatch, and Kathryn make throat-cutting motions with a finger.

Time to end this sucker.

Chris turned to the fangless Dracula. Popped him a mock salute.

He said, "So, to finally answer your question about what's true and what's not in Hollywood, I have to say this: Every fucking thing you have ever heard about Hollywood is true...

"...Except what they say about me. And only some of what they say about Cole."

I flipped Chris the finger and the audience roared. I had to shout over them."Oh, yeah! Well tell them about that starlet at Quincy who flashed you the whole damned meeting."

Chris raised both hands for silence, and got it. Head bowed in mock humility he said, "As God is my witness I thought she was there for an anatomy lesson."

He appealed to the audience. "I mean, it was a medical show, right?"

And to much laughter and applause, it was a wrap.

It was also the last convention Chris and I attended together. And when we flew home, it wasn't to Hollywood, but to a little seaside dot in the map, called Ilwaco, Washington.

The Golden Chains had been broken.

NEXT: WHAT DID WE LEARN ABOUT HOLLYWOOD, BOYS AND GIRLS?


IT'S A BOOK!
THE COMPLETE HOLLYWOOD MISADVENTURES! 




WHERE'S WHERE YOU BUY IT
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 Amazon.com. Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!

THE STEN COOKBOOK & KILGOUR JOKEBOOK



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.    

Friday, April 8, 2011

CHUCK NORRIS NEVER BLINKS. NEVER!

* If Chuck Norris is late, time better slow the Hell down
* Chuck Norris doesn't worry about changing his clock twice a year for daylight savings time. The sun rises and sets when Chuck tells it to.
* If you have five dollars and Chuck Norris has five dollars, Chuck Norris has more money than you.
* Life insurance premiums are based on how far you live from Chuck Norris.
* Ghosts sit around the campfire and tell Chuck Norris stories.
* Chuck Norris counted to infinity - twice.
* Chuck Norris can slam a revolving door.
* Death once had a near-Chuck Norris experience.
* There is no Theory Of Evolution, just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live.
* Unstoppable force meeting an immovable object? Chuck Norris clapping.
* When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he isn't lifting himself up, he's pushing the Earth down.
###



Frank Lupo said, "Whatcha'doin', guys?"

Chris said, "In a word - getting the fuck out of town."

I said, "That's six words."

Chris said, "Jesus, Cole, you're so damned nit-picky."

I could hear Frank laughing on the speaker phone. He was always a duck for the Bunch & Cole Show. He said, "No, seriously, guys. What're you up to?"

I said, "We really are leaving town, boss. Chris and Karen are pretty much packed. Kathryn and I have to hang on some so she can close down her business, and we can find tenants for the house."

Knowing us, Frank was unsurprised. All he said was: "Where you headed?"

Chris said, "A little town called Ilwaco in Washington State. We ran across the place years ago on bike trip. It's on a peninsula across from Astoria. Beautiful country. Maybe fifteen thousand people in the whole damned county."

I added, "Looked like a great place to write. We both agreed that when we made it, that's where we'd go to. We've got enough book contracts to take care of us for a few years, then we'll see what's next."

"That's great news, guys," Frank said. "The dream of practically every writer in Town."

"Even you, boss?" I teased.

Frank laughed. "Nah. I'm too much of a city kid."

Lupo was ex-New Yorker who'd come out to Hollywood to make his bones as a writer. Drove a cab to support his family, while turning out spec scripts on the side. At a very young age, he'd impressed the hell out of the right people and before you knew it he was a big time producer. Another blink of the eye and Frank was Co-creator (with the late Steve Cannel) of The A-Team, Wise Guys, Hunter, Werewolf, and many more.

We'd first met on his debut gig as a showrunner on Galactica 1980 (it wasn't Frank's fault) where we were story editors (wasn't our fault, either) and since then we'd written a pile of scripts for most of his shows. In fact, the best experience we ever had in Hollywood was as story execs on Werewolf, where at Frank's behest we had not only scragged Chuck (The Rifleman) Connors, but made him literally kiss the ring of his replacement. (See Episode #54 - Chuck Connors Kisses The Ring)

I was grinning at the memory when Frank said, "Can you guys maybe use a little 'get out of town' money?"

"Sure as hell could, boss," Chris said. "Can't believe how much it costs to ship fucking books. They want 50 cents a damn pound, and I've got easy - four thousand books."

"Well, maybe we can help each other," Frank said. "You hear about that new Chuck Norris show CBS bought?"

I said, "Vaguely. There was a two-hour MOW that did big numbers. A Texas Ranger thing, right?"

"Walker, Texas Ranger," Frank confirmed. "Damndest story behind it. Chuck made the two-hour himself. And get this, he got the Mattress King of Texas to finance it. CBS bought the movie, then didn't know what the fuck to do with it, so they thought they'd burn it off. Show it in the Dead Season and maybe they'd get their money back. But, then - Boom! Ratings through the roof."

Chris said. "No surprise there. Martial arts shit always does well - not that any Suit ever realizes that. Hell, there's a huge built-in audience for it. Put a Kick Boxer on anything and you've got automatic sales."

I added, "Plus, we're talking Chuck Norris, here. He's no great shakes as an actor - but when it comes to martial arts, he's the real deal. Middleweight champion for I don't know how many years."

Chris snorted. "Not like that phony-ass Steve Seagal!" (As you may have gathered, Chris did not Steven Seagal in high esteem. Nor did I. See Episode #61 - Chris Bunch Versus Steven Seagal to get the full nitty-gritty.)

Although I could hear him chuckle, Frank stayed on point. "So, the Network had this hit from out of nowhere. Even had some financing if they wanted to share the profits with the Mattress King."

"Fat chance," Chris said.

"You guessed it," Frank said. "Anyway, they make a deal with Chuck to do a Texas Ranger TV series. But, holy shit, after they sign the deal, they realize the movie was a fluke. Made by amateurs, for fuck's sake. And no way can amateurs do a whole fucking TV series. With or without Mattress King money."

I could imagine the dilemma. A weekly series is an incredible grind. Fourteen hour days. Six, seven days a week. Couple hundred employees - all members of some kind of union. One sneeze can cost a fortune. And then there's the actors. Temperamental? If they are any good - probably. I remember a Studio Veep who bragged to me that she'd blown off Rosanne Barr when she came calling with her show. She said, "I knew she was a bitch that'd cause nothing but trouble." Well, that "bitch" made a rival network hundreds of millions of dollars. Sure she was trouble. But it goes with the territory. In my experience, Talent is a coin whose flip side is Temperament, if not downright Trouble. (Present company not excluded.)

Frank said, "Anyway, the network asked me and John Ashley to get the show off the ground. And after we backed up a truck to the studio gates and they'd shoveled in enough money, we said okay."


FREEZE SCENE FOR SAD BACKSTORY

The John Ashley Frank was referring to was his longtime friend and production partner. A really great guy. Sadly, Ashley died from cancer not many years after this conversation. He'd gotten his start in the business working on a John Wayne movie back in 1956. The movie - an awful thing with a fabulous group of Players - was called The Conqueror, with Wayne totally miscast as Genghis Kahn.

Far worse - the movie was shot at St. George, Utah, about a hundred miles downwind downwind from the government's nuclear test site in Nevada. (Testing was above ground back then.) Worse still, when they returned to LA to finish the movie, Howard Hughes (who made movies and starlets in those days) shipped tons of the dirt from the Utah location back to the studio for an added sense of film realism.

The result: Of the 220 people in the cast and crew, 91 later developed cancer and 46 died of the disease - including Wayne, the amazing Agnes Moorehead... and our John.

Coincidence? Government says so. Cancer specialists say otherwise. Who to believe? Hmm.

RESUME SCENE

Frank said, "So, whaddaya say, guys? Write one more for the road?"

Chris made with his favorite reply: "Is the Bear Catholic? Does the Pope shit in the woods?" And that afternoon a messenger dropped off a package with an outline, character sheet, and VHS tape of the movie - which Frank told us to mostly ignore since there was really nothing in there that would make a series. But, it did give us a look at how Chuck Norris handled himself. The martial arts scenes - all choreographed by him - were a marvel. Natch. His acting was kind of wooden, but passable.

"Not bad for a guy who went to acting school on the GI bill," I told Chris.

"That's right," Chris said, "You met him before, didn't you."


I had - although I doubt if Norris would remember me. It was when I was a kid reporter for the late, unlamented Inglewood Daily News. Norris, an ex Airman (he served in Korea, among other places), had yet to kick his way up the ladder to Karate fame. He worked at an aerospace company in our circulation area - shrewdly hoarding every penny to open up a chain of karate schools.

I interviewed him at his Torrance school, and quite liked the guy. He was shy, earnest, and totally focused. He was about my age and we hit it off right away. I had an interest in the martial arts - I'd lettered in Judo at Kubasaki High School in Okinawa, and we swapped stories about life on military bases in Asia. After that interview, his success came as no surprise.


When Chris and I were done with the TV movie, we scored a copy of Way Of The Dragon - the film he did with Bruce Lee. Although Chris and I were both big Bruce Lee fans, we had to admit that Norris more than held his own in his scenes with Lee.

We came up with some stories and met with Frank's Story Exec - whose name I unfortunately don't remember, because he was a definite Pro and a helluva nice guy. There weren't any offices for Walker yet, so we met at the guy's house out in the Valley.

We made our pitch and the one he especially liked was titled "Right Man, Wrong Time." Basically, it was about a beautiful country singer who is being stalked by a former beau - a Jerry Lee Lewis type madman who is on the skids. We gave him a sawed-off shotgun to make things interesting, and a couple of very large Red Neck bully boys to make them doubly so.

The Story Exec got on the phone to Frank, told him about "Right Man" and a couple of minutes later he was saying the four magic words: "Who's your agent, boys?"

We wrote the first draft. Things were in a flux on the show and the Story Exec was swamped, so we met with Frank personally for our second draft notes. It was at his house, if I remember correctly. Big place. Nice art, tastefully decorated and Frank's study was filled with books. Many of them first editions from writers he admired. Some of ours were among them. (Aw, shucks.)

He said, "This is great, guys. But there's a couple of things we need to do throughout." We nodded, pens hovering over notepads. Frank went on, "You've got some scenes here that Chuck just isn't equipped to handle. We've got a guy who has three expressions: Poker Face. Poker Face With A Frown. And Poker Face With A Smile. And sometimes the smile looks more like he's gonna kill some-fucking-body, than anything else."

Chris and I knew right away where we'd gone wrong. We'd set up a trap for ourselves. This was a love story, after all. And a bitter sweet one at that. Normally, we could expect our lead to show the appropriate emotion at the appropriate time. Woo the girl. Win the girl. Lose the girl and Fade Out, The End. Where we'd gone wrong was to treat Norris like any other professional actor, giving him some real meaty scenes to work with.

Big damned mistake. We'd handled similar situations for Frank before - where the Lead's acting abilities were weak, but he was surrounded by very professional character actors and actresses.

I said, "Gotcha boss. Throw the lines to the real actors and give Chuck the button on the scene."

Frank said, "Yeah, like that."

He shook his head, then said, "You know, I probably won't be with this show long. To make it work, I've gotta come down hard and Chuck isn't going to like it. I told the Network that. Said I'd make the show a success, but when that point came Chuck's gonna want to fire my ass, then take credit for the success."

Chris and I made noises of concern. Frank laughed and waved them away. "Don't worry, I've got a fuckin' Fail-Safe Clause built into the contract. Let him take credit. He's not a bad guy. In fact, I like him. But, pretty soon he's not going to like me."

With those final words in mind we gathered up our stuff and headed out. Turned in the last draft a couple of weeks later, and then it came time for Chris and Karen to call the Bekins man and make the big move to little Ilwaco.

Kathryn and I stayed on another month or so. She to sell her business, me to find renters for our house in Venice.

A couple of weeks before we left, I got a call from Frank's Story Exec. He said, "We've got a situation here, Allan, where we have to rattle Chuck's cage. He thinks the other people on the show are getting all the acting glory, while he just gets to punch people out."

That worried me. I thought we'd done a good job of walking that tightrope. The Story Exec sensed my concern and said, "No, not your script. That's fine. Chuck loved it. It's already been shot and it's in post-production.

"But now what we need is a script that makes Chuck think that if he's not careful, we can make his worst fears come true."

I knew what he was after. "You want a story that really puts the spotlight on one of the other characters," I said. "Then Chuck comes in at the last minute and saves the day. So, who needs him, right? Any action star can do that."

"Right," the Story Exec said. "Frank said you boys were specialists in that kind of thing."

And indeed we were. We'd done it any number of times, starting way back at the dawn of our careers with Jack Klugman on Quincy and James Garner on Rockford. You write a script in which the Star is on vacation, or sick, or something. Throw the story to one of the regulars on the show - or even a guest star - then sit back and wait for the Star to read it. Give birth to a two-headed cow. Shout and scream at his agent. Then promise to be a good boy or girl again.

But there was one big problem with that kind of script.

I said, "If we do it right, you'll never shoot it." This meant there'd be no reruns, meaning no residuals - which count for a large part of a freelance screenwriter's income.

The story exec said, "Got you covered. Frank said to make a back-up script deal."

Ah, that was better. A backup script - one which will only be shot if something else falls out - pays scale and a half. Maybe even double. I made a mental note to tell our agent to negotiate for double. The move out of state, as Chris had said, was really expensive.

I told the story exec we'd give it a shot. I called Chris in Ilwaco and he agreed I'd done the right thing taking the gig. This was in Barbarian times, you understand. Before the Internet. (I know, I know. But, we still had Fire, and this new-fangled thing called a Wheel.) Chris and I both used CompuServe, which was sort of a mini-mini-internet. So, to save long distance charges (yeah, no Skype either...sigh...) we hammered out ideas and shot them back and forth on CompuServe.

It wasn't long before we had what I thought was the perfect story. I'd just read an article - or, maybe it was something I saw on 60 Minutes - about a Breast Cancer Boot Camp aimed at restoring self confidence in cancer survivors through strenuous physical activity, obstacle courses and group counseling.


One of the regulars on Walker was Sheree J. Wilson who played the part of Alex Cahill - an assistant district attorney. Ms Wilson is as talented as she is lovely, so she was perfect for our purposes.

In our story, we gave her a background that made her particularly sensitive to the issue. Her character's mother, or sister, or whatever had died from the ailment. That gave us a reason to involve her in a newly-formed Breast Cancer Boot Camp and volunteer to spend a week with one group. Walker, meanwhile, is busy on some other case and we follow Alex Cahill as she helps these women win back their confidence.

Naturally, we had a MacGuffin that produced a group of really nasty villains who go after Alex and the ladies. And they spend most of the episode bravely and cleverly fending off the bad guys ala The John Ford movie: Fort Apache. The resultant battle does a lot for confidence regaining, and just when it still looks like all is lost, Walker shows up and kicks serious butt.

Chris and I collaborated long distance on the script and then I punted it forward. The Story Exec loved it. More importantly, Frank liked it.

But most important of all...

I got the call from Frank a few days before Kathryn and I were due to leave town to join Chris and Karen in Ilwaco.

He said, "It fuckin' worked, Allan."

"Chuck hated it, right?" I said.

"Fuck, yeah. But you know the reason he gave?"

I said I couldn't begin to guess.

"Chuck said if you get cancer, it's your own fault because you're not living right. He won't do a show about fucking cancer, and that's that."

"You think he really believes it?"

"Who the fuck knows?" Frank said. "But he's back at work again, and really giving it his all."

"Glad we could help, boss," I said.

And that, was that.

Just as Frank predicted the show became a big hit, winning its time slot week after week. And just as he predicted, Chuck grew to dislike him and Frank exited the show to go on to better things. No boo-hooing for Frank. (a) He was already rich. And (b) You remember that Fail Safe clause in his contract? Well hide and watch how it played out.

Walker, Texas Ranger ran a full nine seasons - always at the top of the Nielsen charts. During that time, Chris and I finished up our book contracts, then broke up the band and took our acts solo. Remarkably, it was a writing partnership that had lasted nearly twenty years.

LONG DISSOLVE TO: BOCA RATON, FL

Where Kathryn and I now live.

We had spent three years living in the boonies of Washington State. It was there that an ice storm inspired the idea that would lead to The Warrior Returns, the final novel in the Far Kingdoms series.


Then we spent another three years another three in New Mexico, outside the tiny little town named (I shit thee not) Truth Or Consequences. This was Geronimo and Billy The Kid Territory so we had a grand old time.


It was also where I came up with the idea for the Timura Trilogy, and if you look at the cover of the first book - When The Gods Slept - you'll see that the artist exactly matched the view of the wilderness outside my office window. (Sans the cavalry and magical city.)

But it was time to get back to civilization so we heeded the urgings of my Aunt Rita and moved to the little beach town of Boca Raton.

By sheer chance, one night we ran across Walker, Texas Ranger on TV. I hadn't seen the show since our episode - Right Man, Wrong Time - aired, so held on a minute to watch the big fight that always ended the show. Chuck kicked ass, then you had the obligatory, laugh, ho-ho, with the regulars at the Bar - a standing set used for those purposes.

Then I watched the end credits. And, son of a gun, I saw the names of two old friends: Nick Corea, from our Incredible Hulk (See Episode #23 - Showdown At The Incredible Hulk) and Gavilan days. And Bruce Cervi, who we had worked with on Gavilan. (Bruce is married to another Hulk alumnus and friend: Karen Harris, a whiz of a producer and writer.)

Kathryn who knew and liked them all, said, "Maybe you should call and say hello."

And so, that's what I did. It was a great phone reunion, and while I was at it - what the hell? - I tested the waters for a possible script gig and found them warm and welcome.

I sold them a notion I'd been toying with for awhile - a story without a home. While in New Mexico, we had visited some of the small border towns - including Columbus, NM, which Pancho Villa had attacked back in 1916. My grandfather - Frank Guinan - had been an underage soldier under General Pershing then and he and the other members of the unit fruitlessly pursued the wily Villa all over the badlands.

One particular thing about those towns stirred the writer in me. Some of them were run by old-fashioned Western Sheriffs, who ruled the towns like it was their personal fiefdom. Also, some of the towns - and the sheriffs - had been living off the proceeds from smuggled contraband for well over a century. In the old days it was guns and rustled cattle and horses. In modern times guns and narcotics.

So, I sold them a story about such a town and sheriff titled On The Border, that went down pretty well with everybody, including Chuck Norris. (Lee Majors played the bad ass sheriff.)

Damndest thing, though. The notes I got for the first draft consisted of a recording of the Exec Producer - Gordon Dawson reading the story aloud to Norris. As he went on, you could hear Norris cracking and eating what I took to be nuts of some kind.

He'd go - crack! - "Yeah, that's good..." Munch, munch - "But, maybe after that I'll just choke the guy out, instead of a big fight." Crack! Munch, munch. "See how I feel when we get there." Crack! Munch, munch. Crack!

It went on like that for two small forevers, me scribbling notes in between sounds of nut cracking and eating. And I was wondering - Geeze, when I met Chuck Norris all those years ago, it hadn't occurred to me that maybe he didn't read very well. He had his own business then, right?

Then, I thought, maybe that's the trouble he's having with dialogue scenes. How can he memorize his lines well enough to dramatize them if he has trouble reading the scene? Or if somebody has to read them to him over and over until he got it? Kind of like Gordon was doing reading my story aloud.

I thought about asking some of the guys on the show about it, but decided it would be wiser to just write the damned story, Cole, and don't mess with the idle speculation.

The episode was shot, aired, and to this day both Walkers I wrote rerun more than just about any other show. Matter of fact, I just got a nice check a week or so ago. Chris was spot on when he talked about the built-in popularity of anything to do with the martial arts.

Several months later, Kathryn and I visited LA to see her family and mine. I had lunch with Frank Lupo, introducing him to my son, Jason Cole, a budding writer following in his old man's footsteps. (Check out his book of short stories: 50 Rooms)

From there I went to Walker, to visit with Bruce Cervi and his partner, John Lansing, along with some of the other people on the show. I told them I had just come from seeing Lupo and everybody laughed and looked at each other knowingly.

I must have seemed confused, because one of the guys explained: "We don't mention Frank's name around here."

"A definite fucking no-no," somebody else said.

And that's when I learned about Frank's Fail Safe Clause.

"It's like this," one of them told me. "Frank may have left the show - but every single time an episode airs he gets fucking one hundred thousand dollars right off the top."

"Holy shit!" was my reaction. "And that's been going on for all these years?"

"All nine fucking seasons," one of the guys said. "For one hundred and ninety four episodes."

I started to calculate in my head, but gave it up. All I could say, was, "Wow!"

"It drives Chuck crazy," one of the guys said. "Whenever we sit down to budget a new episode, the first item on the list is Frank's one hundred thousand dollars. Gets a look on his face that would scare the fur off King Fucking Kong."

We all laughed over that, then I observed, "Only reason the show has been a hit for nine years is because of Frank Lupo. Without him, it would have been cancelled after three episodes."

And somebody said - "Want to tell Chuck that?"

As Chris would've said: "Not a fucking chance!"

Ps: A tragic footnote: Unintentionally, this has ended up sort of being a cancer episode. You see, Nick Corea died before I had a chance to see him again after all those years. The cause: Pancreatic Cancer.

NEXT: THE BIG RIPOFF - DO THEY REALLY STEAL YOUR IDEAS?



IT'S A BOOK!
THE COMPLETE HOLLYWOOD MISADVENTURES! 




WHERE'S WHERE YOU BUY IT
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 Amazon.com. Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!

THE STEN COOKBOOK & KILGOUR JOKEBOOK



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.    

Friday, April 1, 2011

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DIANA ROSS


The occasion of Diana Ross' birthday last Saturday (March 26) triggered this memory:

"My family called me a wiggle tail because I was a skinny little wiry kid full of energy." - Diana Ross.

"Is it real, is it fake, is this game of life a mistake..." Diana Ross singing "The Happening."
***


The rich kid said, "Man, if those assholes back in high school could see me now, they'd be grinding their fucking teeth."

We were sitting on the roof top patio garden of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, frosty beer mugs before us, a colorful umbrella overhead. On the deck below sexy girls gamboled in a pool of sparkling blue in a scene right out of a Hugh Hefner Playboy party. Beyond you could see the actual hills of Beverly, looking like the first wife of a Studio Boss - everything alimony trim and manicured, but with a strung out, diet pills and plastic surgery look.

The rich kid's Sycophant, nodded vigorous agreement. "Fuckin' A, Barry. Fuckin' see youse now!"

The "Barry" he was addressing, was one Barry Leis, who'd recently come into a small fortune, thanks to the timely death of his father, a New York garment industry maven. He was tallish, skinny, with a pinched, acne-pocked face. He did no justice whatsoever to the designer swimming trunks he was wearing, and his starched Hawaiian shirt hung open to reveal a sunburn-mottled concave chest. His only attractive feature was his hair, thick and black and tied back in a pony tail. He had a single earring, with a big fat Sparkly I took to be a diamond.

His Sycophant was similar, except he was skinnier, uglier, and he was decked out in Penny's beachwear pulled over sunburn-going-to-peel. He, too, wore a single earring. But, it was much smaller and with a giveaway-yellow garnet look.

Barry said, "You'd never guess it now, but I wasn't exactly on the school's "Most Likely To Succeed list."

"Me neither," the Sycophant chimed in. "Probably why me and Barry got to be such buds, youse know?"

Barry shot him an annoyed look, not liking being paired that way. The Sycophant caught it, and flushed.

He said, "Youse know" again. Shrugged. And let it go at that.

Barry returned to his theme with relish. "Those losers are all back in New York now, packed into sweaty trains with more muggers than fucking passengers. While me..." He tapped his concave chest... "I'm living the good life... Summer house in the Hamptons. Great looking girlfriend." He gestured at one of the shapely blondes frolicking in the pool. "Vacation suites at places like the Four Seasons..." He paused to indicate the luncheon platter before him. "And eating twenty dollar club sandwiches, with fresh-made chips washed down with fucking Coors Light beer."

Chris, who thought anything with "light" added to its name was exactly that, said, "If I had a choice between Coors Light and water, only reason I wouldn't take the water is because fish shit in it."

Barry made a manly laugh, ho-ho. But he either didn't get Chris' criticism, or chose to ignore it.

He said, "And let's not forget the best part - here I am in Beverly Hills talking about a fucking movie deal with a couple of fucking Hollywood writers."

"Yeah, fucking writers," The Sycophant came in. "Fucking Hollywood.

At that point in our career, this was an overblown description of the pair of us. Sure, we were writers. That's how we made our living. However, we didn't put beans on the table writing for Hollywood. I was a newspaperman and Chris was a freelance magazine writer. In our spare time we slaved together over spec scripts and novels and we had even made some option money - as well as a deal for an actual movie (unproduced) that qualified us to join the Screenwriter's Guild.

But, we didn't correct old Barry in his exaggeration. He was a producer wannabe intent on spending his inheritance on booze, broads and bullshit. He'd read an article Chris had written for one of the motorcycle magazines - Big Bike, I think. It was titled "Running On Empty," and it was a stunning piece of writing you wouldn't expect to stumble across in a bike magazine.

"Running On Empty," was a wild - almost stream-of-conscious - essay about a two week LA to Astoria, Oregon motorcycle trip he and I had taken. Chris was snared in the throes of divorce (I was several months out of a marriage as well) and the story was about as close to the bone as a writer can get.

Back in New York, the newly-flush Barry Leis read the article and called the magazine to track Chris down. He made a pitch about wanting to do "a different kind of motorcycle movie," and said he'd be out our way soon. He'd booked a trip to Samoa with his girlfriend and his buddy, and would stop off in LA to work out some kind of a deal.

So, here we were at the Four Seasons, eating an expensive lunch, drinking overpriced bad beer, and listening patiently to the guy carp about his "high school experience," with his dim-witted for-hire buddy chiming in like a one-man Greek chorus, but with a "youse guys" kind of accent.

Our producer/mentor pal Al Godfrey warned us many times to never deal with amateurs. But we hadn't met Godfrey yet, so we were boys for the burning together, listening to bullshit while waiting for the check to be written.

But instead of talking turkey, Barry was still obsessing over high school. He said, "Just before I flew out here, I got a fucking invitation to my Tenth Reunion."

"Fucking invitation," said the Sycophant.

"Sons of bitches," Barry hissed. "Only reason I'd ever go is to spit in their fucking faces."

The Sycophant nodded vigorously. "Fucking faces!"

"Who wants to relive that shit again?" Barry went on. "Worse time of my fucking life."

"Worse time," said his Official Echo.

I said, "I hear you, Brother. I got a ten year invite. Tore that up. Then a fifteen year. Tore that one up too. Who wants to hang out with a bunch of losers?"

"Bunch of losers," the Sycophant said, then froze. Glanced at Barry, who gave him a dirty look. I could see what he was thinking: "You're MY Echo, asshole! Got it?"

Chris laughed. He said, "I skipped my tenth reunion like you and Cole. But five years later I got the kind of revenge you remember for the rest of your fucking life."

Leis looked interested. "Really?" he said. "What happened?"

This was a Chris Bunch story I hadn't heard before, although we'd known each other since our senior year at Mira Costa High School (Go Mustangs!) in Manhattan Beach, California. (See Episode #1 - Fade In Bunch & Cole.)

Fascinated like the others, I toyed with my Coors Light and settled back to listen.

Chris said, "When the invitation came I was working at a Bob Silberstein's public relations company at 9000 Sunset Boulevard. They repped the biggest names in the music business in those days. Hell, they still do. I was the company freak - and I'll tell you right now I'm proud to say that I was the World's Worst Rock N' Roll PR Man."

This part I knew, so I prodded: "How'd you get the job, Chris?"

Chris grimaced. "It was like this. Suddenly there was this fucking huge explosion of money pouring in from new groups and stars. All young, edgy, full of attitude. But all the PR reps in town were fucking Suits with no fucking soul whatsoever. But the stars had no use for the Suits, and were refusing to sign.

"It was the same with the Movie Studios in those days. The whole Baby Boom thing hadn't really sunk into the teeny things the Suits use for brains. So when shit like Easy Rider hit the Big Screen and kids lined up for blocks and blocks with cash in their fists, it was Panic City time. Hopper and Fonda made the movie for Zip money, but it coined a bundle and half. So, the Suits started grabbing any kid with long hair they found wandering by the studio gates, dragging them inside and putting them to work.

"Same with Rock And Roll. More so, even. So, anyway, I was running an Underground newspaper - Open City - and Bob Silberstein personally called to blow in my ear."

"Open City," Leis breathed. "Shit, I even heard of that all the way out in New York."

Chris said, "They made me the Company Freak. New client would come in and they'd trot them by to show how With It they were. You know - I was hip before it was hep to be hip. Long hair, 'stache, biker colors... pretty much how I look now.


"An added bonus was that working in the Underground Press and covering all the acts I already knew a lot of the people. Had interviewed them, shot pictures and wrote reviews of their albums."

Barry broke in. "And concerts? You mentioned Altamont in your Running On Empty story. Were you really there?" (He was referring to infamous 1969 Altamont Speedway concert where the Stones hired the Hell's Angels for security and four people ended up dead.)

Chris said, "Yeah, I was there. And the trouble really wasn't the Angels fault. The promoters built the stage too low." He waved it away. "But, that's another story."

The waiter was going by, so Chris pulled him over and traded in his Coors Light and mine for a couple of Dos Equis Much better fuel for story-telling.

He said, "Like I said, I was the company freak at Silberstein's. Did whatever I wanted. Didn't take shit from anybody. Hell, one time one of bosses pissed me off and just for GP I threw my typewriter through a window."

This really impressed Mr. Echo. "And they didn't fire youse?"

"Fuck no," Chris said.

The beer came and he took a grateful slug of the good stuff.

Chris said, "Time goes by. I got really tight with the clients. But, my absolute favorite was Diana Ross - who was married to Silberstein at the time. She was just a dynamite lady. Really down to earth and made you comfortable right from the start. But, you'd better not cross her, or do her wrong. She was a damn panther when she was mad. And curse. Man, she could make a drill sergeant blush. But, two minutes later, it was over. And she was back to being sweet Diana."

"Fucking amazing," Barry said, shaking his head.

After taking on a little more beer, Chris continued. "I was also friends with Diana's future husband Berry Gordy - Mr. Mowtown himself." Chris remembered something and laughed. He said, "Show you how smart I was, I once told him - 'Berry, you're a good guy and all, but those four little black kids from Gary, Indiana just don't have it.'"

We all laughed. "The Jackson Five," Leis chortled. "Good thing he ignored you," he added.

Chris nodded - damn right - then went on: "I hung out a lot at Diana's house.... And you know.. I had a helluva education in music from my folks - and, shit, my little brother is a genius rock and roll drummer. So, we had a lot to talk about when we got - you know - relaxed.

"Then, one day the reunion invitation comes in the mail. Don't ask me why, but it pissed me off. Depressed me. Totally out of whack considering the situation, but there you are."

"Felt the same fucking way," Leiss said.

The Sycophant started to make with the echo, then shut up. He was too interested.

Chris said, "I was supposed to see Diana and Bob that night. Forget why. But, when I get there I still feel like shit. Go inside, get situated with them... a drink... Etc... And while all that's going on, Diana notices how down I am."

"She says, 'What's up, Chris, honey? You feelin' blue about something? Girl problems, maybe?' She smiled at me - and damn, you know that smile. Hits you like a punch between the eyes. Except, I was too down to really appreciate it, you know?

"But I told her. I said, 'Diana, when I was a kid I was total nerd. Too smart for my own good. No social skills. Didn't have a car. Couldn't get a date. Took a load of crap from the teachers, because, like a dope, I'd correct them in class. Shit like that.

"'And then today, this stupid High School Reunion invitation comes. And I'm suddenly back there at Mira Costa with all those assholes. I mean, I know it's stupid to let it get to me that way. The guys are all probably swinging wrenches, and the girls all have five kids - three still in diapers.'"


"Diana got all sympathetic. She told me, 'I know just how you feel, honey. You might not believe it, but I was downright ugly when I was a kid. So skinny and full of energy my family called me Little Wiggle Tail.'"

Leis broke in: "Diana Ross ugly? And skinny? Man, she's gotta be one of the most beautiful chicks in the fucking world. And she sure isn't skinny." He drew a curvaceous form in the air with both hands.

"You got that right," Chris said. "Just looking at her that night I couldn't believe that she'd been the proverbial ugly duckling back in school. But she assured me it was true. Told some sad stories about those times. A fuck of a lot sadder than any I had.

"So, anyway, the evening progressed. More music. More inducements. And we're all pretty high when Diana and I start joking about how great it would be to get even with those assholes back at Mira Costa.

"Then she really cracked up about something. And when I asked she hit me with it right out of the Blue. She said she was thinking how much it'd knock them all for a loop if she showed up as my date.

"Well, I laughed my ass off about that. I told her that it would be a fucking double-knock out loop, since the town I grew up in had only one single black family. The dad was an aerospace engineer, or something. And everybody used to point to them and their kids as proof that they weren't prejudiced. 'See,' they'd say. 'And people claim our real estate agents and the banks are conspiring to keep black people out of Manhattan Beach.'"

"What total bullshit," Leiss exclaimed.

"Yeah, bullshit," said his Echo.

I said, "Twisted logic. Curse of the human race."

Chris said, "Amen, Brother."

He got us another beer on Leis' tab - the good kind - then went on. "Well, Diana and I were laughing so hard that Bob asked what the joke was. We told him. And he started laughing too. Then he said, 'Shit, you should do it. Really, fucking do it.'"

Chris paused to take a drink. Leis and his Sycophant were dying for him to go on. "Well, did you?" Leiss pressed. "Did you do it?'

"Fuck yes," Chris said. And then he went on to describe the scene.

On the night of the Reunion, Chris got all duded up and met Diana at her house. She was dressed to kill. A long, form-fitting white dress, practically slit to the hip. Glittering jewelry, Long, perfumed hair. A fabulous package of femininity all wrapped up in a by-God full length white mink coat.

Chris got behind the wheel of one of her cars - a white Cadillac convertible - and they took off for Manhattan Beach. Top down, natch.


They swept up to the school auditorium - pulling right in front, where people were lined up to get in. Chris hopped out and opened the door for Diana and when she slid out, she made sure to give the stunned crowd a nice flash of leg.

Diana smiled that smile and everyone knew - Damn! That's Really Diana Ross!

People were calling out to each other, rushing into the auditorium to fetch friends. Diana took Chris' arm and they moved through adoring crowds. And then they all did massive double-takes when they realized that the dude by her side was none other than Chris Bunch, The guy they'd all once declared was The Most Likely To Be A Nerd.

Chris introduced Diana to the Class of 61' Student Body Leaders, Prom Queen and King, the faculty, the principal (the former Boy's Vice Principal/history teacher who hated Chris almost as much as Chris hated him.) Even the Superintendent Of Schools got the Diana Ross treatment.

Diana hugged Chris a lot... accompanied by little kisses... showed a lot of leg and cleavage, rattled her jewelry... giggled charmingly at his jokes.. bragged on him to one and all.

Then they got back in the car and swept away, a cloud of Diana's ten zillion dollar an ounce perfume trailing behind. Laughing their heads off all the while.

When Chris was done, Leiss and his hired pal were stunned into silence. Then they both started talking excitedly. Laughing and asking questions about this and that and the other thing. And, damn, who knew Diana Ross was such a great sport?

Finally, things calmed down. Chris took a bite of his club sandwich, made a face and tossed it back onto his plate. Hit the Dos Equis to wash down the cardboard taste. He looked at my plate and noticed there was only one bite out of mine as well. Later, we agreed the twenty dollar club sandwiches had to have set a record on Bad.

Leiss cleared his throat, then said, "You know, when I got here, I have to admit I was having some doubts. You know, whether you guys were really the ones I wanted to make my movie. But after that story-"

He broke off, shaking his head. Then said, "Wow! Just fucking wow!"

"Yeah, fucking wow," said his Sycophant.

Then Leis said, "Well now I'm ready, man! All my doubts are gone. We've really got to make this movie. Running On Empty, man. The magic of fucking motorcycles! You're the perfect fucking guys to get across what it's really like."

Chris grimaced. "Magic of fucking motorcycling?" he said.

Before he said more and spoiled the spell he'd cast over Leiss and his Sycophant, I jumped in.

I said, "Did you bring the contracts, Barry?"

Chris' face cleared. Back to business. He said, "And the check? The start-up money? We're going to take care of that too, right?"

"You got it, man," Leis said.

His Sycophant handed him his briefcase and Leis got out the paperwork, which we read and signed - Little Sir Echo serving as the witness. And Leiss handed over a big fat check for ten thousand dollars. Chris folded it and tucked it into his shirt pocket.

There was a little more chit-chat and then we got our helmets and our jackets and made our way through Four Season's security into the parking lot where our bikes waited.

We pulled on jackets and helmets and kicked the bikes into life.

But, before we drove away, I couldn't help but ask: "Tell me, Chris. Did all that really happen? I mean, I'm sure you and Diana got all stoned and were joking about it. But is it true? Did you really go to the Reunion together?"


Chris just ginned."Cole," he said, "would I lie to you?"

Then he pulled out the check, kissed it, waved at the sky and said, "Thank you, Diana!"

I said, "Partner, mine - let's cash that check just as fast as we can."

So, we roared out of the parking lot onto Wilshire Boulevard, and powered away - laughing all the way to the bank.

Ps1: The check cleared.
Ps2: The movie was never made.
Ps3: Barry Leiss tore through his inheritance in less than a year and declared bankruptcy.
Ps4: I used my share of the money to take Kathryn to England, where she agreed to be my wife.

So, Happy Birthday Diana Ross!

And Many, Many More....

NEXT: CHUCK NORRIS NEVER BLINKS. NEVER!


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