.....Overheard at Spago's
"Nobody knows anything." .....William Goldman
You've gotta read the directions on a child-proof cap.
.....Lyrics from Stupid People by Quincy Punx.
After Chris and I recovered from uncontrollable fits of heel-kicking laughter and got up off the floor, Chris managed to croak, "Shit, I wouldn't know where to start." He looked at me, "How about you, Cole?"
I thought for a second, then said, "What about our buddy, Old 'Kiss My Teeth?'"
That got a laugh from the audience, which was always a good sign.
The audience in question consisted of about seventy or eighty science fiction fans and fellow felons who had gathered at a waterside club in Port Angeles, Washington to see the "Bunch & Cole Show."
We had been on a West Coast book tour for a little over a week and during that time we'd traveled by planes, (no trains) and automobiles from the Mexican/San Diego border to the Canadian/Port Angeles border. (Vancouver is just across the bay and is described the Irwin Allen's Recipe For Disaster episode.)
This was our last appearance of the tour and to show you how tired we were, when Kathryn and I stopped for gas outside of town I had signed the credit card receipt - "Best Wishes, Allan Cole." I laughed and tried to explain to the pock-faced gas jockey that I'd been on a book tour and had autographed thousands of books - hence my "best wishes" signing error. Pock Face was not amused and called his boss who demanded to see more ID.
Despite our weariness the audience had us pumped. The majority were devotees of the Sten series and a goodly number had bought into our new fantasy series - The Far Kingdoms. We'd spent the evening regaling them with many of the Misadventures I've chronicled here, and despite the lateness of the hour they wanted more.
Chris said, "Oh, yeah... Old 'Kiss my teeth.'" He turned to the audience. "I'm sure you guys have heard that a few people in Show Biz partake of... ahem... illegal substances."
Knowing chuckles in the audience. I jokingly admonished Chris, "But only a few. A very few."
"Riiight!" Chris said, rolling his eyes and breaking everybody up. "Walked in on this other producer, once, who had his head in the drawer trying to get a quick snurf before our meeting."
I said, "He looked up, shocked and a little scared. And Chris told him - "
Chris picked it up - "I said, 'Hi, we're from the Los Angeles Times. We're doing a story on drug use in Hollywood."
"Guy almost had a heart attack," I said.
Chris raised a finger. "But he bought the story we were pitching. He probably figured it was either that, or..." And he drew a finger across his throat.
I said, "But, back to the first guy we were talking about. Old, 'Kiss My Teeth.' I'll just call him Hank - he's a nice guy and has cleaned up his act since. Anyway, Hank had a sudden windfall. Something he'd done for American television had been sold to Europe as an actual Big Screen movie and out of nowhere he gets a check for seventy five thousand dollars."
There were murmurs in the crowd. Chris said, "Any sensible person would have stashed the money in the bank, or invested it. But get this. Hank's business manager was also his dealer."
Gasps from the audience.
Chris nodded. "Yeah, his business manger. He'd show up every couple of days to take care of business details for Hank. They'd have a couple of lines first. Checks would be signed for expenses. Then the latest delivery of blow would be made, which the business manager would cover as some sort of write off."
"As you can imagine, with the IRS partly footing the bill, the snow got pretty deep for our friend, Hank," I said. "So deep that you never knew what to expect."
Chris said, "One day we came in for a meeting, and he's obviously ripped to the tits. Bloodshot eyes. Gnawing his lip. Sniffling like he's got a bad cold. Jabbering a mile a fucking minute."
"He said he'd been up all night writing," I said. "Looking at him, this wasn't hard to believe. Then he insisted on demonstrating his genius. He gets up from his desk and goes over to this lectern."
Chris broke in. "You heard Cole, right. A lectern." He scratched his head. "What the hell was that doing there?"
"The lectern was new, and obviously expensive," I said. "We'd never seen it in his office before... Anyway, he goes to this bloody lectern and picks up a thick sheaf of crumpled paper, covered with inky scrawls and scratches.
"Hank tells us - 'I wrote this great love scene. Took me most of the night. I wrote and wrote... all by hand... pen and fucking ink... then tore shit up, and started all over again... Wait'll you hear what I came up with...'
"And then he reads us this nonsensical scene about the hero of his show wooing a girl he meets. Chris and I really couldn't make heads - much less tails - of it."
Chris came in: "Then Hank says, 'Now, wait'll you hear this, guys. Our hero looks at the girl, then gives her the biggest fucking grin since grins were invented. And he says, 'Kiss my teeth!'"
Nervous laughter from the audience. One woman said, "Ewww!"
"That was our reaction," Chris said. "Fucking Ewww! But Hank is just looking at us. Like, isn't that great? Aren't I a fookin' genius?"
"He was so screwed up on blow," I said, "he couldn't tell how awful we thought it was. Then, he knocks on the lectern, and says, 'I owe it all to this.'"
Chris said, "And then he tells us his... ahem... secret. His new method for getting at the real poetic gold hidden deep inside all Real Writers. He says he stood before that lectern all night, writing in long hand until his fingers got sore and his feet got numb.
"'It was an incredible fucking breakthrough,' he told us. Then, asked, 'And you know where I got the idea?'
"We said we didn't have the foggiest. And he said, 'I got the idea from Hemingway. He used to write standing up. Used a lectern just like this.' And Hank knocks on the lectern again."
I pick up the ball from there and tell the audience. "And you know what my partner said? Chris said, 'But, Hank, Hemingway had a bad back!"
It took a minute to sink in, then the audience erupted in laughter and applause. I heard people muttering, "Bad back! Bad back!"
After they settled down, Chris said, "Some of the dumb things that happen aren't so funny." He turned to me. "Tell them about the submarine movie, Cole."
So, I told them. We had an MOW (Movie Of The Week) meeting with a honcho at ABC. I really can't remember the guy's name. Wish I could, because he deserves to have it smeared aloud. The story we were pitching was about the KKK infiltrating the Navy.
"No, kidding," I told the audience. "It's really been going on. We showed the Suit some stories we'd clipped from newspapers and magazines. About how racists had been getting their tentacles into the military, especially the U.S. submarine service, where there are almost no African-American sailors."
Chris broke in: "Only about fifty have been admitted since World War Two."
I continued: "So, we pitched our story. Our hero was a black guy - the boat's new second officer. And his race is a big deal to some of the men onboard. Anyway, violent incidents, including murder onshore, put him on the trail of the leader of the KKK, who is a member of the sub's crew. The blow off comes after an accident aboard the nuclear submarine, when they are all trapped at the bottom of the sea."
Chris said, "The whole time we were talking, the Suit didn't make a peep. Total poker face. Then, when we're done, he says, 'We'll have to take a pass on that. I like the story, okay. It might even be an important story. But it's not for us.'"
I said, "We were puzzled. So we ask him, How come? And he says, 'Well, your hero is a black guy, right?'
"I say, 'Yeah...' "And he says, 'Only black people watch stories about black people. Too small of an audience for a network.'"
Our own audience was silent. Aghast.
Chris said, "We had a couple of other stories, but we just got our asses out of there before we smacked him and they called Security on us."
Time for a changeup: I said to Chris, "How about the War Magician story?"
Chris laughed. "Perfect," he said. "Shows just how dumb these guys can get."
"This was an NBC pitch," I told the audience. "Another MOW. One we called 'The War Magician.' And it was based on a true story about a professional magician who was recruited by the British in World War Two to confound the Nazis."
"It's a damned good story," Chris said. "At one point, the guy made an entire train disappear right before the Nazi's eyes."
"When we were done with the pitch," I came in, "the NBC Suit just looks at us like we're dopes. And he says, 'Another World War Two story? What's up with you writers? Everybody's coming in with World War Two stories. What's the big fucking deal?'
"And my partner gives this guy the 'you're the dope' look right back and says..." I motioned for Chris to finish.
Chris sighed and shook his head, just like he did that day. And he said, "Because next year is the 50th Anniversary of World War Two, that's the big fucking deal!"
When the audience got through digesting that one I said, "What about the Dennis Weaver story, Chris?"
He liked that one. "Yeah, old 'Mister Dillon? Mister Dillon?"
"Gunsmoke," I said, identifying the series he co-starred in opposite James Arness. "And he also did Gentle Ben and McCloud. Both Westerns, or about Western guys."
"You'd think he'd be the best guy to hear a Western pitch, wouldn't you?" Chris said.
"So, we gave him a movie script we'd done, called 'The Last Green River.'" I said. "It was about the Mountain Men, particularly about one mountain man and a preacher's kid he rescues from the Wilderness."
"And Weaver tells us he loves the story - fucking loves it," Chris said.
I raised a finger. "Only one little change, he tells us. Just one."
Chris said, "Weaver says, can we 'make the mountain man a vegetarian?'"
The audience breaks into laughter.
"No shit, a fucking vegetarian," Chris went on. "Instead of the big campfire scene with the kid and this crusty old mountain man eating buffalo they'd just killed, they're eating-"
I broke in, "Roots. Yeah, Weaver wanted them to eat tubers the mountain man has dug up on the prairie. And maybe some mushrooms."
Chris shook his head. "Fuck me! A vegetarian mountain man!"
They all got a big laugh at the late, hardly great, Dennis Weaver's expense.
In the back row, Kathryn and Karen were giving us the signal to wrap things up. Time for the show to end. We needed a closer.
I asked Chris, "What about an EatAnter story? He's always good for something dumbass."
The EatAnter was Jeff Freilich (See: Towtruck Boogie & The EatAnter), a producer we had met on Quincy and had dealings with many times since. Chris dubbed him the EatAnter after the B.C. comic strip character because - well, as Chris put it: "...he's a fucking EatAnter, you know?"
Chris thought about my suggestion then said, "Yeah, the one about Dark Justice. They want dumb. We'll give them fucking dumb."
I told the audience, "Dark Justice was a CBS series about a guy who is a judge by day and a vigilante by night." Snickers from the audience. I went on: "Basically, he'd be forced by commie-symp inspired laws to let criminals get off scot-free during his day job. Then he'd do them dirty when he was off work."
There were groans from the audience. Chris said, "Hang on, that's not the stupid part. The stupid part comes next."
I said, "We were hired for what the EatAnter, I mean Jeff Freilich, said was a really tricky job."
"Among other things," Chris said, "we're known for being free-lance hit men." Nervous laughter from our listeners. Probably thinking, with these two anything is possible.
"No, we don't mean we actually kill people," I hastened to assure them. "But to knock off actors who are regulars on a show. Usually, it's because the producers are making unreasonable demands on the actors, or the actors are making unreasonable demands on the producers." (See The Silver Bullet Sanction.)
"The trick," Chris said, "is to make the part so good that the actor or actress will agree to have their demise filmed. Makes for a better story, and doesn't look weird the following week when a new actor steps in. Anyway, we're good at it. Racked up a pretty successful celluloid body count. So that's why the EatAnter hired us."
I came in: "The EatAnter had a leading lady he wanted us to eliminate and replace with a new co-star," I said. "The show was shot partly in the U.S. and partly in Spain. It was a financial experiment, and they got tax bennies from Spain."
"But only if they hired a certain number of Spanish actors and crew members," Chris said.
"The actress in question," I explained to the audience, "was Spanish. So, her death in the script and the changeover had to be handled just right, or there'd be diplomatic hell to pay."
"Making things even more delicate," Chris said, "is that the whole project was the brainchild - don't laugh - of a guy whose name I won't mention, but whose initials are Jeff Sagansky."
"The head of programming at CBS," I added.
"In other words, one of the Guys With The Really Big Fucking Telephones," Chris further explained. "And the EatAnter was scared shitless that he'd somehow piss Sagansky off."
"The story we came up with to do the job was called 'Brother Mine,'" I said. "A tale of two criminals - brothers - that we turn against each other. Using the Spanish lady as a honey trap, of course. Except in her case, she loses her life bringing the brothers down."
"Not a bad story," Chris said, "considering the shit we had to work with."
"Sagansky liked it," I said, "so as far as the EatAnter was concerned it was solid gold."
"We write the story," Chris said. "Turn it in."
"We wait," I said.
"And we keep on waiting," Chris said.
"Finally we call the EatAnter," I said, "to ask where the fuck are our second draft notes. He says not to worry, the notes are minimal and we'd get them any day, now."
"Couple of days later," Chris said, "a messenger comes knocking at our door. He's got a package for us direct from By-God CBS headquarters.
"We open the package," I said. "There's a copy of our script inside. We take it out."
"To our surprise," I said, "there's only one God damned note."
"It's scrawled across the cover," Chris said. "And it is from Jeff Frigging Sagansky, Himself. Head of Fucking Programming For CBS."
"Only four words," I said, holding up four fingers. "And all they said was..."
Chris took over... "Dumb It Down, Boys."
"...Dumb It Down, Boys.
"Words to live by if you work in Hollywood."