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Friday, March 25, 2011


Amanda: MacLeod, why don't you believe me?
Duncan MacLeod: Experience.
Amanda: The longer I live the more I get attached to myself.
(From The Highlander TV Series)

Crying gulls circled a bright yellow sun set in a sky so blue you just knew you had to be in California. Further proof: gentle waves lapped a glittering white beach, and there was a yacht berthed nearby where curvaceous young ladies in barely there bikinis gyrated to raucous music.

"Ah, The Golden State," Chris said.

The Highlander Story Exec chuckled, took a healthy swallow of his G&T and said, "You bloody Yanks certainly know how to bloody live."

I gestured, taking in the rich surroundings of the Marina Del Rey and said, "Producers on the downswing hang their toupees here. It's a helluva front. Lease a hot car. A condo unit with rented furniture and art. Find a broke boat owner and take over his payments. Stuff the boat with starlet wannabees, then play Mister Hollywood and invite out-of-state doctors and dentists to back your next film. Then party them down, hoping your creditors don't catch you before you score."

The Story Exec, a Londoner who used "bloody" as frequently as Hell's Angels use the Eff-Word, nodded knowingly. "Not too bloody different from the bloody Riviera," he said. "Except the birds are topless." Another big honk off the G&T. "Let's be bloody honest about it, mate," he continued. "When it comes to bloody filmmaking, it's the same the bloody world over. At heart, the bloody business is a bloody fraud."

I said, "We were sort of thinking along those lines when we drove over here. A meeting at a motel?"

The Story Exec had a laugh at this. "Bloody wondering if illicit drugs or sex were on the bloody menu, instead of a bloody story meeting."

Chris said, "I'm past the age of drugs. But sex..." He shrugged. "I'm not much into hairy faces reeking of gin, but, you know - if you go easy on the rewrite..."

Another big laugh from the Story Exec. "Bloody hell," he said. "I heard all about you blokes. If trouble strikes, they said, call bloody Bunch and Cole. Unless bloody Bunch and Cole are your bloody trouble. And then..."

He let the rest trail off. Finished his drink and waved for another round - One G&T, two Scotches. This guy was heavy duty. Damn, we might have finally met our match.

I just had to ask:"Who told you about us?"

"Your old mate, Bruce Lansbury," he replied.

Chris and I got a kick out of that. We'd met Bruce (Angela Lansbury's brother) - a Brit like the Story Exec - on Buck Rogers earlier in our careers. (See Episode #9 - Buck Rogers is A Fatty.) He was a good guy in our book.

I switched subjects: "What is it with the motel? I mean, it's a pretty posh place for a motel and all. But, Marla should have sprung for an office instead of sticking you all the way out here."

The Story Exec snorted. "Last bloody thing I need is to be in the same bloody office as Marla Ginsburg," he said. "When I bloody saw that the motel had business services - and heard old Marla was flying in from bloody Paris - I used my hard-earned lying skills to move things my bloody way. I'm bloody here. Marla will be bloody there. The only bloody time I have to hear her bloody voice, is on the bloody phone."

Our waiter came and we took grateful delivery of our drinks. Bad mouthing Marla was thirsty work. The Story Exec got the swizzle stick and lime-slice garnish out of his way and gulped fresh G&T.

Then, after a moment's hesitation, he said, "I'm not bloody good at this sort of bloody thing, but I'd best get it bloody done with."

We didn't know what to expect. Did he hate our script? We hadn't wanted to write the sucker in the first place, but Marla had arm wrestled us into it, saying Fox Studios wanted assurances that A-List American writers would be among the foreign crew writing for the show. She also pleaded with us to use our influence with two key Fox producers we were tight with to back the Highlander Series.

Plus, she said, that if Fox went for The Highlander, they'd be sure to get on board with our TV series - Angels Of Mercy, based on the International humanitarian organization, Doctors' Without Borders. Oh, yeah - And did I mention she'd promised to pay us double the going rate for a Highlander script? (For the hairy-scary details see Episode #70 - The She Devil Who Scared Hell Out Of The Highlander; and Episode #71 - Highlander Two: It's Just A Free Day In LA)

Continuing to hesitate, the Story Exec twisted his glass around in its coaster, then he said, "I just wanted to bloody say what a bloody honor it is to work with you blokes. I read your Vietnam novel. Brilliant. Just bloody brilliant. And your science fiction books - the Sten series. Bloody fantastic the way you get all those bloody insights about the bloody World, and bloody Governments, and the way things really bloody work. All bloody tied-up in fantastic action and all those bloody awful Alex Kilgour jokes."

As you might imagine, this was followed by embarrassed silence on our side of the table. Then - raising his voice - Chris looked all about, saying, "Okay, Mom. Come out, come out, wherever you are! Where are you hiding? We know you paid this guy."

We all laughed, and things returned to normal.

Chris decided it was time to get down to business. He said, "What about the script we sent over? Are we heroes, or are we goats."

The Story Exec grinned, and said - "Heroes in my bloody book. And Marla's as well. She's already bragged to Fox about it as well. I just have a few notes... there's been some changes in a few of the bloody characters. Bloody Marla is driving me around the bloody bend with the bloody Bible. Every bloody time I think we have things bloody nailed down, she wants another bloody change."

Chris said, "I feel for you, brother. We're having the same fucking problem with the Bible on our show."

I added, "We've gone six or seven different ways with most of the characters. We had one, for instance, who was a nun in her previous life. Falls in love, falls out with the Church, falls out of love, then signs up with Doctors Without Borders. The character is based on an actual nurse we interviewed in Paris."

Chris said, "So Marla says, fuck a bunch of ex-nuns. Make her an ex-hooker who sees the light and goes to nursing school, or some-such."

I said, "Then, it's back to the nun again, except she leaves the Order because she's a lesbian. And when we meet her on the medical team she's having a mad affair with a woman doctor."

Chris said, "And that's not fucking all, folks. Next, Marla says never mind the lesbian stuff. Make her older and she's having an affair with a much younger guy."

The Story Exec laughed. "Similar bloody problems, mates," he said. "Including the older woman, younger bloody guy thing. Except in our case the bloody younger guy is our bloody hero - MacLeod -who may look younger, but is really hundreds of bloody years old."

"In both instances she probably thinks she's just making the series edgier, sexier and more commercial," I said. "Even if it doesn't make sense."

Grudgingly, Chris said, "Can't blame her there. Television and making sense? That's a fucking oxymoron of the first and second order. Murkier you make it, the more Neilson dolts you pull in."

The Story Exec grunted. "I just bloody wish she'd make up her bloody mind," he said. "Let me finish the bloody bible so I can tell the bloody writers what is bloody what." He sighed. "Bloody producers are all over me because the bloody scripts are late. And how can they bloody cast, or bloody shoot, if the bloody scripts aren't bloody there."

I said, "Speaking of which. Tell us what changes you want on ours and we'll put everything aside and get back to you post bloody - I mean, fucking - haste " (The use of "bloody," I have found is infectious. We changed it to "clot" in Sten. Just as infectious. Try it sometime - "Clottin' hell. Too clottin' true, that. You clottin' dirty rotten clot!" See?)

Anyway, we got the notes - and he was right, they were minimal - and escaped the motel bar with our livers still semi-intact. Shipped the revised script to him a week later. Couple more notes caused by the endless Marla changes in the Show Bible. And that was our final draft, plus polish, so we were out from under.

Except for one clottin' thing: We hadn't been clotting paid.

And here's another thing: Marla was literally thousands behind in the money Gaumont owed us for all our hard work on our own television creation: Angels Of Mercy, the above-mentioned Doctors Without Borders project.

Meanwhile, the steady streams of changes in the Show Bible were driving us up the wall. Eventually, we got that nailed down. Then she called to tell us she wanted fifteen - why the fuck fifteen? - more story précis.

I said, "Marla, we already included ten in the Bible."

"Well, we think there should be more," she said, sounding pissed off. (Lately, she always sounded pissed off.) "It will be a big help to show the studios that the series has legs."

I said, "Jesus, Marla. There are enough disasters every single day in this screwed up world to make hundreds of stories - if not thousands. Don't you think they'll get that?"

"Well, fifteen more stories down on paper will help them get it more," she said.

I said, "Fine. But, if you check your handy-dandy Writers Guild Book Of Minimums, you'll see that every additional story premise will cost Gaumont more."

"I don't think that's very reasonable," Marla said.

"The Guild does," I replied. "Call them and complain."

"Oh, come on, Allan," she said, "we're all on the same team, aren't we? We're all working toward the same goal, right?

She was stalling again and I was getting steamed. I said, "At least you're being paid for your work, Marla. We are not. We've complained. Our agent has complained. And still, you are way short of what is owed."

Marla snorted. She said, "Why is it that every time I talk to you the subject of money comes up?"

I said, "Because every time we speak, you still owe us the money."

A long pause, then she said, "Okay, Allan. I'll see what I can do."

When I hung up, Chris glared at the phone, then at me. "What the fuck does she want this time?"

I told him.

Chris was outraged. "Fifteen stores? For Fucking Free? Who the fuck does she think she fucking is? That's weeks of work. And, while we're at it, where the fuck's our money?"

I told him that too.

"Shit," Chris said. "This is getting way out of hand. We've gotta do something."

I couldn't agree more. But do what, exactly? In my experience, when all is lost, and you don't know what to do next, hang on a beat or two while the world spins on its axis, and by and by it might come around to you with a solution in tow.

A few days later: The phone rings. It's a producer/writer friend I won't name because she might still be on friendly terms with Marla. Chris punched the speaker button so we could all talk.

After some preliminary chit-chat and a progress report on a World War II series idea the three of us had been laboring on for lo these many, the Producer/Writer Lady said: "You guys are working on something with Marla Ginsburg, right?"

"Two things," I said, only mildly surprised. In Hollywood people usually know your business before you do. I mean, at the Universal Studios commissary, frequently a star's sandwich is cancelled before he/she is told that their series has "gone into hiatus." (See Episode #20 - The Boxman Cometh.)

What followed is a case in point.

I said, "We did a Highlander script for a favor. And we've got a TV series with Gaumont based on Doctors Without Borders."

Our friend sighed. "Well, hang on, boys," she said, "I have some disturbing news about the latter."

Our ears perked up like dogs on a hunt. Tell us more, please.

Our friend said, "I've known Marla for years. This is a tough business and it's even tougher for women. There aren't many of us on the executive level, so we tend to stick together."

"Except when you don't," Chris said.

"Yeah, yeah," our friend said."Until we don't. And that's why I'm calling. I owe you guys a heck of a lot more than I owe Marla. In fact, I don't owe her anything."

I suddenly knew what was up. "Don't tell me," I said. "Marla called to blow in your ear about shoving us out and you taking over our show."

In the silence that followed, Chris looked at me quizzically, then nodded. He knew I was right.

Our friend said, "Shit, Allan. Do you guys have a tap on my phone or something?"

Chris laughed. "We'll never tell," he said.

I said, "I'm right - yes?"

She said, "Yes, Allan. You are so right. Marla says that your idea is brilliant, but you two are uncooperative, despite all she's done for you. She said you block her at every avenue. Always wheedling for more money than the deal calls for. And on top of that, she says, you begged her to do a Highlander script, then did a lousy job."

I said, "That's funny. She said she loved it. And so did her Story Exec."

Our friend said, "Well, he's no longer a factor. Marla just fired the guy and sent him packing back to England. She says he was a drunk."

I couldn't help but laugh. Every writer drinks - or used to drink. A lot. As the Poet so unpoetically put it: "I don't have a drinking problem. I have a writing problem." Or, as Dorothy Parker quipped, "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."

But Chris did not find Marla amusing. He said, "Fuck her. Everybody in town knows our work. And that we never, ever swing the lead."

Our friend said, "If you don't mind me asking, what does she owe you?"

We told her. She said, "Jesus, guys!" Another pause, then she offered - "Do you need the name of a good attorney?"

I said we had a great guy - Marshall Caskey - who eats possum and grits for breakfast and dines on producers for lunch. Then we thanked her for the heads up and got off the phone.

Chris said, "Should I call Caskey?"

I said, "No. If we get all legal, she'll just declare war. Let's call Marla instead."

"And then what?"

"We figure out a way to hit her where it hurts enough to cough up our dough," I said.

Glumly, Chris said, "There goes Angels Of Mercy."

I had no reply.

After we worked out a game plan I called Marla. Made up some bullshit about getting the fifteen extra stories ready - seeming to surrender ground on the extra payment. Then said we needed to run through the stories with her to make sure we were solid before nailing them out.

Marla very sweetly said, "That sounds good, Allan. I'll talk to my girl and she'll get back to you."

When it was done, Chris said, "She's thinking that with those fifteen extra stories she's got the first season licked, which means she needs us even less."

Once again, I had no reply.

A couple of days later we drove to the new offices of The Highlander. I don't recall where they were situated, but it was a short drive so it was probably up near MGM (now Sony) Studios. I do remember that to our pleasant surprise we were greeted by two old friends and work partners - Barry Rosen and Gary Goodman.

We'd done a couple of deals with Barry and Gary (even put them in one of the Stens, but I don't recall which one) and had nearly gone to work for them on the new television incarnation of Zorro, which they helmed. (We'd gone over to Frank Lupo on Werewolf, instead.) Now, it seems they'd been brought in as Show Runners for The Highlander, which boded well for the series. With the two of them running production it would probably get on the air, stay on schedule and budget, and be of reasonable quality.

After a boisterous greeting, Chris said, "How the fuck did you guys end up here?"

Barry (or, maybe it was Gary) said, "Bad luck, I guess."

I said, "How are you getting along with Marla - or dare I ask?"

Gary (or, maybe it was Barry) replied, "No, you don't dare."

I said, "Are you two running the Story Department, per usual? Or, is that question also out of bounds."

Both men looked uncomfortable. They'd always prided themselves on their story sense, and their ability to get along with writers.

Barry/Gary said, "Marla's the Exec producer. Is that explanation enough?'

Chris opened his mouth to ask if they'd seen our script, but I gave him an elbow shot to shut up. No sense drawing Barry/Gary into the dispute.

As we moved down a long hallway, we passed by the open doors of a conference room, were we saw a mixed group of very grim looking people.

I said, "Somebody die?"

Barry/Gary said, "They're our writers."

"Fuck!" Chris said.

Barry/Gary finally broke down. "She's got them terrified," they said. "She hates everything they write and she has these meetings where she picks at least one person to dress down in front of the others. So, everybody's frozen in place, scared to write, and scared not to."

"Why am I not surprised?" I said.

Then one of them broke off to see to about some crisis and I think it was Gary who took us the rest of the way to Marla's office. She was at her desk, leaning over what I took to be a script, and writing marginalia (the scathing sort, we assumed) at a furious pace.

She looked up when we entered, then went back to her task while Gary got us seated and called to an assistant to fetch us some bottled water, then hurried away.

After a long minute, Marla put her down her pen and held out a hand. "Let's see the stories," she said.

I said, "If you don't mind, Marla, let's take this one thing at a time. First, there's the matter of the script we did for The Highlander. The final check - which is for fifteen thousand dollars - has been overdue for some time."

Marla glared at me. "That script isn't useable," she said. "You're going to have to rewrite it."

I heard Chris grunt, but he kept quiet - leaving me to do the talking. The last time he and Marla had an exchange was in Paris and Chris had farted his righteous reply. (See Episode #71 - Highlander Two: It's Just A Free Day In LA) They hadn't spoken since.

I didn't bother arguing. It could only lead to - Yes it is! No it isn't! Is! Isn't! In short, a lot of yadda-yadda that would go nowhere and solve nothing.

Instead, I said, "We have already done two drafts and a polish, Marla. We have completed our legal obligation to you and the Show and now we'd like you to do the same for us."

Marla kept glaring at me. Her face was all sharp angles - like a very large someone had pinched her head in. She was motionless, except the tap, tapping of her pen on the desk. Before she could reply - and perhaps this was deliberately timed - her secretary buzzed her. Marla got up, said she had something to attend to, and would be back in a few minutes.

Chris and I looked at each other, but didn't say a word. This was our habit when left alone in a producer's office. You never knew who was listening. Several scripts were stacked on one side of the desk. The one on top had a big Magic Marker star drawn on it - with exclamation marks on either side. I picked the script up and flipped through it. Handed it to Chris and he did the same. When he was done, he wordlessly handed it back.

Marla returned. But this was a new Marla. She was all smiles, sweeping in like Loretta Young on her old TV show. She settled behind her desk, then saw the script in my hand.

"Oh," she said. "Have you read it Allan?"

I said I had. She looked even more delighted.

"Well, I'm glad of that," she said. "That script is extra special. My baby from the start, so I have spent a lot of personal time working with the writer. And now... it's almost there."

Poor writer, I thought.

Then Marla fell into my hands.

She said, "What did you think of it, Allan?"

I looked down for a moment. Then gave a long and weary sigh.

I said, "Frankly, Marla, I thought it was amateurish. Clumsy. Terrible dialogue. Awful characterization and there are scenes in there that would break the budget of even a network show." (It actually wasn't that bad. Not great, but not too awful.)

A long moment passed. How long? Imagine the world breaking off from the Sun. Imagine it cooling and seas forming and various critters appearing and disappearing, the continents shifting, people popping up, farms, villages, then cities, on and on, until finally we are back in Marla's office, near MGM (I think) and she is just staring at me, her mouth hanging open in a way that would have earned her a slap from her mother back when Marla was still in frilly white socks and Mary Jane's.

That's how long.

And then her mouth closed and she slammed the desk with the flat of her hand so hard that I thought she must have either broken it, or possibly the desk.

She raised her head and shouted to the outer office. "Tell Gary to get in here right this minute!"

Gary must have been nearby because in a flash-and-a-half he came charging into the office, a worried look on his face. He looked at me, then Chris, then Marla, and saw we hadn't killed her. Was that a look of disappointment I caught flickering across his face?

Through gritted teeth, Marla said, "I want them gone. And I never, ever want to see them again."

She looked at me and said, "Fine. You want your money? I'll give you your God Damned money. And I'll gladly pay fifteen thousand damn dollars to get rid of you."

Back to Gary."Write them a check," she said. "And bring it here."

Gary dashed out. And I figured, what the hell, let's go for the rest.

"There's still the matter of Angels Of Mercy," I said. "It's a good project and I'm sure we can find other buyers."

The wrath etched on Marla's sharp features was a wonder to behold. She said, "Don't you dare show that project to anyone else. The Company has invested a great deal of money in it. Don't think you can just walk away with our property."

I shrugged. "Not your property. We created it. Says so on the front cover of the Bible, and more importantly, it's in our contract. Better still, it's in a contract also on file in France. And you know the French - they're worse than the Germans when it comes to following the Letter Of The Law. Especially when it comes to the Arts. You can't do a thing with Angels Of Mercy without our approval."

"We'll see about that," she said.

Then Gary came rushing back, carrying a check so fresh the ink was practically running off the edges. He gave it to her. She glanced at the check, then slammed it down on the desk in front of me.

"There," she cried. "Take your damned blood money."

I took it. Looked the check over carefully. Fifteen thousand bucks, sure enough. Showed it to Chris, who studied the check with care. He nodded, slowly unzipped his briefcase, found a good place for the check, and placed it there. He zipped up the briefcase and we rose in unison.

I said, "Thank you, Marla," and we strode out of the office - but not quite out of Marla's life. Not yet, at least.

First thing: We drove straight to a bank where Craig Studwell - Chris' friend and next door neighbor - worked. Craig was a big shot at the bank, a vice president of foreign investments or something. In a very few minutes Craig had someone clear Marla's check and wired the money into our business account.

Okay, so much for The Highlander. There was still the matter of our proposed series. Yeah, it was dead as far as we were concerned. But the money was still very much alive.

We kept our fingers crossed that Marla wouldn't twig to how we had pushed her buttons. And the pretzeling must have worked because Marla's attorney called a few days later. He made threatening noises about Angeles Of Mercy. He said he was messengering over a contract that - for a fee he felt was overly generous - would flat out buy our limited interest in the project.

I said, "Interest? We own the project. It's our house. We built it. We only let Marla crash in a couple of the rooms. That's a heck of lot more than a limited interest."

He repeated that Gaumont had been more than generous and so on and so forth and after that conversation, and several more, plus contracts flying back and forth to our agent, to us, and so on, and so forth, we finally settled on a sum for a complete buyout.

It was enough to carry us through the rest of the year and then some.

I don't know if Marla ever figured out what actually happened. I do know, however, that our victory was superficial. It would have been a helluva show and I have kept watch over the years and there has never been a whisper about a Doctors Without Borders TV series.

It's a shame, but hardly a crying one. If every "worthy" idea that got shot down ended in tears, the whole damned Town would be nothing but a big salty lake.

Ps1: Last I heard, Marla was hawking a line of clothing in Canada.
Ps2: Here's where you can kick in a little dough to help support Doctors Without Borders.



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 Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


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, March 18, 2011


There was a big-damned helicopter overhead and the sounds of crackling gunfire and wailing sirens were too close for comfort when the phone rang. We almost missed it in the din.

Chris was on edge. The gunfire didn't faze him, but the sound of the helicopter doubtless took him back to the jungles of Vietnam twenty some years before and he was probably reliving a drop from a gunship into a hot Landing Zone. If I had shouted "incoming," he would have vaulted the desk and hit the floor, scrabbling to bring up his non-existent grease gun and return enemy fire.

It was a Friday afternoon when Marla called us from Paris, and it was May Day! May Day! May Day! all around as we weathered Day Three of the Rodney King riots. My Associated Press machine in the corner was spitting reams of bulletins and updates and a few minutes before we had flipped on the TV set to see President Bush (father of The Shrub) pound on the podium and warn all evil-doers in Los Angeles that "This will not stand."

"Sounds like he's going to bomb fucking Iraq again," had been Chris' comment.

And this was no joke, because the governor had already called out the National Guard and they were setting up machinegun posts in the Safeway parking lot down the street. (How weird is it to see a couple of kids in cammies, flak jackets and desert boots, trying to look like bad MF'ers while sipping Perrier Water? That's California, brother.)

Then the Army helicopter moved away to hunt bigger game and the sound of the ringing phone came through. I picked up, worried that it might be Kathryn, or my son, in some difficulty.

It was Marla Ginsburg. She said, "You know, Allan, a telephone isn't really a telephone unless you either pick up, or at least have the courtesy to switch on your answering machine. I've been calling you for ages!"

With the rattle of gunfire a couple of blocks away, the constant wailing of sirens, and the whop, whop, whop of helicopters, I was a bit discombobulated. My personal reality stretched. It was brought on by the Elder Bush proclaiming - "This will not stand!" - while listening to the sounds of the riot coming through the living room windows behind me. Was this all real, or were we watching a scene out of a movie unreeling in quadraphonic sound and smell-o-vision - did I mention the acrid odor of smoke from burning buildings?

I said, "Sorry about that, Marla, but Chris and I were a little distracted, what with the riot and all."

Marla said, "Riot? What riot?"

I said, "I know you've been out of town, Marla, but surely you've heard about the asshole cops beating the bejesus out of a cat named Rodney King. And how an all-white jury of not-his-peers let the bastards off. And now people are understandably pretty damned pissed off."

Marla laughed. I mean, she actually laughed. And she put a mocking edge on it too. "Oh, come now, Allan," she said. "It's not like you're in the middle of it, or anything."

As it happens, we were. My home - which did double duty as our office - was in the Walk Street area of Venice Beach on the very edge of neighborhoods where righteously pissed off people lived. That morning I had seen some fellow home owners gathered near my gate, and I'd gone out to see what was up. These were middle-class and middle-aged white dudes sporting elaborate comb-overs standing around doing their best bad ass imitations. You know, sucking in their guts like a girl in a bikini had just walked by, spitting on the sidewalk to emphasize every word and standing with their legs spread as if they actually possessed enough equipment to test the thread count of their tighty-whities.

They pitched their voices low and made manly threats about what they would do if "those people" came into our neighborhood. Everybody could boast of at least one gun, of course. I mean, this was LA, where people were California mellow, but would shoot your lights out if you fucked with their serenity.

Anyway, this bunch - The Baldy Bunch - reminded me of Adam Rich and the Beach Ball Street Gang (See Episode #32 - The Hawks Take Care Of Their Own) in Code Red and I soon became disgusted and went back inside to wait for Chris to show up.

I'd been through riots and violent urban unrest when I was a kid. Several times in the Middle East (See Lucky In Cyprus) and a couple of times in the Far East. (Coming soon - Lucky In Okinawa). Closer to home, I'd covered the Watts Riots as a baby reporter and remembered listening with growing alarm as LAPD cops in the squad rooms bragged about clubbing those (you know who) down. At the Inglewood cop shop, one guy boasted to his mates that he'd busted the stock of his shotgun over the head of some fucking (you know what.) Anyway, I'd had enough of that group, who now felt quite free to display their bigot medals on their wheezy chests.

A little later Chris arrived, and things got meaner as the day progressed, and then Bush said what he had to say, and then the helicopter chased some of "those people" through our neighborhood and Marla called and said in as dismissive a tone as only Marla was capable of, "It's not like you are in the middle of (the rioting), or anything." She added some Upper-Middle Class-White-People remarks about the crisis and she was really starting to get my goat when she made an abrupt about-face.

Very sweetly - and with no pause in between - she said, "I need a favor, Allan."

If I were the gasping type I would have done so. My inclination was to tell her to shove her favor. If the conversation had been on the speaker phone and Chris had heard, that's what he would have said, except not so nice. But she owed us a lot of money and we still had hopes that her company - Gaumont Robur - would make our TV series about Doctors Without Borders.

So, I said, "What kind of favor, Marla?"

As I explained in Episode #70(The She-Devil Who Scared Hell Out Of The Highlander), Marla was an expatriate Hollywood exec who had been hired by Gaumont - a huge French film company - to break into the American television market.

To that end they'd purchased the TV rights to the Highlander movies, and also our budding series, titled "Angels Of Mercy," based on the international relief organization Doctors Without Borders. Gaumont had flown us to Paris, where we interviewed doctors and nurses who toiled in the world's refugee camps fighting diseases most medical people in Europe and the U.S. had only read about, but never seen.

The people and the accounts of their work had been stimulating, Paris had been - well, Paris - and we had even had a lovely day and evening with our old friend Science Fiction Master Norman Spinrad and his then-wife, Lee. (Their apartment was in a converted monastery of impressive age and pedigree that was directly across a spice-garden from your friendly, neighborhood 3-Star restaurant. "May I borrow a cup of truffles, Henri?")

We had met Marla before and she seemed pleasant enough, and our estimation of her had soared after she bought our TV series. (Writers tend to confer sainthood on anyone who likes their writing enough to pay for it - a disease common to all the Arts.)

In our temporary Paris production offices we had even seen a poster that should have warned us, but we foolishly took as a joke. In case you missed it, here's what it said.

1. Wild Enthusiasm
2. Total Confusion
3. Utter Despair
4. The Search For The Guilty
5. The Persecution Of The Innocent
6. The Reward And Promotion Of The Incompetent
7. Erection Of Walls
8. Disillusion And Suicide
9. Oscars! Return To Step #1

The first days we were too busy taking notes and being impressed with the people who dedicated their lives to Doctors Without Borders to notice Marla's flaws. Their world was an exotic and deadly place where food, shelter, clean water and sanitation were non-existent but where diseases like Cholera and Typhoid were endemic. A bleak joke from one medical man: "Instead of Doctors Without Borders, it should be Diarrhea Without Borders, because that is what most of our patients succumb to."

Surgical instruments were scrubbed with sand instead of soap and water and laid out to be sterilized by the sun. The sick and the injured, the very old and the very young lined up for hours for treatment. The medical personnel were so overwhelmed that they had been forced to act like Gods, choosing who they would treat and maybe save, and who would wait and probably die.

In short, there is no way I could possibly exaggerate the human worth of that group. Our TV series, which we had tentatively titled "Angels Of Mercy," was not misnamed. (Click here if you want to make a donation to this worthy organization.)

Then our awareness of Marla began to creep in and it soon became apparent that she was a bully. And that she wasn't satisfied until everyone around her dropped to their knees and offered their necks. Chris and I were also underwhelmed by her business and management practices.

An example to illustrate both points: Besides a translator, Chris and I were assigned a young French writer whose only purpose was to hang around long enough for the company to claim tax bennies for hiring a certain quota of French film people. He could have been a good writer, or bad writer - I don't know because he never did any writing around us.

This wasn't particularly bothersome: that's how the economics of international filmmaking work. And the young guy seemed nice enough. For Marla's purposes, however, he was way too talkative. One day, after lunch with the top brass of Doctors Without Borders, he let slip that in the evening he was going to attend a cocktail meeting with the head of an upstart organization that was trying to horn in on DWB's turf and scoop up some of their funding.

Back at the office I pressed him on the issue. "Marla told us we already had the cooperation of Doctors Without Borders," I said. "Total access to everything... Locations... transport... the camps... everything. Just as long as we don't get in the way."

The kid nodded. "That is quite accurate," he said. "But, you know, we have to pay them for this cooperation."

Chris said, "Damn right. Hell, if I were the boss I'd pay them double. These guys are fucking incredible."

The kid tried to look worldly wise. "Marla has this saying - 'It's nothing personal. Only business.'"

"Yeah, yeah," Chris said. 'That's what they always say - right after they fuck you."

I said, "So, what are you telling us? That Marla wants to rewrite the deal with DWB? That she's going to play the two organizations against each other... wagging the promise of all the free international PR they'll get from the series to force a lesser charitable donation?"

The kid suddenly looked not so wise. Blushing furiously, he said, "I had no part in this. I am a writer - you understand? A writer... not a boss."

From the doorway I heard a distinctive - "Ahem. Ahem." The kid jumped like he was snake bitten and then Marla marched into the room. She was furious. Stood before the young man and berated him up one side and down the other.

"You ungrateful little twerp," she said. "I've given you a big chance. Everyone advised against it, but I thought you had something special. And that I could trust you. Now, here I practically hand you the opportunity to break into the American market, and you go behind my back. Telling tales about the Company's private business."

I looked over at the poster, paying particular attention to Rule #5 - Persecution Of The Innocent. Glanced at Chris, who I could tell was thinking the same thing.

It went on from there. Marla going a mile a minute, steam coming out of her ears. The young writer was a thin, undertall person, who wore a wispy kid's goatee in an attempt at manliness. But his eyes were as big and soulful as an orphan in a Keene painting and right about now they were brimming with tears. Although Marla was fluent in French, the whole time she lit into him she used English - not sparing his complete humiliation in front of us. Finally, she dismissed him and he slunk out of the room, quivering like a whipped pup.

Chris and I were embarrassed for him, and although it wasn't my fault, I felt a little guilty for getting the kid to tell all. And Chris, who never could hide his feelings, looked grimmer by the minute as Marla went on. At one point, he gave a sigh, leaned back in his swivel chair and plopped his boots on the desk. Marla paused for a beat - eyes cutting quickly to the boots on the desk, then back to the kid again.

When he was gone, she turned, hands on hips, glaring at Chris and said, "Get your feet off that desk!"

Chris just looked at her. Then, with elaborate sincerity, he placed a hand over his heart. He said, "Marla - my reply comes from deep within me."

And with that he lifted one butt cheek and let loose a very long, very loud and very stinky fart.

Marla's eyes went wide and her mouth fell open and she said, "Oh!" And again, "Oh!" And then her jaws snapped shut - you could hear the teeth click like a mouse trap - and she turned and exited the room.

Chris looked over at me, boots still propped on the desk. "Well, Cole," he said, "Here's another fine mess you've gotten me into."

I steepled the hair on the top of my head and made Stan Laurel blubbering noises.

We both laughed, then Chris said, "If she gets fresh, at least we have a ride home." He meant the return Air France tickets.

I said, "Why don't we get back to work on the treatment and see what develops."

And so we did. After the interviews with the doctors and nurses we had all kinds of ideas for character adjustments, new characters with new backgrounds, and a ton of personal reminisces and descriptive information to make our treatment come alive. (A treatment is more of a sales tool than anything else. Used to impress a producer, then a production company, then a whole damned network, if you can.)

About an hour later Marla tapped softly on our open office door. Chris glanced up and waved her in, but she avoided his eyes and looked at me.

She said, "I've been talking to (and she named her boss) about the project." I braced, figuring we were about to get the ax - and was already thinking fuck you and the horse you rode in on - but instead she said, "We both think that at this point we should move on from the treatment stage and have you guys do a full Bible for the show."

After what had happened a short time before, this was a huge surprise. The difference between a Series Bible and a treatment - besides being much longer - is that a Bible sets up every little detail of the show: the characters, standing sets and locations, regular equipment and vehicles and at least a dozen or more story premises. It's not a sales tool, but a full out production tool. (Could actually exposing film to light be far away?) The other difference was that although a treatment for a TV series paid a lot of money, a Bible paid a helluva lot more.

Chris said, "That's great news, Marla."

Marla ignored him, keeping her attention on me. "What do you say, Allan?" she said. "Should I call your agent in LA and make a deal for the Bible?"

I looked at Chris, who nodded, then back at Marla. I said, "Sounds good to us, Marla."

And so the next step was taken down the road to who knew the hell where. One thing, though. From the fart on, Marla spoke only to me - which didn't bother Chris one bit because he'd come to loathe the woman, and he hated talking to people he didn't like.


The phone rings. It's Marla. She says, "Riot, what riot?" And so on.

I buzzed by my inclination to deliver a verbal swat and veered into - hopefully - safer territory. I said, "What's up, Marla?"

And she said, "I'm need a favor, Allan."

Once again I noted that she was trying to skip Chris out, and - with extra emphasis on the pronouns - I said, "We'd be glad to help anyway We can, Marla."

I tucked the phone between shoulder and ear to free both hands to type notes. I figured she wanted another adjustment on one or more of the characters, or to spell out one of the story ideas more fully - stuff like that. Stuff involving our project - Angels Without Mercy.

Instead, she said, "It's about the Highlander."

Both because I was surprised and because I wanted Chris to hear, I repeated: "The Highlander?" Chris straightened. Gave me a quizzical look. And I added, "What about The Highlander?"

Marla said, "I know you're on good terms with Fox, Allan."

I said, "We sure are, Marla." Emphasizing the "We" again. "They love Us over there."

It wasn't much of an exaggeration. We'd worked as story execs for Fox, had written for some of their other shows, and had partnered up with Fox producers to pitch various notions, some of which had paid actual money.

She said she was talking to two key people there and when she named them, I nodded in recognition. "Great guys," I said. "Did a Route 66 kind of thing for them - except on motorcycles and set in Europe."

"They told me about the project," Marla said. "And they said were thrilled with your work." She paused, then said, "Look. We almost have a deal closed for Fox Studios to be our guys in America for The Highlander."

"Congratulations," I said. "That's a major step." I wasn't exaggerating. At the time the Fox Network was just starting out and they were hot to try out new ideas and people. Important actors - like Johnny Depp - were launching their careers there.

"Well, it's not a for sure deal yet, Allan," Marla said. "There are concerns about the writing. You see, we're relying on a few English and American expatriates here in France, for the English version. And some Canadians, of course, over at our Quebec office. But the guys at Fox aren't completely convinced that our writers will know how to appeal to an American audience."

"And so?" I pressed.

The next part came in a rush. "I told them that you were going to write one of the very first episodes of The Highlander for us."

I was flabbergasted. Chris could tell and was making What The Fuck? motions. I waved him down, for no reason other than to give my hands something to do.

Finally I said, "Marla, no disrespect. But we're concentrating on Angels Of Mercy. Which we all think is going to be not just a successful series, but an important one. I don't see how we can write-"

She jumped in. "Wait, wait, Allan," she said. "You don't understand. If we can move Fox forward on The Highlander, that gives us a big leg up to get them behind Angels as well."

I still didn't like it. Fast excuse needed. I said, "We've never even seen the movies, Marla. We don't have the faintest idea what they are about, except guys with swords try to chop off each other's heads."

"Don't concern yourself with that, Allan," Marla said quickly. "I'll call the LA office this minute and have them messenger over the show's Bible. Plus, videotapes of the movies."

I was still hesitant, worried that by turning down one thing, we'd imperil the other. Even so - I was reluctant to be pushed off course. I said, "Geeze, I don't know. I really think-"

Once again she pushed in. "Don't make up your mind now, Allan," she said. "Watch the movies. Read the Bible. Then get back to me. And here's another thing. Because this is a foreign production, we're buying out all the residual rights. Meaning, you'll make one and a half times the WGA minimum."

This gave me pause. But still... But still...

Sensing this, Marla said, "But for you, Allan, we'll pay double. Double Guild minimum. And it'll be worth every penny."

I needed to talk this over with Chris. So, I said, "Okay, we'll take a look at the material. But, no promises, right?"

She agreed. Then said, "After we talk tomorrow, I'd really appreciate it if you called (she named the two execs) and tell them you're writing one of the debut episodes of The Highlander."

Jesus. This lady wouldn't let up. But, I couldn't fault her for that. It's one of the attributes that go into making a successful producer. Being a bulldog and a pain in the ass is what gets things made.

I said, "Send the stuff, Marla. We'll get back to you tomorrow."

I hung up and sagged back in my chair. Chris had been thoughtful enough to make us a couple of stiff scotches.

He let me honk down about half of mine, then said, "Well, tell me Mr. Spick and Span Man. Where do you think we'll be when the Marla hits the fan?"

And so I told all.

As we talked the smell of smoke drifted through the window, the sound of gunfire and sirens grew louder again, and then that big damned LAPD chopper came thundering back to chase a woman down the street carrying a towering stack of disposable diaper boxes.

We broke off, watching.

Chris said, "Man, haven't the pigs figured it out yet? It's just a free day in LA, that's all."



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 Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


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, March 11, 2011


Louise Marcus: Okay, now let me see if I can get this straight. You come from another planet, and you're mortal there, but you're immortal here until you kill all the guys from there who have come here... and then you're mortal here... unless you go back there, or some more guys from there come here, in which case you become immortal here... again.

Conner MacLeod: Something like that.
... (Highlander II)

"If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead."
...Johnny Carson
* * *

I should have known that in the end the feces would be flung at our personal fans when we walked into the production office in Paris and saw the Magic Marker writing on the wall.

It was displayed on a big pull down roll of poster paper, sort of like an oversized window shade. And here's what Chris and I saw:

1. Wild Enthusiasm
2. Total Confusion
3. Utter Despair
4. The Search For The Guilty
5. The Persecution Of The Innocent
6. The Reward And Promotion Of The Incompetent
7. Erection Of Walls
8. Disillusion And Suicide
9. Oscars! Return To Step #1

Unsuspecting innocents that we were, we laughed.

I said, "Who'd a thunk it? The film business summed up in a French nutshell."

Chris said, "For that, I'll even forgive them the fucking genius medal they gave Jerry Lewis."

Then we heard an "ahem, ahem" - like the witch from the Ministry Of Magic in Harry Potter - and we moved aside to let Marla Ginsburg sweep into the room.

She turned to Chris, hands on hips and a challenging look in her eye, and asked, "What's wrong with Jerry Lewis?"

I stepped in before Chris could enumerate the many reasons why he despised Jerry Lewis - starting with that he wasn't funny and ending with the rip off of crippled kids. After all, Marla had flown us to Paris, France, put us up in a nice Froggy hotel, and was about to pay us big bucks for a TV series we had come up with based on Doctors Without Borders, the international relief organization. If Marla wanted to defend Jerry Lewis' honor, have at it, kid.

To divert the budding argument, I said, "I've been wanting to ask you, Marla. The exchange rate at the hotel is lousy. Where's a good place to swap our dollars for francs?"

Tugging on the dollar signs attached to the mysterious organ that producers claim to be a heart worked a charm. Marla - who had recently been named Exec Producer of what was to become The Highlander TV series - marched over to a phone, called a quavering dogsbody in accounting, barked orders in French, then hung up.

She said, "The Business Office is sending up an advance on your per diem to tide you over. When your translator shows up, I'll ask her to swing by a bank with you when you're out."

I felt clever. Two problems solved in one go. Little did I know, Gentle Reader. Little did I know.

You are probably wondering about now what our series proposal about Doctors Without Borders had to do with The Highlander. The song says "There's No Business Like Show Business," and I suppose that's sort of true. However, the one thing that Show Business has in common with all other business is that the answer to just about everything involves money. Who gets it? Who doesn't? And how can we screw more money out of the deal?

In this particular case I'm talking about International movie-making type economics, whose rules are deliberately confusing so as to fool entire nations, corporate rivals, profit participants, and the business representatives of twenty-million-dollar-a-picture stars.


I don't need to bore you with the details to tell the tale. If you are hungering for more information however, the best layman's book about the subject is The Insider's Guide To Film Finance, by Philip Alberstat. The book is $32.39 (Kindle version about 28 bucks), so just for you, Gentle Reader, I'll sort of steal one of the examples from Mr. Alberstat's tome and bend it to my purposes. (A bad writer plagiarizes. A good writer steals.)

Say you wanted to make yet a third Laura Croft Tomb Raider movie - not so bad an idea when you figure the first two grossed around 600 to 700 million dollars. Now, you're gonna want Angelina Jolie for Laura Croft again, right? Never mind that's what the worldwide audience of adolescent popcorn-inhaling boys in lust wants. It's also what the banks will demand to pony up the millions it will take to make the picture. (I read today that somebody is actually thinking of making a third Tomb Raider - but without Angela. Wow, man! That's like The Skipper without Gilligan. Or, worse - The Scooby, without The Doo.)

Now, in our more sensible Angelina-starring sequel, the Star would probably want something like $20 million... maybe even $25 million... to do the movie. And why shouldn't she? We'll be using her name, talent, and fabulous looks at the bank to secure loans of maybe 200 million dollars. But, our Chief Bean Counter is telling us that when all costs are considered, including accommodations for the concubines of various Studio bosses, we'll be fifteen million short of what the lovely Ms Jolie requires.

What to do? Answer: Promise the German government we'll put some German filmmakers on the payroll. Tell the French something similar. Make a deal with the Romanians - where we'll be shooting - to borrow their army for extras, and bingo! We've got the money we need to cross Angelina's pretty palm. That's after coming up with a million to get her trainer to skim through the script.


Our TV series - titled Angels Of Mercy - was being bought by the venerable French company - Gaumont Robur, which owns, or controls, pretty much all the film production and television channels in Froggyland. As it happened, the Doctors Without Borders organization was based in Paris, so the tax bennies and other government inducements are self-evident.

Now, put Doctors Without Borders aside for a sec and let's bring in Production Number Two.

As I mentioned, Gaumont had purchased the TV rights to The Highlander - two very bad films that made a whole lot of money. Chris Lambert, who couldn't act his way out of a haggis, starred along with Sean Connery, who did his damndest working with lousy scripts. As our old producer/mentor buddy Al Godfrey used to say, "A great actor can't make a bad script good - but he might make it barely tolerable."

Gaumont intended to partly shoot The Highlander TV series in France, for reasons already explained, and also - to pick up some money from Canada, where the Frenchy French crew could (theoretically) work easily with the Canadian Froggies in Quebec. (They also thought they could double New York, Boston, and - heck - maybe even Houston in Quebec.)

But, wait! In order to make the really big bucks, the series had to be sold to the U.S. market, where dubbing never, ever works. So, it had to be filmed in actual English. And by English, I mean American English, not the lesser version of the language. (British actors playing Americans tend to put in words like "I Reckon" to show how American they are. Okay, it's the British writers who actually commit the deed, but you get the general idea.)

With me so far? No? Too bad, because I'm going to confuse things even more by throwing our Doctors Without Borders back into the mix. (Chris and I had already won the promise of cooperation from DWB in a series of expensive phone calls and faxes from Venice Beach to Paris.) You see, all the things that applied to The Highlander, also applied to our series. Except, with two TV series going - with crews and writers and guest stars and locations shared between them - the whole thing started to make financial sense. Which is not to be confused with good old Common Sense.

Oh, yeah. Did I forget to tell you about Zimbabwe? Shit, I did. Apparently there were all kinds of bennies to be scooped up if a deal was made with the representatives of a cat named Robert Gabriel Mugabe, then Prime Minister, soon to be President Forever And Ever of Zimbabwe.

Nobody was interested in Zimnotes, of course - although they were almost worth something Back In The Day. What they did want was all that dough and good (read free) publicity from international humanitarian organizations - including the UN. And what better means to shake the money tree than a TV series based on Doctors Without Borders, whose presence in African relief camps is legend.

And with a good Movieland Bookeeper, you could spread all that largesse over two weekly series. One set of books trumpeting a big success. The other set - the one meant for outside profit participants - mourning hopeless failure. And telling them lies about how it was really All For Art.

Okay. I've explained it all the best I can. We have our TV series - Doctors without Borders - on one side, and the very bloody Highlander TV series on the other. Put them together, and with a lot of luck, a lot of finessing, and Bunch & Cole would be lighting Cuban cigars with 100 Franc Notes.

Now for the fly in the ointment. Or, in the case of Marla Ginsburg, a big damned buzzing Wasp.

Since an American sale was crucial, Gaumont put Marla - an American fluent in Swiss Finishing School French - in charge of The Highlander and our budding series. We'd first met her in LA several years before when she was repping James Keach, the younger brother of Stacy Keach. We had a movie script the younger Keach was hot about, and so on and so forth.


Chris and I had just sold a big fat four-book contract to Del Rey (The Far Kingdoms Series), but as usual the publisher was woefully late with the start-up money. The bellies of our bank accounts' were rumbling and we were ensconced in our Venice Beach office tossing about ideas to make a fast semi-honest buck. These conversations were always free flowing, almost stream-of-conscious sessions, where we just tossed anything that occurred to us into the pot, stirred, then waited to see what came out.

A pinprick of a notion flickered in my mind. I said, "Kathryn has this really interesting new client. He's a doctor - a professor of medicine - at UCLA." (At the time, Kathryn owned an escrow company - Escrow Revue - at Wilshire and Bundy in West LA. If you were watching the slow-motion OJ Simpson car chase, you might have seen his white Bronco pass by her office.)

Chris said, "Yeah? What about him?"

"The guy was with Doctors Without Borders. Just finished a two-year hitch. Has some chilling tales about the refugee camps in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. They're really a ballsy group of men and women. Braving war and famine and disease and terrorists and adolescent soldiers ripped on booze and drugs. Ratcheta, ratcheta - ping go the strings of my heart - and so on.."

Chris saw where I was going. "Make a helluva TV series," he said.

"That's what I was thinking," I replied. Then I straightened up. "Shit, I maybe even have a title - Angels Of Mercy."

Chris nodded. "Smarmy, but upmarket."

Then reality struck and I sighed, "Not a chance. Networks would never go for a foreign shoot. And that's the only way to make it right. Doubling the backlot at Universal for a teaming African refugee camp just won't work."

Chris was about to agree. In which case, we'd toss the idea back into the pot and keep stirring. But then he said, "Wait up!"

And he pulled the wastebasket from under his desk and fished out that day's LA Times. "I saw something here," he said, "that I meant to mention. Probably nothing... but you never know." Then he said, "Here it is."

Chris scanned the article, then look up. "Remember Marla Ginsberg?"

After a minute, I said, "Yeah. Marla was the lady that put us together with Stacy Keach's brother, right? James. Yeah, that was his name. Nice guy. "

As it happened, Chris and I had once hung out a little with Stacy and Cheech And Chong, when we were at Columbia Studios. ((See Episodes #29 - Code Dead; and Episode #32 - The Towering Toupee Throws Up)
We told him stories - some of them even true - about how much fun we had. As things turned out, Jimmy liked us, we liked him, and we ended up making a little option money on that deal. Not much, but it was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick."

Chris tapped the newspaper. He said, "Well, Marla's mentioned heavily in a story here about film companies in Europe hiring Americans. They're hoping to learn how come zillions of people all over the world watch our stuff, and in comparison, almost nobody watches theirs."

"Why do you think that is?" I said.

Chris shrugged. "Easy," he said. "Americans are better bullshitters."

I said, "So, what's Marla up to?'

Chris said, "She's been hired by Gaumont Robur to head up their television production department. Marla says in the Times that she's living in Paris and loving it." Chris glanced at the article. "She says she's really enjoying the creative freedom, blah, blah, blah, blah... Oh, here it is. She says Gaumont's looking to break into the American market."

I could see the gears whirring in Chris' head. "What're you thinking, Partner, Mine?"

Chris turned to his computer and fired it up. "I'm thinking of writing old Marla a nice letter of congratulations. Shit like that."

"And mention Doctors Without Borders?" I asked.

"Just a little tease," he said. "Nothing to give the store away."

He wrote the letter, doing his usual masterful job, and we punted it into the mail. A little over a week later the phone rang. Chris picked up, eyebrows rising as he listened.

Then, he hit the speaker button so we could both hear, and said, "Sure, we'll hold for Ms Ginsberg."

A second later I heard a woman's voice that I vaguely recalled. "Bunch and Cole," she said. "What a treat."

We said something similar in reply. And exchanged pleasantries for a couple of minutes - we got to brag on our big time book deal, she got to brag on her big time job at Gaumont. Telling us, almost as an afterthought it seemed to me, that, oh, yeah, she'd had a baby a month or so ago. Beautiful kid, blah, blah. Changed her life, blah, blah. How hard it was to find a good Nanny, blah, blah.

And then she got to the point. "Guys, about that Doctors Without Border idea..."

Chris jumped fast. "Well, it's a little more than an idea, now, Marla." Then he lied through his teeth. "We've got a nice rough draft of the treatment. Twenty five, thirty pages worth."

In reality, we hadn't written one thing down except this note: "Doctors Without Borders. Series? Maybe title: 'Angels Of Mercy.' Hit up Marla. Wait & See."

A slight beat from Marla, then she said, "That's great, guys. Really great. I've told some of the people around here and they're all excited about the project. Do you have any pages you can fax me? Just the idea in a nutshell, not the whole thing."

It was my turn in the lie-like-hell barrel. I said, "Sure, Marla. We've got to meet a guy for lunch. But that won't take long. Soon as we get back we'll shoot some pages to you."

More nice noises. We got off the phone. Chris turned to his computer and ripped out something lightning fast. Gave it to me. Maybe five pages. I rewrote it. Within two hours of talking to Marla we were faxing a mini-treatment to her office.

Now we would see what we would see.

The following morning. Working on the second cup of coffee. Phone rings. Surprise, it's Marla.

"Wonderful pages, guys," she said. "Everybody loved them."

A short pause, then she spoke the four magic words: "Who's your agent, boys?"

After we got off the phone, I remember looking over at Chris, a little numb.

"Well, kiss my Irish ass," I said. "It fucking worked!"



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 Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


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, March 4, 2011


"Agents are like tires on a car; in order to get anywhere at all you need at least four of them, and they need to be rotated every 5,000 miles. - Billy Wilder

"A long time ago, when I was just starting out (as a writer), I had the good fortune to meet the great Willa Cather. With all the audacity of youth, I asked her "If you could only give me one rule to follow, what would it be?" She paused, looked down for a moment and finally said, "Never wear brown shoes with a blue suit." From Michael O'Donohuge's "How To Write Good.
* * *

The kid - who looked like Mr. Spock, except he was really fat - said, "I've written, like, dozens of movies, man, and nobody will give me a break. It's like a total Hollywood conspiracy, you know? They make all these lousy science fiction movies that, like, righteously suck. And they totally ignore somebody who tries to give them something that really - you know - rocks as science fiction instead of the crap the Studios keep doing... if you'll pardon my French."

"Which part should we pardon?" Chris asked. "The crap part or the Studio part?"

I said, "He must mean the Studio part, Chris. Crap is a perfectly acceptable word."

The audience laughed and the kid who looked like Mr. Spock, except he was really fat, was pleased. He fingered the pointy tip of one ear, and said, "They keep telling me that I have to have an agent, man. So I tried to get an agent. I tried and tried, but they keep sending my scripts back. I don't think they even read them."

"They don't," I said. "There are certain abasement procedures you absolutely have to undergo before they finally reject you. First you have to send them a letter, begging them to read your script. You also better include return postage and a self-addressed envelope. If you skip the query letter part, they'll automatically ship the script back without reading it."

"Unless you didn't include return postage," Chris said, "in which case, they'll shitcan the script."

A girl in a Yowsa! Princess Lea Slave Girl bikini put hands on rounded hips and said, "Why do we have to have an agent anyway? Seems like an unnecessary middleman to me. Why not just go straight to the Studio?"

There were hot words of agreement from the crowd. Chris and I couldn't really blame them. Every writer questions the need for agents several times during his career. More so at the beginning and the end, than in the middle, when you are too busy hustling gigs to pay much attention to the guys who are snipping ten percent out of every paycheck.

The crowd in question would have looked bizarre anywhere else except at a World Science Fiction Convention - especially a science fiction convention set in New Orleans. This is the same convention where Chris and I, along with Kathryn and Karen, had become lost in the fog on the outskirts of The French Quarter and were rescued by an Inebriated Mime. (See Episode #54 - Chuck Connors Kisses The Ring.)

Most of the people in the audience were dressed as their favorite characters from dozens of science fiction movies and TV series, with Star Trek and Star Wars represented more heavily than most. But they all had at least one thing in common, which is why they'd gather to hear Words Of Wisdom From Bunch & Cole. They'd been terminally stricken with the I-Want-To-Be- In-Pictures bug, which can infect an otherwise perfectly rational person for years - if not a lifetime.

It's a relatively harmless affliction, unlike - say, a heroin or Texas Hold-Em habit. Unfortunately, the cure rate is well below the percentages achieved by substance support groups. (You never hear anyone go: "Hi, I'm Wally. And I'm a Hollywood Writer Wannabee." ... "Hi, Wally!"....)

The cause is simple. Unless they are from another planet, everyone has seen a movie and has watched television and considers Himself/Herself(Herself/Himself!)an expert.

Okay, even people from other planets probably aren't immune. No doubt they can get twenty million, five hundred and sixty-six thousand, and fifty two channels from their endlessly-streaming cable/satellite networks - and there is still nothing the hell on to watch. And their multiplexes were probably designed by somebody out of a Douglas Adams' novel, and plopped in The Mall At The End Of The Universe, and contain an infinite number of rooms with postage-stamp screens and sticky floors. (Don't forget your towels, kids.)

And those aliens probably thought the same thing you did when watching some typically awful production - What Crap! (Or, What Studio!) I can do better than that! The next step - to be avoided at all cost - is to then think: Hell, why don't I give it a try?

Because, Whoops! There you go down the Rabbit Hole to La-La-Land, where only two or three ink-stained wretches ever get the chance to have their keyboards lopped off by the Red Queen of all Showrunners. The rest wander around aimlessly, hoping to bump into the Executioner's Agent, or Michael Ovitz, whichever comes first.

I said, "Think of it as Hollywood's take on Adam and Eve. Without an agent, you don't even get to nibble the apple, much less talk to the snake."

"So, how did you guys get an agent?" somebody in the audience - tall, and furry, so he was probably a Wookie - asked.

Chris said, "We went straight to the Big Man at the Bottom - Satan. Old Scratch. Beelzebub. The Prince Of Fucking Darkness."

"In other words," I said, "we hired a lawyer."

Chris said, "The lawyer read our stuff and got us an agent, who read our stuff, and then got us a job." (See Episode #68 - How Rock Hudson (Sort Of) Helped Us Get An Agent)

"His name was Larry Grossman and he was truly a great agent," I said. "He helped us get our first break. (See Episode #3 - First Blood For Bunch & Cole) He was honest, which is really saying something for an Agent. He cared about us personally, not just as paychecks. He was looking to our future."

"What happened to him?" Somebody shouted. It was the Wookie's companion - R2D2, with fishnet stockings, containing a really nice pair of legs.

Chris said, "We fired his ass."

Silence from the crowd. As well there should have been.

I said, "It was a really stupid thing to do. A fuck-up of the first order. To this day, Chris and I take turns kicking each other's butts for being so incredibly - so royally - dimwitted."

Chris shrugged. "What can we say, except - the Devil made us do it."

Trying to explain the unexplainable, I said, "When you finally do get an agent... and you land your first gig... all those agents who wouldn't talk to you before, are suddenly dying to sign incredible geniuses like yourself."

"They come blowing in your ear," Chris said.

"Whispering sweet nothings over boozy lunches," I said. "Telling you how your present agent really doesn't understand you."

"Pretty soon, they turn your pretty little empty head," Chris said. "And you start believing all their shit." He shook his head in disgust, then added, "It's the Tinsel-Town version of The House Of The Rising Sun."

I said, "First agent we ran away with was a guy named Irv Schechter."

"Big talk, no action," Chris said.

"Then we went with a guy named Scott Penney for awhile," I said.

"Nice guy," Chris said. "But lazy and disorganized."

"After that we really hit the big time," I said. "William Fucking Morris."

"Not nice guys. "Energetically incompetent," Chris said. "Scared of their own shadows."

"Before we came here," I said, "we signed with a guy the jury's still out on, so I won't mention his name. But to give you an idea how long that's going to last - Chris calls him The Weasel."

Titters from the Audience.

"He's got a really fucking whiny voice," Chris said in his own defense.

"But he came highly recommended," I put in.

"He's got sharp little teeth and he's got a long skinny neck and he talks and talks and talks and he's already driving me crazy," Chris said.

"Why'd you hire him?" somebody shouted.

I sighed. "We had to," I said."Chris put a knife in his desk."

Dead silence - except for somebody saying - "Holy Shit."

"I couldn't help it," Chris said."He wouldn't shut the fuck up. And he was using all these Hollywood buzz words... You know, like - take a meeting; and boffo, as in big hit; and tentpole, as in movie sequels; and praisery - as in, the Agency had an in-house PR team; and dramedy, as in a comic drama, or a dramatic comedy. He had no goddamn shame and I had this perfectly good knife in my boot, so I... I..."

"I think you made him piss his pants," I said.

"I know, I know," Chris said mournfully.

"And now he's going all over town bragging to everybody that Chris Bunch stuck a knife in his desk," I said.

"I know, I know," Chris groaned.

"It's his new macho act," I said. "Probably the only one he's ever had. Gets to say, 'Hey, I'm so manly I have a knife scar in my desk from Bunch & Cole."

"I couldn't help it," Chris said.

"Last time we were in," I said, "the Weasel had the hole in his desk framed, that's how proud he is of it,"

"I swear I'll never do it again," Chris said.

I said, "For a minute there, I thought you were going for his heart."

Chris snorted. "An agent? Give me a break, Cole. What fucking heart?"

The audience roared.



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 Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


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.