I said, "Got a Hollywood joke."
Chris nodded. "I love Hollywood jokes."
I said, "A TV producer, an actor and a writer die and are whisked by the Great Ratings Spirit to the top of the Black Tower."
"Great Ratings Spirit," Chris said admiringly. "Universal's dreaded Black Tower. Nice touches."
I continued: "The Great Ratings Spirit intoned, 'Throughout your careers you have earned tens of millions of dollars for our Masters. For this, you will be handsomely rewarded. Choose anything you wish to be, leap from this tower, and you will be blessedly transformed for all eternity.'
"The producer immediately jumped, bellowing, 'I want to be an eagle!' Instantly he was changed into an eagle and soared away into the setting Studio Logo.'
"Not to be outdone, the actor charged into space, shouting, 'I want to be an owl!' Immediately, he was transformed into an owl and flew off over Universal's Back Lot.
"Now, it was the writer's turn. He'd been thinking deeply about his choice, and when he had it fixed firmly in his mind, he ran forward, but he was concentrating so hard his feet got tangled up and fell off the edge, screaming:
When Chris was done laughing, he said, "Why is it that the writer always gets it?"
I shrugged. "Life, Hollywood style."
Chris said, "Like in a horror flick: the slut gets it first, then the token black dude."
"Pretty much sums it up," I said.
Chris rubbed his hands together. He said, "Well, our mission today... and we definitely choose to accept it... is to figure out how to knock off that pisshead, Chuck - The Rifleman - Connors and bury him at the crossroads with a stake though his black heart."
I raised an admonitory finger. "A silver stake. He's a werewolf, not a vampire."
Chris pulled a yellow legal pad close and scribbled on it. "Or, maybe instead of a stake, a silver spear," he mused.
"Where's our hero supposed to get a silver spear?" I asked.
Chris shrugged. "Same place he was gonna get the stake."
And so we settled down to plot the demise of the arch-villain of Werewolf, a TV series created by our old friend, Frank Lupo, who had hired us as story execs on the show. As related in the four previous Misadventures (Episodes 51 through 54), Frank had also asked us to kill off Connors and replace him with another Werewolf King.
Fast backstory: Connors had a horrible rep around town, but had convinced Frank that he'd sincerely reformed, and any rumors Frank may have heard about his private life as well, were either untrue, or even if they were sort of true, he'd gotten professional help.
As Chris had put it when we heard the details, "Gives you a whole new way of looking at The Rifleman." (The late 50's-early-60's series that had made the ex-pro athlete a TV star)
The hiring of Connors caused a minor stir of nostalgia in the entertainment press. After a few appearances on talk shows, old Chucky-Poo suffered a relapse of Big-Head-itis, and demanded a new contract and a lot more money. This was before the series had even aired.
Things went downhill from there. We were writing and shooting around him, using his body double for most appearances. Plus the rare times he did show up he freaked everybody out, mainly, we heard, because he was such a scary 6'5" 240 plus pound wild man that nobody wanted to work with him.
With me so far? Good. We can now return to plotting Mr. Connors' well-deserved demise.
Chris said, "Even with a three-parter, we don't have a lot of time. At 22 minutes an episode, that's 66 minutes to track down Skorzeny, kill his ass, and intro the new Werewolf King."
"The good news," I said, "is that Connors has agreed to film it. We just have to give him a super duper sendoff."
"No problem," Chris scoffed. "We're the best hitmen in Town. How many regulars have we killed so far?"
"Five," I said."
"No, six," Chris corrected. "You always forget that Spanish broad who wouldn't fuck the producer."
I sighed. "Yeah, I feel bad about that," I said. "But we didn't know the details at the time. Otherwise we would have passed on the gig."
"Asshole," Chris said.
"We can put him in the next Sten," I suggested. "Have Kilgour rip his head off and shit in his neck."
Chris brightened. "I feel better already," he said.
I said, "If we use the first two parts to track down Skorzeny - maybe hint at the new bad guy at the same time - we can give Connors a big speech in the penultimate scene. Then kill his ass. But he still gets in the last word at the end. Tells Eric his troubles have only just begun."
Chris picked it up: "Then part three is devoted to setting up the new villain. We can really show him off. Make it look like Eric's problems are almost insurmountable."
"Even with a three parter," I cautioned, "we've got to watch where we set all this. Too many locations... too many setups... it'll murderilize the budget."
Silence as we thought. I paced, while Chris doodled on his notepad. He pushed his chair over to the bookcase and started thumbing through the volumes. I kept on pacing. Thinking... Thinking...
Chris said, "Wait up!"
I turned and saw him pull a book from the shelf. It was Interview With A Vampire.
"Why don't we do an Anne Rice?" he said. "Set it in New Orleans?"
I got excited. "We can dupe the French Quarter on a set easy," I said. "Make the whole thing at night. (On a set, night and day are just a matter of an overtime-saving flipped switch) Add some dark alleys. Old gardens with lots of hanging moss."
"And fog," Chris said. "We can really crank up the smoke generator and haze all the scenes. Cover up anything that might look phony."
I stopped. "But it can't all be New Orleans. What about Skorzeny's backstory? And the new guy? We're gonna have to show all that."
Chris nodded. "Don't say it, show it," he said - the most basic rule of filmmaking that goes back to the days when Edison sicced armed Pinkerton agents on his peep-show rivals.
I said, "What'd Frank say about Skorzeny's backstory? You talked to him last."
Chris snorted. "Didn't think he needed one at the time," he said. "Figured he'd fill it in later. Said to work it out for ourselves. Pretty near anything we want."
"That's cool," I said - meaning it. This way our hands wouldn't be tied. And we had worked with Frank long enough to come up with something that'd make us all happy.
Chris said, "We have to make this whole thing spooky, mysterious. Nothing's as it appears to be, blah-blah." He doodled some more, then: "Music! We're in the French Quarter. Maybe use musical clues from some old Blues piano man."
"Love it," I said, scribbling a note. Then, "Say... do you recall that spooky Mime?"
Chris laughed, remembering. We'd been in New Orleans with Kathryn and Karen a couple of years before. Strolling through the French Quarter late at night, then wandering off into some side streets, looking at weird antiques in the closed-shop windows.
We were admiring a riverboat gambler's ring that concealed a single shot pistol, when thick fog closed in around us. We set off for our hotel, but soon became lost.
Chris was standing on his tip toes, trying to make out a street sign, when we heard a spooky sound. Turning, we saw something swirling towards us through the fog.
Then a white-painted face, with red lips suddenly appeared. We all jumped... Son of a gun if it wasn't a Mime!
A Mime who was a little bit drunk. (One of the nice things about New Orleans is that almost everybody is almost always a little bit drunk.)
He pointed at his face with a white-gloved finger, and spoke: "Never fear. Thish facesh ish regish-tered with the (hicupp) po-leish... Shh-I mean... po-lice."
Then, weaving a little, he guided us through the fog to our hotel. He had a red scarf about his neck, which he withdrew and waved at us whenever we lagged. Being a Mime, he never spoke again, but only wriggled the fingers of one gloved hand when he bade us fare-thee-well outside our hotel.
"Boy, do I remember that sucker," Chris said. "Just about jumped out of my shorts."
I said, "We could maybe have a Mime float through the whole story. Use his appearance to maybe button all the key scenes. We don't know whether he's good, or evil..."
"Until Eric maybe finds him dead at an act break," Chris put in.
This was getting to be a whole lot of fun. We even got to write some clue-laden lyrics for the piano player to sing to Eric (our good guy Werewolf) to send him in the right direction. (After the episodes aired, the Musicians Union sent us an invitation to join, which we did just for the bragging rights.)
Finally, we were done. Everybody loved the three scripts. Frank reported that even Chuck Connors was delighted at his sendoff, and we left work Friday evening, well-satisfied. The shoot was set to begin in Salt Lake City first thing Monday.
Saturday morning I got the call:
"Allan, we're fucked." It was John Ashley, Lupo's El Segundo.
"Connors?" I guessed. No biggie, since getting fucked by him was the most likely crisis.
"You got that right," Ashley said. "He had his agent call Frank this morning. He's not going to show."
"What a chicken shit," I said. Then: "Guess we're going to have to do a fast rewrite."
"Yeah, can we get you guys to come in?"
"No problem," I said. "I'll call Chris. Be there in an hour or so."
Called Chris. "What a pig fucker!" he said. Then: "Be right over."
Frank was waiting at our office when we arrived. After he cursed himself dry, he said, "We need to collapse it into two parts, instead of three. Lots of cheater angles so we can double Chuck all the way."
Chris said, "Can we take the gloves off, boss? Make Connors grovel in front of the new guy? Show what a fucking coward he really is?"
Frank said, "You can have the asshole kiss his ring, for all I care."
"Holy shit," Chris said. "I love it."
Frank went back to his office and we got to work. After all our labors trying to give Connors a dignified sendoff, we felt personally betrayed. Before, the whole thing was somebody else's problem. A problem we had to work around, to be sure, but we had no reason to feel offended, or even put out. In fact, it was kind of fun figuring out how to work around the difficulties. And Connors' not-so-secret weaknesses, were only scandalous stories we could use to amuse our civilian friends.
But now, we felt like he had personally pissed on our work. And when you piss on a writer's work, you might as well be pissing on him.
Writer's may be the low men/women on the totem pole in Hollywood, but ultimately they are the worst people to fuck with. The Keyboard really is mightier than the sword. Take that producer who used us to get back at the Spanish actress. Hell, he'd not only find his name on the Sten shit list, but when the book was published, that name would be seen by science fiction fans the world over, plus it would be enshrined in the Library Of Congress for two small forevers.
And when we were done with Chuck Connors, his humiliation would be witnessed by millions for years to come. Didn't matter if he refused to be filmed. We had him on camera from previous episodes and we could mash those up with live profile shots of his body double.
"Fuck a bunch of Chuck Connors," Chris said.
And we did.
We rewrote the penultimate scene so that his character was revealed as a craven of the lowest order. And we made him kneel before his Master and kiss his ornate ring. Made that as humiliating as we could
Then we got to the final death scene.
Chris said, "If we disfigure Connors in the fight, we can get a full on face shot."
"Gotcha," I said. "Go for an angle with the double, then maybe Eric throws acid in his face. Let Make Up take over from there. Skorzeny turns, we see a blackened ruin of a face, that actually belongs to the Double, but still looks like Chucky-Poo."
"Acid! Love it," Chris chortled, pounding away at the keyboard. "And we keep the silver spear, right?"
"Right," I said. "Eric drives the fucking spear right through Chuck Connors' black fucking heart."
Chris raised a hand. "Wait, wait!" he said. "Better still... How about we put some kind of electrical device in the scene? Have the spear go right though Connors' body... make contact with the electrical doo-hickey... and then we..."
"Fry his ass!" I laughed.
So we worked it out - me pacing, and talking, Chris typing as fast as I could talk. Since the death scene was set at an old theater, we made like the last play showing there had been "Elmer Gantry." Just needed some posters and such. That gave us a big old cross from the Come-To-Jesus scenes, all studded with lightbulbs. And... Voila! Our device for the electrocution was born.
Over the weekend, we collapsed the three scripts into two. As we finished each page, Frank's assistant retyped it, put in scene numbers, and then our secretary faxed the pages to Salt Lake.
By Sunday night we were done and the actors in Utah were already half way through memorizing their lines. Meanwhile, the director and crew were rushing around making adjustments.
Just before we left for the night, Frank came into our office, waving the scripts and laughing.
"Hey, you really did have him kiss the ring," he said. "Shit, guys. I was just blowing steam."
Chris summed it up with his favorite payoff: "Fuck with the bull, you get the horns."
Postscript: The buzz about the quality of the show was so good that actors and actresses who didn't normally do TV were eager to get guest-starring roles. But then, as it happens more often than not in Hollywood, the studio bosses got all excited about having a big hit on their hands. They tried to fuck with us, but Frank wouldn't let them. Finally, they demanded that the show be expanded from a half hour to an hour. Frank rightly believed this would destroy the show that he had in mind. In the end, Fox burned off the episodes, throwing them all over the schedule so nobody could find them. And that was the end of the most delightful staff experience that Chris and I had ever enjoyed.
NEXT: SCREWED BY THE MOUSE - OR, MICHAEL EISNER AND THE 7 PI$$ING DWARFS