Hooray for Hollywood
That screwy ballyhooey Hollywood
Where any office boy or young mechanic can be a panic
With just a good looking pan
And any barmaid can be a star maid
If she dances with or without a fan
Get it in your head,
Baby, Hollywood is dead.
The earnest young reporter asked, "What do you miss most about Hollywood?"
Chris said, "Not a fucking thing."
The reporter switched off his recorder and said, "Can I paraphrase that?" He shrugged. "It's a family newspaper, you know."
As an ex-newsman I thought it was my duty to help. I said, "How about swapping 'not a damn thing,' for 'not a fucking thing.' That work?"
The kid thought a minute, then nodded and scribbled a note to himself. "Long as I don't put God in front of it," he said, "Damn is okay."
He switched the recorder back on. "What about you, Allan? Do you feel the same?"
I said, "Not entirely. Chris is probably a little more burned out than I am. When I think back on it, mostly I had a helluva good time."
Chris scoffed. "It was mostly shitty, with occasional bursts of piss."
"We made a lot of money," I pointed out.
More scoffing. "What most people make in a year will get you through maybe a month in LA," he said. "It hooks you. Then you're always Jonesing on money."
I couldn't disagree with that, but persisted, "Didn't you at least have a little fun?"
Chris grudged. "Okay. Maybe a little."
"And we learned a lot, right?" I said.
Chris nodded. "I could write a write a big fat natural science book on the Assholes Of Hollywood - with illustrations."
"Can't use that," the reporter said, but laughed anyway. Then he asked, "As a writer, what's the most important thing you learned in Hollywood."
I said, "Story, story, story. You have to come up with so many ideas, so fast, and so frequently, that any smell, sound, or movement turns itself into a story possibility."
"What about you, Chris?" the reporter asked.
"How to tell a boy stunt person, from a girl stunt person," he said.
The kid chuckled. "Isn't that kind of obvious?"
"Not really," I said. "Even these days the Town's pretty sexist. In a lot of stunts involving women they substitute a small guy. You can usually catch the switch just before the big gag. If the hero's best girl is dressed in pants and a jacket and sensible shoes, she'll probably only do some of the action. She'll run away from, or after someone, and it'll most likely be the actress running."
Chris broke in: "In the old days, actors and actresses had to take fencing and riding lessons. These days they've practically got to be fucking marathoners."
I nodded agreement, then got back to the point. "So, the actress is running. But then there's a big jump coming up. One rooftop to the next... whatever."
Chris said, "At that point you get a closeup of the chick - reacting - Holy Shit. Then camera pullback and they swap a small stuntman dressed just like the hero's best girl to do the jump, or the fall, or whatever."
I said, "They try to make the costume loose, so they can hide the lack of a figure and also to put protective gear under the costume."
Chris said, "Of course, if they want the shot to be sexy - the audience gets to see her pretty ass, and so on - they use an actual stuntwoman. But, then they can't wear protective gear so they can get pretty banged up. In that kind of situation, it's a helluva lot more dangerous - and takes more moxie and guts - to be a stuntwoman than a stuntman."
"The best Tell is when the action has a woman jumping or falling off a bridge into a river," I said.
The reporter leaned forward, interested. "How so?" he asked.
I said, "If it's a woman, she'll protect her tits." I demonstrated, hands on my chest.
"If it's a dude," Chris said, also demonstrating, "he'll protect his balls."
More laughter from our audience of one. "What about the writing part?" the reporter asked. "You obviously prefer books to scripts. What's the difference?"
Chris snorted, "You'll never hear anybody say they curled up last night with a good script. And if you do, it'll be some lying sack of a producer who moves his lips when he reads."
I agreed. "A script's more like an architectural drawing. A model for a whole lot of other people to stick their own ideas in."
"But what really sucks big fat greasy donkey dicks," Chris said, "is that Hollywood is the only place where a writer doesn't own what he writes."
The reporter made a note to paraphrase the donkey business when he played the tape back, then looked up. "I don't get it," he said. "You write it, then it's yours. Or should be."
Chris said, "That's true everywhere but fucking Hollywood."
I said, "When you sell a book you're actually just leasing certain publication rights to the publisher. And they can't change a damned word without your permission. It's a piece of property. And it's yours for 99 years plus whatever the latest copyright law says it is. You can will it to your wife and kids so it'll take care of them when you're gone."
"Same with a play," Chris said. "A playwright physically owns the play. Like a book, nobody can change it without his okay."
"During tryouts," I said, "when they're getting ready to run the play up to Broadway, the playwright fine-tunes his work after every rehearsal, and every performance."
"But if the director tries to insist on something that the writer doesn't like," Chris added, "The writer can tell him to go fuck himself."
The reporter hesitated. I could see that he was still having Eff-word issues. I took pity. "Just say 'bleep' whenever we say 'fuck,'" I offered. "After fifteen years in journalism and almost twenty in Hollywood, foul language is an impossible habit to break."
"Plus, I did six fucking years in the fucking Army," Chris said. "Getting shot at will knock all the 'oh, dears,' and 'gee whizzes,' the fuck out of you fast."
The kid gave an apologetic shrug. "A lot of our readers are regular church goers," he said.
"Then God Fucking Bless them," Chris said.
"But back to Books Versus Scripts," I said. "When Hollywood started out it was the Silent Era. The only thing you needed from a writer was to map out a scenario, then do Title Cards. They figured, who needs an actual Writer, writer? Anybody can do 'I Can't Pay The Rent,' and 'You Must Pay The Rent,' Title Cards."
"That's why the writer is the lowest man on the shit pole in Hollywood," Chris said. "Never did get any respect."
"But the big thing..." I put in... "the really major thing, is that when the whole system of screenwriting evolved into talkies, the hacks they had on staff got a salary to write whatever crap the Studio bosses wanted. They might get a little extra if somebody actually exposed film and made a movie, but everything in the script - story, characters, dialogue - was owned outright by the Studio."
"In the end, you were just a hack for hire and they could do anything they wanted with your script because They owned it, not you," Chris said.
"But you get paid a lot," the young reporter said. "Plus you get rerun money."
"You do," Chris admitted."And, like I said, it's is a bitch of a habit to break. If you're serious about being an ink-stained wretch you should be working on your books. But, then some producer calls and whispers sweet dollar figures in your ear and you shove the book aside."
"That's why we got the hell out of La-La Land," I said. "And now we're in Writers' Rehab in Ilwaco, Washington. Writing books and looking over tons of ideas we've both had for future books."
Chris thought of something else. He said, "Another thing you learn fast is how to lie like a rug."
The kid's eyebrows rose and I put in, "He means Writer's Lies. It's the only way to deal with producers. You have to have a lie ready on zip notice."
Chris said, "Sometimes you get a producer who calls for a progress report every fucking minute. Gets so you can't think to write."
"Also," I said, "if you are a freelancer you'd better be working on several projects at once, or you'll be Broke-City in no time. So, more than likely when the producer calls you're not even on his project. But, you can't tell him that. He wants exclusivity."
Chris said, "I'll give you four of our favorite lies... Number One: 'No worries, boss. We've got a good fucking start on it."
I translated: "In reality that means that you're thinking about writing 'Fade In' - but only when your hangover lets up."
Chris said, "Number two: 'We're smokin', babe! Half fucking done.'"
"This means," I said, "that you maybe have the First Act firmly in mind - now, if only that hangover will let go."
Chris said: "Lie Number Three: 'Man, are we fucking whipped. Finished a First Draft. Pretty rough, yet. But we're already marking it up for rewrite.'"
I said, "This means that the Fade In is a definite possibility."
Then I put a hand to my forehead like Johnny Carson doing The Great Carnac. Eyes closed, I said, "Writer's lie Number 4: 'We're almost there, boss. Just need to do some character tweaks.'"
Chris mock-plucked an envelope up and blew into it - Poof. Pulled invisible paper out and pretended to read: "We must have written these fucking notes drunk. Can't make heads or tails of them. What's this, Hero does Talk, Talk, shit?"
The reporter loved it. "Maybe I'll censor that part," he said. "With a couple of changes, those lies would work just as well on my editor."
"We've tested them out on Random House," Chris said. "Works for book editors too."
I said, "Another list a writer has to know - if he wants to eat and pay the rent - is the lies a producer will tell about a deal. "
Chris said, "If the producer says the deal is fucking set..."
I finished, "It means the contracts may or may not be in the wind."
Chris said, "If he says, 'No worries, boys. This deal is not just Set - it's fucking Set-Set...'"
I translated, "... It means he's possibly had his 'girl' mail the check to your agent."
Chris said, "If you're agent calls and says the deal is not only Set, but Set-Set-Set..."
"It means the check has not only arrived, but cleared the bank," I said.
The reporter had a laugh at that. Then moved on. "You hear a lot of scuttlebutt about censorship in Hollywood," he said. "Especially on television. How did you deal with that?"
"When we started out," I said, "we fought like hell.'
Chris came in: "We'd say, 'Hey, this is fucking America. What about Free Fucking Speech?"
I grimaced at the memory. "And they'd say: "We're all for Free Speech. Just as long as it doesn't violate Program Practices." I sighed, adding: "Then we learned a couple of tricks to get around the censor."
Chris said, "Put shit in there you don't care about, then give 'em hell when they try to make you take it out."
"Then, you very reluctantly give up the point," I said. "They get so full of themselves they miss the stuff you really wanted to get in."
"Another thing you do," Chris said, "is fuck with the descriptions of action that might get you into trouble."
"If you have a big fight scene on an eight o'clock show," I said, "Program Practices will go bananas if they think there's going to be massive bloodshed."
"So, you don't say the people are wounded, or killed," Chris said. "You say they're stunned. You know - car full of bad guys fleeing the scene... hero shoots the tires out... car goes over canyon wall... crashes and burns... but the guys inside somehow roll out - stunned."
"You had to do that on A-Team a lot," I said. "Nobody was ever killed on that show - even when Hannibal Smith let loose with his machinegun and chewed down brick walls."
Chris raised a finger. "Actually, one person was killed," he said. "In the pilot. And the A-Team was on the run because they were 'falsely accused' of the guy's murder."
I said, "A producer friend - an old timer - was hired to do a mini-series about the Roman Empire. Wanted lots of T&A, which was no problem. Tits and Ass come cheap in Hollywood. But they also wanted some big set piece battle scenes. Which was a definite problem. They gave him shit for a budget, but said they'd had the foresight to buy the rights to some old Italian flicks about ancient Rome. Said he could use all the footage he wanted for the battle scenes and so on."
Chris said, "It was pretty gory stuff. Especially the big Aftermath Of Battle Scene. Arms and legs and guts all over the place."
I said, "When they screened the rough cut for the network, the Program Practices Lady pitched a fit. Said, no way, Jose ."
Chris said, "So our buddy scratched his head. Then got a flash. Rearranged the footage some - but not cutting anything out, because then he'd be fucked for time."
I said, "Then he looped in a guy shouting: 'Help me with these wounded men!'"
"Showed it to the Network again," Chris said, "including the program practices chick. And they bought it, guts and gore and all. Easy as bacon through a goose."
I said, "On the other hand, once in a rare while you agree with the censor."
Chris said, "Like the time we were doing a fire show and sold a story about a pyromaniac. The bad guy, who was no fan of Smoky The Bear, was burning up half the State and Federal parks."
I said, "The producer asked us how somebody could do that much damage and get away with it for so many years."
Chris said, "It's a simple trick. Cheap. And almost untraceable. We told the guy how it was done."
I said, "The jerk got all excited and said, 'Put it in! Put it in!'"
"We refused," Chris said. "And it took some convincing to make the Dimbulb realize that maybe fifteen million people would be watching a show about firemen and there was bound to be a potential firebug among them. And guess, what? We've just taught him how to burn down our National Forests."
"Another screwball case we agreed with," I said, "was when we worked on a Lindsay Wagner cop-type show. She played a shrink working for the police department."
"Before we went in to pitch the show," Chris said, "we got a call from the Network warning us that beautiful as Ms Wagner is... and talented as she is... She's got a few screws loose about a couple of things."
I said, "Like, they said she was an True Believer in homeopathic cures."
"Dipshit science," Chris said. "Dilute the medicine until maybe only a lonely fucking molecule is hanging around, then feed it to a cancer patient, or whatever, and bingo - They're dead."
"The Network said Ms Wagner was determined to get some of her ideas about homeopathic medicine into the show. You know - 'For the good of Mankind...'"
Chris said, "The Network didn't give a shit about Mankind. But, they were scared shitless that as the original Deep Pockets they'd end up in a big class action suit."
I said, "It wasn't easy. She was really, really nice to us. And so damned... Well, we're only human... even if we are writers."
The kid reporter grinned. "But you resisted, right?" he said.
Chris sighed. "Should've gotten a medal or something. But, yeah - we resisted."
I said, "Another way you can have some fun getting around censors is by substituting foreign words for smutty language."
The young reporter, who had smutty language problems of his own, perked up at that. "How so?"
Chris said, "Instead of calling a guy a dick, you say he's a putz."
"Which is Yiddish for 'dick,'" I said.
"We got that through a lady censor who was Jewish," Chris said. "Back brain she had to know, but it went right past her."
"Instead of saying that your hero has big brass balls," I said, "you say he's got big brass cajones."
"But, that's 'balls' in Spanish," the kid said.
"No shit," Chris said.
"You mean, no 'drek'," I said.
Chris laughed. "Try that out on your editor," he told the reporter. "Bet you lunch it gets past him."
FADE OUT: BUNCH & COLE
Chris and I struck out on our own not long after we left Hollywood. He went on to write books like the very popular Star Risk Ltd. Series, while I ventured forth with books like the Timura Trilogy - loosely based Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat. I'd dreamed about writing such a work since I discovered a battered old book of his poems at a Middle Eastern bazaar when I was just a lad.
I also labored for more than three years on Lucky In Cyprus - about my experiences as a CIA brat during the height of the Cold War.
During our years together Chris and I sold more than 150 screenplays, and published 16 novels together, amounting to many millions of words.
And, as Chris said more than once: "That's a fuck of a lot of dead trees, Cole."
NEXT: STEN IN HOLLYWOOD: THE NEXT TO THE LAST MISADVENTURE