One to change the light bulb.
Four to say that they'd already had the idea for changing a light bulb, but they didn't want to show anyone what they were doing until they'd polished their light-bulb-changing.
Two to point out that someone else had already changed a light bulb, so changing another one was unoriginal and thus not worthwhile.
Three to call light bulbs a new technology that was going to be catastrophic for traditional candlelight-driven writers.
And one to figure out that writers are lousy at math.
The Producer/Actor graced us with a smile not unlike a cat on the stalk. He said, "I fucking love this script. I'm gonna make it my next picture or my name isn't..." (I'd best not speak the name, Gentle Reader.) He gave us what I now realize was an appraising look, then delivered the four magic words every writer longs to hear: "Who's your agent, boys?"
Except, after our rookie fiasco with Harold (I think) Greene, it was a question we both longed and loathed to hear. (See How Many Agents Does It Take To Screw A Writer?) For the fact of the matter was that we had no answer.
Chris twisted his hair, which was his "tell." While I made with a stony poker-face - which was my "tell," I just didn't know it yet.
The Producer/Actor caught all this in a flash and before we could attempt a stumbling answer, he jumped. "Say, I know you boys are just getting into the game. No problem." He chuckled a deep, throaty chuckle. Unleashed his best Big Screen smile. "It hasn't been so long that I don't remember what it was like trying to land a decent agent."
We were young and dumb enough to breathe sighs of relief. "Thanks," I said. "We had an agent - sort of - for a while, but it didn't work out."
"Hey, you don't have to tell me," the Producer/Actor said. "I have enough spooky Agent stories to scare the panties off Elvira." Another chuckle. "And that wouldn't be such a bad thing, would it?"
We managed our own basso-profundo male-bonding laughs and allowed that it wouldn't.
He said, "Look, we're all gentlemen, here. I respect you boys as artists and I'd like to think you feel the same about my work."
Absolutely, we said.
"Why don't we work something out ourselves," he proposed. "We can come to an agreement on our own. Settle on a fair price. Lift on the whole fucking agent thing. (For film editors, "Lift" means take out.) Just a simple little deal in which everybody comes up winners."
We thought that might be a good idea.
Warming to the subject, he said, "Maybe, drop back at the house next weekend. We'll sit around the pool. Gnosh a little. Hoist a few. Talk about the script. And work out the deal."
"Sounds good," Chris said. I didn't disagree.
We shook and headed for the door. As we were leaving, he added, "It'll be a nice, relaxing little get-together. Just the four of us sitting around the pool."
We stopped and looked back, confused. Both of us did a swift calculation. There was me. And there was Chris. And there was the Producer/Actor. And that made...Geeze, I was no math major, but...
"The four of us?" I asked.
"Sure," the Producer/Actor said. "I'll have my attorney drop by to help us with the deal. Don't worry. I'll spring for his ridiculous fee."
We exited - more than a little numb.
Chris started the car, brow furrowed. He looked over at me, twisting his hair. "Did you hear that? Four of us? Including his fucking attorney?"
Stony-faced, I said, "Yeah, I heard."
We headed out of Bel Air, winding down through the canyons, past all the zillion dollar homes, then made our way back to Chris' house in Manhattan Beach, where the breeze was salty fresh, and the off-duty Stewardesses paraded along the Strand in bright little cover-ups worn over skimpy bikinis
But any Girl Gazing that went on that day was just an automatic Guy-Thing. There was no joy in it. In fact, silence reigned all the way from Bel Air to Manhattan Beach. Odd for Bunch & Cole, because we usually talked a mile-a-minute, slinging about a non-stop blizzard of ideas and observations. It had been so since high school, where we first met in our senior year. (See Fade In: Bunch & Cole)
This time, however, we were both running the meeting over in our minds and coming to similar conclusions.
"That attorney business," Chris said - flat, not a question.
"Yeah." Equally as flat.
He's planning to fuck us," Chris said.
"If we go there without somebody on our side," he said, "we deserve to get fucked."
"Do you think he's going to supply the KY jelly?"
"If he does," I said, "it'll probably have sand in it."
Chris nodded. Solemn. There was nothing funny about the situation.
"If we had the money," I said, "I'd say we'd best rustle up an attorney of our own."
Another long silence.
We were pulling onto his street to begin the search for parking (always a struggle in a beach town), when Chris finally said, "I just signed a contract with Peterson. (They published repair manuals for cars and motorcycles, among other things.) A chapter for each of their bike books on how to make your motorcycle go fast. Pays two grand a pop."
"Yeah, you mentioned that," I replied. "It's a helluva deal." (In those days, Chris was a successful free-lancer, writing for everything from motorcycle magazines to Look, to Popular Science, to Rolling Stone. While I worked for a typically shit-paying newspaper and was going through the bank-and-ball-busting throes of divorce.)
"If you can find us an entertainment type attorney, I'll spring got it," he said. "You can pay me back from the deal money."
"What if we don't get the deal?"
Chris shrugged. "Pay me back when we do get one. Okay?"
I thought a minute, then nodded. "Okay."
The next day I consulted with my assistant city editor, the late Stella Zadeh, who became a successful Hollywood agent herself some years later. Stella had previously been my court reporter and with our newspaper's Santa Monica dateline, she'd dealt with every sort of high profile case imaginable.. She immediately thought of someone she'd met during Steve McQueen's divorce fiasco; called the guy, who just so happened to be an attorney at Mictchell Silberberg & Knupp, the el-primo entertainment law firm to this very day.
This was a guy who probably charged a couple of grand an hour (expensive even today... Stratospheric in 1976) but he had just the fellow to help us who was on a lower rung of the firm, but still pretty pricy. I called the guy - whose name I unfortunately can't remember, because he did more than save our butts - and he said he'd handle the deal for an upfront retainer of $1,500.
Chris paid the man, we explained the problem, and he said never mind the meeting - that'd wipe out our deposit and then some - and that he'd call the Producer/Actor and work out a decent deal. Before that, however, he sent a messenger over to get a copy of the script - on his dime. Then read it - also on his dime.
"The sucker reads," Chris said. "It's fucking amazing, is what it is." (Later, we learned that for a Suit to actually read was not only amazing, but unheard of.)
The whole thing became even more incredible when the attorney handled the whole deal in less than an hour, got us ten grand for a one-year option, fifteen for a second. The Producer/Actor kicked - that's more than he wanted to spend to outright Buy the damned thing, never mind option it. But he paid up, and although he never did make the movie, he renewed for a second year and the movie has been in and out of option with various companies ever since.
Will it ever get made? "One of these days." Four not-so-magical words also in every writer's lexicon. (What's a Suit's four favorite words? "Check's in the mail.")
A little later, the attorney called back, asked if he could see more of our scripts - something we were happy to do. Then he asked us if we'd heard the new(ish) Eagles Album - Desperado. Boy, did we. Great album, based on the infamous Old West exploits of the Doolin and Daltin gang. Not only that, during Chris' brief career as "The world's worst Rock And Roll PR man" (his words) he'd been one of the guys who repped the band and got on wonderfully with them.
The attorney was delighted. "What would you think of writing a movie based on the album?" he asked.
Oh, ho, ho. Would we! Tell us more.
He did. Seemed that he was on the Mitchell Silberberg legal team that advised The Eagles. And the word had come down that they were anxious to do a film based on Desperado. If he could deliver, he'd look like a hero.
Well, we made him a hero - whipping out a thirty-page treatment in a couple of weeks. He loved it, punted it forward, and was told that The Eagles were delighted with the treatment as well. (No, it too was never made. And probably never will.) Then, the attorney did an astounding thing - he sent us all but $300 of the $1,500 retainer back. Said, that was all the time he needed on the movie option deal. Then he invited us to dinner.
Dinner was at the late - very much lamented - Le Sueur's Restaurant, in the Valley. The attorney brought his lovely wife. Chris was with whomever he was seeing at the time. And I was flying solo. Dinner was great. I had something stuffed with truffles. The wine was suitably elderly. And the dinner talk was stimulating, and so on.
But the highlight of the little party were the attorney's opening words. "Read your scripts. Very impressive. You boys are major talents, just waiting to be discovered."
We blushed and did the humble aw-shucks routine, but the thing is, we both very much believed this to be true.
"I was so impressed," the attorney continued, "that I took the liberty of sending them to an agent friend - suggesting that he might want to represent you. He called me today and thanked me for the introduction. I expect you'll be hearing from him in a day or two. His name is Larry Grossman."
Just plain - Wow!
Man, was our day made. Hell, our Whole Year was made.
Afterwards the conversation turned to things literary, and the attorney's wife proved to be a not only well-read, but Ivy League college well-read. Very stimulating conversation.
Then there were the usual Hollywood stories people in The Business tell. The attorney told an amusing tale. The wife told about her college roommate who was now a famous actress. And Chris told the one about Ray Charles - he was on the PR team that represented that great showman and musician.
Chris said, "I was doing one of those routine interviews PR companies do, in hopes we can plant something in the Press. Ray was a helluva nice guy and went out of his way to make me feel important - young punk that I was.
"Near the end, I asked him the usual J-School Final Question - 'What was your most embarrassing experience?'
"Ray didn't even have to think. He said, 'That would be my first concert tour to Seattle.' Ray laughed a little, remembering, then said, 'In those days, I'd never played to a Really White Audience, you know. And Seattle, they tell me, is Really White.
"'Anyway, I get the introduction, the crowd's applauding and then I come hustling out to my piano. I do my usual opener - standing up at the keyboard... I slam out a few chords, real loud and I shout, GIMME A YEAH!
"'And the audience comes back... Yessssssss! Just like that: Yesssssssssssssss!
"'Man, blind as I am, I knew that there was nothing but a sea of white faces out there. Yesssss!'"
We all laughed and then it was my turn. As it happened, a young actress I knew had just attended a boisterous Hollywood party.
I told my dinner companions: "She said that about an hour or so into the party the band struck up a big Flourish to get everyone's attention. Then, to everyone's surprise, they start playing 'Here Comes The Bride.'
"The actress said, 'Well, we all looked up on stage, where a spotlight was playing, and who should we see standing there - dressed in a full-out Bridegroom Tux - but Rock Hudson!'"
The attorney's wife broke in, cooing, "Oh, I just love Mr. Hudson. Such a handsome man. And he seems so... I don't know... charming." Then she frowned. "But you said they were playing the Wedding March? Was he getting married, or something? I didn't hear anything about that."
I said, "Well, here's what the lady said happened... She said Rock was standing there with a big smile, and then the Here Comes The Bride music gets louder and out sweeps this woman in full bridal regalia. White on white on white. Long train, carried by some young guys in Tuxes. And a very heavy white veil.
"'The Bride goes up to Rock, lifts the veil a little to give him a kiss, replaces it... puts an arm through his, then they both turn to face the audience.
"'And the bride pulls the veil aside and who should we see, but Jim Nabors! And he had that huge grin Jim Nabors has. And then he shouts, 'Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!'"
Everybody at the table laughed, but the laugh from the attorney's wife was half-hearted. She seemed disappointed. She said, "Do you mean that Rock Hudson is..."
"Gay?" Chris broke in. "Absolutely."
At the time Rock's sexuality was known only to some of the people in the industry. If it had been widely known in those barbaric days, his career as a leading man would have been over. And, I'm not too sure how well it would go over even now. There's a lot of lip service in the Industry to certain things, like treating human beings like human beings, but many times this is plain old-fashioned artifice.
Anyway, the attorney's wife was still puzzling over my little story. The check came, the bill was paid (the bill for our dinner was well-over what we had paid the attorney for his services) and we exited that most excellent restaurant.
Outside, a small crowd was gathered for the valets to fetch their cars and the attorney's wife was shaking her head and saying, "Well, I just had no idea. I mean, he was so wonderfully romantic in all those Doris Day movies. And now, there's McMillan And Wife, with Susan St. James. They look so... well, Natural together."
She paused, then said... "Are you sure he's... you know...."
Chris laughed, and said, "Everybody knew about Rock Hudson at the PR company where I worked. In fact, there was a story going around that he had some surgical work done to... well... let's just say... increase his size. And I don't mean his height."
The attorney's wife gasped, but it was with a touch of a giggle. "You mean he had his... you know..."
"Pee-pee enlarged?' Chris finished for her. "Yeah, that's what they were all saying. That Rock Hudson had some specialist, shall we say... enhance his manhood."
Just then a voice - a strangely, and, under the circumstances, scarily familiar voice - said, "Excuse us, please."
We turned, and who should we see but Rock Hudson! In the damned flesh!
He smiled at us, then strode out to a long limo that had just pulled up. He was flanked by two very young, very handsome, and very gay companions.
The attorney's wife looked at Rock climbing into the limo with his boyfriends. Then at Chris.
Chris said, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!"
NEXT: HOLLYWOOD SCREW-UP: WE GET A PERFECTLY GOOD AGENT, THEN BLOW THE DEAL.