"Air in the hands, motherstickers, this is a F*&*-Up!"
"What's not to get?" This from Al Godfrey, our new mentor and exec-producer of Quincy M.E., starring Jack Klugman.
Chris said, "Okay, stop me if I get it wrong anywhere along the line. Klugman orders Peter Thompson - the guy you replaced - to buy a script from me and Cole, here. Right?"
Godfrey nodded. "You boys are two lucky sons of bitches."
"Yeah, yeah," Chris said. "But, what happens next is that old Peter informs us that Klugman's been wanting to do something about Pedophiles and how they bury themselves in the community to stalk our kids."
Godfrey said, "I'm with you so far. Still don't see anything to be confused about."
Chris said, "Well, hang fucking tight because it gets a little scary from here on in… We tell Peter, no problem. When do you want the story? And how long should it be?"
I break in, getting steamed just listening to Chris' recital. I say, "And Peter tells us - 'Not to worry, boys. I have the story. You just do the research and when you're ready call me."
Godfrey gave us looks of great amusement. "And you - You poor Putzes - believed him."
"Well, you saw what happened," Chris said. "The three of us (he indicated me, Godfrey, and himself) go to Peter's new Mister My Shit Don't Stink Office in the Black Tower. First thing out of his fucking mouth is, 'What's The Story, Boys?"
Godfrey said, "Good thing he got called away so we had time to figure one out."
"That's the whole fucking point," Chris said. "He didn't have a story. He lied to us. We had to come up with one on the fly. Then we go home, write the story. Get your notes and Peter's notes. Then write the script. Script's approved. Checks mailed to agent. Agent clips them for ten percent and sends them on."
Godfrey nodded. "That's how it works."
Christ snorted. "Well, riddle me this, Mr. Godfrey, sir. How come if we did all the damned work - with no help from Peter - that when the check showed up from fucking Universal Studios that we got screwed for two thousand dollars? And it turns out that the two grand went into the pockets of - guess who - Peter Thompson."
Godfrey shrugged. "Easy," he said. "That was Peter's share. He had the story, remember?"
Chris was exasperated. So was I, but I kept my mouth shut. This was a learning opportunity if ever saw one. A lesson, as it happens, that cost us two thousand dollars so I didn't want to miss a word.
If you have been following these MisAdventures you'll know that Jack Klugman, star of stage, screen and television, had recently gifted us with our big break into Hollywood in the form of a guaranteed Prime Time Television script sale. There was talent involved, sure. But a lot of it was luck. Plus Klugman and I shared some things in common, including an interest in The Sweet Science, the Philadelphia Boxing Association, and a shared hometown - South Philadelphia.
I mean, how lucky can a green horn writer get?
Anyway, we got the assignment. Were told by that lovable rogue, Peter Thompson, to go thou and do research - but, not the story, because he had the story.
But when the day came for our meeting with Peter - the one where he'd tell us the story he had in mind, then send us to write the script - a Third Act Twist reared up to bite us.
It seems that Peter had found favor with the Big Boys in Black Tower and had been promoted from Exec Producer of Quincy to Head Of Production for MCA Universal Studios. Godfrey, who was doing Exec duties for the hit series Vegas - starring Bob Urich - had been called in to take over for Peter at Quincy. (Chris and I would later work with the late Bob Urich at MGM on the short-lived "Gavilan" TV series.)
Anyway, for reasons known only to Godfrey, he'd saved our butts when Peter pulled his - "Tell me the story, boys," turnaround. He'd bailed us out of our jam, then had taken us under his wing, dishing out uncle-like advice and a steady supply of scotch and soda.
With the Quincy sale Chris and I were on the verge of being able to quit out day jobs and launch our scriptwriting/book careers. But, Peter's cut into our take had threatened to delay that joyful day. Two grand doesn't sound like much these days, back then it was significant dough for a couple broke writers. (Around six thousand in 2011 bucks according to my handy-dandy inflation calculator.)
Okay, so that's the lay of the land. And now we can:
Chris said, "It's not Peter's fucking story. It never was Peter's fucking story. He didn't write - or think up a word of it."
Godfrey said, "Of course, it's his story." He jabbed a finger at the stationary on his desk, headed MCA-Universal - Business Affairs. "Says right here it's his story. Credit he generously shared with you and Allan. And, pal, if fucking Business Affairs says it's so, It's So. Just ask them."
Chris made a noise of heart-felt disgust. "Peter's the freaking head of production for the largest studio in the whole freaking world. What's he need two grand of our measly script money for?"
Godfrey said, "I'd like to say it isn't the money. But in This Town money is always part of the story. Guys like me and Peter live way over our heads. We have to drive the nicest cars. Live in the nicest houses. Send our kids to the best private schools. Wine and dine and fuck the sexiest and most expensive starlets… You know. Keep up appearances."
"Yeah, but two grand?" Chris said in a dismissive tone. "What's two grand to him?"
Despite his protest, however, my partner's outrage was starting to wane. Beating your head against the wall called Studio Business Affairs can be weary work.
I said, "You mentioned that money wasn't Peter's only motive. "What other reasons are there?"
(Above The Line on the End Reel are the names of the producers, directors, writers, actors and other "creative" personnel. The Below The Line credits are everybody else, from Makeup to the guys who provide the portable Johns on location.)
We gave our new mentor blank stares.
Chris said, "Credit? He's got fucking credit." He jabbed a finger at the Business Affairs document. "Says right there he was fucking Executive Producer."
Godfrey sighed - such red-ass innocents. "In this business," he said, "there is nothing lower than a writer. But if a non-writer wants to go places he'd better have some writing credits to go along with his masters degree in pencil pushing and pissing on the peons."
"Peter claims he has a degree from the London School of Economics," I said.
Godfrey chuckles. "Yeah, and if you fucking believe that you'll probably believe that he was classmates with Mick Jagger."
"He's too old," Chris said.
Godfrey raised an admonitory finger. "Never tell an old fart he's too old," he said. "It will be the end of your career."
"Gotcha, boss," I said. Amused, because Godfrey himself had claimed he was about our age, when he was clearly ten years or more older.
I steered back to the point. "Are you saying that Peter wants his bosses to think that he's actually a writer, who got interested in production"
"Fuck no," Godfrey said. "But if he can flash a few credits to The Guys With The Big Telephones, it'll show that he has a creative streak. But not so much of one that he's gonna go sideways on them. Develop a case of integrity. Or fucking honesty."
"Honesty?" I said. "Heaven forefend."
Godfrey cocked an eye at me. He said, "If you ever use the word 'forefend' in a script you write for me you can look for it the next day at the County Dump."
Just then we were joined by the new Quincy story editors - Chris Trumbo and Jeff Freilich. Drinks were made, smokes fired up and we all settled back to get to know one another.
It turned out that Chris Trumbo was the son of the legendary blacklisted screeenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Spartacus, Exodus to name just two), while Frelich - a medical school dropout - hailed from the shores of Roger Corman, king of the down and dirty drive-in movie makers. (Freilich - who Chris later dubbed "The EatAnter" after the character in BC Comics, is currently Exec Producer of the hit series, Burn Notice.)
"You only had a few thousand bucks to make whatever flick Roger assigned you. Which meant you really had to use your imagination and cheat like hell to shoot the movie.
"The real beauty was that if you stuck to the few basics Roger required - "I want Women In Chains Meets Dracula" - you could say or do pretty much anything you wanted."
"Sounds like old Black Mask Magazine," my partner opined. "Stick to the basic formula and you had a free hand. That's where the best writers in the detective story business, like Raymond Chandler, got their start."
While they were all talking, I was thinking about the cheapo movies that Corman and his ilk made, some of which were (accidentally) good. Most turned a large profit and even the worst never lost a dime on the drive-in, neighborhood movie circuit. (Today, it's DVD rentals and Streaming Video.)
I asked Jeff, "What if Corman gave you a million dollars. What could you do with that?"
Freilich laughed. "Shit, with a million dollars I could have re-made Ben Hur, complete with the chariot race. Of course, we'd have to shoot it in Italy, or southern Spain, but hell, their prop masters probably have dozens old movie chariots on hand. And there's plenty of period footage we could buy for the price of a pizza."
I turned to Godfrey, "So, tell me Al, if you can make a million dollar movie - one that's guaranteed to turn a profit - why don't the studios make ten, one million dollar movies that will all make a bundle… instead of one ten million dollar movie that's probably going to lose money?"
Godfrey gave me a pitying look - oh, you poor putz. Then he proclaimed, "Allan, listen closely to this. The reason studios make ten million dollar movies, instead of million dollar movies, is that you can't fucking steal a million dollars from a million dollar movie."
That was our first real money lesson in Hollywood and it pretty much explained everything you needed to know about the business - including how Peter Thompson ended up with some of our money in his pockets.
"It's like points on the project," Godfrey said. "You are never going to see any, because the points are based on gross profits and no studio in Hollywood will ever make a movie that shows an actual gross profit that points can be levied against."
Godfrey told us that recently he'd been offered two points on a multi-million dollar project and he'd said, "I'll swap those two points for a flat ten thousand dollars cash."
The deal maker looked at him, hurt in his eyes. "Come on, Godfrey," he said. "Play fair."
As the conversation moved on, Chris sat there silently for a time. Which was quite unlike him.
Finally, he piped up: "You know, if Cole and I had known that Hollywood was like the plumber's, or the electrician's union. And that all you had to do was grease somebody's palm to break in - well, fuck, man! We'd have paid somebody two thousand dollars years ago."
Quincy Postscript: As time went by we met every chance we could with Godfrey - so much that Scotty just waved us through the gate and didn't bother to ask what we were up to. And we spent many an evening pitching stories and shooting the breeze with Al, and Trumbo and Freilich.
We even sold another script to Al - The Money Plague - which was about anthrax-infected money getting into the system through a neighborhood bank.
Al lasted one season - a very successful season - and another producer came on board. Several others followed. Klugman chewed through producers like he chewed through dialogue. (Quincy scripts had to be twenty pages longer than most because Klugman talked so fast.)
Godfrey was philosophic about what he knew would be his eventual demise.
"If I do my job right," he said, "I can keep the numbers up and the show a hit. But, eventually, I'm going to make Jack mad. And then I'm gone. No worries, though. I had that eventuality covered in my contract."
Meanwhile, over the following seasons we sold several more scripts, and were such old pros at Quincy that the new producers used to call us - a couple of freelancers - to ask vital questions, such as: What's Quincy's first name? Answer: He didn't have a first name, just the initial "R."
Another: What was Sam's (Quincy's sidekick, played by the multi-talented Robert Ito) last name? Answer: Fujiyama. And, yes, he was a doctor too, although few writers, except us, ever referred to him with that honorific.
Jack Klugman was worn out with the incredible effort he put into the program and was having continuing problems with his voice. He called it a day, bowing out at the top of his game. Last I heard he was still alive and giving them hell at age 89.
An interesting side note on Godfrey's comment about the firewall he'd built into his contract:
Glen Larson was the creator of the Quincy- a guy I'll be telling you a lot more about later on in greater and more horrific detail. Old Glen had a PhD in stealing other people's ideas and making them into (usually low brow) hits.
He probably would have ruined Quincy, one of the most honored shows in TV history, with an impact that reached all the way to Congress. But he didn’t stick around much past the first season. Old hands on the show told us that Klugman and Larson were butting heads before the cameras started to roll.
Klugman demanded quality. He wanted realistic stories based on fact. Stories that meant something and that had decent dialogue for the actors to speak.
Surely, Glen may have wondered - Is Jack fucking nuts?
As you may have gathered, Larson was an unlikely source for any of the things Klugman demanded. Larson’s motto was: Whatever works, works. The rest is bullshit.
Despite these problems, Quincy was a huge a hit. It started out as one of the shows in the NBC "Mystery Wheel." The other members of the wheel were "McCloud," "MacMillian and Wife," "Banacek," and "Columbo." All good programs. Each getting two hours per episode - just like a movie, with all the production values that a movie has.
When the Network - in its stupidity- broke up the wheel, Quincy became a regularly scheduled one hour program and Klugman - we were told - said either Larson was off the show, or he was.
Well - not really.
Actually, Glen Larson probably never lost a dime of his own money in his professional career. We were told that his payoff was in the neighborhood of fifty thousand dollars an episode to stay away from the show. That's fifty thousand dollars in 1979 money, which, according to my inflation calculator, would be $145,846.11 today. Which is one hell of a restraining order.
I’d take that deal, wouldn’t you?
Anyway, at this point in the game, Chris and I were all but made.
But two things had to occur before our success was assured.
One concerned Sten - the first novel in a series that what would turn out to be an international science fiction hit.
The second had to do with a big fucking shark.