What Not to Do When You Meet a Rolling Stone

I was introduced to one of the Rolling Stones at a dinner party. Apparently he's the fifth one, though he's not skinny, old, or even English, so I'm not sure he really counts. Also he didn't have a supermodel on his arm, but rather a perfectly lovely conceptual artist around my age.

We talked local architecture, earthquakes and heart health, but I can't say I found him all that fascinating. Hollywood parties are about figuring out who has what you might want, and I'm just not looking for a backstage pass. I gave up champagne with the rest of my illusions, weed is something to be whacked in the garden, and I can put together my own late night snack table, with or without glutens.

What I am after is a lasting connection. To my mind, that means either a very big job offer or a request for my hand in marriage. Either or, I'm really not picky.

Imagine my reaction to a second pair of party guests visiting the same home on another occasion. He's a network executive credited with saving a certain ensemble sitcom from implosion after the cast created a mafia. She's his wife. They met on a bus tour of the Holy Land shortly after her starter marriage to some lesser specimen fell apart. "We were just friends," she said of the gem at her side in four brilliant words, translating from the Yiddish, "no chuppah, no shtuppah."

I could not decide which of them I loved more. He was a king. She was a goddess, and also a lawyer, which is a pretty cool combination in any town. Forging a friendship with either half of this power couple could only mean promising introductions and the sharing of well-guarded secrets. I would finally learn where to winter in Maui when Aspen gets snowed in! Oh, the laughs we'd have about the time I was single and on a budget.

Wouldn't you just know I'd be stuck on the far side of a huge table beside some ass yakking at me about his political opposition to Twitter. "All that 'liking' and 'following'?" he offered up like a stock tip. "Corporate conspiracy, look into it."

A delightful elderly lady on my other side suddenly began gushing about having found not one but two great dresses on sale somewhere for sixty-nine bucks each. Then again, she may have been visiting another era, since she was said to be suffering from advanced dementia, but given the right cut and fabric her enthusiasm made perfect sense to me.

This is around when I caught Tweetboy checking a baked salmon for extra eyeballs. With the steely determination of a Nazi hunter, he laid out the inevitable world domination of Norway's fish farmers, snapping a picture for his files. "Be afraid," he said. "Be very afraid." I definitely was.

The evening was over before I could reel in either one of my own catches. I vaguely remember a desperate attempt to pull focus with an off-color joke about some sexually ambiguous filmmaker, followed by a weak request to pass the potatoes.

I later reached out to the husband on Linkedin, though he has yet to accept. Like it or not, there is a food chain in Hollywood. It must be respected, even after you make your way into the right parties -- where rambling old ladies understand you completely, and rock legends are dismissed with the full-fat cheese, and the only thing certain your future holds is looking back at you from a beautifully polished silver platter.


Pulp Fiction

Aleks never read my screenplays. In our early days—seventeen of them, to be exact, between our meeting and our wedding—he was reading Charles Bukowski in paperback. While I thus mistook my future husband for a hard-bitten intellectual belying the fragile spirit of a poet, the better description might be "blathering drunkard."

Aleks had been a dog trainer during his mandatory service in the Yugsolavian National Army. He skipped the country on a seaman’s visa before the outbreak of its civil war, when his duel ethnicity would have forced him to pick a side. We met one New Year’s Eve aboard a cruise ship, where I was a rookie journalist researching a travel guidebook and he was tending the midnight buffet in a white dinner jacket. He gave me a wink and a sprinkle of extra walnuts. I liked the way he said the word, as though it began with a “v” and finished with a “shh.”

The next time I heard from him he’d been fired and deported following a fistfight with a roughneck pastry chef from the wrong side of France. He only got as far as Frankfurt, since the Serbs had bombed the airport in his hometown of Dubrovnik. He hoped I’d come help him either escape back into Croatia or use my journalist credentials to return him to the U.S. I was half-way across the Atlantic before concluding, mysteriously, that wedlock was the best plan of attack.

I brought my surprise husband home to Miami, where he joined Mickey Rourke’s back alley boxing gym, discovered illegal drugs and struggled mightily with the pitfalls of capitalism, such as holding down a job. By night, he worked as a bouncer for actor Sean Penn, who then owned a South Beach bar called, ironically, Bash. Intervening during a bar fight one night, Aleks was seriously injured, nearly losing an eye.

He gave me half the court settlement in our divorce, and I used it to move to Hollywood and become a screenwriter. Aleks went to Marseilles to join the French Foreign Legion, but was deemed too large—and I’m guessing too often snockered—for covert operations. Last I heard he was in Dubai bodyguarding a Saudi sheik

All these years later, people often wonder why I never write about him, my real life hero with so many oversized flaws. Back in film school, when I mentioned the details in an e-mail to Obi Wan Kenobi, my legendary structure professor wrote back, “Is this fiction?” The trouble with writing your life, as Mr. Bukowski might have agreed, is even a fine, aged truth never goes down as whisky smooth as the lies.

Posted August 27, 2006
Hollywood, CA


Djulie Unchained

Luckily there are no rules in Hollywood, or I definitely would have broken one by telling Darren Star he should be reading my blog. I also told him I would be referring to him here only as "Mr. Bigger" which was both a bald-faced lie and not terribly clever, simultaneously breaking two more rules that don't exist in the span of six seconds, give or take.

In my defense, the chances of Darren Star actually reading my blog aren't much better now than him doing so had I never spoken to him at all. He has people and minions who have people and minions of their own to not read my blog, so I can't imagine him wanting to not want to read it himself. Then again, if there's one thing I've learned about Hollywood it's that anything can not happen at any time.

We were at a Writer's Guild event where famous writers gather to tell the rest of us how that happy event comes to pass, and apparently it has something to do with following your instincts, except when it doesn't. Also it's about luck and timing, except when it isn't, and at the end of the day, it's about story and character except when it's about other stuff. One of these is being in the right restaurant at the right time with the right network president prepared to pitch a high concept medical procedural. "It's not a who done it, it's a what done it," you are supposed to lob across the table with the bread rolls. "The germs are the bad guy," you should add. You might want to use both your napkin and the finger bowl at this point, though both are optional.

This was apparently how "House' was sold, and though I never saw "House," I am impressed by the fact that the TV show, rather than say the United States House of Representatives, comes up first when you Google the word, with or without quotes. I didn't even stay to hear the "Breaking Bad" guy speak, since I never never saw that, either, and the sum of what I know about both series is 1) They are about guys,  2) They win awards and 3) None of this has anything to do with me.

Darren Star, on the other hand,  created an iconic show about four separate and fully-formed women, all around my age. One of them is a writer. Who writes about sex. And the city. He created Melrose Place even as I lived all that right here in these pages.  He gave the world Beverly Hills, 90210; I got a parking ticket there meeting with an agent who never signed me. On top of all that, he's a fellow Bruin, who told at least three anecdotes I'd heard or read elsewhere, including in the pages of a UCLA doctoral thesis around his work.

Really, there comes a point when failure and success are just a hair's breadth away from one another, and there is something incredibly liberating about being the one without a single thing to lose.

"Darren Star to produce irreverent new comedy based on unknown blog discovered en route to the men's room!" Variety would declare once we get our cast-contingent pilot pick-up after a lucrative network bidding war. "Not That Much Sex in This City," Nikki Finke would sniff come awards season, in the event it ever becomes legal for her to live snark the red carpet again. Oh, the early morning quips the big deal producer and his overweight sensation will trade with Al Roker about our kooky friendship that would have never happened but for my inappropriate stalking  old school Hollywood moxie.

I told Darren Star I had no idea why I'd shown up to this event, which was probably the nuttiest thing possible to have shared, being the painful truth and all. I write unproduced features and I write them alone at Starbucks, where we screenwriters don't even look at one another, let alone tweak pages meant to be shot in the morning while simultaneously knifing one another in the back.

"The name's Djulie," I wish I'd added over a shoulder, blowing on an imaginary six shooter and walking off into the sunset with my head held high. "The D is silent, hillbilly." He would have forgotten it either way, but he might have had someone who was anyone call the police first,  and you can be dead sure one or all of them would most certainly not check out my blog.


Will Duck for Apples

I remember sitting in a trattoria in Rome, just outside of the Catacombs, the day before I was to have an audience with Pope John Paul II among a group of American journalists. While we probably wouldn’t be given a moment alone, I was trying to come up with a good question just in case—other than who makes his really terrific outfits, which has always been a topic of personal interest. Pondering the other great mysteries he and I might discuss, I looked down to discover a Lucite floor, like that of a glass-bottomed boat, revealing the ruins of an ancient villa. The proprietor told me that construction of newer buildings always uncovers a layer cake of archeological sites—and he decided to showcase his find.

In my town, nobody gives a fig about history. I suppose that’s because Hollywood is like sex—every generation wants to believe they invented it for themselves. Even I have to confess that what interests me most here is where the bizarre, scandalous, glamorous past intersects with my own daily life. For example, I live in a 1929 bungalow house among six others sharing a central courtyard. I’ve been told that the life-long mistress of the original owner lived here rent-free until just a few years back. No longer able to care for herself, she was forcibly moved into an old folks home, but not before stripping the house of every last crystal doorknob and brass light switch. You damn well can take it with you was this old dame’s final battle cry.

Virtually every other tenant of the fondly nicknamed Technicolor Village would be hard-pressed to relay any of its storied past beyond the installation of the new storage unit over the parking lot. Just as the other grocery shoppers at Bristol Farms are likely unaware that the store used to be the famed Chasen’s, where Ronald Reagan proposed to Nancy Davis in a booth located along what is now an overpriced selection of cheese. They still sell the restaurant’s famous chili—which Liz Taylor had shipped in buckets to the set of Cleopatra—a trivia fact lost on most every harried film exec stopping in for a fix.

Admittedly, it’s not always easy being a tourist in your own town. I've never been inside the Comedy Store, for example, even though I know it was once a world famous movie star hang-out called Ciro’s. I’ve not visited the Hollywood Park Memorial Cemetery, final resting place of so many early screen legends—despite its location near Paramount, where I leave plenty of inconclusive meetings feeling decidedly funereal. I do have a Crazy Actress Friend who claims the ghost of Rudolph Valentino chased her after a summertime outdoor movie screening at the mausoleum, a “Personal Note” she lists this on the back of her headshot.

I've dined at Hollywood's oldest restaurant Musso & Frank’s, knowing it was a very cool place to eat but wholly unaware about who drank here. Since the Writer's Guild was formerly located nearby, this became the favored watering hole of the literary giants lured out by studio money, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Reluctant transplant Dorothy Parker was a regular, famously calling Los Angeles “seventy-two suburbs in search of a city;” while William Faulkner liked to get up and mix his own mint juleps. Most all of them felt out of their element in Hollywood, and ended up drinking their lives away only steps from my house.

I never did manage to wrest the meaning of life out of the Pope that day in Rome, though I did get the name of his tailor. I have since read a lot of Dorothy Parker, who may have been a better person to ask, come to think of it, particularly in light of my similar predicament as an embittered girl wit stuck in a town that may never be sure what to do with me. “It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard,” she once quipped. And then there’s my personal favorite, “Ducking for apples—change one letter and it’s the story of my life.” You just can’t get this kind of material in Vatican City.

By Dorothy Parker

Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye

Originally posted September 25, 2005 Hollywood, CA


The Stalkerazzi and The Screenwriter

My super cool new friend Chloe (not her real name) recently returned from Avril Lavigne's star-studded rocker wedding in Santa Barbara . She wasn’t invited or anything, she was there with the stalkerazzi. Another recent scoop was a rare post-Suri, Tom-free interview with Katie Holmes, conducted in the streets of Telluride. I’m not sure why Chloe didn’t spring the poor girl, offering safe haven and a coach ticket back home to Cincinnati. Then again, a good yellow journalist isn’t there to fight crime, only to observe it while hacking into Paris Hilton's BlackBerry and going through the Osbourne family trashcans.

A self-taught snoop, Chloe has developed a complex research methodology rooted in her enjoyment of talking to people and her interest in listening to their answers—two skills sets I admittedly lacked as a journalist. It occurred to me that our personal stories converged might make a good television series, sort of a harder-edged Pepper Dennis featuring a friendly, globetrotting gossiphound and her trash-talking, overweight, screenwriting sidekick with mid-level industry connections. What Nielsen viewer from the flyover states wouldn’t want to tune in for that brand of free-wheeling weekly exploits?

I scheduled a dinner meeting with Chloe to pitch my big idea, only to learn the following: 1) Some very thin women do eat whatever they want, in Chloe’s case hot dogs, fries and a chocolate shake, 2) Not all women wearing Daisy Dukes with heels look slutty but instead rather leggy and chic, and 3) The networks are loathe to mine the tabloid craze for comedy due to the poor showing of Courtney Cox's weird and scary FX drama, Dirt. Besides all that, Chloe had to sign an agreement with the magazine she works for not to divulge any “trade secrets.” Even if it weren’t for those damn dirty Cox-Arquettes beating us to the punch, a gag order by any name would surely preclude us from writing our own buzzworthy television pilot, The Stalkerazzi and The Screenwriter, starring Lisa Kudrow and Valerie Bertinelli. I wonder if it’s lonely when the paparazzi stops following you around town and giving you unpublishable nicknames, like Lindsay “Blowhands.” I mean, if you puke alone in the bathroom stall, does it make a sound?

Chloe called the next day, en route to join Nicole and Keith on their Fijian honeymoon tour, wondering if I'd been too upset by our meeting. She was sure, she said, that she'd seen a tear well in my eye. While I admit to being overwhelmed by emotion, it was certainly not brought on by another career disappointment, nor even by a new friendship forged with a kindred spirit who'd dumped a perfectly respectable life to follow a ridiculous dream. I was crying for the milkshake. With extra whipped cream. And a freaking cherry. She just tossed it all back like it was nothing, and walked her bony ass out the door in that sweet little pair of hotpants. There's just no justice in this town.


Snow White and the Seven Screenwriters

A little known fact about Hollywood screenwriters is we don't tend to like each other much. We don't really like anybody, actually, which is why we sit alone in a room all day every day making up stories about much cooler people living in way better worlds.

Although television writers do hunker down and work together over the course of a given season, I suspect their physical proximity is the primary source of both the comedy and the vitriol you hear so much about. It is likewise the probable source of the drama and the vitriol among one hour writers, although even they tend to break off alone at the first marginally socially acceptable moment possible.

As for satire and vitriol, that would be film school. Here not only writers, but also directors, producers and yes even those happy pants little animators must converge to blow up or die trying. Picture four years' worth of The Hunger Games only with more Oreos and just about the same amount of quad squirrel to chase in circles.

You see, when your mother warned you Hollywood was a scary place full of mean people, she didn't mean another wicked witch ensconced in a studio tower demanding some poor bastard in a headset bring back your still beating heart. Nobody wants your heart, of all things; this being Hollywood, you can check that crazy thing at the door. Anyway, you're not getting anywhere near the type with the power to crush you, who actually tend to be pretty awesome once they figure out you've brought along something they want, such as the lunch delivery from Panera.

No, not even the huntsmen (agents) scanning the forest (daily trades) in search of fresh meat (any passing reference to themselves) are the folks out to get you. It's the dwarves, people! Our own kind, an entire tribe of us overtaking every Starbucks up and down Ventura Boulevard by daybreak, endlessly pecking at laptops which may or may not even be turned on.  Sleepy, Grumpy, Bashful, Dopey, Happy and the dreaded Sneezywe're not a very original clan, all things considered.

Obviously, I am Doc, the one who knows everything and is all too pleased to share it with you right here and naturally everywhere else. I view this not only as an extension of both my prickly personality and longtime survivor status, but also my job as a part-time film school instructor. In fact, I routinely look parents in the eye and assure them everything is going to be alright, despite that being a bald-faced lie.

This is partly why, when my partner Fabulous and I were recently named one of five finalists in a filmmaking competition, I reached out to the other four with offers of Facebook friendship and congratulatory re-Tweets. Only one responded in kind, however, an obvious Happy who is also Young and Adorable. There's been nary a peep from Preoccupied or Self-Sufficient, though Cautiously Optimistic recently emerged, quietly following me on Instagram. Should we meet, I plan to present each with a Pez dispenser in his or her likeness, along with a passive-aggressive joke about Doc's happy pills.

Like I say, we screenwriters aren't exactly extroverts, but some of us are better than others at pretending these woods of Holly are ever so warm and welcoming. I, for one, will surrender neither my satire nor my vitriol, since I am hostessing this party, and we are all going to have fun if it kills us.

Pictured: Right, the late Adriana Caselotti, the voice of Snow White; Above, Marge Champion (now 93) the dancer used as her model. Although I have no proof, I can only assume they hated one another for life.


Friends Don't Let Friends Write at Starbucks

According to Hollywood mythology, a local video store clerk took a regular booth at House of Pies to lay down the bones of an opus he was calling Pulp Fiction. Perhaps driven by some sense of originality, another unknown writer headed north a few blocks to join the hip counter crowd at Cafe 101, inspiring the world of Swingers. And then there's the Brooklyn comic who wrote Annie Hall. In the absence of his trusty typewriter, he scribbles bits of Oscar-winning dialogue on a small notepad in his shirt pocket, carrying the muse -- along with that tenacious little Asian girl, one presumes -- wherever his travels take him.

I can't actually confirm any of this, since I write in bed, where I am right now, coincidentally, watching the closing arguments of the Jodi Arias murder trial on HLN. Convinced I've developed a close personal relationship with the live Tweeting, phone-sexting, manifesto-authoring Lizzie Borden of our time, I suppose I'm cultivating my own legend.

That's not to say that this reclusive writer never leaves the house to form actual relationships with real people who aren't both overtly homicidal and remarkably telegenic. Why just this morning I stepped out to grab a footlong egg and cheese sandwich -- unconcerned that the counter guy at Subway knows my order, down to the light shaking of extra salt and careful slicing into four equal portions. Combine this with the pound of grapes and fresh pack of Dentyne I picked up, and I'm pretty well hunkered down for the day.

Obviously I bypassed the herd of wannabes shirking a real workplace in pursuit of high creativity -- only to invest our scant pennies in an establishment as unimaginative as Starbucks. I buy Folger's Classic Roast -- memorably dismissed by my Serbian communist ex-mother-in-law as "black water" -- in oversized plastic tubs on sale at Vons. (I find it's important an anecdote be equal parts colorful, confessional and specific in an age when your garden variety death row murderess fancies herself a significant literary voice).

Speaking of life sentences as only a writer can, I once saw a picture of Dorothy Parker hard at work while inadvertently dating herself in the dim light of a mid-century lamp, stubbornly studded with stars. Years beyond the Jazz Age glamor of the Algonquin Round Table, she appears to be at home, lost in thought and chewing on her pencil with an anemic houseplant in the shadows and yet another blank page staring her in the face.

Though she must have been around my age, seated there alone she seemed old before her time. A martini just out of frame might have been her only form of companionship, since she'd surely scoff at the notion of coming up for air to visit an inferior square table at some weenie internet cafe. Today we can compulsively check e-mail for a sense of connection, however false; or dial into Facebook with a quick quip in exchange for a word of recognition -- where Parker's crowd had to surface for an afternoon cocktail. "I like a good martini," goes her familiar toast, "Two at the very most. Three I'm under the table. Four I'm under the host." You don't get that kind of gem down at the corner Coffee Bean.

The thing about being great with dialogue is that's the easy part. As for the rest of the story -- and mind you I am no breast-augmented murderess with a built-in audience and a seven figure book deal in the works -- that's the part that drives a girl to drink. Of course, the only thing you'll find in my cup today is some weak and pathetic yet very reasonably priced coffee.


Manager & Me: A Love Story

It begins like any other Hollywood romance. You, perched on a bar stool, dangling a brand new, high concept feature spec like a femme fatale with a cigarette between her lips, awaiting the flame of a passing Zippo and a memorable quip. You know very well how to play it coolJessica Rabbit, Lauren Bacall, Olivia Newton-John "Bad Sandy" cool. You could write cool in your sleep, and often do just for kicks.

Unfortunately, this describes pretty much every unagented screenwriter in every Starbucks up and down Ventura Boulevard, desperately available, quietly dying inside, hellbent on forging that elusive bond certain to change everything forever on the sheer force of your God-given gift for wordplay.

You were with your former manager for nearly ten years, a virtual lifetime in Hollywood terms, before the light went out in your eyes. Oh sure, you flew solo for a time, content to ignore your own calls, offer up your own indecipherable script notes and buy your own Pan Asian noodle bar lunches.

You might have accepted a casual reference or two from a writer friendwho'd mysteriously declined representation from some prize catch or another herself. Seriously, if some bozo with a resume can't find the time to read you during a twenty-one hour flight to Club Med Phuket, what possible hope could the two of you have for a future?

Then one day you look up and there she is. Of all the gin joints in all the world. Okay, so there's no gin, because gin is about as passe as gluten and Range Rovers. Also, it isn't a joint, but rather her fancy Beverly Hills offices with the exposed pipes and the polished concrete. An exceedingly polite male assistant bears a passing resemblance to Steve Urkel, grown up now with a light English accent and a Wharton MBA.

You honestly couldn't say what she's wearing when your eyes first lock, beyond an air of confidence and a shimmering coat of that long-wearing lipstick that looks great on her and Halle Berry in the magazine but ridiculous on you. "I didn't want to read you and I didn't want to like you," she says. "But I did and I do."

The Zippo, the quip, the spark, the flameyou, my friend, are a goner. Everything feels new and alive and all things are possible. Not so fast, agent lady, you will suddenly think, dialing it back a notch.

No stranger to relationship mechanics, having failed at so many over the years yourself (see here, here and here), you know very well a girl can't just give it away. Certainly not in Hollywood, where honesty is the hallmark of a rank amateur, does one start throwing the truth around in the company of a virtual stranger with blindingly white teeth.

A formidable opponent indeed, she's lined her walls with books, real ones with hard covers filled with actual paper and words printed on them in ink. You remark on one whose title you like and she writes it downwith a real live pen on an honest to God notepadin the event you want to attach to the screen rights. "Are you real?" you want to cry out.

Instead you slip in a little indie project that would have made your ex's head explode, given the amount of sweat equity required of her. "On it," she says, jotting that down, too, in the prettiest cursive you've ever seen. It turns out bypassing the studio system is how she broke in not one but two recent Oscar-winning clients she is far too humble to describe as such, despite all that being Hollywood legend. 

She seals the deal with an anecdote about once stopping a pitch meeting with Oliver Stone upon the discovery of something sparkly on a client's ring finger. "I'm not the type to sit there and ignore a rock that size while talking deal points," she says.

"I'm yours!" you blurt out. "All yours! Forever!"  So much for Jessica Rabbit. Under her firm but gentle guidance, you've already become Betty Boop, the world's oldest fresh young thing, who just wants to be loved already. 

The plan is to start at awards season and work backwards to the part where the light might very well some day die in your eyes. Like love itself, Hollywood is anything but linear; we go round and round in circles here until the dizziness drives us mad. Another thing they won't tell you in film school is, yes, your story must have a beginning, middle and end, but it doesn't necessarily have to happen in that order. 

Boop boop be do.


What to Do When Your Dad Becomes an Action Star

It's a tricky thing, writing about people you love. And I don't only mean from a legal standpoint, which is a whole other can of worms when most of them are lawyers, but also on a more emotional level. The one where you're afraid they might get together and shun you if they ever so much as read your blasphemous diatribe, officially disown you if anybody else reads it, and execute you as a heritic in the unlikely event it actually gets made.

I like to write about my family. I suppose I'm inspired by people who once lived in my house over those living in other people's houses because I know this particular bunch much better. Also because I love them. Oh, and because we are a loud and aggressive clan, particularly when confronting one another as a group, and I'm not sure any of them fully understood my point of view the first time around.

My mother is a retired English teacher with an advanced degree in British Literature. Naturally I expect a degree of objective professionalism from her when offering up my work for a proofread. However, when recognizing characters she may have married or given birth to confronting situations she remembers quite differently, her reaction is as mixed as the rest of the family. On the one hand, they are all flattered to be memorialized, even in something as flimsy and irrelevant as an unproduced screenplay. On the other hand, they are highly insulted. An indignant re-working of a "scene or two" is requested at once, and since I asked, one particular character's over-arching motivations could use some re-tooling throughout!

What loved ones have trouble undersanding is that regardless of who inspires them, characters exist only to serve the story. If I were looking for historical accuracy, I would be a failed documentarian, not a failed screenwriter of heartbreaking and poignant adult family dramedies. Back in film school, My Legendary Story Structure Professor handed out a sheet of loglines of various classics, which in and of themselves were open to extreme interpretation. "Traumatized Kansas runaway suffering a severe head injury falls under the spell of three homeless men in the grip of their own psychiatric issues," for example, would become a very different film than The Wizard of Oz in the hands of, say, David Lynch. My professor's point was not only that there is no such thing as an original idea, but also that there is no such sin as thievery. Writers who don't borrow from their own lives in an effort to imbue their stories with an air of authenticity are otherwise known as hacks.

I'm writing a spec script loosely based on a family vacation whose protagonist is a man vaguely resembling my father. Him and Steve Martin, actually, since I'm no fool and I'd like to actually sell the damn thing this time. My goal is to make my dad not only my real life hero but also the hero of a big screen Hollywood adventure. Then again, I hope he knows that fictional heroes are flawed. In movies that do any box office at all, they are often animated, lacking in personal insight and the butts of their own jokes.

Though he's now retired, my father was once a big, blustery Miami lawyer, whose unlikely connection to Hollywood was a cameo in The Birdcage. In the scene where Robin Williams convinces Christine Baranski to meet Calista Flockhart's parents, she is held up by an open causeway leading to the mainland. At the request of a city official he knew from the Rotary Club, my father agreed to sail his boat at full mast again and again beneath the draw-bridge. Though amused at the idea of his becoming an action star, I'd have been even more impressed had his direction been provided by Mike Nichols himself rather than some no-name second unit A.D. with a bullhorn.

Dad also once negotiated a Hollywood deal for a client whose bayfront mansion served as the primary location for Two Much, memorable only as the film on which Melanie Griffith first met the then married to someone else Antonio Banderas. The sexy European superstar was attempting to cross over on the heels of his early work with Pedro Almodovar. Never having heard of any of these people, Dad walked right past "the little Spanish guy," likely mistaking him for a cater waiter. I'm not sure if Dad asked the leading man for a Myers on the rocks, but that was Dad's drink, so it's a safe bet if his big star sighting happened to occur around cocktail hour.

Dark rum and expensive steak and cigars. That's how I remember my Dad smelling growing up. I remember him stepping into his big white Mercedes at the valet of a fancy restaurant after treating me to a special birthday lunch. "Have a martini," he would say. "You're old enough now, aren't you? Go on and order the Caesar salad, they make it right at the table." But that's not the dad I'm writing about, mostly because that one doesn't work with the story. I need to focus on the hapless dad bellowing orders on his sailboat while the rest of us did our best to ignore him. The dad who wants something, in this case a loyal and receptive crew, and can't get it until the bittersweet end when he learns the price was too high. That's the movie version. For the Hallmark version, I'll have to spring for the oversized card come Father's Day. And pray that this is the one that gets made, because while he may not know a thing about Spanish independent cinema, I sense my father will recognize a loving homage when he sees one coming his way.

Note: Republished for Father's Day 2014, from an original post on May 20, 2007.


This Hollywood, Is It Real?

Toward the end of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, my Croatian Ex-Husband and I drove up the still stabilizing Dalmatian Coast to Venice, lured by the promise of a cheap vacation. The only major flaw in our travel plans was a small section of Bosnia, where the fighting raged on, and which I will only remember as a series of tense military road blocks along the craggy coastal highway fronting the Adriatic. While the attitude toward a Dubrovnik-born national would vary according to the religious and ethnic identities of those controlling the area in question, all factions seemed very friendly toward me, an American, a Southern Californian, no less.

I remember one curious young soldier stamping out an unfiltered Camel to examine the address on my driver’s license, smiling broadly through a set of tobacco-stained teeth. “This Hollywood,” he mused aloud. “Is it real?” He'd  apparently mistaken Hollywood for a concept rather than an actual city where ordinary people go about their daily business. Given our famous way with illusion, this is an easy trap to fall into, even among those of us who call the place home.

This morning My Very Supportive Manager set up a meeting with Yet Another Confident Young Producer interested in my Hilarious Funeral Comedy. By “interested in” I mean she wants the right to pass it around among her Big Deal Movie Star Friends without having to put up the money for an option, while at the same time being guaranteed the credit rightfully due her should a feature film ever result from her tenuous involvement. For her part, Supportive is a master at making these people think this lopsided deal would be ever so interesting to us, while she’s primarily trolling these waters in search of work for me among the producer’s open studio writing assignments.

Either way, I get a free meal, and this one would prove to be some seriously glamorous eats. Though it’s only blocks from my house, I’d never been inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel—a mammoth, Spanish Revival grande dame—into which I, the jaded former travel writer walked in and gasped, “Is it real?”

In a case of art imitating life, the recently renovated hotel—the sight of the very first Academy Awards Ceremony in 1929—seems to have inspired the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at the Disney MGM Studios, a thrill ride trailing a Shirley Temple-esque child star who falls to her death in a runaway elevator. Those crafty Imagineers were clearly aware that the real Shirley Temple received her first tap dance lesson from Bill “Bojangles” Robinson on the Moorish tiled stairway in the lobby. 

The place is said to be haunted by Montgomery Clift, who stayed here during the filming of From Here To Eternity while learning to play the bugle—a skill he still practices, or so the hotel guests claim, on long, windy nights. Marilyn Monroe’s ghost often appears in the mirror re-claimed from her poolside bungalow—which is no big surprise, since it’s now strategically placed to reflect a portrait of the starlet hanging in a public hallway.

Having undergone a major renovation, the hotel made more recent headlines when Courtney Love passed out while partying here and had to be whisked right back to rehab in an ambulance. The clubs and restaurants are being vigorously marketed to the Hollywood A-list by promoter Amanda Scheer-Demme, widow of the much loved late director Ted Demme, who was apparently a close personal friend of the Confident Young Producer hosting me for breakfast today at “Teddy’s.”

“Actually, I knew the gentleman this place was named for,” she told the Snooty Maitre D’. This was at least partially in response to his inquiry as to whether we had reservations—or were at least guests of the hotel.

“You knew Theodore Roosevelt?” he sniffed.

“Oh. I thought it was named for Ted Demme,” she said.

“It’s been the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel,” he replied, “since Mr. Roosevelt was President.”

“Right,” she said, deferring to this geek sporting an attitude dyed to match his employer-provided tuxedo. I mean, here she was about to drop a hundred bucks on a couple of plates of hash only to be trumped by the help.

“Wait a minute now,” I piped in. “Maybe Ted Demme was named for Ted Roosevelt. In fact, I’m sure I read that somewhere.”

This pretty simpleton had never read anything anywhere, and thus didn’t have much to add. He slinked away, a failed soap star with a spray-on tan relegated to inquiring if lowly tourists are “on the list” while buffing the oversized leather menus with Armor All.

“Thank you for that,” Confident mouthed. “Thank you for this,” I said, as a far more appropriate waiter—the type whose father used to serve Erroll Flynn at this very table, who considers all this his legacy—unfolded a crisp white napkin on my lap. “I think I’ll try the Eggs Benedict, so what if it is a Tuesday.”

I'm sure I heard that ghostly bugle whistling the theme from Bridge Over The River Kwai as coffee and water were poured from linen-tied silver pitchers. Another thing they won’t tell you in film school is that while you’re waiting around for that big phone call certain to change your life forever, success really can sneak up on you one meal at a time. And maybe not every day, but certainly on some of them, yes, this Hollywood is real.