The day after another Big Hollywood Deal slips through your fingers is never a good one. After having whittled down my hugely long chances of landing a studio writing assignment to one in two—and finally losing the big coin toss in the sky—today feels sort of like the morning after a courtroom jury reads its verdict. You wake up back in jail, for good this time, rather than at Disneyland riding the Teacups over and over again—grinning like a madwoman at the vomiting toddlers spewing cotton candy on your shoes.
Standing up to appeal what feels like my life sentence as an outsider in an insider kind of town, an old film school friend invited me for drinks at Formosa Café. He’s the only guy I know who’s savvy enough to evoke the name of Daily Variety’s P---- B---- in order to snag the prized corner table, a U-shaped red vinyl banquette. TV Boy works for Both The Big P’s, B---- and G----, producing their Sunday morning talk show on one of the movie channels—and therefore knows everyone and everything in this town before they know it themselves.
But then, Formosa isn't exactly breaking news, not since Shannen Doherty got arrested for cracking a bottle over some guy's head in the parking lot. Built in 1924 adjacent to United Artists—then a fledgling studio established by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks—the place hasn't changed much at all over the years, even with the strip mall built up virtually all the way around it. Like so many Hollywood landmarks, it’s easy to mistake for just another relic favored by location scouts, hipsters and celebutantes, but somehow off limits to the rest of us. I must have walked past it a dozen times on the way to pick up some plastic hangers or packaged Fruit of the Loom panties on sale at Target—but I’d never even bothered to look inside.
Tonight I discovered it’s no more pretentious than your tippling Great Aunt Mary, smelling of last night’s gin and this afternoon’s whisky, serving up hot sake and cold umbrella drinks to wash down some endearingly bad Chinese food. Hundreds of headshots line the walls, and they’re not the mass-produced faux glossies the publicity people send over to decorate yet another Planet Hollywood, but rather the real deal, creased and greasy, signed by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe after a few stiff Manhattans and an unsettling plate of chicken chopped suey.
Sitting with my old friends, all of us determined to make it big or die trying, I was reminded of the famous scene shot here from L.A. Confidential—in which Kevin Spacey allows Guy Pearce to mistake the real Lana Turner for a hooker “cut” to resemble the genuine article. It occurred to me that maybe there is no such thing as a Hollywood outsider. Maybe just sitting here in the famous booth my friend snagged simply by dropping the right name is as inside as it gets, no matter who you’re cut to look like.
Another thing they won’t tell you in film school is some days all you need to do is order another Mai Tai, eat the maraschino cherry and quit feeling sorry for yourself. Because unlike most everybody up on that wall, you’re still standing, and as long you manage to stay in the game just one more day, those Teacups are just a Freeway ride across town.