I’ve been listening to Kathy Griffin’s audiobook, Official Book Club Selection, (which is very funny, by the way) and I’m loving her show biz stories. They remind me that I have a few of my own. Although I, obviously, have not reached the heights of showbiz success to which she has soared, I can relate to the crazy shit that happens behind the scenes in LaLa land.
The one that comes to mind this morning is the time I had a meeting with a pretty powerful player, who promised to send three of my spec scripts to his agent at William Morris. At the time, the early 1990s, I was working as an editor for Future Medicine Publishers in Beverly Hills. We were creating an encyclopedia called Alternative Medicine—The Definitive Guide. It included a vast and comprehensive self-help guide, which I was responsible for editing. I loved learning all of the fascinating and sometimes quirky ways that we can heal our own illnesses (including a bizarre cure for hiccups: digital rectal massage. Yes, you read that right).
I worked there during the day, while my husband Jeff and I tried, at night, to be discovered in the Hollywood comedy clubs. Jeff and I had both been performing standup and touring for years, and finally decided to give it a try in LA because we sure weren’t going to be discovered in Chicago. So we “loaded up the truck” and moved to Sherman Oaks, with the kids, where we struggled to survive on our low paying jobs.
My boss at FMP, Burton Goldberg, knew lots of show biz people, and they would occasionally stop in at the office. I met Farrah Fawcett, Jane Seymour, George Hamilton, and a good friend of his (who shall remain nameless) who was a fairly big time Hollywood producer and writer. He was almost 70 and had been in the industry since the early 60s. His credits included some of the biggest sitcoms in the history of television, and when he heard that I was an aspiring writer and professional comic, we started chatting. I told him that I had written three spec scripts for some of the biggest shows on the air at that time, Roseanne, Grace Under Fire and Frasier.
I thought they were pretty well written and funny, and so did my good friend, Pilar Alessandra, who at the time was working for Dreamworks as a script reader (she is now a very successful author, speaker, and teacher for those trying to break into the world of Hollywood writerhood).
Anyway, this producer was a nice, old Jewish man, very grandfatherly and kind. He offered to take a look at my scripts and help me to tweak them, if necessary, and if he liked them he would pass them on to his agent at William Morris. I was ecstatic and gladly gave him a copy of each, and agreed to meet him for breakfast in a week, after he had a chance to read them. He gave me directions to his mansion in Bel Air, and told me to be there bright and early the next Saturday morning.
That Saturday, I nervously drove our shitty old ’84 Oldsmobile Delta 88 over the hill on Laurel Canyon Boulevard from the San Fernando Valley to Bel Air and hoped that it wouldn’t break down on one of these posh streets in front of Fred Astaire’s house or any of the other glorious mansions I was chugging past. I arrived right on time, 7:30 AM, and parked my car, which stuck out like a decrepit sore thumb, at the curb in front of his digs.
I timidly knocked on the front door and he invited me in. I felt very small and uncomfortable—and very poor—entering his luxurious abode, and totally expected his wife and family to turn up their snooty noses at me but, much to my surprise, his family was out of town that weekend.
He showed me around the first floor of his gorgeous home, and I saw his Emmy on the mantel of his study, which was all dark wood and leather. Photos of him with some of the biggest stars in show biz graced the walls. We chatted, back in the kitchen, while he squeezed orange juice from fruit picked fresh from the trees in his back yard, and then we sat under an umbrella by his sparkling pool on his perfectly manicured lawn, eating exquisite pastries from one of the local posh delis.
He told me he liked the scripts, that I had a gift for the absurd, but especially for capturing the voices of the well-known characters on each show. He made a few suggestions, and told me to make a couple of changes here and there, which I hastily scribbled on my copies, in red pen. He had no doubt that at least one of them would sell—or at least get me noticed—and that I definitely had what it took to break in to the industry. I thanked him effusively and told him I’d get the new scripts, with his suggested changes, to him in a couple days, the next time he stopped in at the FMP office. I didn’t drive home over the mountains, I floated over on Cloud Nine.
Fast forward a couple weeks—I had given him the tweaked scripts, and he promised that he would deliver them straight to his agent’s hands. I was to check back with him at an appointed date and he would give me some news. Well, I tried to check back with him, but he never answered the phone or returned my calls. I didn’t see him at the office anymore, and when I called the William Morris office to follow up, I was told that they never received my scripts and that his agent had never heard of me. I knew this man wasn’t dead, because I could hear Burton talking to him on the phone from time to time. I was baffled and confused.
Then it dawned on me.
Oooooh! His wife and family weren’t home. I was a young (and relatively attractive, at the time) starving artist. He was a powerful player. That leather sofa in his tastefully decorated study was a casting couch. Oooooooh! Duh! How could I be so naïve?
And then, ewwwww! He was a thousand years old! I had a family! HE had a family! It was Saturday morning! Wasn’t that his Sabbath? I hadn’t shaved my legs!! And, most importantly, why didn’t he say something so I had some clue that he expected something in return in order to complete his part of the bargain??? I was new to the LA scene and didn’t know the drill yet! When I told some of my relatively successful show biz friends about this, they looked at me as if I was dumber than a box of rocks and said, “Of course he expected sex! What, you expect a golden ticket for nothing?”
It’s stories along these lines that caused me to eventually quit trying to make it in show biz. I guess I just didn’t want it badly enough to do the Big Icky with people in power just to get a little face time (if you’ll pardon the pun). And I certainly wouldn’t want to cure their hiccups!
Here’s you a posh dog: