Sunday, February 24, 2008

Story of a Writer - Part Five

After The Bobbie Gentry Show, the Executive Producer who'd hired me for it told me he'd made a deal to write a half-hour comedy pilot. He wanted me to write it with him, offering to split the money fifty-fifty. It sounded great.

The one red flag was the Executive Producer's manager, Bernie, who told me not to trust the Executive Producer. Now, common sense suggests you should listen when a manager warns you not to trust his own client, but I didn't. My experience with the Executive Producer had been otherwise. He'd told me in Toronto he wanted me to play Bobbie Gentry's boyfriend on a summer series, and that's exactly what happened. The Executive Producer may have lied to other people, but he hadn't lied to me.

With the pilot-writing opportunity in my pocket - plus three network credits - The Lily Tomlin "special", The Bobbie Gentry Show and the Sanford and Son collaboration - I decided to give up my apartment in Toronto and have my Mazda driven to Los Angeles.

I was moving to the States for good.

Up to that time, I'd been living at the Chateau Marmont, now trendy, then, a dump. I had a small room, with a mini-fridge in the clothes closet. The rent was an incredibly cheap hundred and fifty dollars a month. Cheap or not, however, after four months, I was tired of eating all my meals in restaurants, even though the place I ate them in was pretty special.

Every day, I ate two meals a day, breakfast and dinner at the nearby Schwab's, now gone, but once, a show business hangout, verging on a clubhouse. The waitresses at Schwab's were kindly and maternal; they made sure you drank your milk and finished your vegetables. I explained to them that even my mother didn't make me do that. Their answer to that was, "We're better."

Schwab's's customers were comprised mostly of writers and performers, many successful, others, down on their luck. When I'd leave to go to work, I'd notice a lot of the customers lingering over their coffees. They clearly had nowhere to go.

One Schwab's "regular", I remember, was a comic actors named Joe E. Ross. He had been a semi-regular on The Phil Silvers Show and later co-starred in Car 54, Where Are You? Ross was primarily known for his famous catchphrase, "Oooh! Oooh!" In Showbiz Past, you could coast
on "Oooh! Oooh!" for twenty years. But not forever. I'd come back to Schwab's for dinner, Joe E. Ross was still sitting there.

Another man I remember from Schwab's was a writer who, with a female partner, wrote for years on The Carol Burnett Show. From my first days in Hollywood, this man would always tell me, "You're going to be okay." For some reason, that irritated me. "How do you know?" was my graceless response. But he kept saying it, every time he saw me. "You're gonna do fine." I know he meant it as an encouragment, but to me, it felt like a curse. The writer later died of AIDS. I should have said, "Thank you."

Lorne Michaels lived at The Chateau for two years. I think he had a bigger room. After four months, I needed to get out. Not only was my room depressing me, but there was a "blind" left turn coming out of the hotel driveway that gave me nightmares.

I climbed into my rented Pinto, and I drove to nearby West Hollywood, looking for an apartment.

I drove down King's Road, heading towards Melrose. I spotted a "For Rent" sign, I parked my car, and I went in. Lounging at the pool was a bikini-clad woman of mouthdropping attractiveness. I immediately signed the lease. I never saw that woman again.

Looking back, the apartment was probably pretty junky, but to a recent immigrant from Canada, it was like the coolest set from a Hollywood movie. First of all, it had a swimming pool. In Toronto, only millionaires had swimming pools, and they could only swim in them three days a year.
This pool didn't look like the pool at the "Y." It wasn't rectangular; it was, I don't know, like a shape from a Rorschach Test. It was all squiggly. Looking around, I noticed the hallways leading to the apartments were open to the sky. There was nothing like that in Canada. The piled-up snow would have kept you from opening your door till June.

I'm sorry for going on, just one more thing. The whole apartment was made of stucco. Canadian winters would laugh at stucco. Understandably. I was living in a papier-mache building.

I lived on King's Road for eight months. Not much happened there, except for this:

One day, I heard the unmistakable "pht-pht-pht" of approaching helicopters. I ran outside. Four helicopters were hovering directly over my building. I raced to the front to find out what was going on. I saw half a dozen police cars parked diagonally, blocking the street.

"What's going on?"

"The apartment's being raided."

Apparently, unbeknownst to me, my building was inhabited by a squadron - probably not the right word - of high-priced Call Girls. I'd always wondered why there were always fancy cars with diplomatic license plates parked out front. I thought they were visiting relatives.

I knew there were a lot of beautiful women living there. I'd spotted them, getting their mail from the apartment mailboxes, dressed in negligees. I thought they were back-up singers. You seeing a pattern here? I am entirely clueless. I figured the ladies slept in the daytime and they worked at night. Turns out, they were working around the clock.

That was the excitement of the apartment on King's Road. Oh, and the fact that, for a short time, Good Times' Jimmie "J.J." Walker lived there.
For me, it was all very thrilling - the apartment, the celebrity neighbor, the raid - the perfect introduction to life in the bigtime.

I was movin' ahead. I had my own place, and the Mazda had finally arrived. Settled in, I called the Executive Producer to discuss when we were going to start writing the pilot.

He never returned my call.


Next in: "Story of a Writer - Part Six": Writing for Richard Pryor, Peter Sellers and a guy named Marty.

Thanks for coming back. And if you feel like it, spread the word. Hopefully, one of my fans is a bigmouth.


Max Clarke said...

This is turning into quite a serial memoir. Each post is a small chapter, and often ends with a cliffhanger. Well done.

Anonymous said...

I believe a squadron of call girls is known as a pusse. The pusse was relentless in their search of wealthy johns.