Taking the Plunge in Hollywood

“Let’s get married,” Ted said to Mary.

The couple was sitting by their pool on a summer evening. Hollywood stretched out below them, its lights beginning to glitter as the last of the sunset faded and the sky overhead turned from purple to black.

“Wow. A proposal,” Mary said, toasting Ted with her martini glass.

Cecil B. strolled by.

“That cat is getting fat,” Ted said.

“I think Mrs. Welles next door is feeding him. So you want to get married? It ain’t broke, you know.”

“Sometimes it’s fun to tweak something, even if it ain’t broke. We’ve been shooting a wedding in that church they use in Pasadena. It put me in the mood.”

“Does the couple live happily ever after?”

“The wife gets killed right after the ceremony. But still.”

“I could be interested,” Mary said.

They sipped their drinks, gazing into the depths of the pool, azure in the dusk. The tile mosaic seahorse at the bottom moved in a languid way, as the pool water circulated though the pool filter.

“I suppose we’ll need a pre-nup,” Mary said.

“You can’t ever forget the pre-nup,” Ted said. “If my folks taught me anything, it was to remember the pre-nup.”

“I’ll call Sid in the morning.”

“I’ll call Saul.”

“Then what do we do?”

“I think we swing by a County office and pay a fee and pick up a license.”

Mary signaled Brigitte to bring out another chilled pitcher of drinks.

“Please bring my laptop too, Brigitte” she said.

A towhee closed the day with measured chirps in the hedge, announcing the sunset’s completion as surely as a night rooster.

“We can apply for a license online,” Mary said, studying her laptop with a fresh drink in her hand. “Then we have to go together to pick it up at one of the County branches… There’s one on Burton in Beverly Hills. I’m shooting in Santa Monica tomorrow and you’ll be in Pasadena. Let’s meet halfway.”

“Do they still want a blood test?”

“Apparently not… There’s something called the Name Equality Act, but we won’t be changing our names, so we don’t need to worry about that. I’ll fill out the application right now and then we’ll go down tomorrow, show them our driver’s licenses, and pay them ninety dollars.”

“Wow, it costs to get married these days.”

“Ninety for a public license, eight-five for a confidential license. That’s for when everybody thinks the two of you are already married… Do you want a wedding?” Mary said. “I don’t care. It says here you can arrange for a civil ceremony when you pick up the license. Otherwise, you have your own ceremony, get the pastor’s name on the license, and mail it back in. You’ve got ninety days.”

With the light gone from the sky, the blue illumination in the pool grew stronger. The circulating water cast restless, rippling light and shadow in the trees overhead. Cecil B. meowed at the sliding screen door and Brigitte let him in.

“We ought to throw a little party or something, don’t you think?” Ted said. “At least? Have your sister and my brother over, and your folks. Some friends. Get Emilo to cater it. Or we could just tie the knot right there at the County building.”

“No, let’s have the party. Father Bruno can marry us. He’s consulting on our shoot and he’s a darling.”

“What did you and Fred do for a ceremony?” Ted said.

“We were never actually married. People just assumed.”

“Jane and I made it clear we weren’t married, from the start,” Ted said. “We didn’t want any confusion about that. We explained everything to her kids so they wouldn’t ever expect me to be some sort of dad to them.”

“OK. I’m filling out the application here. Hmm. Your mom and dad’s full names and the state each was born in?”

Ted told her.

“This is so simple,” Mary said. “Boom. It’s done. We have fifteen days to go down, show our IDs, pay the fee, and collect our license. Then we say I do when the padre asks us, a witness signs the license, the padre signs it and mails it in, and we’re married.”

“Woo hoo,” Ted said, and they toasted each other a second time.

They met at the Beverly Hills Courthouse the following afternoon. They both parked on the curb along Civic Center Drive. In minutes they were done at the County Clerk’s counter and stood together out on the wide grass meridian in front of the building, holding hands and shaking their heads in mild amazement at what they had done. Ted followed Mary over to Mariposa on Wilshire for a late lunch. They discussed their honeymoon while they dined. Because they were both working on pictures, they settled on a quick trip to Palm Springs, where they would stay at the Zoso or Parker or Viceroy.

The following day, Ted picked up a pair of wedding rings at Harry Winston on Rodeo and Mary splurged on a modest Judy Lee for the ceremony.

“It’s about time,” Mary’s mother said to her over the phone. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Mary said. “Ted was at a shoot that was filming a wedding. It struck a chord, I guess. All of a sudden, it just seemed right to us. When we got the license, he had a great big smile.”

“Has the subject of children come up in the conversation? Can I hope to ever be a grandmother?”

“Not yet,” Mary said, “but it could happen as quickly as this wedding has. Who knows?”

“He did OK with his girlfriend’s kids the last time around, didn’t he?”

“They loved him. He shied away from being a dad, though. But that was a long time ago.”

Her mother took all this as a good sign, and was satisfied.

Ted and Mary made the wedding arrangements together, treating the event mostly as a casual party by their pool. The pre-nup was in place. In addition, everything Mary and Tom owned belonged, without question, in a legally defensible way, solely to one or the other of them, in spite of the fact that they had lived together in total devotion for a decade. Money, property, and the future never created issues for Ted and Mary. Their sole point of connection and intimacy to date was their relationship – their love and respect for each other.

On the appointed day, the guests arrived – Mary’s parents and sister, Ted’s brother, a variety of aunts and uncles and cousins and friends in the business. Everyone kept to the shade of the trees and the tables with umbrellas around the pool. Emilio set up the buffet and bar at the edge of the back lawn, out of the sun.

The sky was cloudless and the day was quiet. A thrasher called from the scrub on the hillside. Mary’s uncle got ready to record the ceremoney on his iPhone. Standing in the shade of an oak, Father Bruno held forth for a bit and then asked the couple if they did in fact agree to take each other in sickness and in health, and so on, for the rest of their natural lives.

Mary responded in the affirmative without delay. Ted hesitated.

“Sorry to be a pain,” he said, “but I just want to be clear. When are we actually married? When I say I do? When the padre signs our license? Or when the County records the license after we return it?”

“In the eyes of God,” said Father Bruno, “after you both say yes, you’re married.”

“Sure, but I mean, in the eyes of California.”

“The same, I believe,” said the padre. “Although to eliminate any doubt, I’ll sign the license as soon as you say yes, or at least nod your head. Who’s the witness here?”

Mary’s sister was the witness, although she said she wouldn’t do it if Ted was going to be a jerk about it. She had had a yen for Ted for years, so she was looking a little hangdog in the first place.

“Let’s back up and do another take,” Mary said. “You don’t mind, do you, Father?”

“Used to it,” Father Bruno said with a smile.

“Uncle Bob,” Mary said, “would you move around and shoot on my good side? Thanks.”

Father Bruno just summarized his thoughts the second time around, and got to the crucial question a lot quicker. The attention of several of the relatives had strayed in the direction of the portable bar waiting under an acacia beyond the roses. A young man stood behind the bar in white shirt and black tie, ready to serve the guests whatever they ordered. Mary again said yes and Ted again hesitated.

“What’s the problem?” Mary said.

“It just seems like… How can me saying one little word now, or even just nodding, do the trick? It’s a big step. What if I say yes and then instantly regret it? Padre, will you still sign the paper if I change my mind before you get your pen to the paper?”

“I ought to,” Father Bruno said. “You’ll be married once you agree. I’d feel bad, not signing it.”

“What if you sign it and don’t send it in?”

“California doesn’t care so much whether you send it in or not,” Mary said. “I asked at the courthouse. If they don’t receive the completed license in ninety days, you get a computer-generated reminder. If the license gets lost in the mail or you don’t bother returning it, there’s a statement or affidavit or something you can sign later on. Basically, when you say yes, you’re married.”

“That’s so old-fashioned,” Ted said. “I could say I didn’t really mean it. I could say I didn’t really nod, it was just a muscle twitch. A mosquito bit me and I jerked.”

“Let me remind you,” Mary said, “that for us, you and I, it’ll be as easy to get a divorce as it was to get married, if we ever decide we want one. If you change your mind after you say yes, we’ll call Sid and Saul and they’ll move us back to square one in no time.”

Ted stood thinking.

“Don’t do it,” said Mary’s sister to him.

“Give it up,” Mary said to her. “He likes you. He doesn’t love you. Settle for that.”

She turned to Ted.

“Honey, it’s OK,” she said. “If you’re not comfortable with this, we can drop it. It’s no big deal. If you change your mind back, we can have another party. Is that all right with you folks?”

Everyone agreed that they’d be happy to come back for another attempt. Emilo’s catering alone made the trip worth it. Perhaps everyone would bring their swimsuits next time.

“You don’t care if we stop now?” Ted said.

“I care, but I care about you more,” Mary said.

“Nah…,” Ted said. “Nah, it’s OK. Let’s do this. Do you mind another repeat, Padre?”

“Not at all,” said Father Bruno.

“Can somebody lend me their phone?” Mary’s uncle said. “I’m out of memory here.”

Once the uncle was in place and recording with a borrowed phone, Father Bruno repeated his admonitions to the couple. Sensing that this would be the final take, he allowed himself to expand on his original thoughts a bit. When Ted’s moment came, he said yes in a strong voice. The couple exchanged rings.

“Feel any different?” Mary said.

“I feel good,” Ted said. “I feel very good. What about you?”

“I feel good, too,” Mary said.

The guests clapped, shook hands with the bride and groom, gave hugs, and headed over to the bar and buffet. Emilo sent out the table workers and they began uncovering the food.

Later, the couple took off for Palm Springs. Everyone cheered as they drove away from the house.

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Life in Hollywood: Advertising

Screenwriters sometimes write ad copy. An Australian friend asked me to have a go at something new for Aeroplane Jelly. He had been paid a big advance for a draft now due, but after a week with me in Hollywood, he was too drunk and disoriented to write anything. The subject came up as we drank at the Pole Cats Lounge in East L.A. A dancer there uses aquamarine Jello onstage. After she finishes, she comes down and acts innocent while administering lap dances to patrons aghast at the glob of it she still holds in her hand.

98 words. An entry in the 100 Word Challenge.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Ring Gets A Surprising New Owner

[Headline, Huffington Post, 01/06/12]

First, I deplore the use of celebrity gear in voodoo rites. I wish that I had a nickel for every star who has died of lung cancer because some voodoo newbie didn’t know what he was doing.

Second, I’m sick and tired of standing by the Two-Buck Chuck in the Trader Joe’s on Vine and watching Brad Pitt’s cargo pants walk past on the legs of some pimply teenage trash cruiser. Stars used to donate their clothes locally. Now they ship them off to Cameroons or Dhalijalibab because some young woman wearing Angelina’s silk blouse seems to think that this gives her license to get up in Jolie’s grill and express herself on whatever crazy obsession of the moment.

By the time Elizabeth passed, her ring was her only remaining possession. Long before, you could walk down Sunset and spot the outlines of one of her famous bras, only partially filled, under some young student’s Hollywood High T-shirt. The town has become Vulture City. Certain stars, and I’m not naming Gwyneth or Jennifer, now buy stuff and hand it over directly to their fans, just to try and buy a few precious moments of peace.

Having said this, I know a guy who knows a guy who can get you pretty much whatever you want, as long as you’re willing to pay the freight. Let me know.

PHOTO: Giant Man Spotted At Kim Jong Il Funeral

[Headline, Huffington Post, 12/30/11)

I was at Abe Goldschmidt’s funeral, the indoor part, and there was a lady with a big hat sitting in front of me. I couldn’t see a thing. If I were this giant man, I could have looked over the hat. Overlooked the hat. Or, being a giant, I could have asked her in a nice way to remove the hat and she would probably have done it. But as it is, she would have just laughed at me.

Let me make this clear. At 4′ 10″ I am by no means a midget. You never saw a headline, “Midget Spotted at Kim Jong Il’s Funeral.” I’m not saying the malnourished North Koreans are midgets. They compete in international soccer and badminton, and they’ve got all those nukes.

The thing is, if you study the picture, it appears that the giant man is actually a woman, and she is giant. I’m trying to text or tweet her with a contract from Hollywood. Nobody wants delicate Asian beauties anymore. They want Asian women who kick butt, pardon my French. Grace Park of BSG fame? 5′ 9″ Not bad. She was a tough cookie in that show. Several tough cookie clones, actually. But this woman at the funeral? She could step on Grace.

The guys at MGM claim that this giantess is “spotted” and that I’m nuts to throw money at her. So typical. What if she is, well, marred, complectionwise? The studio is going to get her to the plastic surgeon first thing anyway. She can get de-spotted while they’re building up her cheekbones, making those eyes just a little less Korean – there is a limit – and taking stock of that momumental chest area of hers.

There will be giants. And I will be their agent. I will stand on their shoulders. I will take a giant step for Mankind, or at least those who go to the movies. I see a Giant remake, with this babe taking the Rock Hudson role. I see her appearing at the funerals of all the world leaders. What a stunt! Have they buried that Arab in Libya yet? How tall is Big Bird? Is Big Bird a guy or a gal? These days, it don’t matter!

I see a movie with Tom Cruise. They shoot it right, the shrimp looks taller than she is. They can do that.

Ryan Gosling and the Vizsla

My friend Izzy told me this story the other night. We were drinking after a day’s shoot, in the Capri Lounge on Pacific in Glendale. Izzy might have been telling the truth or he might have been lying through his drunken nose, but I was on set the day that Christian Bale went off, so when it comes to movie stars, I’m ready to believe anything.

Izzy said, I was working as a boom operator on Crazy, Stupid Love, that film made by Steve Carell’s Carousel Productions. There was a day when we were shooting in Beverly Hills and I knew in advance that I’d be done early, so I brought my dog along with me. The two of us were going up in the San Gabriels for a little off-the-books hunting that afternoon. I planned to leave the dog in the car but the day was so hot, I let him come inside with me.

You know my dog Ahava? He’s a Vizsla, a Hungarian hunting dog that looks sort of  like a small, rust-colored Weimaramer. Vizslas make good family pets but they’re also smart in the field.

So the day begins and Ryan Gosling sees the dog and every time he has a minute, he’s over on my side of the set talking to the dog and petting him. Then after a while, Ficara has to go somewhere so he tells us all to take a break, and while I’m finding something for Ahava to eat at the catering table, this low-level AD pulls me aside.

“Gosling loves your dog,” the AD says.

“That’s great,” I say.

Then he says, “No, I mean Gosling wants the dog. He wants to buy him.”

“Buy him?”  I say. “This dog is part of my family. Why not just buy one of my children, for Chrissakes?”

“You don’t want me to tell him that,” the AD says. He gives me a look.

“What, he’s going to fire me?” I say. “That’s what unions are for. Where are we, Russia?”

“It’s a small town, union or no union” the AD says. Still he’s giving me the look.

“My wife’s expecting again,” I say. “I’ve got to work. I can’t lose this gig.”

“These guys,” the AD says, “you know how they are. They want, they take. What are you going to do?”

I’m turning red. Steam is coming out of my ears. This mishugina wants my dog.

“You make him mad, he don’t do nothing now,” the AD says. “Then, you’re looking for work later and somehow there’s no work to be found, you know what I mean?”

So Gosling walks over. He’s like, Well? with the eyebrows.

“Look,” I say. “Let’s be fair, Mr. Gosling. Give me a fighting chance here. The dog and me, we’re close. So what do you say we put the dog in the middle of the set. You stand over on one side, I stand over on the other. We both call the dog. Whomever he goes to, that’s it. He goes to you, you buy him from me. He goes to me, we’re square. Is that fair or is that fair?”

Actually, it’s not fair at all, Izzy says, but what choice have I got? Gosling says the word, I won’t get near a boom for a year. I’ll be back selling solar panels

So the AD leads the dog to the middle of the set and Gosling and I take our positions. Ficara is coming back through the door, so the AD gives us the sign to hurry up.

“Get rid of that Vienna sausage,” Gosling says. I toss it behind me.

“No secret whistles or hunting commands,” he says. “We both just call him.”

So we both call the dog. The dog looks at me and he looks at Gosling, and he knows something is up. This dog is no fool, this Ahava. He sees this fremder on one side and me on the other and you can   tell the wheels are turning in his head. The tail straightens out. The ears go up.

And you know what? Julianne Moore is sitting over on the set couch and Ahava just walks over to her and puts his head in her lap, and she gives him a piece of her doughnut.

Then she says to Gosling, “Lay off, Ryan. You’re making an ass of yourself.”

Gosling shakes his head, like he’s just coming to, and shrugs, and says, “I was kidding, Julianne. What am I going to do with a dog?”

So I’m taking the animal by the collar and I’m out of the room, getting Frida, you know Frida, to look after him while I’m working, and so far,  no blowback. When you sum it all up, I got no beef with Gosling.”

Humphrey Bogart and my mom

My mom’s family moved to Temple City, California, the year the town incorporated (1923). Temple City is just east of Alhambra and San Gabriel. My mom was nine. From the age of fourteen, she worked in my grandfather’s drugstore in town. At the age of twenty-one, she moved to Hollywood and got a job in the makeup department at Warner Brothers. Two years later, she went out with Bogart for the first time. They’d seen each other around the studio – he was making a movie for Warners every two months – but they only spoke to each other for the first time on the “Kid Galahad” set in 1937. He was thirty-eight at the time. She was twenty-three.

Bogart was just divorcing Mary Philips, his second wife, and dating around, but judging from the letters he wrote to my mom that year, which he must have handed to her right there in the studio, and which he resorted to, perhaps, because he wasn’t quite free yet and she was so young, judging from those letters, there was something about her that he couldn’t get out of his mind. However, she was a good Mormon girl and although he tried giving up tobacco and alcohol several times, the longest for two months, he always lapsed.

The letters continued even after he married Mayo Methot the following year. He and Methot brawled constantly, violently, and according to what he wrote my mom, Bogart knew that he’d made a terrible mistake, although he wouldn’t admit it publicly and the marriage lasted for years. Whatever happened after that, my mom quit Warners suddenly in 1939 and returned to Temple City.

Four years later, Bogart was making “Passage to Marseille,” which was shooting at the gardens in Arcadia, and he went out one night with Claude Rains and Philip Dorn, looking for a watering hole. They drove straight down Baldwin Avenue into Temple City and parked across the street from  the Orangeland bar. Bogart got out of the car and saw my mom through the window of grandfather’s drug store, standing behind the counter.

My grandparents were in back at the time. They heard Bogart come in. My grandmother peeked out and recognized him. By this time, he’d made “High Sierra,” “The Maltese Falcon,” and “Casablanca,” and he was a serious Hollywood property. Of course my grandparents knew that my mom had met many actors and actresses, but she had never mentioned Bogart to them. Now, here he was, begging her to come back to him. They spoke for thirty minutes. Rains and Dorn came in and Bogart sent them out again. My mother would never talk about the conversation. Neither would my grandmother, who had her ear to the door the whole time. Finally, Bogart left.

The following week he reviewed Lauren Bacall’s screen test for “To Have and Have Not.” She was nineteen and he was forty-five and still tied to Methot, but at last he had found the love of his life, or the second one.

Drinking with a star

We finished shooting last night at ten and the male lead, not Ashton Kutcher, asked me if I wanted to grab a drink on the way home. We stopped at Noir Bar in Maison 140 on Lasky Drive, and by the time I returned from the bathroom, nAshton had two attractive UCLA premed students lounging back on those red cushions in front of the lacquered wall panels. Anne and Carole. I sat down next to nAshton and he introduced me to them and told me that he’d ordered champagne and did I mind? I didn’t.

When the bottle arrived, he immediately ordered another and we emptied the first before the second got there. The talk was small. In fact, it wasn’t talk, it was banter. Then, nAshton’s phone played a little tune, he answered, he spoke, he snapped the phone shut, apologized, and was gone.

“I’ve never met a star before,” Anne said. “Not to talk to, even though I grew up in Woodland Hills.”

“I shook Don Knotts’ hand,” Carole said, “but he was old and unwell.”

“Isn’t nAshton in a relationship?” Anne asked me.

I shrugged.

“That wouldn’t stop him,” I said.

“I was already dreading the moment he made his move,” she said.

“It would have been painless,” I said. “You with several more glasses in you.”

They put down their  flutes and eyed me.

“I’m older than your fathers,” I said. “I’m here for a drink.”

“What’s it like, working with the stars?” Carole said. “Are they different from the rest of us?”

“Probably not,” I said, “but I’m different when I’m with them. Sitting here with you, I feel almost normal.”

“So you were going to say no?” Carole said to Anne.

“Absolutely. Well, maybe take it one step further, but no more.”

“One step further and you’re in his house,” Carole said.

“Even so.”

“Once you’re in his house, it’s hard to say no,” Carole said.

“He’s done this a hundred times,” I said. “Probably more. There is never a good moment to say no.”

“Then I guess we dodged a bullet,” Anne said. “Whew.”

We finished the second bottle and I ended up inviting them over to the lot to watch a scene being shot.

“The only thing is,” I said, “you’re both remarkably attractive, not to mention bright. If nAshton sees you there, he’s liable to ask you to do this again.”

“We’ll say no,” Anne said.

“He’ll be in costume. Made up. A very, very impressive guy on set.”

“We might go for a drink with him” Anne said., “but that’s it.”