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.

Through Story 3

After I fixed her second flat, Anna parked her bike in my office every morning. I was coming in around noon and at the time and never saw her do it. I’d pass her work area and see her sitting at a workstation in there with the rest of the artists, generating storyboards. I never saw her smiling, but she had a quality that attracted me like a magnet. I made extra trips past the door.

On a Friday, after several weeks of this, I was hurrying back to my office in the late afternoon to balance my drug and alcohol levels. I was having trouble with my head, or my legs, or my fingers. I couldn’t tell which. The uppers and the downers in me were pulling in non-orthogonal directions but I couldn’t think straight enough to know what to do about it. My office door was open and Anna stood just inside holding her bike by the handlebars. She had her helmet on and her pantlegs were gathered up by bike gaiters.

I nodded and pushed past her to my desk. I felt her eyes on me.

“How are you?” I said over my shoulder. “I’m just…”

She was wheeling her bike out the door. I fumbled with my keys, trying to unlock my desk drawer while looking back at her. She pulled the door shut after her, with a click.

I lined up my pill bottles on the desktop and unscrewed their lids. How to proceed? I fished out a bottle of Jack Daniels from the drawer.

The phone on my desk purred.

“What are you doing down there?” Aaron said, when I picked it up. “Get back to the stage. Brad is ranting at the crew. Help him out. Help them out.”

“I’ll be there in a minute.”

“You’ll be there now.”

He hung up.

I dithered, took several deep drags from the bottle, and left it at that.

“I can’t say these lines,” Brad said to me when I got back.

“You can’t say Don’t go. I love you?”

“I can say Don’t go. I can’t say I love you.”

“Why not?” I said.

“This guy wouldn’t say that.”

“Well, then, just say Don’t go. Say it like you mean it. Say it like it will make her stop. Say it like you mean you’re in love with her.”

“I need more than that. Give me some words.”

“Don’t go. I… I’m hungry. Make my dinner first. Don’t go… I’m horny. I need you. That’s it, Brad. Don’t go. I need you.”

“Nah. He wouldn’t say I need you, either.”

“I want you?”

“No.”

“Don’t go. Stay.”

“Lame.”

“Don’t go. I… I have something to tell you.”

Brad perked up.

“Ok,” he said. “Now then.”

“So she hesitates,” I said. “She doesn’t look back but she says What?”

“Yeah,” Brad said. “And then what do I say?”

“You say, Come back in here. You say it strong. She comes back in. She says What? again.”

“Yeah? And?”

“And you say, I love you.”

“Oh for Christ’s sake,” Brad said. “Get the f**k out of here, will you?”

Later Aaron came down to my office.

“Miramar Palms,” he said. “I won’t take no for an answer.”

“I’ll write him the damn lines. I’ll do it right now. I’m feeling better.”

“Too late. He could see the shape you’re in. I can see the shape you’re in. Everybody can see the shape you’re in. It’s a useless shape. I can also see into that open drawer. Your visit to Miramar will be the studio’s treat.”

“I can’t go back there, Aaron. It almost killed me last time.”

“I’m driving you over there now.”

“Just like that? Without a suitcase? Without a toothbrush?”

“They’ve got plenty of your stuff from last time. You room is ready and waiting. It’s all set.”

I was already sweating. I reached into the open drawer and opened a random bottle and took out a couple of capsules and swallowed them. I picked up the Jack Daniels and drained it.

“That should hold you till we get there,” Aaron said, “barring traffic on the 405.”

“Tell the woman with the bike she can still  keep it here,” I said, handing him the key to the door.

Life in Hollywood: received, indolent, enough, followed, conversation

I felt in the mood to write about my life in Hollywood, but upon what subject? I downloaded a pdf of “Pride and Prejudice” and took the first word that was more than five characters long on pages 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50. These should lead me to my subject: received, indolent, enough, followed, conversation.

Having received payment from Dennis Hopper for my work as his dialog coach, and feeling indolent with his check in my pocket, funds enough to carry me through the next month, I followed him out of his house, half-listening to his conversation on his cell.

“I’ll come pick it up,” he said. “I’m totally out.”

He nodded to me and climbed into his BMW. As he pulled out of his driveway, I hopped into my Neon and fired it up. Hopper could be out of a lot of things, but I had a hunch that he was out of something that I was out of too. He could pay for more of what he was out of and now, by God, so could I.

I let him get half a block ahead of me and followed him down Sunset to the Hollywood Freeway. He got on it heading south with me one car back. Traffic wasn’t moving. We inched along, finally past Santa Monica Blvd., then past Melrose. I remained in my lane. Hopper worked the traffic, looking for openings, for the lane that would move next. This was not the Hopper of Easy Rider, free on his bike, wind ruffling his ‘stache. Maneuver as he might, he only picked up four cars on me by the time we reached Alvarado. We were crawling. One passenger per car, windows up. I was listening to War and Peace at the time, on a stack of tapes.

The Neon was running a little rough but at last I could take it in for a tuneup. Traffic gridlocked at the Harbor Freeway. We’d have made better time on foot. By the time the San Bernadino Freeway forked off to the left, the sun was getting low in the west. I was beginning to nod. For a bit then we made some time, up to 5 or 10 miles an hour, but gridlocked again. Hopper had the constitution of an athlete. He was still weaving, cutting in, weaving, cutting out, and was seven, maybe eight car-lengths ahead of me now. A War and Peace tape would finish, I’d flip it, it would finish, I’d swap in the next.

By the time we came to the Golden State Freeway, crossed the 10, and headed down the 5 on the Santa Ana, I was keeping my left hand on the wheel and using the right to hold up my right eyelid. This all happened in first gear, stopping, starting, stopping, starting. Then traffic freed up and we accelerated up to 15 mph, but only for 100 yards or so and then the lanes seized up again. Hopper had made some bad choices and was only two cars ahead of me. The sun set. Smog, now glowing orange.

We exited onto the Long Beach Freeway, the 710, south, but evidently there had been an accident. Traffic remained at a snail’s pace. I got off at South Atlantic and Bandini, between Commerce and Maywood, because I needed coffee and I was afraid Hopper was going to drive all the way down the 710 to the 105. I didn’t think I could make it. Once off the freeway, I got totally hung up at the first intersection because the traffic lights were out.

Amos the alien

I think that I wrote a little post a while back about an actor I know in Hollywood who believes that he is a robot. Obviously, the fellow is mentally ill. I haven’t tallied the number of robots per mental institution around here, but I’m guessing that the condition, taken together with its mechanical specifics, is an unusual one. That actor is the only robot self-identifier that I’ve met, anyway.

Not so with aliens, and I’m not talking about my Mexican gardener. I am amazed at the number of professed non-humans that I know, and even work with. Take my friend Amos. Ask Amos at a cocktail party about his planet of origin and he will cheerfully tell you that he is not of this Earth. In Hollywood, at least, there are multiple extraterrestrials for every robot out of the closet.

“You can’t interview me,” Amos told me one time, “but you can buy me a drink and we’ll enjoy a conversation and if you record what we say using that Droid you carry around in your back pocket, than I won’t hold it against you.”

Amos works as a greensman at Universal. He’s a specialized set dresser who deals with plants, real and artificial. Sometimes he reports to the art director and sometimes directly to the production designer. He’s got a green thumb. Literally. He lives in Glendale.

So we met at The Bar on Sunset one Tuesday night. Dark and noisy. We’re drinking Ice Bombs, which I can recommend. (Blue raspberry vodka, orange vodka, vodka, and Sprite. Lots of ice, of course.)

“Listen, Amos,” I said. “If you’re an alien, why don’t you keep it a secret?”

“Why should I? Nobody cares.”

“INS might.”

He laughed.

“Are you kidding? Amos Greenberg from Brooklyn? The guy the studio loves for his great sets?”

“What about picking up women?”

“Hasn’t hurt me, that I can notice. To tell you the truth, they get it in their minds that they’ll uncover the equipment and point to it and say, Looks pretty human to me, haha, but then when the moment of truth arrives, their mouths drop open and they say You’re right. That thing ain’t human. Not that I’m complaining! they say.”

“So what are you doing here? Besides dressing sets with ferns and palm leaves, I mean. Invading the planet?”

Again he laughed.

“Who’d want to invade this shithole?” he said.

“Hey, you’re talking about Hollywood here. Maybe Brooklyn’s not so hot, but show a little respect for the industry.”

Amos was shaking his head.

“You’ve turned your planet into a crockpot. What self-respecting alien would come down here and invade Detroit, for Christ’s sake.”

“So then what? Are you studying us? How we doing?”

“In what respect?” Amos said.

“The respect of advancing as a race. Of developing, evolving, reaching the point where we can zip around the galaxy or whatever, hanging out like you are.”

“Ninety-nine per cent of sentient races become extinct within, oh, a few thousand years of their initial technological breakthroughs.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“Humans are way too smart for their own good. They should have got smart slower, much slower, over hundreds of thousands of years. You’re still too much animal to survive, being this smart. You’ll come to an end quite soon, in one of the thousands of ways that you’ve developed, on purpose or inadvertantly, to kill yourselves off. It’s one of the reasons that Earth is so popular as a vacation spot. A visitor like me can act like an animal here, be quite bestial, quite instinctual, and yet still hang out with smart people. Nobody wants to take a vacation at the zoo… It makes me giddy just to think about it. When I come here, I can abuse drink and drugs, I can watch senseless, mindless acts of violence on film and TV and on playing fields and on the street. I can litter! I can drive around in cars spewing carbon, flicking my cigarette butts and beer cans out the window. Anything goes.

“Believe me, when I go home to a sane civilization, I immediately start counting the days left before I can come back here again. It’s like you, running down to TJ on a weekend to behave badly. I’ll be depressed for years after you’ve blown yourselves up, or poisoned yourselves, or screwed the pooch some other way. No pooch screwing on my planet.”

This news should have been depressing, but, after all,  the human race invented the Ice Bomb, and we drank enough of them to laugh off the whole thing, at least for the evening.

Elizabeth Taylor’s autograph

The thing about being a heavy drinker in Hollywood is, over time, you  will meet all the heavy-drinking stars in town, no matter how big they are. I’m not sure why this is, except that once you’re deep in your cups, all men become equal. That whole thing about Gibson getting drunk and dumping on the Jews? His tapes were running his mouth, but down in his lizard brain, the only thinking part still actually working  for him at the time, he could have been saying all that to Abe Goldstein, companionably,  with his arm around the guy’s shoulders. Just a theory.

Sure, I’ve met a lot of stars through screen writing, on the job, but I was always drunk when I seriously got down with one or another of them. Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, Gibson of course, Rourke, Reed, and many many more. Including Liz.

I went to a party in Topanga Canyon sometime in the late 60s. At some point late in the evening, I was sitting in a room set up as a library/den, with a scrapbook on my lap full of photos of a family I didn’t know. I looked up and there was Liz, perched on the desk, materialized like a leprechaun, with a drink in her hand. She was in her mid-to late-thirties then. I remember that she’d made Virgina Woolfe and was married to Burton at the time.

I didn’t need beer goggles to see that she looked great. Like so often happens, she seemed smaller than you’d expect, but perfect in every way. Definitely not Martha from Woolfe, although she was as drunk as Martha at her worst. I was starstruck. Starstruck and drunk like her.

She asked me what I was reading and I held up the  album so that she could see the family pictures. Immediately she began to blubber. Then so did I, for no reason.

We both stood up and we were chest-to-chest. I couldn’t touch her there. She was drinking champagne with strawberries in it and I was drinking rye. Our fumes made our eyes water, and with the tears already there, Liz’s mascara ran down her cheeks. It made her look younger.

She saw the expression on my face.

“Relax,” she said. “In a couple of years, I’ll be a grandmother. Fame is fleeting.”

“You can say that again. In my case, it didn’t even slow down as it went by.”

“You remind me of Richard,” she said.

“Is he here?”

“If you’re him, he is.”

I’ve always liked dark hair and now I had my hands full of it.

Taylor, like all the greatest stars, had an aura. When I got within the length of my lips to her, I was so deep into it that I could have been standing on Mars, or in Heaven. Couldn’t think, or sense anything but her skin, the sound of her breathing. She was wearing something black and off the shoulder. We were both hot and the sheen of sweat on her breasts, the slickness, threw light from the overhead spots into my eyes. I only had a bit part but Liz gave me my cue.

With her in my arms, my melancholy hit, grief for my misspent life. Liz was crying again. We stood there trying to comfort ourselves in front of each other, with our eyes drifting, out of our control, to our half-empty glasses.

Before we left the room, I held out the album and asked her to autograph it. She picked up a pen from the desk and signed her name under one of the pictures in the middle of the book. I closed it and put it back on the shelf. When she died the other day, I thought about going back to see if the book was still there, but it never works to go back. I’m trying to never go back anywhere anymore. When she died, going back would have just made me sadder than I already was.