HOLLYWOOD & MINE
“People in the East pretend to be interested in how pictures are made, but if you actually tell them anything, you find they are only interested in Colbert’s clothes or Gable’s private life. They never see the ventriloquist for the doll.”
I had become a suit, and I vowed to myself, if not anyone else, I would never forget movies were made on cavernous stages and dusty streets all over the world; not in the corporate tower where my old boss had held sway.
What of my old boss? The guitar-strumming scion of the old Hollywood family had decamped the area for the trout streams of Montana. We’ll back up here for a moment and go back to the night of the earthquake and the household of James Ellis in the ticky-tacky enclave of mansions off the 405. When the earthquake struck Mrs. Ellis woke, grabbed the hard hat she kept under the bed, jammed it on her head, then noticed Mr. Ellis was conspicuously absent. After looking for her errant husband for what seemed like an age, muttering imprecations the nicest of which featured the words “old fool,” she found him. He sat illuminated by her flashlight on the hill behind their house with an expression on his face that hovered between the beatific and the imbecilic. He smiled at her and said something about a 4/4 back beat rhythm leaking from the cracks in the earth and rising in a stream of luminous color unto heaven. He tilted back until he was lying on the ground, humming and grinning into the dark. As he later told the missus he had received a gift from an old friend, a one-time member of Ken Kesey’s 1960s countercultural seekers and psychedelic drug enthusiasts named the Merry Pranksters. The gift-giving prankster went by Sequoia (birth name Stan). Stan/Sequoia had never lost his conviction that drugs were the one true sacrament, as well as being the “key to the locked door of existence,” despite having made millions back in the eighties playing the stock market. It wasn’t a shock to Ellis therefore that the gift enclosed in a letter sent from the Merry Prankster’s distant ranch was some extraordinarily potent LSD “like Mother used to make,” not the low-grade stuff that was now prevalent. Knowing Mrs. Ellis didn’t approve of him taking anything stronger than Tylenol, he waited until she went upstairs with a headache and after making sure she was safely asleep he went outside and availed himself of the opportunity to view the world unshackled from the norms of consensus reality. That is to say he dropped a tab of acid and tripped his balls off. Bouncing through perception as he was, he determined he would like to repeat the journey on a regular basis, so he took early retirement and headed for a life off of the fault lines.
I do get distracted sometimes. Please forgive me. What was it I meant to say? Oh, yes. I remember. In Hollywood employees are contractually obligated not to squeal on social media about the internal workings of the dream factory. At the dawn of the cinema era the telephone was a novelty, telegraph ruled, and any scandal that splashed out onto the pages of the yellow press could kill a career, although, conversely good publicity could make one. By the time the 1930s rolled around publicity departments controlled the message, and by the 1990s that control was taken by large international corporations. Studio heads like Bob Brown spent a lot of time explaining movie-magic to those even higher on the ladder than he — in far-flung home offices — where high returns on investments were the ultimate, art and entertainment were considered product, and creative personalities were a confounding mystery. He presented a peppery disposition to the world to keep the corporate overlords at bay, and he had a real soft spot for people like… just like me. I could be his child. I loved the movie industry, I had come up through the ranks and respected the process, I shouldn’t say it but I will, I was a hell of a lot more diplomatic than he, and I wouldn’t take any nonsense from directors, agents, or anyone above or below the line. His assessment of my character was pretty much on point, except for that bit about not taking any nonsense from directors, one director specifically; but once again, we’re getting a bit ahead of our story…