Wednesday, December 31, 2014
#15. Rock & roll hellfire, part 2. "The Rose," SHE LIVES!
#`15. Rock & roll hellfire, part 2. "The Rose," SHE LIVES!
Handing in a first draft is a butt-clenching process. It happens quickly but feels like forever.
You've been with it, all alone for months; those characters living and dying on the page, rippling through your dreams, sucking up the air wherever you are. It's a total takeover of trial and error.
I often worked ten hours a day, seven days a week, giving it everything I had. And some I didn't.
This wasn't exactly work work, you know, like carrying sheetrock or slinging huge blocks of ice in a peach packing shed (both of which I'd done). But it was so fulfilling, so concentrated that I had to leave notes for myself to vacuum, to water the houseplants, to change the cat litter...notes to remind myself to make more coffee, shower, and eat. One one of my lists, it actually said "make list." It seemed the only thing I could do on my own was write, pee, and smoke.
Almost every project I did in my thirty years, at some point seemed like a doomed good idea that had utterly consumed me on its way south. Looking back on it, it's probably how I motivated myself until I wrote FADE OUT and then my two favorite words: THE END.
Finally, the first draft is over. Suddenly all the blinds are torn open, the sunlight floods in from a dozen windows, and you are standing, pear-shaped and naked, in the middle of a strange room, filled with people who all turn and say sourly, "A hundred-and-fifty-one pages?" Now the relief turns into Fear and its psycho twin, Panic. Most scripts are a hundred-and-twenty pages.
In those pre-computer years, the idea of re-typing it to polish and cut, was completely overwhelming. I'm a 'touch typist' but slow, s l o w. Most writer deals guarantee a first draft and two sets of revisions: I'd wait and get some perspective on this moose. Hell with it, I'm handing in. Plus which, I need to get paid.
I stopped at the Farmers Market to get some nerve-building coffee and everyone seemed to be eyeballing me sideways, even June, the weird coffee lady who puts her makeup on with a garden trowel. Aren't scripts supposed to be shorter, she seemed to be asking. And yours is how long? "Do you want room for cream?"
My drive up Olympic Blvd to Fox seemed to take a week. At this point the guards at the main gate knew me as the long haired writer in the old Woody who fed the backlot feral cats. Normally, they waved me through. Not this time. One of the guards came to my window with a clipboard, checked me, checked the board, nodded. "Handing in today, huh?" Yeah. "Good luck."
Now my heart was pounding, I had a headache, my mouth was dry, and my old car radio suddenly quit right in the middle of Rod Stewart's donut song. "Every picture tells a story, donut," he wailed and then, silence.
In my short time as a screenwriter, I'd already had two Marvins, both at Fox, just down the hall from each other. One was Marvin Schwartz, Good Marvin that I wrote about mostly in #12, a man I loved and admired. This new one was clearly Bad Marvin...
Who, even though he knew I was coming in, was at a lunch meeting off the lot so I handed my script into his secretary. This was before I learned never to do that. She took it then weighed it in her hand and her eyes got big. By this time, I was sweating in places I had never sweated. That script had my sum total of rock and roll experience and imagination. And I knew it was simultaneously not enough and WAY too much.
I started to take it back from her. Her hand tightened. I pulled, she pulled harder and snatched it away. Quickly, she put in in one of her desk drawers, locked it, and dropped the little key down her secretarial showbiz cleavage. "You'll get used to it," she said. "In time."
But I never did.
Back home, even my cats were looking at me suspiciously. That cut it!
I sat down at my desk and went to work on the copy of the script I had made before I drove to Fox. Earlier that year, I had bought my own copy machine! It was absurdly expensive, orange and huge, and pulled so much juice, when you turned it on, the lights dimmed for a second. It was like the electric chair in those prison movies: "They're fryin' Lefty," I said every single time. But, baby, I loved that machine and I always had copies, one of which I mailed the next day to the Writers Guild script registration department. Something I'd learned from my "Last American Hero" debacle.
Then, I started polishing, cutting, adding, re-arranging, cutting some more, correcting typos (stiffening one page with so much White-out, you could hold it out straight by the goddamn corner). And for a while it actually seemed to get better.
But longer; counting my A and B pages, I now had 164 pages. Oh, no.
Too much dialogue, too many 'good lines,' too many funny but pointless stories. I was making it worse by making it better! And even though I had officially handed it in to Worth, I was dead flat afraid to show it to any of my friends, a chronic disease with me.
So I waited.
Then somewhere, someone heard that 20th Century Fox's president's long-haired son had convinced the old man that "The Rose" was a cool worthwhile project and even though they were looking for a new writer (shit!), it seemed now to have what they call a flashing green light! As my agent was putting me up for new jobs based on the (ha ha) success of this last one. Someone heard that one of the writers Fox went out to was the legendary Frank Pierson. Apparently he sent it back with a note that said while he would love to have their money, his advice was to shoot it exactly as written, it didn't need him or anyone else.
Umm, that was a pretty good day.
Then -- still no word of any kind from Worth -- I read in the trades, Fox had hired Mark Rydell, a director with actual credits, some of them impressive. By now, for reasons best known to drunken Hollywood angels, my agent J.P. had gotten me another job and I was off and running down some new tangent. Hollywood script development is a booming but wild hair business.
So they were now making their movie. And, as my name occasionally appeared in their publicity, I kept getting new job offers which re-tracked my mind on those things and the little house I'd bought up in Laurel Canyon; I G.I.ed it for under fifty grand! It only had one bathroom but it had a washer and a dryer! My first house, formerly owned by a former porn star named Rick Cassidy. And it had roses in he garden. I took it as an omen. Y'know...Roses? Where do I sign, baby?!
Then, I got a phone call from my mother back in North Carolina. She had just read in Bob Thomas' column in the Asheville Citizen Times that "somebody named Betty Midler is starring in Fox's 'The Rose.' Is that your movie, Puppy?" Yeah, Mom. I think it is.
About four seconds after I'd hung up from my mother's call, I telephoned Worth at Fox. And surprise, surprise --
He wouldn't take my call.
In fact I never heard from him again. But after someone had passed me a copy of the script (as it now stood), oh my, how I wanted to. I had gotten no farther than the rewritten title page to discover my name nowhere on it.
As I recall, it said "A Marvin Worth film. Written by Marvin Worth and Michael Cimino and Bo Goldman. From an idea by Marvin Worth. Producer -- Marvin Worth. For Marvin Worth Films @ 20th Century Fox." But no Chow Puppy. Not anywhere?
First of all, it's not unheard of for such a naked credit crab by a producer. They've often been with the script in all it's incarnations for so long and they are so familiar with it, they begin to think it's theirs. And in the beginning of his career, Worth had been a writer, so his water just sort of settled that way. But there is NO SUCH THING as an "idea by" credit. "Written by," "Story by," and "Screenplay by," that's pretty much it.
Man, I was steaming.
So I called my lawyer Barry. Then, he was steaming. After a very short and tightly focussed phone call he made to Worth the following day, Barry was messengered a new title page and a signed agreement that subsequently attached it to all scripts of "The Rose" on which "idea by" was eliminated, about half the other Worth credits disappeared and my name was added to the growing list of writers.
After I read the current "Rose" script, I thought it was pretty okay. There was lots of my work still in it and some new stuff that was real good. Later I found out most of it had come from Bo Goldman who has a cottage industry in Academy Awards. Dude can write. I say if you're going to get rewritten, please God, let it be by somebody great. That way your friends might think it was you.
Then, shooting was finally over and cast and crew were coming home.
When it came time for the pre-release Writers Guild credit arbitration, I began to prepare my case. This time I hired a friend named Cathleen Summers who drove a little red car and had cats and who was real pretty and so smart she had at least two brains, one of them purely for screenplays. She guided my brief, chapter and verse, to what I considered a successful conclusion: Screenplay by Chow Puppy and Bo Goldman, Story by Chow Puppy. And after a week it became official.
Aww-RIGHT! And thank God for Cathleen Summers.
As an invited bunch of us got off the plane in Dallas to see the sneak preview of "The Rose," we passed a electronic billboard that announced that the Dow Jones had just cracked 700! THAT'S how long ago this was.
It was the first time I had ever seen any part of the movie; my heart was hammering so loud, I thought surely they'd put me in the projection booth. Calm down, breathe, in and out, as the lights came down and the movie started.
Holy suckaroonie: 35MM, color, Cinemascope, mag stereo sound, even the little effects like a limo door slamming seemed four dimensional! And suddenly, there she was -- tiny Bette Midler staggering down the tour plane's stairs, half drunk, a little skimpy sixties dress clinging to her, a huge floppy hat bent low over her dark glasses as her manager, Alan Bates, looked at his rock and roll wreck with disgust.
It was everything I dreamed it would be. And then the titles began. Wow. Look at all those names, all those people in this movie I wrote. I was flying. They save the last titles for Writer(s), Producer(s), and Director. When the writer(s) titles came up --
THEY HAD SPELLED MY NAME WRONG.
Both times! My blood actually ran cold. And I am embarrassed to say that it was like ten minutes until the power of Midler's cyclonic performance pulled me back into the story, into the sweep of the movie.
The preview audience seemed to like it, even with its sad ending, and the dreaded opinion cards were good enough so the trip back to L.A. was a happy relief for all.
In fact my relief was so happy, two days later I went out and leased a Cadillac Seville. God, I loved my little house and Caddy; it's true, I'm a hillbilly. But a by-God American one!
When my lawyer Barry brought it to their attention, Fox apologized all over the place about misspelling my name in the titles, changed it at no small cost to them and then sent a huge floral arrangement to my house in the shape of the corrected letter. For a while, it looked like a Mafia funeral in my living room. Until my cats zeroed in on it. Then it looked more like the crime scene.
"The Rose" got some great reviews and some just meh. And one from a former restaurant critic who absolutely hated it. But Bette got the cover of "Rolling Stone" with an iconic shot by Annie Liebovitz and was universally praised for this courageous performance in her first film. She still says it's her favorite.
It opened in Westwood and the lines went down the block. I only drove by five or six times. I swear. For a long time (maybe even still) all its makers rode on the rocket coat-tails of Bette, the masterpiece song by Amanda McBroom, and its "dark" ending.
I happened to be in New York when "The Rose" opened there. Bette had started in the NYC baths, was a Big Apple darling, so it was a huge deal. My friend Jim Hart took me down to Times Square to see the campaign Fox had mounted. It was epic. The billboard took up what seemed like several buildings and the square itself. It had everything but the Camel guy blowing smoke rings. The display was so big, from down on the street, you could actually see my name as screenwriter.
And do you know, for about five minutes there, I was happy.
It was later that night I realized -- thank God -- that no matter how much praise I got, it would never really be enough. Because, for me, it only lasts about five minutes. Tops. So I would have to let that go and take my joy from the work itself, from the actual doing of it. And some of the people I would meet along the way. The Farrellys, Tony Bill, Mark Waxman, Hannah Hempstead, Warren Miller, Gilda Stratton, the Dunne family...
Which changed everything. I was finally out of that rock and roll hellfire. But this was Hollywood, Jake. And I'm me.
So of course, I immediately found a new one...which lasts until today.
Because I got sole story credit on "The Rose" when some people thought it'd possibly make an interesting Broadway type musical, I controlled the rights with Fox. So who were we to argue with them?
This is where I first encountered manager Pamela Cooper, daughter of the legendary Frank Cooper, the guy who discovered Frank Sinatra! She thought "The Rose" on Broadway was pretty good idea and signed on.
Still riding on Amanda McBroom and Bette's coattails, we fielded all kinds of offers: from London, from Sweden, from Australia, from Japan, from The Beatles' musical producer's son, from some actual track record folks who thought they might have famous unnamed pop star interested...right up until Ms. Unnamed broke up with her long term boyfriend and maybe saw the first draft script for the new "A Star Is Born" and got a good look at blue-eyed Bradley.
Hey, I never said her name.
But the one who put up some money to have me go to work on it, to develop it further was Karen, a whirlwind singer-florist who stuck with me through thick and thin, as we tarted our version around to every last human in America. If we didn't contact you, check your unread emails.
Once that went south, Pamela found a well-known producer named Gail Berman. She had a decades long relationship with Fox -- somewhere between helpful and crucial -- the check cleared and we got started all over again, this time without my so-called participation. Which is where it rests now.
Karen is going to sell flowers and run for Mayor of Newark, Pamela's clients are working and she herself was nominated for a Tony for "Come From Away." And I hope Gail will have a wild shot-in-the-dark success with "The Rose" somewhere, sometime in its new incarnation. These are tough minded, dedicated women, my favorite kind. But I would like to see it all happen before they have to wheel me down the aisle in an iron lung with a drool cup.
But now, I'm just here. Hanging around, telling you these stories, loving my wife, grateful for my life and friends. Much of which is fueled by the Writers Guild of America who kept everyone honest, and the men who recognized the car and filled the gas tank, Richard Moyer and Barry Beckerman.
Thanks again, guys.