Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How To Steal A Million Dollars


Land Of The Big Con
Chris said, "I flat don't get it."

"What's not to get?" This from Al Godfrey, our new mentor and exec-producer of Quincy M.E., starring Jack Klugman.

Chris said, "Okay, stop me if I get it wrong anywhere along the line. Klugman orders Peter Thompson - the guy you replaced - to buy a script from us. Right?"

Godfrey nodded. "You boys are two lucky sons of bitches."

"Yeah, yeah," Chris said. "But, what happens next is that old Peter informs us that Klugman's been wanting to do something about Pedophiles and how they bury themselves in the community to stalk our kids."

Godfrey said, "I'm with you so far. Still don't see anything to be confused about."

Chris said, "Well, hang fucking tight because it gets a little scary from here on in… We tell Peter, no problem. When do you want the story? And how long should it be?"

I break in, getting steamed just listening to Chris' recital. "And Peter tells us - 'Not to worry, boys. I have the story. You just do the research and when you're ready call me."

"Never mind that," Chris said. "He didn't have a fucking story. He lied to us. We had to come up with one on the fly. Then we go home, write the story. Get your notes and Peter's notes. Then write the script. Script's approved. Checks mailed to agent. Agent clips them for ten percent and sends them on."

Godfrey nodded. "That's how it works."

Christ snorted. "Well, riddle me this, Mr. Godfrey, sir. How come if we did all the damned work - with no help from Peter - that when the check showed up from fucking Universal Studios that we got screwed for two thousand dollars? And it turns out that the two grand went into the pockets of - guess who - Peter Thompson."

Godfrey shrugged. "Easy," he said. "That was Peter 's share. He had the story, remember?"

Chris was exasperated. So was I, but I kept my mouth shut. This was a learning opportunity if ever saw one. A lesson, as it happens, that cost us two thousand dollars so I didn't want to miss a word.

My partner persisted. He said, "It's not Peter 's story. He didn't write - or think up a word of it."

Godfrey said, "Of course, it's his story." He jabbed a finger at the stationary on his desk, headed MCA-Universal - Business Affairs. "Says right here it's his story. Credit he generously shared with you and Allan. And, pal, if fucking Business Affairs says so, it's So. Just ask them."

Chris made a noise of heart-felt disgust. "Peter 's the freaking head of production for the largest studio in the whole freaking world. What's he need two grand of our measly script money for?"

Godfrey said, "I'd like to say it isn't the money. But in This Town money is always a major part of the story. Guys like me and Peter live way over our heads. We have to drive the nicest cars. Live in the nicest houses. Send our kids to the best private schools. Wine and dine and fuck the sexiest and most expensive starlets… You know. Keep up appearances."

"Yeah, but two grand?" Chris said in a dismissive tone. "What's two grand to him?"

Despite his protest, however, my partner's outrage was starting to wane. Beating your head against the wall called Studio Business Affairs can be weary work.

I said, "You mentioned that money wasn't Peter 's only motive. "What other reasons are there?"

Godfrey leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head. He said, "In a word - Credit. And the bottom line is that Peter was more after the Above The Line Story Credit than the money." (Above The Line on the End Reel are the names of the producers, directors, writers, actors and other "creative" personnel. The Below The Line credits are everybody else, from makeup to the guys who provide the portable Johns on location.)

We gave our new mentor blank stares.

Chris said, "Credit? He's got fucking credit." He jabbed a finger at the Business Affairs document. "Says right there he was fucking Executive Producer."

Godfrey sighed - such innocents. "In this business," he said, "there is nothing lower than a writer. But if a non-writer wants to go places in the world of the Suits he'd better have some writing credits to go along with his masters degree in pencil pushing and pissing on the peons."

"Peter claims he has a degree from the London School of Economics," I said.

Godfrey chuckled. "Yeah, and if you fucking believe that you'll probably believe that he was classmates with Mick Jagger."

"He's too old," Chris said.

Godfrey raised a cautionary finger. "Never tell an old fart he's too old," he said. "It will be the end of your career."

"Gotcha, boss," I said. Amused, because Godfrey himself had claimed he was about our age, when he was clearly ten years or more older.

I steered back to the point. "Are you saying that Peter wants his bosses to think that he's actually a writer, who got interested in production"

"Fuck no," Godfrey said. "But if he can flash a few credits to The Guys With The Big Telephones, it'll show that he has a creative streak. But not so much of one that he's gonna go sideways on them. Develop a case of integrity. Or fucking honesty."

"Honesty?" I said. "Heaven forefend."

Godfrey cocked an eye at me. He said, "If you ever use the word 'forefend' in a script you write for me you can look for it the next day at the County Dump."

Just then we were joined by the new Quincy story editors - Chris Trumbo and Jeff Freilich. Drinks were made, smokes fired up and we all settled back to get to know one another.

It turned out that Chris Trumbo was the son of the legendary blacklisted screeenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Spartacus, Exodus to name just two -  while Freilich - a medical school dropout - hailed from the shores of Roger Corman, king of the down and dirty drive-in movie makers.

"It was one hell of an education,' Freilich said - speaking not of the medical school part, but of working for Roger Corman. "You only had a few thousand bucks to make whatever flick Roger assigned you. Which meant you really had to use your imagination and cheat like hell to shoot the movie. The real beauty was that if you stuck to the few basics Roger required - 'I want Women In Chains Meets Dracula - you could say or do pretty much anything you wanted."

"Sounds like old Black Mask Magazine," my partner opined. "Stick to the basic formula and you had a free hand. That's where the best writers in the detective story business, like Raymond Chandler, got their start."

While they were all talking, I was thinking about the cheapo movies that Corman and his ilk made, some of which were (accidentally) good. Most turned a large profit and even the worst never lost a dime on the drive-in, neighborhood movie circuit. (Today, it's DVD rentals and Streaming Video.)

Meanwhile, the studios regularly lost their silk shirts on Big Bucks Productions, and had to count on one or two bonanza films every year or so to pay the bills. These days they call them 'Tent Pole' pictures and they consist of endless sequels of mindless movies aimed at teenage boys, who consume so much popcorn and drink so much Coke that they keep the zillion dollar entertainment business afloat.

I asked Jeff, "What if Corman gave you a million dollars. What could you do with that?"

Freilich laughed. "Shit, with a million dollars I could have re-made Ben Hur, complete with the chariot race. Of course, we'd have to shoot it in Italy, or southern Spain, but hell, their prop masters probably have dozens of old movie chariots on hand. And there's plenty of period footage we could buy for the price of a pizza."

At the time, studio movies averaged ten million bucks or so, which shows you how long ago this was. Currently, film budgets are hammering on the gates of $500 million. Stars like Johnny Depp ring up paydays of $50 million or more. 

I turned to Godfrey, "So tell me Al, if you can make a million dollar movie - one that's guaranteed to turn a profit - why don't the studios make ten, one million dollar movies that will all make a bundle… instead of one ten million dollar movie that's probably going to lose money?"

Godfrey gave me a pitying look - oh, you poor putz. Then he proclaimed, "Allan, the reason the studios make Ten Million Dollar Movies, instead of One Million Dollar Movies, is that you can't fucking steal a million dollars from a million dollar movie."

That was our first real lesson in Hollywood money, which Eddie Murphy calls "Monkey Bucks," and it pretty much explained everything you needed to know about the business - including how Peter Thompson ended up with some of our money in his pockets.

"It's like points on the project," Godfrey said. "You are never going to see any, because the points are based on gross profits and no studio in Hollywood will ever make a movie that shows an actual gross profit that points can be levied against."

Godfrey told us that recently he'd been offered two points on a multi-million dollar project and he'd said, "I'll swap those two points for a flat ten thousand dollars cash."

The deal maker looked at him, hurt in his eyes. "Come on, Godfrey," he said. "Play fair."

As the conversation moved on, Chris sat there silently for a time. Which was quite unlike him.

Finally, he piped up: "You know, if Cole and I had known that Hollywood was like the plumber's, or the electrician's union, and that all you had to do was grease somebody's palm to break in - well, fuck, man! We'd have paid somebody two thousand dollars years ago."

Quincy Postscript: As time went by we met every chance we could with Godfrey - so much that Scotty just waved us through the gate and didn't bother to ask what we were up to. And we spent many an evening pitching stories and shooting the breeze with Al, and Trumbo and Freilich.

We even sold another script to Al - The Money Plague - which was about anthrax-infected money getting into the system through a neighborhood bank. (A greedy story editor managed to grab some of the credit on that one as well.)

Al lasted one season - a very successful season - and another producer came on board. Several others followed. Klugman chewed through producers like he chewed through dialogue. (Quincy scripts had to be twenty pages longer than most because Klugman talked so fast.)

Godfrey was philosophic about what he knew would be his eventual demise.

"If I do my job right," he said, "I can keep the numbers up and the show a hit. But eventually, I'm going to make Jack mad. And then I'm gone. No worries, though. I had that eventuality covered in my contract."

Meanwhile, over the following seasons we sold several more scripts, and were such old pros at Quincy that the new producers used to call us - a couple of freelancers - to ask vital questions, such as: What's Quincy's first name? Answer: He didn't have a first name, just the initial "R."

Another: What was Sam's (Quincy 's sidekick, played by the multi-talented Robert Ito ) last name? Answer: Fujiyama. And yes, he was a doctor too, although few writers, except us, ever referred to him with that honorific.

Quincy M.E., ran for eight hit seasons, ending in 1982 - not because the ratings were down. The show was always in the top ten or close to it. Jack Klugman was worn out with the incredible effort he put into the program and was having continuing problems with his voice. He called it a day, bowing out at the top of his game. He gave them hell for many more years, finally hanging it up at age 90. 

An interesting side note on Godfrey 's comment about the firewall he'd built into his contract:

Glen Larson was the creator of Quincy - a guy I'll be telling you a lot more about later on in greater and more horrific detail. Old Glen had a PhD in "borrowing" other people's ideas and making them into (usually low brow) hits.

He probably would have ruined Quincy, one of the most honored shows in TV history, with an impact that reached all the way to Congress. But he didn’t stick around much past the first season.

 Old hands on the show told us that Klugman and Larson were butting heads before the cameras started to roll.

Klugman demanded quality. He wanted realistic stories based on fact. Stories that meant something and that had decent dialogue for the actors to speak.

Surely, Glen may have wondered - Is Jack fucking nuts?

As you may have gathered, Larson was an unlikely source for any of the things Klugman demanded. Larson’s motto was: Whatever works, works. The rest is bullshit.

Despite these problems, Quincy was a huge a hit. It started out as one of the shows in the NBC "Mystery Wheel." The other members of the wheel were "McCloud," "MacMillian and Wife, " "Banacek," and "Columbo." All good programs. Each getting two hours per episode - just like a movie, with all the production values that a movie has.

When the Network - in its stupidity- broke up the wheel, Quincy became a regularly scheduled one hour program and Klugman - we were told - said either Larson was off the show, or he was.

Larson lost.

Well - not really.

Actually, Glen Larson probably never lost a dime of his own money in his professional career. We were told that his payoff was in the neighborhood of fifty thousand dollars an episode to stay away from the show. That's fifty thousand dollars in 1979 money, which, according to my inflation calculator, would be $145,846.11 today.

Which is one hell of a restraining order.

I’d take that deal, wouldn’t you?

Anyway, at this point in the game, Chris and I were all but made.

But two things had to occur before our success was semi-assured.

One concerned Sten - the first novel in a series that what would turn out to be an international science fiction hit.

The second had to do with a big fucking shark.



Can't wait to read the blog each week? No problem. Click the following link and buy the book. 

Tales Sometimes Tall, but always true, of Allan Cole's years in Hollywood with his late partner, Chris Bunch. How a naked lady almost became our first agent. How we survived La-La Land with only the loss of half our brain cells. How Bunch & Cole became the ultimate Fix-It Boys. How an alleged Mafia Don was very, very good to us. The guy who cornered the market on movie rocks. Andy Warhol's Fire Extinguisher. The Real Stars Of Hollywood. Why they don't make million dollar movies. See The Seven Pi$$ing Dwarfs. Learn: how to kill a "difficult" actor… And much, much more.

Here's where you can buy it worldwide in both paperback and Kindle editions:

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Hear voice artist Colin Hussey's 
Bring all the stories and people 
To life in the audiobook version
Of My Hollywood MisAdventures.



Ever since my British publisher put all eight novels in the Sten series in three omnibus editions, American readers have been clamoring for equal treatment. 

Well, my American publisher – Wildside Books – was listening and is issuing all three omnibus omnibus volumes on this side of the Atlantic. Sten Omnibus #1 was published 
last month. Sten Omnibus #2 debuts this week. Stay tuned for the publication for Volume Three. 

THE TIMURA TRILOGY: When The Gods Slept, Wolves Of The Gods and The Gods Awaken. This best selling fantasy series now available as trade paperbacks, e-books (in all varieties) and as audiobooks. Visit The Timura Trilogy page for links to all the editions. 

NEWLY REVISED KINDLE EDITIONS OF THE TIMURA TRILOGY NOW AVAILABLE. (1) When The Gods Slept;(2) Wolves Of The Gods; (3) The Gods Awaken.



A NATION AT WAR WITH ITSELF: In Book Three Of The Shannon Trilogy, young Patrick Shannon is the heir-apparent to the Shannon fortune, but murder and betrayal at a family gathering send him fleeing into the American frontier, with only the last words of a wise old woman to arm him against what would come. And when the outbreak of the Civil War comes he finds himself fighting on the opposite side of those he loves the most. In The Wars Of The Shannons we see the conflict, both on the battlefield and the homefront, through the eyes of Patrick and the members of his extended Irish-American family as they struggle to survive the conflict that ripped the new nation apart, and yet, offered a dim beacon of hope.



A True Story About A Boy,
A Teacher, And Earthquake,
Some Terrorists And The CIA

LUCKY IN CYPRUS is a coming-of-age story set in the Middle East during the height of the Cold War. An American teenager – son of a CIA operative – is inspired by grand events and a Greek Cypriot teacher. 

He witnesses earthquakes and riots and terrorist attacks, but in the end it is his teacher’s gentle lessons that keep him whole.

Here's where to get the paperback & Kindle editions worldwide: 

Here's what readers say about Lucky In Cyprus:
  • "Bravo, Allan! When I finished Lucky In Cyprus I wept." - Julie Mitchell, Hot Springs, Texas
  • "Lucky In Cyprus brought back many memories... A wonderful book. So many shadows blown away!" - Freddy & Maureen Smart, Episkopi,Cyprus. 
  • "... (Reading) Lucky In Cyprus has been a humbling, haunting, sobering and enlightening experience..." - J.A. Locke,



What if the Cold War never ended -- but continued for a thousand years? Best-selling authors Allan Cole (an American) and Nick Perumov (a Russian) spin a mesmerizing "what if?" tale set a thousand years in the future, as an American and a Russian super-soldier -- together with a beautiful American detective working for the United Worlds Police -- must combine forces to defeat a secret cabal ... and prevent a galactic disaster! This is the first - and only - collaboration between American and Russian novelists. Narrated by John Hough. Click the title links below for the trade paperback and kindle editions. (Also available at iTunes.)


A novel by Allan and his daughter, Susan

After laboring as a Doctors Without Borders physician in the teaming refugee camps and minefields of South Asia, Dr. Ann Donovan thought she'd seen Hell as close up as you can get. And as a fifth generation CIA brat, she thought she knew all there was to know about corruption and betrayal. But then her father - a legendary spymaster - shows up, with a ten-year-old boy in tow. A brother she never knew existed. Then in a few violent hours, her whole world is shattered, her father killed and she and her kid brother are one the run with hell hounds on their heels. They finally corner her in a clinic in Hawaii and then all the lies and treachery are revealed on one terrible, bloody storm- ravaged night.

BASED ON THE CLASSIC STEN SERIES by Allan Cole & Chris Bunch: Fresh from their mission to pacify the Wolf Worlds, Sten and his Mantis Team encounter a mysterious ship that has been lost among the stars for thousands of years. At first, everyone aboard appears to be long dead. Then a strange Being beckons, pleading for help. More disturbing: the presence of AM2, a strategically vital fuel tightly controlled by their boss - The Eternal Emperor. They are ordered to retrieve the remaining AM2 "at all costs." But once Sten and his heavy worlder sidekick, Alex Kilgour, board the ship they must dare an out of control defense system that attacks without warning as they move through dark warrens filled with unimaginable horrors. When they reach their goal they find that in the midst of all that death are the "seeds" of a lost civilization. 



Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969
In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with  a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is  "The Blue Meanie,"  a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself.

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