I stared at the blank sheet of paper rolled into the typewriter. Typed a few words - the kind that go nowhere. Back spaced. XXXX'ed over them. Hit carriage return - ding! - and was rewarded with a fresh field of… nothingness.
I heaved a great sigh. It was one of those sighs that well up from some dark and dismal place where poor ink-stained wretches cower, groaning under the weight of Day Job chains.
Chris said, "I know how you feel, partner."
I looked up at him - leaning on his putty-colored IBM Selectric. Face as gloomy as my own.
He said, "Starting to wonder if we're nothing but a couple of fucking one-shot wonders?"
I said, "After the Quincy sale, I thought we'd finally made it. That pretty soon the phone would be ringing with all kinds of offers. Instead: Zip, Bam, Boom, Splat! Nada. Nothing."
Chris said, "Maybe I ought to call Larry. Goose him a little."
That would be our agent - Larry Grossman - who'd convinced us to move our focus from writing spec movie scripts that never got past the option stage, to television, where we'd managed to make our first sale to Jack Klugman, star of Quincy M.E. Which was sort of like one of the modern CSI shows, but a whole helluva lot better.
Chris and I were still holding down the above-mentioned Day Jobs. Me, as the wire editor at a newspaper; Chris as a freelance magazine writer. Then we got together for another 36 hours a week trying to sink rejection-blunted teeth into careers writing screenplays and books. We were both recently divorced - I was paying alimony and child support; while Chris was making a big payout to get out from under his Ex, who had filed claim to everything he'd written since that once-blissful wedding day.
In short, quitting our Day Jobs in wispy Fairyland hopes of landing another TV gig was not an option. The formula was simple. For Chris: F(ailure) = B(ankruptcy), plus seizure of his beloved Kawasaki Z1. For me: F(ailure) = J(ail).
I said, "Maybe I should take point with Larry this time. Tell him how we're on the edge, here. One more deal - please, please - and we can tell our bosses to sit on their jobs and rotate."
I reached for the phone, but it rang before I could lift the receiver.
Across the room, Chris laughed. "Watch," he said. "It'll be fucking Larry."
And, damn, if it wasn't. I signaled Chris, who picked up his end.
Larry said, "I think we have an opportunity here, boys."
I said, "That's great, Larry. What's up?"
He said, "They're doing a spinoff of B.J. And The Bear over at ABC and there's some openings for writers."
Chris said, "B.J. And The Fucking Who?"
Larry sighed. "I told you boys to - Oh, never mind… B.J. is patterned after that Clint Eastwood movie - the funny one. Every Which Way But Loose? You've heard of that, right?"
Chris said, "We're both big Eastwood fans. Never miss any of his shit."
I came in, adding, "Clint's a trucker in that one, right? And he's got an orangutan as a sidekick."
"It's the same with B.J. And The Bear," Larry said. "Except, instead of an orangutan, he has a chimp. And instead of Eastwood, we've got Greg Evigan, the latest teen heart throb."
I said, "Not a very original idea, is it? I mean, Eastwood's making a sequel, last I heard."
Larry laughed. "Original? Please, Allan. It's a Glen Larson project. He's an expert at taking hit movies, and turning them into hit television shows."
"You mean, he bought the rights to the Eastwood movie?" Chris asked. "Must've cost a fucking fortune."
Another laugh. Geesh, how naive could we get? Larry said. "I told you it was LIKE the Eastwood movie. But not so much that Larson has to pay anybody anything."
"That's a helluva fucking talent," Chris said. (We would soon learn firsthand how much of an understatement this was.)
"It certainly is," Larry said, ignoring the sarcasm. (Agents usually do.) "That's why Glen has so many shows on television. Including this spinoff that I'm calling about - The MisAdventures Of Sheriff Lobo."
"I like the title," I said. And it was true. It was a good title. "What's it about?"
"A crooked sheriff," Larry said.
Chris gave a thumbs up. We were both starting to like this better and better.
"It stars Claude Aikins," he added.
"Fuckin' A," Chris said. "Damn, this thing might end up having some class."
A long silence on the other end.
"Larry?" I said. "Larry?"
"I did mention this was a Glen Larson show - didn't I, boys?" he said.
We admitted that he had.
"Let me also add that one of the standing sets in this small town is a disco skating rink, where lots of pretty girls, wearing hot pants and halter tops, do hot dances with their hunky boyfriends."
Chris made a face but I waved him down before he could say anything.
I said to Larry, "The show's not on yet, right?" He said it wasn't. "Well, could we possibly see a copy of the pilot script, so we can come up to speed on the premise?"
"It's my understanding," Larry said, "that the pilot script isn't ready written yet."
"So how do we-"
"Not to worry," Larry came in. "The story editor is a friend. I'm sure he'll be happy to send over the scripts for the two-part B.J. And The Bear that introduced Claude's character. Maybe I can even get him to send us the tapes for the shows."
We got off the phone. Looked at each other.
"Hot pants on roller skates, huh?" Chris said. "Not exactly The Great Gatsby, is it?"
I said, "Make us a couple of scotches and it'll go down better."
It did. Sort of. Mantra Chant: Ditch The Day Job… Ditch The Day Job... Ditch The…
Later, we checked in with Al Godfrey - the exec producer at Quincy, which was between seasons, so no gigs there. Al, our new, self-appointed mentor, was wise to all the goings-on at Universal Studios, where Glen Larson hung his many Created-By hats. As it happened, Larson had also created Quincy, but only lasted one season before Klugman had him kicked off.
"Lobo, huh?" Godfrey said. "Now, that's a show in trouble before it's even started."
We asked what the problem was.
"Two words," Godfrey said. "Glen Fucking Larson."
I didn't bother mentioning that was three words, assuming - correctly as it turned out - that the expletive always accompanied the name. Sort of like "Fucking Television" was one word in Hollywood parlance.
Instead, I said, "How so? From what Larry said, Larson might not be the most original guy on the lot, but he's certainly successful enough."
Godfrey said, "He gets balled up when he's writing. Can't get started on the Fade In, and when he finally does, he can't figure out when to stop."
Chris said, "We were told they didn't have a pilot script yet. Is Larson supposed to be writing it?"
"It's in the deal for the show," Godfrey said. "So far, he's produced nothing but shit. Word is, Fred Silverman is getting ready to pull the plug - unless Glen comes up with a really hot idea. And can then deliver it."
Young and dumb as we both were, Chris and I knew that Fred Silverman was the Guy With The Biggest Telephone at ABC. (Which Chris later dubbed, the Anything But Class network.) Rumor had it that they had whole teams of kiddie vice presidents at Universal Studios, whose sole purpose was make sacrifice to Silverman every week when the Nielson Reports were delivered. Some said they used a white bull calf. Others, the most recent vice president to turn 30.
Chris said, "So, no fucking pilot - No fucking show. Is that how it goes?"
"You got it," Godfrey replied.
Something had been bugging me and although it was probably a stupid question, I just had to ask. "What's this thing Hollywood has about monkeys? They're always putting them in movies, and I don't just mean Tarzan. And they are forever sticking them in episodes of television shows.'
"Simple," Godfrey said. "A lot of guys in the business are convinced that monkeys will bump up your ratings six points. It's supposed to be the same with kids, but monkeys are cheaper and you don't need a teacher."
"Is it true?" I asked.
Godfrey laughed. "I think tits and ass work better than monkeys and so does Larson, but he'll throw anything at the screen he can think of to get a hit. I heard he's doubling down with Lobo. Girls in hot pants and wet T-Shirts bouncing around at a disco roller rink. And if you've ever watched B.J., the first thing you'll notice is that every episode begins with a big-titted damsel in distress stranded by the highway. "
Chris snorted. "Fucking Hollywood," he said.
"It's what pays the bills," Godfrey said. "Always been that way. Ever see any of those old pre-Hays Code flicks? They're like bachelor party Smokers, except with production values."
A couple of days later we'd gone through the B.J. two-parter - both in script form, and the VHS tapes the nice story editor at Lobo had sent over. On a scale of one to ten, the scripts stunk. But, there was nothing to do but hold our noses and dive into storyland. The fact that it starred Claude Aikins, was a big help.
We already had the requisite six stories ready for the pitch meeting when - the day before the appointment - I came across an interesting wire story at work. It was one of those funny little change-of-pace pieces that UPI and AP provide their clients to lighten up the daily ration of doom and gloom.
The article was about a little country town that would have dried up and blown away for lack of business - and interest - if they didn't have this big catfish contest once a year.
The contest had been going for ages and the top prize was many thousands of dollars. Making things even more interesting was the legendary 100-year-old catfish, supposedly of whale-like dimensions, that had been eluding the best catfish hunters in America for lo these many decades.
Later, I showed it to Chris and he said, "Hot damn. That's our sale."
The story we developed put that fishing contest in Sheriff Lobo's town. Naturally, being so crooked that he has to screw his socks on when he gets up in the morning, Lobo schemes on how to collect the big bucks of that contest.
The twist was that while chasing a Perp (who refused to cough up the customary payola) Lobo crashes into the lake - accidentally killing the legendary catfish- which turns out to be just as big as the old timers claimed. Then he spends the rest of the episode trying to wriggle out of his dilemma, complicated by some escaped convicts after the Catfish Festival Prize Money, and other such nonsense.
We met with the story editor - who we thought was a firzzly old fart, meaning he was about fifteen years younger than I am now. He was a nice guy. Listening to all of our pitches, including the one about the fish. Giving no hint of whether we were heroes or goats, he said he'd get back to us.
Believing we had blown it, we retired to my house and morosely mixed a couple of scotch and waters, light on the water.
We were analyzing out pitch moves, when the phone rang. I answered. It was the story editor.
"I want to put a pin in that fish story," he said.
My heart pounding, I gave Chris a thumbs up. "Does that mean you want to buy it?" I asked, rather stupidly.
"It does," he replied.
"That's wonderful," I gushed. "How much time do we have? I mean, when do you need the story?"
There was a pause, just long enough to make me wonder if this was going to be another one of those Peter Thompson deals. Would he demand two thousand dollars of our script money? Could we bargain him down?
Then he said, "We don't want you to write anything. Glen Larson is going to write it. We'll just buy the story and you sit back and spend the money."
I was disappointed. "That's great," I said. "But we'd really like to write the story ourselves."
Another long pause. More suspicions buzzed in my breast.
The guy said, "It's like this, Allan. Right after I saw you guys I had lunch with Glen and Fred Silverman. We were discussing what the best angle would be for the Lobo pilot."
After our conversation with Godfrey, I had an inkling what that meeting with Silverman was really about: Where's my fucking pilot?
"Anyway, while we were having lunch," the story editor continued, "that Studio Tour tram came around and went through the Jaws ride. You can see it from the commissary."
Named after the Spielberg movie, the Jaws ride sat just outside the studio cafeteria and diners had a wonderful view of all the tourists squealing as Bruce The Shark rose up out of the depths, jaws gaping, deadly plastic teeth gleaming, and made a grab for them. Shrieks of pleasure, then Bruce would retreat back into his mechanical kingdom beneath the Jaws pond. (Remind me to tell you what they found one day when they drained the Jaws pond to clean it.)
"Okay...." I said, not knowing what to expect.
"Well, Silverman saw Bruce, then turned to Glen and said he wished we could work a Jaws thing in somehow. Take advantage of all that hoopla. And so I told him I had a couple of guys in a little bit ago who were pitching a fish story."
"But our fish is a catfish," I protested. "It's a big catfish, sure. But it's definitely not a shark."
The story editor got a laugh at this. "Well, it's a fucking shark now," he said. "And Glen's going to write the script because Fred Silverman insists on it. And whatever Silverman says, goes."
"Okay," I said, still a little disappointed.
He asked for our agent's name, hung up, and I told Chris about the deal. He was just as disappointed, the good news being that at least we'd have some story money in our jeans. And wondering if Larson was going to skim off some of our money. And if so, how much?
A little later the phone rang again. This time it was our agent.
"Good news on the Sheriff Lobo front, Allan," Larry said.
"Yeah, I know," I said, sounding not that enthusiastic. "We sold the story, but we can't write it."
"Who cares?" he chortled. "I got you guys double?"
I was confused. "Double what?"
"Double story and script," he replied.
I was dumbfounded. "But we're not going to write the story or the script," I said. "Glen Larson is."
"You'll still get double," he said. "Plus story and script credit. And that's credit for a pilot, young man. A pilot that will actually be shot. That almost never happens. Especially with new guys."
"How the Hell did you do that?" I asked, a bit numb.
"The guy kicked and screamed," Larry said, "but I pointed out that Fred Silverman, himself, asked for the story. So that makes it worth double - with full credit - at the very least."
"But our story was about a catfish," I said. "This one's about a shark?"
Our agent laughed. "Do you really give a damn, Allan?"
He had me there.
I thanked him, hung up, and turned to fill Chris in. He listened carefully, a big, shit-eating grin growing across his face.
"That's it," he boomed. "That's fucking it! Call your boss tomorrow and tell him to take his job and shove it."
Consider the following: In the summer of 1979 a one-hour script went for $10,000. Double would be $20,000. According to my handy-dandy inflation calculator in today's dollars that would equal $69,874.45. Or, roughly $35,000 each.
In short: the next day I quit.
Here's where you can buy it worldwide in both paperback and Kindle editions:
LUCKY IN CYPRUS:
A True Story About A Boy,
- "Bravo, Allan! When I finished Lucky In Cyprus I wept." - Julie Mitchell, Hot Springs, Texas
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NEW: THE AUDIOBOOK VERSION OF
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.)
Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969