Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Boxman Cometh'

Episode 20

Chris exited the office John, rolled up copy of Variety under his arm. "Any word on the Boxman?" he asked.

I sighed. "Nope."

"Not to panic," he advised. "Let’s hear it from the majority." He hit the office intercom button. "Dolly, me dear. What’s the news on the Boxman grapevine?"

Dolly’s voice crackled over the intercom speaker: "No sightings yet, Chris."

"Shit," Chris said. Then: "Sorry, Dolly."

He switched off. "Let the panic commence," he decreed. He got out the Remy Martin. Spiced each of our coffee cups with a couple of healthy glugs. Raised his cup. "Confusion to our enemies." We inhaled suitable quantities of the anti-panic recipe. "Speaking of enemies, what’s the skinny on Peter Thompson?"

A charming rogue, Peter was the head of production for MCA-Universal, and he really wasn’t our enemy. As a matter of fact, he was our self-proclaimed friend and mentor, who frequently claimed that he had our best interests at heart.

"He’s still in Hawaii," I replied.

"Thank God for that," Chris said.

"But, he’s due back tomorrow."

"Shit," Chris said again.

He climbed to his feet and went over to the window, looking down the street that cut through the warren of double-wide trailers that made up the Writer’s Village, set on the cement banks of the drizzle of water the natives grandly called the LA River.

Turning back, Chris said, "The son of a bitch is late to our firing." He slunk to his chair and goosed his coffee with more cognac.

"You ever been fired before?" I asked Chris.

"Sure," he said. "Several times. Once I was canned for throwing an electric typewriter through a window."

"Why, pray tell, did you assault the window?"

"Son of a bitch boss tried to tell me how to write."

"Don’t blame you," I said.

"When I was in the Army," Chris added, "they didn’t fire you. They just sent your ass to Vietnam."

"I remember when they did that," I said. Chris had spent a tour of duty in Long Range Recon, an Army commando unit. After he got tired of taking kids into the jungle to get killed, as he put it, he wrangled a post as a combat reporter for Stars And Stripes and survived the remainder of his tour unscathed, except for a small napalm burn on his trigger finger. (When you consider his original unit took 300% casualties, that was really saying something.)

I remembered something else: "Before that, they sent you to Korea."

"Wasn’t so bad," Chris said. "Nobody shot at me hardly ever and I didn’t get the clap even once."

"And didn’t they send you to Germany a couple of times?"

"That wasn’t getting fired. That was a reward for being such a good sojer," Chris said. Then added, "German girls are great, and so's the beer."

He fell silent a moment, a smile twitching his lips, remembering either the girls or the beer; or, more probably, both.

Got up again and went to the window for another look."Nary a Boxman in sight," he observed gloomily.

The Boxman's Buddy
Perhaps I should explain: The Boxman was the vice president of firing folks. He was a nondescript little guy with a bad toupee and a cheap suit. He drove a canopied golf cart around the studio lot, towing a small trailer. The trailer was filled with boxes.

Empty boxes.

Empty boxes suitable for stowing your stuff, whilst under the stern gaze of the boxman; and, if he sensed trouble, a couple of beefy rent-a-cops. Then you and your boxes were escorted off the lot.

At least once a day the Boxman would exit the Black Tower, square his glasses, straighten his toupee, then climb aboard his golf cart to go about the business of putting other folks out of business.

The way he sat in the cart, stiff with importance, little eyes fierce behind those thick glasses, he reminded you of Robespierre’s executioner, except he didn’t have a guillotine handy and was probably a lot shorter. But people swore they sometimes spotted blood on those boxes.

Secretaries and production assistants would track his movements throughout the lot. If he was coming toward their office, phones would summon one and all to the windows to see if he was going to stop. And if he did, would he head for their place, or hunt up another nearby victim?

When he passed, relief turned to fear for friends and people would call down the line: "He’s coming! He’s coming! The Boxman’s Coming! And he’s heading your way!"

Of course, every person who was fired didn’t get first news of their employment demise via the Boxman.

They had other ways. Bwaaa-haha.

It seemed to be an unwritten rule at MCA-Universal that you would be the last to know that you were for the chop.

Not for them, the proverbial pink slip in your pay packet. One of the Guys With The Big Telephones didn’t call you into his office in the Black Tower to deliver the news. They didn’t even have the courtesy to line their employees up, then bark, "Everybody with a job take one step forward - not so fast, Bunch and Cole."

The only guy I ever heard of who fired people face-to-face was Ken Johnson, the exec producer of The Incredible Hulk, and not technically a Suit. I was told that he’d issue a summons, then when you got yourself settled and pleasantries were exchanged, he’d pull a Bullwinkle moose hat from his desk drawer, put it on his head, then give you the ax in Bullwinkle’s voice.... Yuk., yuk, you’re fired, Rocky, old pal... But that probably had more to do with Kenny’s insecurities, than pure meanness.

Another way they got the message across was via the huge overhead menu boards at the studio commissary. If you were a big enough star, the chef was sure to name a sandwich after you. For example, a Jack Klugman sandwich (Quincy M.E.) was a Philly cheesesteak. (Our shared hometown.) A Tom Selleck sandwich (Magnum P.I.) was a foot long hot dog with a kosher pickle. (Don't ask.) And a Lorne Greene was a ham sandwich (Swiss cheese 25 cents extra.)

Anyway, if you were a star of that caliber, the first time you would become aware that you were unemployed is when you visited the commissary for lunch and saw your sandwich crossed out. And if your sandwich was canceled, so were you. The chef had that kind of clout. He was notified before the star, or even the star’s agent got the word. No kidding.

And so it was that people whose shows were in trouble checked the menu board daily and kept worried watch for the Boxman. Waiting in suspense for the empty boxes to fall.

Chris and I were in a different position than the others. We wanted to be canceled in the worst way. It was our fervent prayer to the Gods Of Writing, that our contract would be torn up and we could return to a life of freelancing TV episodes in order to support honest work writing novels.

As I mentioned in a previous MisAdventure, we were blackmailed into taking jobs as story editors for the abysmal Galactica 1980 by the aforementioned Peter Thompson. It was either that, or be blackballed from the lot. The contract was only for ten weeks to start with, but after ten weeks the Studio had the right to extend that contract for another seven years. But if the contract wasn’t picked up, the seven-year clause was null and void, and we were free, free, free.

It was the scariest ten weeks of our lives. We lived in daily fear that some dastardly miracle would occur and Glen Larson - creator of the show - would cease the writing of crap and let the pros go to work, causing the show to catch a healthy case of decent ratings.

Thank the Gods, he didn’t, and the show didn’t. Instead it sank lower and lower in the Nielsen ratings. The magic number, we were told, was 13. If the Nielsen ratings dropped lower than 13 ratings points, ABC television would cancel our asses. (Now, in these times of streaming TV, video games, social network diseases and splintered audiences, a 13 would be cause for celebration.)

We went so far as to post a huge number 13 above our office door, although we never told anyone what it meant. After all, they wanted their jobs. Needed them, even, to feed kids, shoe current wives and pay alimony to exes. 

If you check back to the previous chapter, you’ll note that Chris and I lucked out big time when they hired Vince Edwards (of brooding Ben Casey fame) to incompetently direct and ruin the two-part burning of the schoolship episode. It was not only a disaster, but a disaster boring to all but the folks who had to pony up several million dollars to shoot the sucker. (The episodes, not Vince Edwards... although it was rumored a hit man was briefly considered.)

After the shows aired, Chris and I holed up in our trailers, drinking Scotch and Remy, chanting: Come on, thirteen! Come on, thirteen!

Then we got another incipient stroke of luck. Just as the final days of our contract were running out, Peter Thompson took a vacation. He and his family flew to Hawaii for fun, surf and sun. And we knew then, that if the show was canceled, and the contract sands ran out while Peter was away, we Writer Mice could not only play, but we could beat feet for home.

While we waited with hope in our hearts that the Boxman would bless our day, the intercom buzzed. It was Dolly. "Freilich’s on the phone, boys."

"Aw, Jesus," Chris said. "What’s the EatAnter want this time?"

"You’ll have to ask him," Dolly said.

So we did.

"Guys," Jeff said. "Got some good news and some bad news."

"Okay, I’ll bite," Chris said to the speaker phone. "Gimme the bad news first."

"The show has officially been canceled."

Chris and I looked at each other. "There is a God," Chris murmured.

"Maybe even more than one," I whispered back.

I cleared my throat. Tried to sound sad. "Oh, that’s too bad, Jeff."

"But not unexpected," Jeff said. "Especially after Vince Edwards fucked us."

"You said something about good news?" I ventured.

"Yeah," Jeff said. "I got the gig as supervising producer of Battles.”

Battles was also a Glen Larson creation. Set in Hawaii, it was to star the hugely talented and hugely fat, William Conrad.

"How nice for you," Chris said, meaning it.

Birth Of The EatAnter
For an EatAnter, Jeff wasn’t too bad of a guy. For those just joining us, Chris had dubbed him the EatAnter after the whiny character in the B.C. comic strip.

"Not only that,” Jeff said, "but if your agent plays his cards right, I can bring you two on board as my story execs."

Chris turned beet-fucking red. He was ready to crawl through the phone, rip the EatAnter’s head off and shit in his neck. I held up a cautioning hand just in time to shut him up.

"Did you hear me guys?" Jeff said. "I got you jobs."

"Yeeeesss," I said, voice quavering. "We heard you…. Uh… Thanks, Jeff."

I wanted to say fuck you, keep your damned job and let us alone, but that would be a bad thing. We’d sound ungrateful, and Jeff was a steady and reliable source of freelance assignments. Besides, if we passed he’d call Peter Thompson in Hawaii and get him to blackmail us again.

"Oh, and listen, guys," Jeff went on. "We’re having a little party at my office. A wake, really. To say goodbye to the other people on the show. Come on over and drink a little champagne with us."

We said we would, hung up and silently polished off the coffee/Remy. Chris got out the Metaxa and we had a couple of shots of that fiery Greek cognac... just to let the Good Lord know we were serious... then headed for the wake.

Lorne was there. So was Kent McCord and Robyn Douglass. They were still in costume and makeup… They’d been in the middle of filming an episode titled Cleopatra when word came down to not only cut, but to cut forever.

Lorne greeted us with a wide smile. "We gave it our best, boys," he said. "Pity we didn’t have more support from on high. By that he meant Glen (The Ultimate Hack Writer) Larson.

Someone else muttered, "It was that fucking Susan Futterman’s fault."

Susan Futterman was the network censor and she did, indeed, do much to destroy the Galactica 1980. Since the show was aired during the FCC’s mandated children’s hour (7 p.m. - 8 pm) she insisted that we have what she called "educational beats." For example, in the middle of a car chase, she’d require us to insert a discussion explaining the workings of a combustion engine. And other exciting shit like that.

However, in truth, Susan was not to blame. The show was simply a very bad idea, guided by a lousy producer/writer who insisted on writing all the episodes himself, believing all the while that his words were golden. As Mark Twain said: "Ignorance is like bad breath. You don’t know you have it."

The party ended almost as soon as it began. When we took our leave Lorne slapped our backs and said, "Cheer up, boys. Maybe we’ll get a chance to work together again."

As you shall see a few episodes down the road, this was an unfortunate, but prescient, prediction.

Chris and I made our way back to the Writer’s Village. It was near the end of the day and somebody must have just finished a script, because half-a-dozen celebrating writers were out on the banks of the LA River, shouting hooray! and hurling empty bottles across the cement divide, trying to loft them onto the Bob Hope Golf Course on the other side.

"Let’s get moving, Cole," Chris said, "we’re missing the fun."

A squeaky little horn beeped behind us. And we stepped aside to allow a golf cart to pass.

We gaped.

It was pulling a trailer.

Beep! Beep!
And that trailer was filled with many boxes. And without a doubt those boxes were empty, because they were bouncing up and down. And behind the wheel of the golf cart was a small, nondescript man wearing a bad toupee and a cheap suit.

He stopped before our trailer, got out, squared his glasses and straightened his toupee. Then he marched to our office door and banged for entry.

"Holy shit," Chris said, in awe-filled tones. "It’s the fucking Boxman!

"We’re free Cole! Free! Free!"


Can't wait to read the blog each week to find out what happens next? 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.

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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 volumes on this side of the Atlantic. The first two volumes were issues at the end of 2016. Stay tuned for the publication date of the third and final volume

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.