Monday, June 18, 2012

Permanent Addresses

    There was a paperback book of that title some years ago, that offered a tour of the cemeteries in Hollywood, and I used to see people wandering around Westwood Memorial thumbing through it and checking the gravestones. My being there was less morbid than loving, because that is where my Donnie is, and many of the lustrous names that have passed from the scene, many of them buried on top of each other because space is limited, and it's very expensive real estate around here. I used that locale as the opening of West of Paradise, one of my lesser but still enjoyable books, doing it like a name-dropping tour of what might have been a party, but, as it turned out was a description of that locale. I remember it began "Natalie Wood was there, and..." you will have to get the book for the rest, as I don't remember, but it's very lively for what turns out to be that setting.
    The most important, of course, since nobody can kill her, is Marilyn Monroe, who is  in a wall, around the corner from where Peter Lawford used to be, but his wife couldn't make the payments, so he's been taken out and replaced with Harry Finley, a florist. You would think Harry's people could at least freshen up Marilyn's flowers because they clearly need livening up.
    When DiMaggio was alive there were fresh flowers there all the time, but now he's gone, too, and all the rest of those who might have paid court. But as we know, she is still very much alive, even though coming up is the 50th anniversary of her death, as already commemorated on the cover of Vanity Fair I picked up the other day on my walking tour of Beverly Hills, the terrible TV faux musical SMASH, and a Broadway musical by a producer friend of mine who never gives up even when an idea is terrible.
    Who else is nearby is Billy Wilder("I'm a writer, but Nobody's Perfect") and Jack Lemmon In (that's all it says on the upright gravestone, and then there's the sod,) and my favorite, Rodney Dangerfield: "There goes the neighborhood." But still creeping around are teenage girls checking out Marilyn. They could have at least brought fresh flowers.
    Marilyn's press agent was Arthur Jacobs, a hysterical(not funny, hysterical) man of a certain subterranean sweetness whom I dated before I met Don.  He took me to openings, which impressed me, and then usually drank too much and got angry, so it wasn't a lot of fun. He had been the press agent for Gene Kelly, whom you may remember was my dancing teacher in Pittsburgh, which info I imparted to Mr. Kelly, calling him that respectfully and enthusiastically when I met him at a party, when he brushed me quite literally aside to get to someone who mattered. The following Monday I got a call from Elliott Kastner, my agent at MCA, who said "Gene Kelly loves your script," and I said "REALLY?!!" Elliott said "He was your dancing teacher in Pittsburgh," and I said "He remembers?!!!" Then Elliott said: "He doesn't have any money," so I started to cry, and gave him an eighteen month option for $100 of which MCA took 10. (I still have the check stub: Eugene C. Kelly, it reads.) The property was WHAT A WAY TO GO, which was to earn a great deal of money for 20th Century Fox.   
    But right then, everybody suddenly got interested in it, as they should have been, because it was such a good idea-- a woman who wants to marry for love, and everybody she marries dies, only in comic ways, making her a richer and richer widow. I was twenty two maybe, and now I had to wait for Gene's option to expire. When it did, Arthur who had become a producer, wanted it. By now of course I had become more knowledgable in the ways of the town, so I let him have it for $500. At this point William Morris called me into their offices and said "If we had handled the deal, we would have gotten you x thousands for the story and another  xxxx thousands for the screenplay." The following Monday I went up to their offices, and said "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," holding in my hand the bounced check of Arthur Jacobs.
    They called the Coast, (we were in New York) and sent a wire(we still did in those days) to Arthur: 'Because of your check marked Insufficient Funds, 'blah blah blah the deal is off. "If you wish to re-negotiate the matter you may contact my agent, William Morris."
    So there it was, at too short last: I had the big end of the stick. Joe Schoenfeld, head of the movie dept. flew in from Hollywood, and we had a meeting-- all those who had blustered in my would-have been favor. They were curiously silent. "What do you want?" Joe asked. Nobody spoke. "I'm just asking for what your guys said they would get me," I said. Again, silence. It turned out they had represented Arthur Jacobs, and fired themselves.
    We ended up making a less than what they had said deal, and told Arthur it was my idea to hold onto the check until it bounced, and Arthur never spoke to me again. Still, being an ex-publicist, he announced it for several of the great women stars of the period: Sophia Loren, blah blah blah, and, last, but certainly not least, Marilyn Monroe. 
    She died the day she was to sign the contract.
    He ended up making the movie with Shirley MacLaine who was adorable and had affairs with several of the co-stars playing her husbands, who were all the handsome and talented men in Hollywood at the time: Paul Newman, Dean Martin, her big love, Robert Mitchum, Dick Van Dyke, and, oh, yes, of course, Gene Kelly. The movie was a lot less funny than the original screenplay, but oh well.
    I should have put some fresh flowers in her vase. But I had brought them for Don. Besides, her dying anniversary is coming up, and there will be picnic chairs all over the lawn at Westwood, as the harpies gather to commemorate the date, some of them in drag, some of in platinum wigs, some of them born after she'd been dead for decades. But you can't keep a good story down, even when it's in a wall.