Breaking into writing (meaning getting paid) or crashing the gates of Hollywood or bettering your lot in life takes access. In other words, getting ahead in life boils down to “who you know.”
We’ve all heard the story of how the movie star Lana Turner was discovered at the soda counter of Schwab’s Drug Store in Hollywood. Somebody is supposed to have walked up to her and said, “I can make you a star.” Supposedly the same thing happened to Rock Hudson and dozens of others. So goes that serendipity factor in our lives.
The examples of Lana and Rock belong to the past. Nowadays there isn’t a counter at Schwab’s in Hollywood. The building was torn down thirty years ago and no replacement venues have sprung up to help the desperate would-be writers and actors.
Access these days mainly costs money, not luck. Would-be writers and actors are subject to pay to join workshops, writing contests, or online seminars. In other words, access to fame is something you must be ready to pay for these days. If you buy any of the books listing agents, you’ll see that each and every one of them is charging people access fees via workshops.
Then there are the Internet lists—like The Black List. You can pay them monthly to list your screenplay along with a log line (twenty-five words or less synopsis.) For coverage (meaning a mini-review of your work) the price goes up considerably. Contests are raging too. Both of these access venues cost money and guarantee nothing except more than likely you are going to go broke promoting yourself.
I’d say these days you’d do much better to buy a ticket to Southern California or New York, join an Alcohol Anonymous group in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Malibu or New York City and make friends with successful former alkies. You could do just the opposite. Hang out in fashionable water holes such as the Polo Lounge, Wolfgang Puck’s, Sardi’s, The Russian Tea Room, etc. and buy people drinks. Your chances are infinitely better than paying The Black List a fee or joining a workshop or entering one of the many contests. In all of these, you are merely joining thousands of other frantic would-bes in trying to win access.
Remember, the days are practically gone where you can sit at a soda fountain and expect Dame Fortune to send one of her knights to rescue you from ignominy. So the very few spots that still exist like I mentioned in the preceding paragraph are much more rewarding than a workshop or contest or a fee for listing.
In the past, we tended to let fate make our decisions for us. In the present, we try to force fate to make our decisions for us by paying up front.
This comes around to me. How did I ever get any money out of writing and a somewhat decent reputation as a writer? I touched on that in my last blog about serendipity but I didn’t tell the whole story.
I would now like to expand on last week’s narrative and dub this present blog’s particular piece of luck Serendipity Part II.
In Serendipity Part I, I went to a stage production in New York and was inspired to write my play TIJUANA LADY. Good things happened to me as a result of that bit of luck. But there is more to the story. Much more.
TIJUANA LADY is about a porn star named Clytee de Khunt, who goes home for her father’s funeral. When I wrote the play, I wondered if the audience would believe that the main character was a film star, even an X-rated one. I wasn’t convinced they would be. In order to add a dash of supposed stardom to Clytee’s persona, I wrote a five-minute prologue that was to be the preview of a new porn movie called TIJUANA LADY. In other words, the audience would arrive and a movie screen would be on stage. The lights dimmed and our short film thrashed out the celebrated tale of the donkey and the lady in a seedy Tijuana bordello. The preview ended and the movie screen disappeared. The lights came up on the living room of a homey residence in Rosedale, Arkansas. The play began.
Everybody at the Paris English Theatre thought the preview was a neat idea but no one had the slightest idea on how we were going to do the film. I was about to give up on the idea as being impossible as well as improbable when Serendipity Part II arrived out of nowhere. I was shopping for vegetables and fruit at an outdoor market one Saturday and who walked up but Thomas Quinn Curtis, the film and TV critic for the International Herald Tribune, the Paris outlet for The New York Times. He had reviewed an earlier play of mine NEWS FROM FREIDA and given it a good critique.
I gathered all the nerve I had and went up to him and said hello. I refreshed his memory as to whom I was. He seemed pleased and to my surprise invited me to come over to his apartment for tea. He said he was interested in my career as a playwright. We agreed that I would visit him a couple of days later.
I went to his apartment, which was located under the famed restaurant TOUR D’ARGENT. To say he lived in a splendid apartment would be putting it mildly. He had a big picture window looking out on the River Seine. The place was unusually large as far as apartments go in Paris. He ordered tea and pastries from the restaurant to be served to us. I couldn’t believe I was there and was somewhat tongue tied in his presence.
He asked me what project I was working on and I told him TIJUANA LADY. I gave him a rundown of the play and then mentioned the idea of the film. He thought it was a capital idea. I told him I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. He laughed and said he thought he might be able to help me. He got on the phone and called Giuseppe Hibler, who was the last companion of the internationally celebrated film director Luchino Visconte (DEATH IN VENICE, etc.)
Giuseppe came over that very afternoon. He was fascinated by the idea of an ersatz porno preview. He got a friend of his, Wallace Potts, a porn filmmaker and partner to Rudolph Nureyev, interested in the project. Giuseppe arranged for me to meet Wallace’s good friend, Nestor Almendros, an Oscar winning cinematographer. Before I knew it, the film became a reality with Wallace, Giuseppe, Rudolph, Nestor and a lot of their friends helping out. They did a masterful job and of course brought a lot of attention to TIJUANA LADY. The preview was a real hit. When Clytee appeared on stage, the audience was convinced they were seeing a real porno star and many nights applauded her entrance.
From knowing all these people, I soon was invited to go with them to the Cannes Film Festival. Through their help, I wrote the original storylines of two films: BEETHOVEN’S NEPHEW and a French Film that became known as LA NUIT DE VARENNES (That Night in Varennes.) From my work on those projects, I was hired to go to Hollywood to work on a screenplay—and thus begin my career as a writer for hire. Serendipity, I should say.
If you are interested in reading my play TIJUANA LADY, you can go to Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble and order PARIS PLAYS. This is an anthology (and autobiography) of my ten years in Paris, the founding of the Paris English Theatre and copies of all 9 of my plays that were produced there—including of course TIJUANA LADY.
I hope some of you still believe in the power of serendipity over paid access. I think serendipity is still alive, but it is just having a hard time of it these days.