I remember this well – my excitement was so intense it’s still indescribable. All of those times I came so close to my goal and missed taught me to lower my expectations. I didn’t let myself hope for more than another meeting. To learn my spec script had been optioned by a real producer for real money (not a lot, but more than I’d ever made writing before) seemed surreal.
Part of me always believed I’d make it as a writer, otherwise I wouldn’t have pursued it – but another part saw a screenwriting career as a dream, out of reach. One of my high school teachers told me I wouldn’t be a real writer until someone paid me to write and I believed her – so, Steve Friedman optioning the script was validation.
In my dizzy euphoria, I assumed everything would be different now – my career would come easily. That proved overly optimistic. Steve didn’t make the movie and the option lapsed. The same script would be optioned twice more, by two different producers, and it attracted some top-tier female directors and talent, but as of today it remains unproduced.
Doesn’t matter. It’s still one of the top ten days of my life.
Looking back, the symptoms of clinical depression are in neon lights – but in 1968, I didn’t know what that meant. If anyone had asked, “Are you okay?” I would’ve said “I’m fine” – the correct Norwegian response to any inquiry about mental or physical health, even on one’s death bed.
I felt terrible about disappointing my father but powerless to level up my game. Was it more important for me to make it to school or look human? They wanted both? I couldn’t do it anymore. Sure, other people managed it without too much difficulty – I did it once myself, but those days were behind me now.
I saw darkness everywhere, even when babysitting. Two little girls spent hours play-acting “drunken father coming home.” Another couple, who left me with their daughter, urged me to have fun with their cat. The kids appeared in desperate need of affection. They begged to sit on my lap but I was too lost in my malaise to respond with genuine warmth. I felt guiltier for what I couldn’t feel and do than anything that I did – because I couldn’t do much.
That fall, I had a recurring nightmare, in which I was stalked by an unidentified killer. Just as he was ready to strike, I’d wake up screaming. The trouble was, no one heard me. Surely, someone would have comforted me if they’d heard. If I really screamed out loud.
That was the last I heard from Lewis for thirty plus years. I glimpsed him a couple times – once at Valley Fair and once at Santa Clara University – but I felt ugly and unprepared to run into an ex so I ducked out of sight. He never called and having taken the initiative in asking him to the Sadie, I wasn’t about to call him again.
This was the rule, not the exception, of how my relationships ended. Upon parting, we invariably promised to stay “good friends” after which we never spoke to each other again. Why was it so impossible to stay friends back then? None of my relationships ended in screaming or hatred – quite the opposite. I rarely if ever instigated the break-up although – looking back – in my passive-aggressive way, I drove more than one to dump me. I was sincere in my desire to stay friends but in those days, there was a stigma against girls calling boys – but maybe that’s just an excuse.
The internet – Facebook in particular – was a game-changer. For starters, it’s a lot less threatening to send an email than pick up the telephone. The passage of time helps too – not many wounds remain raw after twenty or thirty years.
In my experience, in any given break-up, one of the people involved wants it more than the other. Even if the dumpee agrees to be friends, there’s a hidden agenda to be more than friends. Twenty or thirty years after the fact, no one expects a relationship to pick up where it left off – hence, it’s possible to form a genuine friendship based on what two people originally had in common. I’ve been lucky that way with several exes, Lewis among them. While I can’t call this phenomenon closure – because these friendships aren’t over, they’re ongoing – they satisfy my need to make sense of what happened all those years ago.
This day has always loomed large in memory – in many ways, it epitomizes my adolescence. First, I have to cop to outrageous thoughtlessness due to the self-centered cloud I lived in. This was a momentous day for my father – in fact, I’ll wager it meant more to him than it did to me.
My indifference to its importance in his life shames me today. I was incapable of grasping a world beyond my transient teen-age hurt over a bad time at a dance or my elation at meeting a new boy.
Natalie and I always egged each other in ways that got us into trouble and this was no exception. (The fact it was a Catholic Youth Organization dance – and in 1968 Lutherans and Catholics weren’t all that ecumenical – didn’t help.) Natalie got grounded too. Maybe that added to the drama and thrill of it all. Since we paid the price, the experience had to be of value, right? When Natalie was alive, no matter where we were, we called each other on February 5th to remember and commiserate.
For me, the ramifications of that Sunday adventure lasted for years. I became obsessed with X (after he dropped me). At the time, I blamed my senior year clinical depression on my obsession with that failed romance but it was a scapegoat – the depression was inside me, just waiting for an excuse. And in some ways, the obsession served me well – it kept me aloof from other serious romantic entanglements that might’ve changed my life – maybe for better, maybe for worse. Like most events of my adolescence, it doesn’t matter; I’m happy with the life I live now.
I’m sure some forward-thinking people were anti-fur in 1968, but I was unaware of the movement and – in my self-centered state – I didn’t feel particularly guilty about cloaking myself in the fur of dead animals. I’m not sure if this is much of a defense, but the reason JoAnn and I were modeling furs in the first place was the Hills were raising chinchillas – very rodent-like little creatures – specifically for the fur trade. I saw them in their cages at the Hill house, stroked their soft fur, but never really put it together they had to die to fulfill their destiny as a piece of a fur cape. I wouldn’t feel comfortable modeling at all today (not that anybody’s asking) and I definitely wouldn’t wear any kind of fur. But this was fifty (gasp!) years ago and times were quite different then.
The other thing that strikes me about this entry is the extreme contrast between this elegant (at least to my adolescent mind) SF furrier salon and a car in which sticks and carpeting served as a rear window. It sounds as if the ludicrous dichotomy escaped me entirely – I enjoyed the whole bizarre experience which I characterized as simply a
I lost touch with JoAnn years ago and I’m hoping if she or somebody who knows her happens across this, she’ll get back in touch.
A year later we modeled the furs at the Hyatt in San Jose. That is replayed in a blog I shared with you last February 8th (Modeling at the Hyatt).
Proms have become a trope in teen-age movies, which would have one believe that attending (or not attending) the prom defines high school existence (Pretty in Pink springs immediately to mind although there are plenty of others). This wasn’t my experience.
I went to several proms – all in the same lace-encrusted blue dress – and while they were all memorable in their own way, they were not the apex of my teen-age years. I doubt I’m not alone in this. I’ve never met one single person who claims their prom was the defining moment of their high school life.
In real life, I don’t think who got crowned king and queen of the prom was of matter of life and death (Carrie). I was never in the running so I didn’t really care. My parents, however, were the King and Queen of their high school prom
Our Prom Party sent up the movie-fantasy stereotype of a high school prom, it didn’t have much to do with the real thing. One of my Columbia students, Holden Weitz, wrote a hilarious teen movie that parodies this trope. That’s the movie I want to see made!
The script I refer to here turned out to be my breakthrough spec script “At 17”, inspired by and loosely based on the brilliant Janis Ian song of the same title. I didn’t have the rights – I don’t know if anyone actually did – but ABC was developing it as a Movie of the Week (MOW).
My former boss at NBC, the late and much lamented Len Hill, was one of the ABC executives in charge of MOWs; my sister Janet was his assistant/secretary. He told me if I could write a brilliant script in the next ten days he’d consider it equally with the scripts the network paid for. Ten days isn’t enough to write a great script from scratch under any circumstances and it wasn’t the best of times for me. My son CD was 14 months old but well on his way to the terrible twos.
Nonetheless, I gave it my best shot. The tension was so high I threw up on some of those late nights (gross, I know) but – with Jani’s assistance – I finished it. I don’t think Len or anybody else expected me to do it.
The problem was – it wasn’t good enough. The network preferred the writer who cashed their big checks. The rejection was so devastating I gave up until my pride and desire for revenge resurrected me. “I’ll show you,” I thought. “I’ll do a great rewrite and prove you were wrong to dismiss me.”
Did I succeed? I think so. Although the film never got made, it was optioned three times and garnered interest from directors like Martha Coolidge and Amy Heckerling. Years after Molly Ringwald aged out of playing a teen-ager, she told me she would’ve loved to play one of the parts. To say the least, I would’ve loved for her to play it but my script didn’t reach her at the right time.
That’s the way things go. Big ups, big downs. Victories won, battles lost, it’s hard to quantify wins and losses when script quality is so subjective and the industry’s in constant flux. The bottom line is, were those ten sleepless days and nights worth it when I failed to get what I wanted? Would I do it again? Hell, yes. If I had my life to live over, I’d try harder, reach higher and risk bigger losses. The only way to fail for good is giving up.
The invitation for this party (reproduced above) explains it all. I wore the dress I actually wore to real proms in the sixties when I thought it was the most beautiful gown I’d ever seen. The style failed to age as well as I hoped – the dresses worn by most of the other female guests fared better (but I still got to be Prom Queen, an opportunity denied me in real life)
In this case, the photos are worth a thousand words so here are some of my favorites.
I was sandwiched in the center of a vinyl booth, two boys on either side. While they seemed semi-civilized at school, a round of Pepsis and fries at Denny’s unleashed their inner beast. As much as I hated to encounter obnoxious loud teenagers in real life, it was a thousand times worse to be dead center in a pack of them.
My adult self wanted to read them the riot act but my high school persona hunched speechless, red-faced.
They poured out the condiments Denny’s provided in little baskets on every table and scrawled their names in catsup, subbing salt for glitter. They blew straw wrappers at each other. They insulted diners who viewed us with disgust. If my four-year-old acted like this, I’d whisk him outside where he’d remain until he could behave himself but I didn’t have that option here. I wanted to beg our waitress’s forgiveness and leave a huge tip – I doubted the boys would leave a dime – but I couldn’t without calling attention to myself.
After they dropped me off, I called J in LA. “What’s up with your high school boyfriend?” he asked. I told him I wanted to dive under the table at Denny’s. It was hard for him to relate, since he lived a grown-up life with other adults.
The worst was yet to come. My 3rd period teacher sent me to the library because they were taking a pop quiz on material I missed. Another class, taught by Mrs. Murray, one of my former teachers in real life, already occupied the library.
When the lunch bell blared, students mobbed the door. A popular-looking perky blonde shook her bangled wrist and regaled her court with details about where she bought it, who designed it, and how much she paid. Most “girl talk” I overheard concerned fashion. They were as passionate about cute clothes as my sixties friends were about rock concerts and Viet Nam. My musings skidded to a halt when Mrs. Murray peered over their heads and said,
My adrenalin lurched into flight or fight mode. It was all I could do not to react, to pretend I didn’t realize Mrs. Murray addressed me. She repeated herself, not taking her eyes off me.
I feigned confusion. “No,” I said.
“You look exactly like a girl I had ten years ago,” Mrs. Murray said.
“Sorry, not me,” I said. As a preacher’s kid prone to Biblical references, I felt like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, denying my own identity three times. How could that exchange not arouse a glimmer of curiosity from one of the student witnesses? It didn’t. They were all more interested in being first in line at the snack bar than anything Mrs. Murray or I said.
I met Gene Simmons for the first time in Gary Lucchesi’s TriStar office. Gene was wearing leopard boots, a multi-strand choker with colored glass beads or gems and some sort of mesh bracelet. I’m pretty sure I looked like a PTA president by comparison in my dress and pantyhose. (What was I thinking???) He liked my spec script and wanted me to write his movie project about groupies.
His plan was for me to attend a lot of rock concerts, go backstage, and soak up the scene. For those who read yesterday’s blog, Simon and Garfunkel’s empty dressing room at the San Jose Civic in ’67 was as close as I’d come to getting up close and personal with a rock star. (Not actually true. I met some heavyweights with Cindy Williams in 80 – but that was more of an “Industry” event, not a groupie scene).
I love rock music and I’m fascinated by the “secret society” that surrounds it – the novel I’m working on right now, in 2016, is set in the rock world. The prospect of safely immersing myself in that world was enormously appealing – but so was my hope of adapting the Moonflower Vine, a novel by Jetta Carleton I’d loved since I read it in the sixties.
It seems as if good things (such as opportunities, rewards, and kudos) as well as bad things (failure, rejection, and financial stress) tend to come in clusters. Either there are two or three projects I want to write or I can’t get arrested. Two guys ask me out or I’m home alone on a Saturday night. I’ve always assumed it’s the same way for everybody (“buses always come in threes”) but I’ve never asked. Is it?
Don’t bother looking up either of these projects on the internet. Another party already purchased all rights to the Moonflower Vine – forever – so there was no hope of optioning the underlying material. I wrote a draft of the groupies’ project for Gene and TriStar at which time it died, never to be resurrected (at least not with me as the writer). In this case, these days of indecision – ripe with intoxicating possibilities – were as good as it gets.