These were heady, exciting days. The chance to adapt S.E. Hinton’s novel for the screen was the break of a lifetime and I didn’t want to blow it. At my pitch meeting, I impulsively volunteered to return to high school – posing as a student – to determine if contemporary high school cliques resembled those depicted in Hinton’s 1967 novel.
I was a novice at writing as well as posing as somebody I wasn’t. I’d written two spec scripts and an unproduced MOW. Technically, I knew what I was doing; I could perform at a high level in academia but what about the real world, for real stakes? The story meetings were intimidating. Facing blank pages felt terrifying. Add to that, the pressure to pass for a 17-year-old high school student when I was a 29-year-old married mother.
Because I was a nobody in a sea of somebodies, there’s no reason Jon Davidson should have recognized me – particularly since I worked all of three months at New World, ostensibly as Roger Corman’s assistant (my title) but actually as the receptionist (harsh reality). Jon was sweet to pretend; it gave my ego a tiny but desperately needed boost.
I met Holly Palance at Francis Coppola’s house. She was there with Fred Roos and I was there to see some test footage of “The Outsiders” shot by another director. There wasn’t any chance to talk to her nor anything in particular we needed to talk about. Fred encouraged both of us to go to the upcoming Telluride Film Festival – and both of us took him up on it, on the assumption he would be in Telluride too.
Not so fast! Something came up and Fred couldn’t make it to Telluride after all. I was there with my sister Janet and neither of us knew anyone else. Small prestigious boutique film festivals like Telluride can make anyone feel like an outsider. Everyone in town for the festival is somebody in the “Industry” and they all know everyone else as well as the up and coming talent to watch.
Since I was none of the above, I was quarantined on the fringes until I recognized Holly strolling alone down Telluride’s main street. I called hello, not expecting much. She could’ve traveled in whatever circle she so desired but she was kind. It was more fun to be on the fringes with Holly than dead center in the In Crowd.
Our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different – Holly, a movie star’s daughter, grew up in Beverly Hills. She actually met the Beatles! Me, a Lutheran pastor’s daughter from Iowa via Santa Clara, a legacy more linked to pig and corn farmers than Hollywood. Holly has exquisite taste; I have no artistic eye. Somehow, we connected, though, and formed a close friendship that lasted for years.
Not long enough. For no apparent reason, by no one’s design, we drifted apart. Reading this and recalling the great times I shared with Holly, I regret not paying enough attention to prevent it from happening. I suspect that’s the root cause when friendships slowly fade away without really ending.
Maybe it’s not too late. I miss Holly and one of these days I hope we’ll meet for lunch and another long conversation. We have a lot of terrain to cover, but coming from such different worlds, we always did – and that much of Holly’s history can’t help but be full of fascinating surprises. One of these days….
I assume “HW” refers to the title of a screenplay project. In my diaries, I almost always refer to projects by the initials in their titles which means – after all these years – I’ve forgotten far too many, especially those that failed to come to fruition. “HW” was one of those.
I have no idea what Colleen Camp or Joyce Hyser was like in high school – I never got to know either one of them that well (Hyser not at all, really). I do know that in 1982 Colleen and Joyce were indisputable royalty in Hollywood’s cool crowd. Confident gorgeous girls like them awed me – still do,
I’ve crossed paths with Colleen many times since then. She’s always delightful, bubbly and friendly, even though – at best – I’m on the outer periphery of people she knows. Colleen was and is a social whirlwind. She knows everyone in the industry and is renowned for her major parties. (I’m not on the guest list but that’s what I hear.)
Based on her intel about the Outsiders, it was shooting in Tulsa (I was out of the loop – see November 15, 1980). I admired Coppola’s savvy solution – the unequal per diems – to incite tension between actors which successfully translated to the screen.
This was an amazing day, full of promise, and it retains its magic quality in my memory even though almost nothing unfolded like expected. I got the assignment to adapt S. E. Hinton’s classic novel, the Outsiders, for the screen. I did pose as a high school student and return to the high school I graduated from (more than a decade earlier) without getting busted.
Augie didn’t direct the movie, Francis did, which was the good news and the bad news. I’m awed by his talent; he directed some of the greatest movies of our time IMHO. How could this development possibly be bad? He’s an equally talented writer and took over the rewrite himself. When I saw the final shooting script, my name was nowhere to be seen.
Under the Writers Guild of America rules, this triggered an automatic arbitration because a production executive (director, producer etc.) sought screenplay credit. Three anonymous writers read all of our scripts and rendered a decision about screenplay credit. After a second and third arbitration and a Policy Review Board, I prevailed. It was a tense time.
This experience piqued my interest in the arbitration process and I volunteered to serve as an arbiter. Eventually I got to serve on the Policy Review Board, which I continue to do to this day.
Reading multiple drafts of the same script to decide who deserves screen credit provides a spectacular education in screen writing or, more accurately, rewriting. It was a front row seat to see exactly how scripts assume their final shape. I also learned a lot about human nature.
There are significant financial rewards for getting your name on a script, even if the movie’s a bomb. That might have motivated a few writers to battle but I think most of them fought because they believed they deserved to win. It reminds me of the joke about the actor playing the gravedigger in Hamlet, who’s convinced the play is about the gravedigger. Time after time, writers clearly saw – and frequently exaggerated – their own contribution and missed or minimized the contribution of writers before or after them. I doubt I’m immune to this self-serving blind spot; no doubt I do the same thing, despite being aware of this trap.
I suspect this tendency isn’t restricted to actors and writers – that many, if not most, human beings focus on their own contributions to the exclusion of others regardless of their line of work.