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.
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.
Third period physiology was taught in the same classroom where another hapless instructor tried to teach me chemistry. I recognized the Periodic Table of the Elements I failed to memorize as a genuine junior. This time around, my lab partner was Jennifer, a girl who projected calm intelligence – just the type I’d be best friends with if we existed in the same time frame. At the end of the period, as she scrubbed our beakers, I said, “Want to have lunch?”
“Sorry. I eat with my friends.”
Rejection! It doesn’t get much more unequivocal. It felt as crummy as it did the first time I did high school. What disqualified me as a friend of Jennifer? The wrong shoes, my aging face, my lack of aptitude for physiology?
These questions will never be answered. Girls either like or dislike you “because.” That’s as specific as it gets. For what it’s worth, here’s my personal theory about how and why any hope of being BFF with Jennifer died in September, long before I returned to Wilcox.
Female cliques form hard and fast and – once established – they aren’t known for flexibility, diversity or the warm welcome extended to strangers – quite the contrary. The more exclusive and difficult a group is to access, the higher their status. I was four months too late to Jennifer’s party and nothing I did could change that.
In comparison, boys were a breeze. Looking lost and stupid – something I excelled at – was basis enough for a relationship. A boy named Brian showed me the ropes, introduced me to his friends, fixed my car and got me a part-time job at the same place he worked.
The latter was problematical since I couldn’t offer my real social security number (and get paid) without the risk of revealing my true age.
I was 29 years old – married and the mother of a 4-year-old – when I returned to Wilcox, the high school I graduated from, as a transfer student. Technically, I was there to research a script I’d been hired to write based on S.E. Hinton’s novel the Outsiders. The director and producers wanted to know if high school kids in 81 were much different from those in the early sixties.
On a deeper level, I was obsessed with high school and curious about how it would feel to do it again. Would the benefit of my vast college, professional and personal experiences make me more confident? Would I feel like I had all the answers? In a word – NO.
If anything, it was more hair-raising than the first time around. In part, this was due to my realistic fear that someone would notice I looked closer to 30 then 17, assume I was a narc (because why else would a woman my age be posing as a student?) and knife me in the girl’s bathroom. Making the situation even dicier, I was staying with one of my real Wilcox contemporaries – Debbie Callan – who, at that time, worked as a dispatcher/translator for the Santa Clara police department. How could I not be a narc?
There was never a moment I could relax. I didn’t have a fake driver’s license and I needed to carry the real one – which meant taking pains to make sure nobody saw it (especially the birthdate). I didn’t carry credit cards or checks because a 17-year-old wouldn’t. When making reference to music or books that weren’t contemporary, I had to calculate how old my fake self would’ve been as opposed to my real self.
Before I started, I devised an elaborate backstory to explain my mid-semester transfer – an alcoholic mother in rehab, I was staying with an aunt etc. – but it turned out to be totally unnecessary. Nobody I met showed the slightest interest in my backstory.
To be continued in upcoming blogs – because January ’81 was one of the more interesting Januarys in my life.
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.
The Fun and Hijinx part of the day: Joyce, Gail, CD and I visited Robert Lovenheim’s set in Newhall. We had such a blast we returned – several times, in fact. We joked about being Robert’s groupies which soon became “Whale Groupies.” (The TV movie he was making was A Whale for the Killing with Peter Strauss.) Never one to go halfway, I had “Whale Groupie” tee-shirts made for all of us and hosted a Whale Groupie party (fish and chips, natch, for the entree). Janet made captioned Whale Groupie photo books to commemorate the experience. I’m thinking it’s time for a Whale Groupie reunion.
The Career part of the day: Fred had spoken to me about the Outsiders – a junior high class signed a petition asking Francis Coppola to make it into a movie – but today marked the start of my involvement. There were many hurdles ahead – meeting with Fred and Francis about the book, posing as a high school student even though I was 29, a trip to Tulsa, writing the script and several arbitrations for credit – but the thing that had to happen first happened today.
The sad crazy psychodrama part of the day. Learning a friend just checked into a psychiatric facility put a damper on our day for sure. Looking back, I wonder if our collective unease at this unexpected glimpse of mental illness led us to lash out at each other – but maybe we were too young and dumb to know that knocking your in-laws never gets you where you want to go.
Brain surgery on the other hand….. is that what we’re doing here? Surely we’re not singing and dancing for an immobilized Robert?