Like everybody else, I’d heard all about Hollywood before I moved out here. Still, you think things will be different for you. You say to yourself, sure this is a jungle, but I’m Doctor Livingstone.
I graduated from Columbia with a degree in English Lit. and went to work for a newspaper in Bergen County, just across the river from Manhattan, keeping my cheap apartment on West 111th Street where I lived with my girl-friend. My thesis was a post-structuralist tome on film adaptations of major American novels, and within a year I’d wangled the job of movie reviewer and entertainment reporter. I loved the movies–always have. The idea of being a screen-writer came to me during a pool interview with a writer-director who was in Manhattan flacking for his new picture. It wasn’t the fact that he didn’t seem particularly bright or that he made his ascent sound so haphazard and effortless. It was the way he looked, sitting there, smoking a cigarette as the light coming through the window of the forty-floor corporate tower hit his face: I could see the pores in his skin and the stubble of his beard and there was something green stuck between two of his teeth and I suddenly thought–I could be there, sitting where he’s sitting with two days’ growth and a green thing on my teeth.
I didn’t quit my job that day, but I started writing screenplays, renting the films I loved and studying the structure, thinking about what they had in common. I was encouraged in this by my Aunt Alexis, who had once been a contract player at Paramount. She’d been in a couple of westerns with John Wayne and was briefly married to a director. After her divorce she moved to New York–the director made her quit the movies and it was too late to go back, she said, but she still talked as if she were a member of a warm, extended family called ‘the business’. She claimed some tolerably famous names as friends, and avidly studied Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. I knew from the family that she’d been somewhat badly used by ‘the business’, but she wasn’t bitter. She gave acting lessons in New York, occasionally did community theatre. When I’d moved to New York, she more or less adopted me. My parents were divorced, fading into the orange sunsets of Arizona and Florida respectively.