PART I: BEFORE // Chapter Four: How He Grew Up: 23

And then all of a sudden it was 1976—the Bicentennial Year. The longer the days and weeks progressed toward the end of January, and then into early February, Gil found himself becoming more and more puzzled. Unlike the previous year when Natalie had taken him in hand, so to speak, and practically forced him to look for work, she now was and had been since the holidays were over, seemingly indifferent to his lack of employment. Certainly, he remembered, they had agreed to his not looking for work until after the holidays, but here it was February already and she had not said a word on the subject. In fact, much to the contrary, she began planning little day trips and weekends so that they could be more and more together.

There were other things too that made Gil wonder what was going on. Recently she had been spending long afternoons on her own doing mysterious things that she did not mention to him. All she would tell him was that she was using up some accumulated vacation and sick leave from her job and was seriously thinking about quitting very soon, since he had assured her that they did not really need the money. Another thing was that, far from the woman who had fiercely maintained her independence the previous year, she now readily accepted Gil’s offer of merging their separate bank accounts into one joint account. Gil readily agreed, having suggested this as long ago as the previous summer, but he still wondered what was going on.

On Valentine’s Day she announced that she had actually done it—quit her job with Gorman and thought that it would be a good idea for them to spend some serious time together.

She brought up the subject while they were having a special Valentine dinner at Chasen’s for old times sake, that being the site of their first real date well over a year ago. This time however they kept mostly to themselves. The few celebrities they noticed, such as in the booth a few feet away where Susan Sarandon seemed to be having an intimate conversation with David Carradine, drew only a cursory notice and no comment from Gil, who was now pretty used to the scene. Instead he decided to confront Natalie about her strange behavior in the last few weeks.

“You’ve just got to trust me, Gil,” she said in answer to his obvious agitation. “I’m laying the groundwork for something completely different that will make our lives much better than they are now.” As he started to respond she quickly put her finger to his lips and continued, “I can’t tell you what it is now, because it’s not a sure thing yet. Just trust me, can you?”

“All right, Natalie,” Gil replied, “I’ll trust you. But only if you tell me honestly that you’re not doing anything behind my back that I wouldn’t like. Like, you know, seeing other men, that kind of thing.”

To this she gave a little chuckle, the first hint of humor from either of them that evening. “No silly,” she responded. “The only men I’m seeing are businessmen, quite stuffy ones at that, nobody I could even remotely feel romantically inclined towards, let alone jump into bed with.”

This seemed to satisfy him and he asked her no more questions. Noticing his prolonged silence, however, she said brightly, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea. I’ve noticed that you’ve been kind of restless and jumpy lately and I’ve been too involved in these other things that I’m doing.” She glossed over that part quickly. “Now that I’m quitting my job, I think what we need is a real vacation together. What do you say? I know I haven’t really been out of the Los Angeles area except to visit my parents since I got here way back in the summer of ’69, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t either since you got here.”

Gil’s face brightened at that. “You’re right,” he said, “I haven’t been. And since we’ve still got plenty of money, and I’m not working, and you’re not going to be working, I think that’s a fine idea. Any suggestions on where we should go?”

She wrinkled her brow and thought for a moment. She really hadn’t got this far yet as she didn’t expect such quick agreement. After thinking for a moment she said, “How about San Francisco? After all, it’s America’s favorite city, and only about an hour from here by air. And PSA advertises that they have flights on the hour.”

“Hey,” responded Gil, “that sounds great. I’ve never been there and I’ve heard so much about it. You know, the beatniks and the hippies and all that. Have you ever been there?”

“Not really,” she admitted. “But I did have to do some research, as Gorman did a couple of films up in the Bay Area. So I know a little bit about it.”

So they decided that they would do a little checking, wrap up a few odds and ends, and then fly up to San Francisco. “I remember,” Natalie said, “that they’ve got some great hotels there. You know, nice old independent hotels that aren’t run by the chains like Hilton or the Sheraton. I remember one in particular that everyone seems to like, and it’s right in the middle of town right next to the shopping in that area they call Nob Hill. The hotel is called the Mark Hopkins.”

“Sounds good to me,” Gil said with a shrug. “After all, what do I know?”

So just before the end of February they arrived at the LA airport bright and early and boarded a sleek PSA 727 which landed without incident at San Francisco International Airport little more than an hour later. Quickly they retrieved their baggage and boarded a handy taxicab, and by mid-morning found themselves ensconced in a luxurious two-room suite in the fashionable but classic Mark Hopkins Hotel.

Thus began the first real vacation the two of them had taken since their relationship had begun little more than a year ago. It was a mad extravagant vacation. They boarded cable cars to Fisherman’s Wharf, took away little cups full of shrimp and crab in cocktail sauce for only 75¢ apiece, strolled down by the Bay, and when the sun began to set through the ever-present layers of fog that concealed the Golden Gate Bridge which otherwise would have been visible, they ate fantastically creative and imaginative seafood dinners at the likes of A. Sabella and Alioto’s on the Wharf.

While Natalie spent several afternoons shopping in the Union Square area at such stores as City of Paris, Gump’s, and the legendary I. Magnin, Gil bought himself a couple of smart three-piece suits at the swank men’s wear store Wilkes Bashford. He also took the opportunity, while Natalie was otherwise engaged, to investigate the various sites where Alfred Hitchcock had filmed scenes for the classic film Vertigo. He visited Mission Dolores, the modern Catholic church which had developed over the last two centuries from the tiny original structure built by the 18th century missionaries. He also visited Fort Point near the San Francisco end of the Golden Gate Bridge, which figured prominently in the movie.

During the course of the next two weeks they managed to hit the high spots—pasta dinners in the Italian section of North Beach, Mexican food the Mission District, dim sum and Peking duck in Chinatown, and even some Irish pub food at the bars on outer Geary. They saw theatrical productions by ACT (the American Conservatory Theater) and the famed avant-garde Magic Theatre on California Street. They even spent an evening of formal dining, drinking, and dancing in the hotel’s own nightclub, Top of the Mark.

By the end of the designated two weeks they found they had spent several thousand dollars but were having such a great time that they decided to extend their stay for another week. This was no problem as they still had plenty of money in the bank and the reservation was easily extended, it being the off-season.

It wasn’t until nearly Easter that they returned to Los Angeles and their small but comfy apartment in West Hollywood. They were in high spirits, laughing and joking, but totally exhausted from their trip.

So it wasn’t until the next morning that Natalie went to the mailbox and retrieved and went through the large volume of mail that had been accruing since they left. After separating bills from advertisements, she finally spied what she was looking for and had hoped she would find on her return. Since it was still early and Gil had not yet awakened, she tiptoed to the bedroom door and made sure that it was securely closed before returning to the study. Snatching up the envelope she eagerly tore it open, pulled the few pages of stationery from it, and read the following:

My darling daughter Natalie,

I have done as you requested on your visit during last year’s holiday. I hope that you haven’t become too impatient in the interim but as I said, these things take time. However, you will be glad to know that as of the writing of this letter I have been able to finalize everything and have made the transfer to the account you designated accordingly—

At this Natalie dropped the pages, threw her hands up in the air and yelled wildly, unable to restrain herself. A few moments later a startled Gil was bounding into the study, wondering what the hell was going on.

Now that she had confirmed the information she saw no reason not to tell him. So, shushing him with reassurances that everything was all right, that she was just a little excited, she picked the letter back up and told him to wait until she had finished reading it silently.

The letter continued:

So anyway, I hope that this meets with your approval. I was even able to do a little better than the sum you asked for. Really, I had no idea that those properties on the Lower East Side that I had picked up for practically nothing during the Depression had become so valuable. Do not worry about us. I have provided for your mother as she will retain ownership of the building in which we live if she survives me, God willing. This plus a modest cash settlement and some stock and securities will give her sufficient income for the rest of her life which, God willing, will be a long one.

So that done, I hope you and your fellow, the obviously talented Gil what’s-his-name, are well and happy and enjoying life and each other. Let us know how your relationship proceeds, for we are ready to fly out at a moment’s notice and sing and dance at your wedding.

Yours most sincerely,

Abraham Feinbergen

(your loving poppa)

Still not letting Gil speak, she went over to the phone, picked up the receiver, and punched in a number. After a few moments she identified herself and spoke a string of numbers into the phone. Then she waited. A few minutes later, she hung up the phone and yelled again.

This time Gil could restrain himself no longer. “If you don’t tell me what the hell is going on, Natalie, I swear I’m going to do something drastic.” He was now standing and glaring at her with hands on hips.

Realizing that she had better cool the situation she took his hand and led him over to the living room, where she pulled him down on the couch and kissed him firmly on the lips. “Don’t worry,” she assured him, “it’s a good thing. In fact, it is without a doubt the best thing that has happened to either of us in our entire lives. Let me tell you the whole story and please, don’t interrupt until I’m finished.” Gil nodded his assent.

“Way back about two months ago, if you remember, I finally consented to merging our checking accounts into one joint account. Shortly thereafter I quit my job with Gorman. This you know. But what you don’t know is that I needed both money and time to make this thing work. Those afternoons that you were complaining about when I was off doing mysterious things I was setting up a corporation. The papers came through and I am now the president of FineHall Productions. I needed to put some seed money in the account so I took a thousand dollars to open it.” She gave a little chuckle. “I didn’t need to worry about being found out because ever since Gorman paid you, you’ve been extremely lax about checking your bank account.” At this Gil gave a sheepish grin and nodded his agreement. “So now,” she continued, “the project is complete. When I went to visit my parents last Christmas, I asked my father for the biggest favor I had ever asked him for in my entire life. I think I have mentioned on several occasions that I come from a rich family. So I asked him in effect to give me my inheritance early, like, you know, before he dies.” She couldn’t help adding, “God grant that should never happen. Anyway, he complied. And do you know what the balance is in the corporate account of FineHall Productions?” Gil’s mouth at this point was hanging open but he just shook his head silently. “Two point five million dollars,” she said triumphantly. “Now what do you think of that?”

For several long seconds Gil sat in stunned silence. Then he said tentatively, “But what does this all mean, Natalie? What is FineHall Productions and why do you need so much money?”

We do,” she corrected. “And don’t be an ass. You know that for the longest time I’ve wanted to get my scripts made into movies. The only way to really accomplish this and maintain creative control is to do it ourselves. Don’t you see, Gil? This is our production company, our studio. We’re going to make movies. I’ll write and produce and worry about getting the talent, you’ll direct and find the technical people—cameramen, sound men, whatever. Doesn’t that sound like a good idea?”

Slowly, the import of this began to dawn on Gil. He began to smile. “Does this mean I can direct feature films with real scripts and real actors?”

“You bet your ass it does!” she replied, and squeezed his arm tightly.

“Well then, I’m all for it. Where do I sign?”

He thought it was a facetious question, but Natalie looked at him seriously and led him back to the study where she went over to the desk and pulled out a manila envelope containing several sheets of legal-sized paper. Then she turned to him with an envelope and a pen. “Just read it through,” she said in a businesslike tone, “and sign on the dotted line, if you please.”

Bewildered, Gil took the pages from her, glanced through them, scratched his head several times, and then took the pen from her, then hesitated for only a few moments before boldly signing his name.

With a look of triumph she snatched the contract from him, returned it to the envelope, and went over and replaced it in the drawer. Then turning around and giving him an approving look she said, “You are now working exclusively for FineHall Productions. But don’t worry,” she said in a softer tone, “there will be plenty of work and plenty of money. Now that we’ve got a foot in the door just leave the producing to me. I didn’t spend all that time with Gorman for nothing, you know. I was busy spreading goodwill and gathering contacts among Hollywood’s biggest movers and shakers. I’ve had lunch with the top executives at MGM and Paramount and I know what I’m doing. All you have to do,” she said, “is take the money and my scripts and make the movies. Is that basic enough for you?

Gil admitted that it was. He stood up, gave her a big grin, and threw his arms around her. “I love you, Natalie,” he said in his most charming little boy voice.

“Good,” she said, hugging him back. “And I love you, you big doofus. And while we’re on the subject, don’t you think it’s about time we got married?”

Gil released her and sat down on a convenient chair. He seemed to be going through some kind of mental overload, as for several seconds he seemed unable to speak the words his mouth was forming.

Noticing his discomfiture Natalie continued, “Really, Gil, I mean, look at it this way. Are you interested in sleeping or living with other women?”

Gil thought a moment, then said honestly, “Well, the thought has crossed my mind from time to time. Like when I was doing that movie for Gorman. What with all those naked bodies and all that lovemaking it was hard not to. But honestly, Natalie,” and he got up again and planted a chaste kiss on her waiting forehead. “I can’t really see myself living without you.”

“Nor I you, you big lug,” she said and punched him in the arm. “So, shall we do it?”

“Sure,” he said. “Just tell me when and where.”

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