PART I: BEFORE // Chapter Four: How He Grew Up: 18

Seven o’clock that evening found them at Musso & Frank on Hollywood Boulevard, an 18-ounce T-bone steak with all the trimmings in front of each of them. They had martinis, they had bottles of red wine, and by nine o’clock Natalie decided that it would be a good idea for her to drive them home, as Gil was beginning to sway on his feet and mumble incoherently. Though they had each consumed a great deal, he was still not as experienced a drinker as Natalie was. So, sweetly and without criticism, she led him out to the parking lot and half poured, half shoved him into the Honda’s passenger seat. He made no protest but was beginning to snore even before Natalie closed his door and went around to the driver’s side. Fortunately luck was with her as they made it home without incident. She then woke him up, needing several wet kisses to do it, and led a docile and unprotesting Gil into the building, up the stairs, and into the apartment, after which she then propelled him toward the bed and began removing his, and her own, clothing.

The next day was Friday. Gil spent most of it sleeping, only really regaining consciousness after Natalie got home from work. They spent the weekend relaxing around the house, not doing much of anything, while Gil continued to catch up on his sleep.

In the weeks that followed, however, having agreed that Gil would take some time off before seeking work on any other projects, he nonetheless found himself at loose ends, particularly when Natalie was at work. He tried to get his mind off the film he had just wrapped by going up to Hollywood Boulevard practically every weekday afternoon and catching a double feature matinee, returning home just in time to greet Natalie as she was returning from work.

As the weeks lengthened in late September, then early October, Gil began to be seized with increasing fits of anxiety. Gorman had not yet contacted him about the film either directly or through Natalie, who professed to know nothing. By the middle of October he was peppering her with questions from the moment she got in the door. What was Gorman doing? Did he say anything to her? He was increasingly worried that what he had done, particularly with the final climactic scene, might in retrospect have been way over the top. As his franticness and relentless questioning increased, she finally put her foot down saying, “Enough, already. You’ll know something when I know something.”

She then told him that during the past six weeks Gorman had been closeted increasingly often across the hall with a team of first-rate editors, among whom was the legendary Vernon Fields. Gil was dismayed at this news, thinking that Gorman considered the film so bad that he needed a team of editors to salvage it.

Calmly Natalie sat him down on the sofa and explained to him how things worked in Hollywood. First off, she said, if he thought it was a piece of trash, he wouldn’t be wasting good money on serious post-production work. “The fact is, this indicates that he thinks his film—your film—has the potential to be better than he thought it would be and he’s willing to spend the time and money to realize that potential.”

“You really think so?” Gil said, not sure whether to believe her or whether she was just trying to make him feel better.

She reached up and patted him on the head. “Yes, I really think so. Now, can we get on with our lives?”

Sheepishly Gil agreed not to pester her anymore, but wait for Gorman’s decree.

It was not long in coming. The Wednesday of the third week in October at around five-thirty, Gil was lying on the sofa reading a biography of Fritz Lang when Natalie burst through the door.

Gil jumped up in alarm, tossing the book onto the floor. “What is it? What’s wrong?” he cried out.

In reply Natalie rushed over to him and squeezed him around the waist as if trying to juice an orange. Finally she said, “Gorman wants to see you. In his office. Tomorrow afternoon. About two o’clock.” Noticing that Gil looked terrified she continued, “Don’t worry, it’s all good.”

The next afternoon at 1:45 Gil was already pacing around the outer office of RoddiGore Productions, chain-smoking cigarettes and looking for all the world like a distraught expectant father. As he made perhaps his hundredth pass by Natalie’s desk she reached out, put her hand on his arm and said, “Sit down, will you? You’re giving me the creeps.”

Just as she managed to get him seated on one of the black-leather armchairs the intercom buzzed. She rushed back to her desk and picked up the phone receiver. “He’s here, Mr. Gorman. I’ll tell him.” She hung up the phone and then looked at Gil. “Do me a favor,” she said. “Take several deep breaths, then walk slowly into the office. And for God’s sake, look professional.”

Gil swallowed hard and nodded his head. When he felt reasonably composed, he affected a nonchalant stride, opened the inner door, and entered Gorman’s private lair.

“You wanted to see me, Mr. Gorman?” he said with what he hoped was a rather nonchalant air. 

Gorman jumped up from behind his desk and waved a hand at Gil. “Sit down, sit down,” he said impatiently.

Gil did. Trying not to let it show in his expression, he nonetheless was equally divided between extravagant hopes and deadly paralyzing fears.

Gorman walked around from behind his desk and went across the room to where Gil was sitting. He then stuck out a hand. Wondering what this was all about, Gil automatically reached out his hand and let Gorman shake it vigorously.

“Mr. Hall,” Gorman said in a voice as reverent as his ever got, “I think we may be sitting on a masterpiece here.”

Again Gil swallowed hard and managed to squeak, “Really?”

“Yes, really,” he said. “This is going to do for beach pictures what What Price Glory did for war pictures.” He went back to his desk and seated himself again. “First of all, when our little meeting is over, I will have my girl—and your girl too—Natalie bring in your check. You will notice that I have added a bonus beyond the agreed-on bonus.”

Again Gil didn’t quite know what to say, but managed an automatic “Thank you very much, Mr. Gorman.”

Again Gorman waved him away with that familiar arm motion. “No, no,” he said, “it’s me should be thanking you. You and Ellsworth have actually elevated what could have been just another beach movie into the realm of what I believe the critics are going to call ‘cinematic art.'” As if to prove a point, he pulled out what looked to Gil like some sort of press release and handed it to him.

“Before you read this,” Gorman said, “let me give you some background. I don’t suppose you know a Joe Bob Griggs?”

Gil shook his head.

“Well,” Gorman continued, “he’s a self-styled drive-in movie critic. He reviews a lot of low-budget indie cult-type films. You know, films that guys like Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael wouldn’t be bothered with. You know, sort of critic for the average moviegoer. Anyway, we invited a number of critics for pre-release showings of the film in major cities across the county, and his review was one of the best. We’re going to debut the film the week before Halloween simultaneously in both indoor and drive-in theaters. We want to get the market saturated, give us at least four weeks before the big holiday films come in and blow us off the screens. Anyway, take a look at his review which, this coming Sunday, will be in every major entertainment edition of every major newspaper in the country.”

Intrigued, Gil looked at it and began to read. The column’s heading read, “Saturday Night at the Drive-In” by “Joe Bob Griggs, Drive-In Movie Critic of Wheatfield, Kansas.” There was even a little graphic to the right of the heading which showed a tiny drive-in theater wall in front of which about four cars were parked.

Howdy, folks! Joe Bob here. And have I got a hot one for y’all this time. It’s called Last Orgy on Blood Beach and it’s being brought to you courtesy of, wouldn’t ya know it, RoddiGore Productions. The team in charge of this one is, of course, Rod I’ll-do-anything-for-a-buck Gorman, head of the company, meticulous veteran cinematographer Richard Ellsworth, and novice, but obviously talented, director Gil Hall. Together they have managed to come up with a movie that’s totally different from your average hippie beach slasher movie in three ways:

One, it is superior in what the folks out in H-wood call production values. Now I ain’t gonna go all drippy about camera angles, lens filters and moonlight glistening on the waves, I leave that to my esteemed colleagues at The New Yorker and The New York Times (if they ever get around to reviewing movies like this). But suffice to say it rivals any of those oh-so-cultured Merchant-Ivory flicks, plus it’s got special effects that would do Tobe Hooper proud. Second, unlike many examples of this type of movie, it contains intelligent dialogue that at times is slyly humorous and at others intensely dramatic. Combined with real characters and real character development plus believable relationships, and you’ve got what we might call a B-plus film. There’s enough nudity and sex scenes to satisfy the horniest teenager as well as being a pothead’s dream. Every time you turn around, somebody is firing up a doobie or poppin’ the top on a can of brew. In fact, the sex scenes are so graphic that it took a lot of artistic camerawork, not to mention even more artistic editing, to salvage an R rating for this baby. I counted 27 1/2 breasts in the first 20 minutes and then I gave up and just watched the rest of the movie. Existential fu. The third thing that strikes you about this film is that, unless the movie’s publicist was lyin’ through her teeth, all dialogue was improvised on the spot by the young actors. So watcha got is a “Gidget Goes Improv” or “Beach Blanket Cassavetes”. So, for all you folks who attend the cinema and view films instead of just goin’ to the movies like the rest of us, get yer noses out of the air, grab a six-pack of your favorite brew, pop up a big tub of Jolly Time, fire up the Volvo, and head on down to your local drive-in (check local listings for theater nearest you). You will not be disappointed. You got Joe Bob’s word on that. And don’t forget to grab a sweetie of your favorite sexual persuasion for aid and comfort during the intermission. ‘Cause as you may or may not know, it’s impolite to leave before the double feature ends. I’m surprised I have to tell you people that. Four and a half stars. Joe Bob says check it out.

Gil had a dazed look on his face as he handed the review back to Gorman. “Wow,” he breathed, “he called me obviously talented.” He shook his head in wonderment.

Gorman gave a little chuckle and replied, “Yeah, and secondarily, he said the movie wasn’t bad either.” As Gil started to blush Gorman waved a hand at him. “I know, I know,” he said, “this is your first review, right?” As Gil nodded his head Gorman continued. “Yeah, looks like your name’s gonna be all over the country by this weekend. And, speaking of which, let’s do a little something for your services.” He picked up the phone and pressed a button. “Ms. Fein,” he said in a syrupy but professional voice, “would you bring in the compensation for Mr. Hall?”

He had barely time to replace the receiver before Natalie burst through the door carrying a manila folder. Handing it to Gorman she said neutrally, “Here you are, sir.” This time she didn’t even risk a look at Gil as Gorman told her that that would be all, and she quickly left the office again.

Gorman motioned Gil to come over to the desk. Opening the folder, he handed a check to Gil. It was, Gil noticed, made out correctly to Gilbert Hallenbeck in the amount of $30,000.

Noticing the rather strange look on Gil’s face Gorman said quickly, “That take care of you okay, Mr. Hall?” Then as Gil once again nodded numbly, Gorman handed him a pen and shoved a release form toward him saying, “Sign here, please.”

As Gil signed without reading or questioning, Gorman said, “This is simply a legal agreement by which you acknowledge that you have received total compensation for your work on this film and are not entitled to any further consideration, no matter how much or little profit the film would make.”

Gil at last found his voice. “That’s all right with me, Mr. Gorman. Frankly I didn’t expect to get this much anyway. You don’t know what a great experience I had during those four weeks.” He leaned over the desk and looked Gorman in the eye. “I would have done it for expenses,” he said evenly. Then he took the check, folded it once, and put it in his pocket. “Will that be all, Mr. Gorman?” he said, turning to go.

Gorman was clearly surprised. He shook his head and gave a little snort of amazement. Then he came over from around the side of his desk and clapped Gil on the shoulder. “I can’t help but admire your style, kid.” Then he continued in a sort of wistful tone. “I hope you never lose it. You don’t know what this town does to young idealistic people just like you. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times. Some of the best directors, actors, whatever in Hollywood start out with their heads in the clouds and within ten years they’re phoning it in just like the rest of them.” He shook an admonishing finger at Gil. “Don’t let this happen to you.”

Gil drew himself up to his full height of six one and a half and said, “Don’t worry Mr. Gorman, I won’t.” Then without another word he left Gorman’s office. He paused only to turn to Natalie who was sitting behind her desk pretending to work and gave her a big grin, pumped his fist in the air, and mimed a silent yell which she returned in a like manner. “See you after work,” he said in a low tone, and as she nodded he left the office.

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