PART I: BEFORE // Chapter Four: How He Grew Up: 9

A couple of weeks later Gil was sitting in his ratty armchair in his little room on Alvarado engrossed in a book about Eisenstein. It was after five in the afternoon and he was beginning to feel hungry. He closed the book, set it down on the small end table, got up and looked out of the room’s only window which was ground level and facing the street. It was still raining he noticed.

Fortunately his food and entertainment options had greatly increased since, thanks to Stupendous Pictures and the rather weird but ultimately benevolent Oscar DeVille, he had become a man of means. No longer did his tiny refrigerator contain only a jar of mustard and some pickle relish; now it was well stocked with lunch meats, cheeses, and even a loaf of semi-fresh bread. On top of it he had placed a number of cans of useful things such as pork and beans, chili con carne, and Dinty Moore’s beef stew. He was just about at the point of deciding whether to bother putting on his raincoat and hat to brave the weather and go to a nearby cafe, or simply stay in and have a couple of sandwiches, when he heard the hall telephone begin to ring.

Startled by the sudden noise his face became nonetheless suffused with a wide and radiant smile. Nearly stumbling over his own feet in his haste to get through the door, he was still able to grab the phone by the time its second ring was completed. Hoping it would be Natalie, he said in what he hoped would be a composed and casual voice, “Helloooo?”

Unfortunately he was disappointed to hear a baritone male voice on the other end bark, “Hey, is this Gil Hall?”

“Yeah, this is Gil Hall,” he admitted in an entirely different tone of voice. “And who might I ask are you?”

“How quickly they forget,” came the brusque reply. “I’m your meal ticket, kid. Good old Oscar DeVille. In the flesh, so to speak. You enjoying your newfound wealth?”

Abashed, Gil muttered, “Yes—yes. Thank you very much, Mr. DeVille.”

“Don’t mention it, kid. On second thought, do mention it. Anyway, I guess I should thank you. You kids did a really great job on my little prestige picture. In fact, that’s why I’m callin’. Post-production was such a breeze that the film’s gonna have its official premiere at the Academy in Pasadena. It’s on Colorado Boulevard. It’s openin’ a week from Friday.”

“That’s great news, Mr. DeVille,” Gil put in.

“Yeah, yeah. So the reason I’m callin’ is twofold. One, if they request it, I give all my directors pre-screenings. You know, so they’ll know what to expect. Then if they got any problems, maybe do a little last-minute editing. But I think you’re gonna love this baby. Wait’ll you see what we did with it.”

“And, uh, the second thing?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m comin’ to that. But first, lemme tell you the rest of it. What we did was…” Here DeVille’s voice became softer and sort of dreamy, indicating that he loved talking about his pictures. “What we did was,” he continued, “we put in a whole bunch of stock footage, some great music, and that V.O. narration by Garson Wilsey is really gonna knock you out. So, you wanna screening or not?”

“Um, no,” said Gil, not sure how to handle this situation since in his brief directorial career he had never been asked this before. “I don’t really think it’s necessary. I’ll just see it at the theater like everybody else.”

“Great, kid. And that brings me to the second thing. How many tickets you want for the premiere? Since I don’t think there’s probably gonna be lines around the block, you can have as many as you want. Just gimme the number and you can pick them up at the office. Or,” he said with just a slight hint of needling in his voice, “I could have Schoonover drop ’em by if you want.”

“No, no,” Gil said hastily, remembering with dismay his brief crush on DeVille’s attractive secretary Miss Schoonover as if it had occurred back in high school. “I’ll be glad to pick them up. And thank you.”

“Wait, wait, you haven’t even told me how many.”

“Oh, uh, just two I guess,” he replied, obviously thinking of Natalie. “I don’t really know that many people in town.”

“That’s what you say,” countered DeVille. “Word around town is that you were seen schmoozing with Nicholson the other night. Not bad for a kid who don’t know anybody in town.”

“Uh, well…” Gil was glad that DeVille could not see through the telephone for he was now blushing furiously. “It was just, uh, you know, ah, chance encounter.”

“Yeah sure, kid. All the same I’m keeping my eye on you. You know, my spies are everywhere. Anyway, gotta run. Got a meeting with Pacino in half an hour. Catch you later, kid.”

There was a click and then the buzzing of the dial tone. Gil hung up the phone and slowly and rather dazedly wandered back into his room, just barely remembering to shut and lock the door. How long, he wondered, should he or even could he resist the temptation to call Natalie?

The answer to that question was only the next twenty-four hours. By the next afternoon he was standing in the hall of his dingy apartment building, frantically digging through his wallet for the business card Natalie had given him at that now seemingly long-ago Thanksgiving party. He figured that since it was mid-afternoon on a weekday she would be at work, and the business card held the phone number for the office of Rod Gorman, the producer for whom she was the sole employee. Finally he found it, stuck a dime in the pay phone, and dialed the number.

There were two rings and then the voice that greeted Gil sounded both familiar and oddly mechanical: “You have reached the office of RoddyGore Productions. Mr. Gorman is out of the office today so please leave your name, phone number where you can be reached, and a brief description of your business with Mr. Gorman, at the sound of the tone. BEEP!”

By the end of the allegedly recorded message he had figured out what was going on. Playing along he said, “This is Mr. Gil Hall, 378-5555, and actually, I was hoping to speak to the beautiful and talented Miss Natalie Fine, if she should be available on such short notice.”

There was a giggle on the other end of the phone and then Natalie said in a dopey Scarlett O’Hara voice, “Oh Mr. Hall, how y’all do go on.” Then her voice became normal and more serious. “Yeah Gil, it’s me. Thanks for calling. And thanks for waiting a decent amount of time to do so. Actually I was just about to call you. I’ve gotten things pretty squared away at the office and I’ve cleaned up the evidence of our torrid affair at my apartment, so I guess it’s safe to see each other again. I’ve begun what I call Operation Hire Gil by sending out feelers to most of the studios and production companies in town with a recommendation from Rod Gorman. He won’t mind, he does this all the time. He likes to help young people who deserve it get ahead in the movie business any way he can. So,” she concluded, “what did you call me about?”

Gil, who had been following this closely, was ready with his reply. “Guess what?” he said brightly. “My picture’s opening a week from Friday.”

“Picture?” she said, and he had a mental picture of her scratching her head.

“Yeah, picture,” he said, a little tersely. “You know, my documentary? The one for DeVille? The reason we met?”

“Oh, that picture!” she exclaimed. “I’d almost forgotten about that picture.” Then she gave another little giggle. “Actually, I’m just putting you on. I remember very well what picture and I’m glad it’s opening so soon. Want me to go see it with you?”

Gil felt relieved. “Yeah,” he said brightly. “That’s why I called.” Then his tone became concerned. “DeVille said it’s gonna be at a theater in Pasadena and I realized I don’t even know where that is exactly or how far away.”

“Pasadena, huh?” she said with a little snort. “I guess that’s sort of like an out-of-town tryout. Did he mention which theater?”

“I think it must be something to do with a college, he called it the Academic or Academy, something like that?”

“Oh, the Academy, I know where that is, and it’s really not too far from here if you know the way to go. If I remember it correctly, it’s right on Colorado, the main drag.”

“Great!” Gil said. “It’s supposed to be the eight o’clock performance a week from Friday. I get free tickets and everything,” he added proudly.

“Terrific,” she responded with not a little irony. “But here’s the deal. I put out a lot of money over the holidays and a lot of it was for you. So here’s what I want. I want gas money—”

“No problem,” he interrupted.

“And a good dinner at a nice restaurant before the show. I know some really nice old-fashioned places real close to the theater. We’ll have fun.”

“Okay, that sounds great,” Gil said.

“Okay,” Natalie repeated. “So if we don’t see each other before then I’ll pick you up at five. We want to make sure we get there in time to have a nice leisurely dinner.” Then she cooed, “My, my. Our third date already. How things are progressing.” Then she hung up with a click, leaving Gil to ponder the meaning of her last statement.

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