August, 1975- Beverly Hills
“Why does your father want to save that dump of a show?”
Amber showed up 30 minutes early. I had to scramble to clean up. I really need to hire a maid service. I invited her in, took her coat and offered her a bowl of nuts. The half-naked redheaded lady stumbled out of the bathroom.
“Did I come at a bad time?” Amber asks.
“No, this is my butler”, I say. Then I instruct the woman to get the cheese plate out of the kitchen.
Amber was wearing a long blue dress that covered up most of her body. It was more business than pleasure. I was confused. Finally we got down to business. That was when I asked her about her father.
“The studio asked him to deliver a solution to save the show or else they’re going to cancel it.” Amber replies.
“Cancel it.” I say
“That’s what I told him. That’s what the studio advised him. But he’s not listening.”
I break open a bottle of champagne. We toasted and put my hand on Amber’s leg. “That’s not why I’m here, Phil.”
“I’m dating Harlan Wilkerson. He wanted me to talk to you about a role that he specifically wrote for you in his next picture.” She informs me.
“You have an Academy Award, Phil! How do you not know who this guy is?”
“Look sweetheart, I haven’t watched a picture since Walker’s Wishes got cancelled. I’ve just been focusing on other things. That’s all.”
A frustrated Amber pours herself another drink.
“You have absolutely no desire to return to acting?” she asks.
“Now that I’m on two game shows, I doubt that I’ll have any time to do that.”
“Don’t make excuses for yourself. Please. This is going to be a big picture, and trust me, audiences want to see you return to the big screen. Harlan is in the Philippines location scouting. When he returns, will you talk to him?”
“Yes. It’s about the Vietnam War.”
“Woah baby, I don’t know. Don’t you think that’s a little too soon?”
“Harlan and his studio doesn’t think so. It’s a great script. To avoid any contract disputes, we’ll fly you out in the summer, shoot for six weeks and fly you back.”
“Your dad will never go for that.”
“I thought you said that you can handle him. But don’t worry about that. If he puts up a fight, let ME handle him.”
“Do you have the script?”
“I’ll send it to Charlie.”
I haven’t read a line in four years. Haven’t been in a picture in nearly ten! After Amber left, I opened another bottle of champagne and walked out back to the pool. Redheaded sweetie was back there too.
“Do I still have to pretend to be your butler?” she asks.
I finish the bottle and fell asleep on the porch. As I was smoking on set the next morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about my missing Rolls-Royce. And what about Johnny? What the fuck was he up to that he needed a Rolls-Royce?
The contestants on the day’s show happened to feature a 12-year-old girl. Jill was her name. An absolute darling. She came from the Nester family out of Chicago. As I tried to give her a kiss, she appeared to recoil somewhat. Probably wasn’t used to boys. I introduce her on the show.
“This is Jill, 12 years old, and she’s going to be a knockout!”. That made her blush somewhat. It was adorable.
But I kept thinking about my own son, Johnny. Haven’t seen the kid in nearly a year.
“Jill is going to break all of the boy’s hearts. In about six years, Jill….why don’t you give me a call?”. The audience laughed. She was too cute for words.
But why steal a Rolls? I had a Lotus, a 63′ Corvette. Why a fucking ROLLS-ROYCE? While today’s taping left the audience satisfied, it wasn’t my best performance. I was too distracted. When I go back to the dressing room, Amber rushes over to me.
“I got Charlie on the phone. I sent him the script.” she says to me.
I take the phone.
“Charlie! Whatchu got for me?”
“I’m gonna shoot straight with you Phil….this ain’t a bad script. If you want to gun for another Academy Award, this will do it.” he says.
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice Amber walking away.
“Is Amber gone?” Charlie asks.
“There ain’t no way that Luke or any of those assholes at ABC are going to let you do this thing. There are mentions of women getting raped by machine gun barrels, soldiers heads getting blown off by grenades. And in the last act, your character appears to go on a pseudo-philosophical, yet incoherent rant!”, Charlie tells me.
“But is it a good script?” I ask.
“Well, studios are certainly going for these things nowadays. They usually sweep awards season. This will be a great chance for you to work with a genuine auteur.”
“For fuck’s sake Phil! Harlan Wilkerson! He just won an Academy Award! If you want back into the pictures, this is how you do it. Work for Harlan, get your name back out there. But if you’re comfortable with the game show circuit, I suggest you pass on this.”
“Amber told me that I will have to be in the Philippines for only six weeks.”
“You’re going to the Philippines, Phil! Your contract with Luke doesn’t want you doing anything to injure yourself, get sick, or jeopardize your image as America’s favorite game show host. You won’t be able to have it both ways.”
After I got off the phone with Charlie, I rush to the set of Guess My Line. Again, Luke was there waiting for me.
“I need to talk to you.” he says to me.
“Of course you do.”
We find a quiet spot at the back of the set.
“Amber mentioned something strange to me. I’m not a big fan of her boyfriend’s work. Harlan, I’m sure you’re familiar with him. But apparently he wants you to be in this war film that starts shooting next year. Has anyone mentioned this to you?” Luke asks.
“No. I haven’t heard anything about this.”
“Because she asked if I would be willing to, “look the other way” if you will, while you were overseas filming this thing. But I don’t like this guy. I mean, the critics love him. But have you seen any of his films?”
“I know his name, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen his movies.”
“Pure trash. Not at all would I say they’re appropriate for families. They’re just one step above pornography. I wouldn’t think you’d be interested in working with this guy, right?”
“Of course not Luke! I embrace my image as America’s favorite game show host. I’d never do anything to jeopardize what we built here together.” I say.
“I didn’t think so. By the way, are we still on for Sunday?”
“Absolutely! I got the bar stocked up. I’ll send my butler to the butcher tomorrow to pick us up some steaks. I’ll call a few friends over, if you know what I mean. We’ll have a great time!”
“Good, and I want to bring over Jerry, he’s just been promoted to vice president of programming. Have you met him?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, he’s black, just so you know.”
“Yes, Luke, people can be black too. My pool doesn’t discriminate.”
“Good, because he has a few ideas of his own on how to improve Guess My Line. Great guy.”
I step out back to get in one last smoke before recording. To my surprise, Jillian Jonah was out there getting a puff as well.
“Well Jillian, nice to see you back here. There was a 12 year old girl on my show today that resembled you. Her name was also Jill. She was as sweet as she could be.” I tell her.
I light up my cigarette. “How long have you been in LA?”
“Don’t like it here, eh? I don’t mind showing you around. There’s a nice bar off of Sunset I could take you to. Maybe a few spots in the Hills that might change your mind about this place.”
She flicks her cigarette away.
“I don’t date co-workers.”