It was 1981. I had arrived early at the studio. I always got a kick going through the Paramount gates like I was important or something. I had an office at the studio where I was a lowly reader in the story department. There was a lot of fuss down at the story department : gunless security guards mingling at the door to the department which looked to have been blown off its hinges. Marcia, a script administer ,was chalk-white and silent. She was a big talker but something had silenced her. I hated her so much I never remembered her name. Marcia something was quietly muttering in the corner. Someone had taken a shit on her desk.
The Security guards were just wrapping up. As I looked about I saw that doors to the story vault had been crow-barred open, papers and drawers were on the floor. I quickly learned that all the archival drafts of The Godfather and Godfather II had been yanked. The dewey decimal index cards for all of the The Godfathers were gone.
Those were the days when you just “handled things” and you never called the cops.
Apparently, the s— on the desk was a “Mafia warning” to not proceed on Godfather III.
“They must have read the script, ” I said.
“You’re insolent and cold-hearted!” Marcia said crying, her red hair falling into her face as she slid into a chair.
“Look, Marcia. Why don’t you take a walk and I’ll call maintenance and get this stinking office cleaned up.”
I was a total geek in those days but I could read and I had a good sense for identifying writing talent. Since everyone else was busy shoving cocaine up their noses and trying to get a lunch date with the puer aeternus, John Travolta,, I was the go-to geek to analyze alchemy in screenplay form.
Nerd was the operative in those days. “Geek” came later. I did a little coke then on Pandora Avenue even though I wasn’t making enough money for new tires on my car. I looked across the glass coffee table one Friday night at Pandora, remembering every hearty face there. We were all likeable cut-throat knaves, we spoke smooth and were red-handed . When I look back at that circle of men, each one of us became Hollywood royalty — for a little while. The circle included eventual production chiefs at Warners, Columbia, Village Road Show Paramount, Disney, Touchstone and MGM. It was a small town. We were the knaves conniving for fiefs in the land of beautiful things.
At that moment the phone rang. It was the Paramount Production chief’s office calling for Marcia. She was excited and then deflated. “It’s for you.” she said. It was Karen something. It was Don Simpson’s third assistant, whom I also disliked. I pretty much had disdain for everyone who couldn’t advance my career. I was a horror. Later, someone who got in my way, Dawn Steel ,would write a chapter about me in her tell- all book. The chapter was called , “You Can’t Teach A Pig How To Sing.” The literary metaphor indicated that I was the pig. I guess her point was you can’t teach a beast anything if there is no music in their soul.
But I was raised Catholic. The Boss who loved me was Don Simpson , President of Paramount Motion Pictures. He was why I was shown favor at an early age. When he would get good and high on the job and that was pretty much always, he would call me “Altar Boy” and he would call himself” “Bible Boy”. We had “Christianity’ in common. Don was stout, bearded and brilliant. I could see beneath his pride-spilling preening a tender heart so throbbing in its break than even I, who had no heart, could see it. But as far as I knew, we were two of the only people who knew theology at Paramount even though neither of us knew God. He had rejected his roots. He could find no peace. His Alaskan fundamentalist father used to throw him against the house walls every time he got into trouble.
“Someone s — on Marcia’s desk,” I told Don as I walked into his white, white office.
“You know, Marcia, she does admin in the story department.”
“I don’t know who the f– you’re talking about.”
“Well she knows you. Anyways, that’s not the point. The s– was some kind of fecal Mafia hit with some note or something like ‘don’t make this shitty movie.’“
“They must have read the script.”
The fact of the matter is that the Mafia loved the Godfather I and II. The books and resulting movies had given their culture a voice and brought romance to the myth. Life imitated art and the mafia started behaving like the characters from the movie. Years later, Anthony Pellicano, the mad fix-it thug for Hollywood who was on every studio payroll, smashed a window of a reporter’s car and left a rose and dead fish on her seat, threatening her with death, Pellicano went to jail acting like he was Michael Corleone for ten zillion illegal wiretaps but there was no Michael Corleone except in the movies.
“Sh–? Rather than a decapitated head?” Don asked. “I guess these goons were on a budget.”
You have to know the movie to get the joke. I laughed at Don’s jokes. It wasn’t only that I was ambitious and he was my boss. He was extremely entertaining. He had a profane wit. He was also a sadist and got a kick out of throwing Kentucky Fried Chicken bones at me with confounding consistency. Once, he attacked me with an Uzi, God knows where he got it. Men being boys. He was on his Cherokee Lane rooftop and it was a Friday night and late. “Put that away” I screamed . I was petrified. ” It’s only me.” He was snarling at me. The machine gun was twitching in the pocket of his face — he was high, high. The red laser tag was jumping all over my shirt. He thought I was the guy who had come to kill him over God knows what delusion. I explained I was his lowly friend dropping off some story notes. I knew how to call animals down from the trees, or rooftops in this case. That’s not what I did for Don. That’s not why he loved me. I was his literary clean-up man. I took his alcohol spewed rantings on scripts and make sense of them in long memos….mostly.
“I am giving you this project and I want you to get it made. You’re the Altar Boy and you will understand it.” Then he continued in a rah-rah rock-and-roll rooster way…. “F— Charlie Bludhorn (the chairman of the Parent company) and f— to high heaven Sylvester Stallone (a director, writer and Actor) who Charlie whacks (—-intentionally expurgated—–) trying to get him to direct Godfather II and f— John Travolta as Mikey Corleone Jr, that crap will never get done! But this will get done and it’s better than any fiction you could imagine!”
He handed me a manuscript. It was called “In God’s Name.”
“What is it?”
“It’s Paramount Pictures’ newest acquisition.”
“It’s about the real co–k—ers who rule your f— religion!. It’s about all your people. It’s about the corruption in the Vatican and the murder of Pope John Paul I. And it’s all TRUE!”
“It’s going to be a HUGE Bestseller!” He was wrong. The book would eventually debut in 1984 and it would sell a moderate six million copies.
In the wake of a Pope’s resignation and the eve of an election of new pope in the Vatican , in the year 2013, I look back at all of this in shock.
A few months later, I would board a plane to Rome for the project, “In God’s Name”. Once in Rome, I would meet with the Vatican. Later, I would decline a meeting with the Pope. Don Simpson would be fired from Paramount. My condo in Westwood would be wiretapped.The man who invited me to meet with the Pope , whose family “owned half of Sicily” would be murdered. And the project would be destroyed because the Vatican owned the very land upon which Paramount was operating.
I didn’t realize so many people cared about the movies.
And the world? Nothing is what it seems.
(PART 2 on Tuesday, February 19: CIA Operatives as Paramount Executives. Oh, Those Europeans! Pundits say no more than 600 words per blog and I have gone overboard….my apologies )
Excerpt from” I Heard The Wind Call My Name”, A Spiritual Memoir of Hollywood by a Magnificent Sinner.This story is one that has never before been publicly revealed.The memoir may someday be published if the author can ever find the nerve to empty his safe deposit box.