31 July 2018

The Things We Do for Our Art

by Paul D. Marks

We all do various forms of research for our art, our writing. And we all make sacrifices for it. Some are big, some are little. There’s the standard research in books and on the net. Then there’s first-hand research, going to a particular location, talking to people who might have been involved in a certain event, or maybe taking on certain experiences ourselves, etc.

I’ve hung out in dive bars and other dives (including SCUBA dives). And spent years doing things that would make your hair curl and mine, too…if I had any, all so I could have a life and some life experience to eventually write about. Well, maybe I didn’t think of it as research at the time, but in retrospect it came in handy for things I wrote later on. And I’ve turned down invitations to go places, anything from a movie to parties, with friends so I could write—and have lost friends over it. Ah, the sacrifice.

But here I want to focus on a handful of things that I think are kind of funny in retrospect. At least these are a few of the ones that are light enough and that I’m willing and comfortable enough to talk about at this time, but they’re really only the tip of that sacrificial iceberg.

The Den of Nazis: Okay, maybe Nazis aren’t fun, but here goes: In ye olden days, before the
internet, I was doing research for a project set in the near past. I needed info about the daily life and costs of items and such from the 1930s, 40s, etc. Time-Life had a book series called This Fabulous Century. Each volume covered a decade and had that types of info in them. I had a few of the volumes  but not the whole set—how I managed that I’m not sure. Anyway, I wanted to get the rest of the set so I saw an ad from someone selling it. I responded and they gave me their address in a middling L.A. neighborhood, not great, not horrible. I drove down one afternoon. Nice old brick or other classic-type apartment buildings, like something Philip Marlowe would be comfortable in. I go to the people’s apartment. A young woman answers the door and lets me in. I walk into this beautiful old living room with fancy crown molding and gorgeous original wooden floors and the biggest motherfucking Nazi swastika flag hanging on the wall that you can imagine. It took up the whole wall. Now, maybe they were just into humungous historical flags…or maybe something else. The rest of the place was filled with all kinds of other Nazi stuff too. Now I’m wondering if the books were just a scam. Will I get out alive? Her boyfriend comes to me “You want the Time-Life books?”—Yeah, and I want to get out of here in one piece. I also didn’t want the whole set of books as I had some, and, long story short, I bought the ones I needed, the people were actually nice and we didn’t talk politics. I left but it left an impression on me.

Mobbed Up: I had a spec script I was trying to push that dealt with a delicate issue, which I won’t go into here. And there was a nightclub in L.A. at the time that catered to a certain type of clientele that were in my story. So I made an appointment to go talk to the owners as I thought maybe they’d like to finance a movie. In those days I’d talk to anyone or try anything to hawk my stuff—see my Cary Grant and Gene Kelly stories on my website: https://pauldmarks.com/cary-grant-gene-kelly/ , and those are just a couple of my more fun stories. Anyway, I went to the club for my appointment and was led into the back offices where I met Murray: The Gangster. Straight out of Central Casting, gray pin-striped suit, carnation, Brooklyn accent. Well, Murray was interested but he needed to talk to his partners (hmm, who could they be, Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel—well, no, ’cause they were goners by then—though I did grow up across the street from Bugsy’s brother and his family, but that’s another story…) Long story short, nothing came of it in terms of getting financing for a movie, but my then-writing partner took to calling me Murray and on occasion I used that and  another last name as a pseudonym.

Stolen Identity – before it was even a term: I was working for a small newspaper. The editor called me and asked if I had called NASA to request press credentials to attend a Space Shuttle landing. He continued, saying NASA had called him to verify if someone from our paper had faxed them to request press credentials for the landing…using my name. Talk about your “Oh shit!” moments.
What? No. I covered local stories, movie reviews and entertainment, not space shuttle landings. I was alarmed. Was someone impersonating me? Had they stolen my identity? Were they terrorists? What the hell was going on? I called the FBI and talked to an agent with the lowest, deepest voice I’d ever heard, lower than I ever imagined possible. He didn’t seem concerned. But I couldn’t let it go. So, I did some of the best detective work of my career…I called Ma Bell and had them trace the fax number where the credential request came from to a local Kinko’s. Then my Mata Hari (Amy) called Kinko’s pretending to be the secretary to a Colonel Severin. They gave her the name and phone number of the imposter who’d sent the credential request. Then I called NASA and told them about the ruse and gave them the information we had tracked down. Hey, they should have given us medals for this, but they also seemed kind of blasé about the whole thing. But if this had been post-911, I’m sure they would have had a different attitude and a different ending…or maybe not. Who knows? At least I didn’t end up at Guantanamera, I mean Guantanamo.


The Mossad: I was working on a script for a producer (who was also an actor, more on this later). The woman who hooked us up warned me about him ahead of time—I should have heeded the warning. He was a pain in the ass to put it ever so mildly. One time in our previous house where the houses were closer together than where we are now, I was screaming at said producer on the phone. Amy was home and since I didn’t want her to think I was the lone psycho on that call I put it on speaker so she could also hear him screaming at me. I was also concerned that our neighbors would think I was yelling at her as the houses were close, but luckily no cops were called. To say my relationship with this guy was contentious would be the understatement of the century. But we worked together for a while…until things got so bad that one day he threatened to send his friends in the Mossad after me. Quaking in my boots, I couldn’t sleep for years, waiting for the stealthy Mossad operatives, who I’m sure had nothing better to do than to come after me. And, as for the actor part, well, since he is an actor I see him in things now and then and it makes it hard to watch them. On occasion I’ve turned them off. And I’m still looking over my shoulder every day…

The Bondage House: Aside from working for other people on their properties or rewrites I was always trying to find money to do a film of my own. To that end, someone I knew said, Hey, I know a producer and maybe he’d want to invest in your project. This is someone whose work I knew and you might know his movies too. So we went to this guy’s house in the hills and it was a really cool house, kind of like a huge Spanish-Mediterranean castle. But on the inside it was more like a Spanish-Mediterranean dungeon. You walked in the front door and there were very sexily and scantily clad mannequins chained to the wrought iron staircase and anything else you could attach a chain to. There were dressed in leather bustiers and wearing high heels. For some reason I can’t remember anymore, my friend and I got the tour of the house and the chained mannequins were everywhere. This was another one where I wondered if we’d get out unscathed, but we did. And, of course, he didn’t want to invest in my film—he wanted me to invest in his. Ah, Hollywood.

The Joan Crawford House: Or should I say museum? Someone wanted me to meet this guy—I can’t remember his name anymore—who had been Joan Crawford’s publicist before she died. She/my friend thought maybe he could help me raise some money—like I said, always looking for money. I wish we had Go Fund Me back then… Anyway, we go to this guy’s house, a nice, Spanish style house in Bev Hills (my favorite architecture by the way), though not nearly as big as the bondage house, and you walk in the door—no, no bondage gear this time—but the house was totally decked out in everything Crawford. He had several of her dresses displayed, every little thing she’d ever touched it seemed like, cigarette lighters and shoes. It was a total museum and homage to Joan Crawford. If her ghost wasn’t haunting that place I don’t know where it would be. And no, he didn’t end up investing either.

There were also other pleasant experiences like a trip to New Orleans and other places for research and other things. And then the Top Secret things that I’m not ready to talk about. But good, bad and indifferent, we all make sacrifices for our writing. What are some of yours?

***
Broken Windows – Sequel to my #Shamus-winning White Heat drops 9/10/18. A labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church and state that hovers around the immigration debate. #writers #mystery #amreading #thriller #novels  



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25 comments:

O'Neil De Noux said...

Uh. You should be a fiction writer. Wait. You are. Good. These non-fiction tidbit are so cool. Each should be a short story. Maybe they are since I haven't read everything you've written. Mossad? Really.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, O'Neil. I'll have to consider fiction writing as a profession :-) . Some of these have made it into fiction but all will eventually. And yes, the Mossad. I'm still looking over my shoulder. Like I said, the things we do for our art. And I'm sure you have some good tales from when you were a cop or just in general.

janice law said...

Proof that research really does pay off in good copy!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Janice. But some of it seems a lot more fun in retrospect than it did at the time...

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Paul,

I don't think many journalists can top these great stories with the possible exception of some war correspondents. Very impressive!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Jacqueline.

Eve Fisher said...

Oh, the places you'll go! when you're a writer. Great stories, Paul.

Art Taylor said...

Love hearing about your adventures! And glad you got out alive to share some of them!

R.T. Lawton said...

People watching and meeting new people gives us great stories to tell, and it's all fodder for the white space on our computers. Good one.

Melodie Campbell said...

Fun column! I talk about these things when I do reading/panel gigs. You've encouraged me to actually write them down :)

Michael Bracken said...

I've done many things, Paul, but none of them seem as exciting as your adventures. Go. Have more. Let me live vicariously!

Elizabeth said...

I admit to having smoked a cigarette painted with liquid morphine so I'd know why people like it so much ... it is very good stuff.

I was in first grade in 1957-58 & there was a boy in my class who was of German ancestry. He was always drawing Nazi symbols, flags, etc. Nobody said anything to him about it, even though the war had only been over for 12 years at that point!

Re the Time-Life book series, were the books ever sold one at a time? I remember my parents buying us kids a set of encyclopedias at the grocery store, one volume every week. Maybe that's how you ended up with an incomplete set. Besides books, Time-Life used to put out wonderful collections of old country music etc. Of course this was on vinyl & cassette, in the 1980s.

Leigh Lundin said...

Elizabeth, I think Time-Life offered pay-for-books-as-you-go on a number of series. I recall one about historical ships.

Leigh Lundin said...

Um, Paul. Seems to me I've seen a movie script or ten where the mafia ‘invests’ (read: launders) illicit gains in, well, a movie script. I don’t remember things going so well for the writer/producer/director– the plot became a plat in a New Jersey toxic landfill… You may have dodged a bullet there, Paul.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t worry too much about Mossad. I vaguely knew a slick guy, a chiropractor, who seduced women with his tales of on-going work for the CIA. He made promises to fly said women to Rome for lunch in his Lear jet, which oops… just happened to be in the garage. I upset a small part of his scam by telling a couple of the women it was all make-believe: real CIA operatives don’t tell people they’re CIA. Threats followed of crushing me like a paper cup (yes, that trite) and having CIA buddies make me disappear. Wow, I shook in my boots super-worried he’d fall back into his pretend CIA career and get his make-believe spy buddies on the job.

You got me thinking about my own Nazi adventure. Hmm…

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Eve. Indeed, the places we go as writers. And these are the ones I’m willing to talk about…

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Art.

Paul D. Marks said...

That’s the great thing, R.T., everything is fodder for stories. There’s very little that escapes us, isn’t there. And thanks.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Melodie. Would love to hear your tales, too.

Paul D. Marks said...

Michael, these days I lead a pretty quiet, staid life – escaping my checkered past, no doubt. And I’m sure you have some great adventures too.

Paul D. Marks said...

Well, you got me on that one, Elizabeth. I’ve never done that. But I have had morphine or things like it when I was injured. Time-Life had some great book series. We have a shopping place here, sort of like a pre-mall, called the Farmer’s Market. It’s a big tourist place. And there was actually a store there at one time that sold all the Time-Life books, but by the time I wanted to complete my series the store was gone. And I can’t remember for the life of me how or why I had only part of the set. And T-L does have some great music collections too. I’ve got some of them. As for you little friend and his drawings, not sure what to say – maybe he was the guy I bought the T-L books from…

Paul D. Marks said...

Leigh, I guess we can quake in our boots together. I know there’s a lot of fakers out there but this guy was pretty well connected. It wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t know people in the Mossad. But I still didn’t take it seriously. As for the mob, yeah, maybe it’s better in the long run that it didn’t work out. And would love to hear about your Nazi adventure.

GBPool said...

What a total trip. I could almost see the movies made from a few of those stories. One featured Abbott and Costello, but it sure was good. And Cary Grant turned up in another. You do have a way with words, my friend. Glad you made it out alive from several of those adventures. I'd still like to see the movie...

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Gayle. I'm curious which one for Abbott and Costello, who I still think are funny. And Cary Grant would be cool. I actually did talk to him about doing a movie, but none of these stories :-) .

Kaye George said...

With all that, I'm glad, as I'm sure you are too, that you're still alive.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Kaye. I'm glad I'm still alive, too. Though I'm not sure how dangerous any of those things really were ;-) .