Way too early, the room phone rings and rings. Why doesn’t the message machine pick up? Why didn’t Jack or even Jace pick it up. Finally, I remember where we are. I groggily grab the receiver.
“What? It’s early. Why are you calling. We don’t need room service.”
“Shut up, you fuck. Marty’s on the line.” It’s his Assistant, not my favorite wake-up caller.
“It’s three hours earlier here,” I complain.
“They are open on the weekend?”
“Why’dch think I sent you out there on Friday night? They’re screaming at me. It only makes me wonder how I could send you two on a simple messenger job.”
“Yeah. I read all about that in today’s LA Times. You can’t help yourself getting on stage and in the papers.”
“They reviewed our show last night?”
“The same old pervert stuff, kissing Elton’s ass and elsewhere, I don’t even wanna think about it. I’m pulling out of your vanity project.”
“No,” I wake up. “We were just celebrating my birthday. I turned 18 yesterday.”
“Well, grow up, for once. I ain’t gonna have nothin’ to do with your gossip exploits. At least, youse legal now.”
“Yer right, as usual, Marty. It’s still early. We’ll get over to United Artists by ten.” It is already eight.
“No. Take the whole package to MGM first. I want them to see it and get an opinion.”
“Not since I made that bomb with your old band. I seem to alternate between hits and misses. UA is spending way over budget on this film. I need a back-up plan.”
“And, what is the current name of this film?”
“I’m calling it ‘The Lady Sings All that Jazz.’”
I yell to Jack to get up.
“And tell Jack to stop saying he’s an assistant producer. You boys are just messengers.”
“Yeah. I know. Movies ain’t no bizness for kids.”
“Yer 18 but yer still a kid.”
“I’m learning that.”
“Finally,” and he hangs up.
I jump on top of the sleeping Jack. He just rolls over and tells me to go away. Marty’s call somehow makes me horny. We are both stark naked and I’m hard. Morning delight. I get off quickly, much to Jack’s dismay. I drag him into the shower. He gets even in the quickie department. We barely make use of unlimited hot water at the Beverly Wilshire. Jack tries to order breakfast from room service, but I cut him off.
“We can eat later. Marty wants us to sell the film to MGM.”
“What? I thought he sold it to United Artists.”
“No wonder. All those sets, costumes, extras, and crowd scenes. He’s trying to out-Hollywood Hollywood.”
“I was to remind you that you are only an assistant director in your head.”
“Okay, but if we have to sell something, we need proper titles.”
“How about songwriters?”
“The songs Marty chose suck.”
“Well, we can use that song Nina wrote about New York. We’ll say her dad wrote it. That’ll get their attention.”
Mummy had suits and ties packed for us, which we had laughed about. We now want to make the right impression. Jack is trying to get his hair to behave. Our Taxi Driver baldies have grown out about an inch.
“Forget that, let’s go.” I had made coffee in the room. We took the expensive Beverly-Wilshire porcelain with us. A cab out front knows where to go at MGM’s studios in Culver City. We renamed it Vulgar City, from our entitled New York point of view and the dismal square stucco housing surrounding the studio.
Two teenagers with a film attract scant attention at the corporate offices. A junior executive comes out to take the package. Except we have to deliver it to UA, so we tell him he can only look at it today.
“Where are you boys from?” he remarks sarcastically.
“Miami,” Jack retorts. “My dad’s Edgar Stone.”
That gets his attention. “You mean he’s your granddad?”
“No. I’m their November mistake.”
We all laugh.
“Well, he is partners with Kirk Kerkorian, so maybe you need to speak with an executive.”
“All we want is someone who can decide whether to invest in Marty’s film. He’s over-budget.”
The junior assistant leaves and soon an older man comes into the conference room.
“What’s up, boys,” he turns to Jack. “I understand Edgar Stone’s your grandfather.”
“No,” Jack carefully explains. “He’s my dad.”
“Well, I’ve met your brothers. You’re too young to be siblings.”
“All this posturing has nothing to do with why I’m here.”
“Listen, kid. Your brothers were no great shakes. None of their ideas were worth listening to.”
“I’m working for Martin Scorsese this summer, on ‘The Lady Sings All that Jazz.’ I’ve got dailies and some edited footage. Do you want to see it or not?” Jack is being tough.
“What is your role on the set? You must be in school or something.”
“Tim and I are at Harvard. We’re musical coordinators for Marty.”
“The word is the music sucks, even with Minnelli.”
“You’re no one to judge Liza. She’s a genius,” I pipe up.
“Not with that goombah De Niro.”
“Hey. You’re just a suit. Bobby earned his Oscar nomination last year.”
The exec looks meanly at me, but defers to Jack. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
“Before you even see it, I’m telling you what we want – a five million investment in the budget for distribution rights and residuals, plus a profit percentage.”
“You’re negotiating for Scorsese?”
“No. I just want to know if you want in or not, before showing you anything.
He looks nonplussed, turning to the junior staffer, “Get Scorsese on the phone.”
“You’re not even interested in seeing what we’ve got?”
“Cancel that. Get Edgar Stone on the phone, instead. I can’t believe this kid’s his son,” he orders.
A secretary rushes in, with the day’s LA Times. “You better read this review. These boys played with Elton John last night.” She waves the Arts section with our picture on the front page.
“I told you. We’re musical consultants. It was Tim’s birthday yesterday. Elton got us up on stage for a couple of songs.”
Shortly, Edgar Bronfman Jr walks in. He was barely older than we are. Everyone else moves back as he approaches us. “Can you get Elton to sign with us?’
“We’re not agents, although if you want a real rocker, I’m sure Joan Jett is available.”
“She’s just a punk. What is this all about?”
“Marty needs additional funding to finish the Minnelli/De Niro jazz musical. He sent us with dailies and some edited segments for MGM to consider funding.”
“What about UA? They have a signed contract.”
“Yeah, but MGM rules distribution. You get both ends of the profits,” Jack seems to really know what he’s talking about.
“I don’t have time for this,” Bronfman turns to the executive. “Look at what they’ve got and recommend what we should do. Do your jobs. I’m here about Elton.”
“Come to the Troubadour tonight and catch the shows. He eats at Dan Tana’s between sets. Elton will talk then, but all we can do is get you in,” I tell the crowd of suits. They look stunned.
“That’s what I need. Someone who delivers.” Bronfman walks out.
The suits are confused.
“Where’s the screening room,” Jack asks. We have them on the run.
Once the edited footage is set up, we settle in to watch it for the first time. It’s horrible. Liza looks like a cheap version of her mother, Judy Garland. Bobby is still acting off-kilter. And there’s little spark between them. The songs are horrid, but then, we both despise jazz. Once the footage is finished, we jump up and get in front of the screen.
“Look,” I confess. “The film’s in trouble. Marty’s trying to do a Busby Berkeley musical in New York, with big numbers, crowds of extras, Hollywood sets, and music that wouldn’t even fly in the 30’s.”
“It’s worse than that, kid. You’re not selling the project.”
“We’re the musicians. We got De Niro to shack up with Liza at the Chelsea.
“The Chelsea,” someone gasps. A reputation that doesn’t travel well.”
“The spark between the stars needed a bit of slumming. The Bronx meets Park Avenue.”
“That remains to be seen.”
“We’ll bring the pair out to Hollywood and get them on stage with Elton John. That’s spark.”
The Elton name brings them back to life.
“But what about the music?”
“We’ve got the song to make Liza more Ethyl Merman and less Garland.”
“I suppose you wrote this song.”
“Naw, we got Leonard Bernstein to do it. Remember West Side Story.”
“Don’t lecture me, kid.”
“I wouldn’t dare. But you’ve gotta pay him. It’ll make the show.”
“Any more ideas?”
“Tons,” I looked at Jack. “We’ll add an Astaire & Rogers dance routine.”
Jack and I revive the ‘Dancing in the Rain’ routine we do for Mummy. We sing and dance right there in the screening room.
It’s too much for the suits. Amid the laughter, the senior suit concedes. “Okay. Okay. Enough of the chutzpah. This ain’t New York.”
“That’s it,” I yell. “The film and song are called, ‘New York, New York.”
“You win, kid. But ya gotta get Edgar into dinner with Elton John tonight. Tell Scorsese to call and negotiate with us. He’ll get his money. And you ain’t takin’ any credit fer what ya pulled off.”
Jack whispers, “What song are you talking about, or is this all bull shit?”
“Dakota, our band. Nina wrote the song but we told her it wasn’t rock n roll.”
“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York, New York.”
“Okay, okay,” they shake their heads and wave us away. “Have Marty call us. And Edgar better get to eat with Elton.
We rush out of the screening room and find an empty office. I dial the movie set in New York, while Jack calls Daddy to stay ahead of the shit-storm. After twenty rings someone finally answers on the set. They go and find Nina. She sounds down.
“What’s up, sweetness?” I ask.
“He’ll see the light once we tell him the news.”
“We sold that song you wrote about New York last winter to the suits at MGM. It’s gonna be the title song to the movie.”
“I thought you hated that song.”
“It’s just not rock n roll. But ya gotta let your dad take the song writing credit. His name sold it.”
“Oh,” she sounds disappointed.
“Don’t fret. It’s just Hollywood. You sell your soul to get your name in the credits. This bizness ain’t fer kids.”
Jack is laughing in the background. I have Nina get Marty to let him know what we’ve done. He promises to never let us out of his control again.
“You coming to Harvard, then?” I joke.
“Shut the fuck up. This bizness ain’t fer kids.”
We run back to the screening room and get Marty’s package. We still have to go to United Artists. Also, I forgot to tell Marty I promised that Liza and Bobby are coming to perform with Elton. Details.
I call Doug, who is barely awake.
“Read Robert Hilburn in the Times today. We’re a hit. Get Elton booked for another week, we got more surprises. Tell you later,” I hang up before he can answer.
Glee is more than just a club.
United Artists is more of the same Hollywood disrespect. Without saying anything about the film, we leave the package with another low-level assistant. We’re not going to upset the apple cart any further. As we walk out, a couple of secretaries run over with the LA Times in their hands.
“Are you the boys in the paper?” they ask, our latest fans.
“Of course, she’s great.”
“Well, come to the Troubadour tonight. We’ll introduce you.”
“Would you?” they are dying but have sense enough to hug us and give us modest kisses. Jack loves it.
We all jump in a cab, as the girls giggle that we’re ‘so New York.’ Jack wants to read our review by Robert Hilburn. It’s mostly about Elton and the two different sets he played Sunday night. Jack is reading it aloud and skips all the details about Elton’s set, until finally coming to our appearance.
‘At the second encore, well past midnight, a rag-tag bunch of teenagers were invited onstage, as the oldest was celebrating his 18th birthday. Elton did a quick ‘happy birthday’ riff, and then announced that the kids were going to do their own version of ‘Crocodile Rock.’ Elton had skipped his rocker during the solo set. With three guitars, including the Runaways’ Joan Jett, and Elton standing at the piano, a ripping electric version got the crowd up and dancing at the normally staid Troubadour. The boys suggested another 50’s style dance song and Elton had a huge smile as they covered Freddie ‘Boom Boom’ Cannon’s ‘Palisades Park.’ The crowd down front loved it. Swing dancing broke out. The big surprise of the night closed the show with gasps from the Elton fans as another boy rushed on stage and planted a big kiss on the lips of the flamboyant Elton.
The Elton John solo act was great, pleasing to all his fans. Adding teenage exuberance to his pop lyrics took it to another level. I spoke with the artist afterward. He admitted that his collaborationist Bernie Taupin would not approve of what they called ‘Gatorsaurus Rock,’ but it was all in fun. It is a shame that the Elton John Tour is moving on. Maybe Doug Weston can change that?’
We are all giggling and poking each other as our PR efforts reach a West Coast audience. The girls want to know if Joan is a lesbian.
“From what I’ve seen, I think she’s more of a necrophiliac,” I confess. Jace giggles, making Jack and me break up. The girls aren’t sure what I mean but seem comfortable with Joan just being different.
At El Coyote, across the street from Paramount, we are greeted by more young secretaries at lunch. As soon as we join them, the table is surrounded by other girls who saw our photo in the LA Times. Some even like us as much as they like Joan. Most think Elton is too old, too fat, or too gay. Youth has its advantages, but is a double-edge sword. At 18, I’m now an adult, day two.
Back at the Beverly Wilshire, Andy is having breakfast. Blair is hastily organizing the portraits into a coherent sample of what the Jace’s Place exhibit will look like with Marty’s film about the Jace Tribute. All of us are meeting patrons at the LA County Museum of Art that afternoon. Blair is waiting for more Big Shot film from Polaroid and is bemoaning how backward LA is compared to New York. I tell him he is a long way from his Alabama plantation. I call Doug who is negotiating an extension of Elton’s booking at the Troubadour. Hilburn’s suggestion has caused an avalanche of calls for tickets. When I tell him Liza Minnelli is coming out and wants to perform with Elton, he quickly sews up the deal. I don’t tell him that Bobby will be singing as well. There is a message from Joan to call her at Larrabee Studios. We arrange to meet at Dan Tana’s again at ten. Jack is eating half of Andy’s breakfast, saying the Mexican food wasn’t settling well. His solution is to just eat more. I sit and have coffee with them. Jack has background on Edgar Bronfman Jr. He was at Collegiate in Manhattan a few years ahead of us. Instead of going to college he tried to be a songwriter in Hollywood. Failing that, he got his dad to sell off some of their Canadian Seagram’s liquor business and buy into MGM. That explains his interest in Elton.
“We’ll introduce Edgar as a songwriter. I don’t want Elton to think we’re taking advantage of him for some studio schmuck.”
”Except that’s what we did to get the MGM deal.”
“Okay, but let’s not complicate things. We need Liza and Bobby out here to sing with Elton. I’m not sure we’ll be able to just keep doing ‘Gatorsaurous Rock’ every night.”
“The Lear can bring them out.”
Jack gives me a sharp look, but then laughs. “Okay, but no drama. Right?”
“Isn’t that what it’s all about.”
“Okay, but he too young for you. You’re 18 now.”
“Not too young for Casper,” I look over and see a gleam in the dead boy’s eyes.
“Tommy thinks you’re too old. Old and boring,” Casper announces. “I keep him amused.”
Why was I making an effort for a boy who no longer loves me? The allure of a past shared history?
“No fucking way am I shutting down the shoot so my stars can go chasing around Hollywood,” Marty proclaims.
“You have no choice. You need the MGM money and Bronfman thinks he’s a musical genius. Get Liza and Elton on stage and it’s a done deal.”
“You little fucker. I seen the article about you and Jack-Off in the LA Times. You don’t give a shit about my movie. I’ll shut it down if only to keep it from being hijacked by a couple of teenagers.”
“You may be right about our need to be in the papers, but we care about you, Marty. It’s obvious to everyone that you’ve gone off the deep-end on this shoot.”
“What makes you a critic?” he asks.
“I saw the clips you sent. They suck. Your devotion to Hollywood makes you a 30’s wannabee. You’re over budget. The music isn’t good. The costumes are all shoulder pads and the styling looks wooden. We have a Leonard Bernstein song and a new movie title to save it. Wake up before you drown in your own ego.”
“Fuck you,” he slams down the phone.
I call back and get Liza and Bobby on the line. “You’re coming to Hollywood and performing with Elton John tonight. After today’s shoot go directly to Teterboro and get on Jack’s Lear. Say nothing to Marty. I made him so crazy and angry that he can’t think straight.”
They both laugh and agree to come to LA. They need a break from the lousy shoot.
Next I call Aunty Em and tell her to get Tommy to the Ft Lauderdale airport’s private plane terminal. He’s coming to Hollywood.
“He doesn’t get home from summer school for a couple of hours. What’s this all about?” she is concerned.
“It’s my 18th birthday. He’ll understand. Can you get him out of school early?”
“We trust you, Huck. But keep an eye on that boy. I know he loves you, but he’s still a teenager. He’s been acting strange lately, saying he sees ghosts.”
“His imagination is a gift. We’re having him perform the ‘Gatorsaurous story on stage.”
“Well, he certainly does that good. It’s even funnier than ever.”
“Good. Tell him he’s riding with two Hollywood stars who will also perform with him.”
“My goodness gracious. Our boy in Hollywood.”
Jack coordinates the airlift. Luckily the Lear is in Ft Lauderdale, as the Stones returned to Coral Gables for the week. After Tommy boards, it will go to Teterboro for the stars and be in Santa Monica by late evening. Jack arranges a limo to bring the performers directly to the Troubadour. Sometimes everything falls perfectly into place because it’s what’s right. Marty will literally kill me if the MGM deal falls through. I’m not worried. Right?
Finally, I call Doug back and assures him that Liza is arriving for tonight performance. I suggest he tell Robert Hilburn to come for a second night. Tony agrees to set up a bigger table at Dan Tana’s at 10 pm.
Andy drags us to his meeting at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). He is proud of us in our suits and ties. I feel just like another Hollywood hustler. I promise to keep my mouth shut. This is Andy’s crowd. He introduces us to the patrons, including Armand Hammer.
“Oh, like the baking soda?” I innocently ask him.
“What an interesting idea,” Mr. Hammer notes. “Maybe I’ll buy that company. It will explain everything.”
Everyone else laughs. I’m off the hook. My mouth stays shut the rest of the day. I’ve bitten off enough to chew. I’m thinking about what to tell Elton. His surprise for my birthday deserves a response. But Liza appearing out of the blue in West Hollywood might not tweak his artistic sensibilities.
Cockamamie is as cockamamie does. I have to let him prepare. It is bigger than I can handle. Then I realize that this is all bull shit of my own making. What the fuck? It’ll work out on stage and no one can complain. Except for Twit. Here I am, starting to like the poof. Stupid me. Right, shit for brains.
“I gotta call Elton,” I tell Jack.
“Not ‘til we perform,” he stops me. ‘It’s why Andy brought us.”
“What? What are we performing?”
“’False Gods’ shithead. Our band, remember?”
“This is the money crowd. It can’t be loud. We’ll do it a Cappella.”
“No way. We’ll do spoken word and act all Nazi.”
I run and call Elton. He’s cool about it. Getting to perform totally changes my perspective. He does want to rehearse. Something about ‘Welkommen’ from Cabaret. His creative juices are flowing. I let him take the lead on Liza’s big entrance.
Blair gathers us. It’s showtime. We take off our jackets, straighten our ties, and march into the reception area, stomping our feet in unison. As soon as the room quiets, we stop stomping and loudly recite a spoken word version of the ‘False Gods’ lyrics. We are little princes, ready to spit invective words at our really old minders.
‘Where others feared to tread,
they gave us up for dead,
memories linger eternally,
as Lucifer’s proud plea,
a world of our own,
on high a black throne,
sing to make them see,
happy for eternity
…we are False Gods, we are False Gods…
a world so meek and blind,
we laugh at all of mankind,
we’re Satan’s band,
a world of endless flaws,
facades and miracles applause,
eulogized but despised,
shed your false disguise,
fall to your knees,
utter useless pleas,
…we are False Gods, we are False Gods…
pray in foreign tongues,
shoot your useless guns,
sacrifice hallowed sheep,
shun cold, dark streets,
you’re just nasty fleas,
Set your minds at ease
…False Gods, False Gods…
we live eternally,
we hear your painful screams,
Just wait 20 years or so
You’ll know just what we mean
….We are False Gods, False Gods..
… False Gods’
“Such good little Nazi’s we make,” Jack crows.
“Hey. We met those Kraftwerk guys. They‘re no Nazi’s. They were nice. They let us try their drum machines.”
“It’s what gets people off, thinking they’re Nazi’s.”
“That Hammer guy is a Nazi?”
“No, just a Commie.”
“When did we get so political?”
Andy’s assistant Blair meets us in the vestibule.
“What the fuck was that? We needed you to entertain the patrons, not intimidate them.”
“So what? They’re all Nazi’s. They love a little S&M.,” I explain.
“Andy isn’t leaving the reception right away.”
I tell him, “We’ll see you later at the Troubadour.”
“Andy needs to rest from last night. He hates these patron meetings.”
“Meet us at Dan Tana’s at ten. We have a surprise for him.”
“I don’t need surprises” The harried assistant complains. “One display of arrogance is enough for today.”
“Oh, Andy will be entertained. We’re putting Elton through his paces.”