starstruck

Run-ins with the famous, more like train wrecks!

Have you ever thought that the only way you can learn to be a parent, an in-law or a granny was by watching others on TV? I’ve had grandmothers, but they were pretty old, and maybe I was too young to learn from them. So now, I think back to Granny on Beverly Hills. For in-laws, my go-to is Dharma and Greg. For being a writer, it’s all about how to make those connections for real. Right? Wrong. At least, for someone like me who doesn’t know what to do with them.

I’ve always been star-struck. I adapted my favorite novel into a movie script back in 1976 and wrote to the author to get him to read it. I called it “Only Gods go to Mars.” Isn’t that title just screaming to be a movie? The book is “Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane” and it’s about astronauts who feign insanity to avoid a Mars launch they feel is folly. Kane was sent to break the act. And then I wrote to William Peter Blatty, who’d recently had a good run with “The Exorcist.” He wrote back! Ohmigod, my hands were shaking when I opened that envelope. He said, “Sorry to say, I’ve already made that into a movie, called Ninth Configuration.”  Turned out he wrote the script, directed and produced it. Well, I never heard of that movie, so I ran out and searched for a copy at all the video stores I could find. I watched it. And then I wrote back. “Ah, it was okay. But I think we could do better.” I never heard from him again. I tried writing his estate after he died, but no response. I think he thought I was feigning insanity!

Of course my meeting David Dortort to get permission to publish my Bonanza writing was the absolute top of the top star meetings. I wanted to meet Pernell Roberts, the one who played Adam, (warning: spoiler) but that never happened. Meeting with David was the result of me telling him I just knew Pernell would want to do the movie script I’d written just for him, where I have him die on the Ponderosa. Because, you know, he never got the closure from the series that I was sure he wanted. Because David wasn’t asking to see the script, I started shopping it around, figuring if a studio got interested, how could he say no? Now this was after his second TV movie went bust in ‘94. When I told him I was coming to LA in ‘96, he gave me his phone number and invited me to stop over. Stop over? Okay! I booked my plane flight that same day. The first thing he said to me when I sat in front of his big desk was, “What were you thinking, shopping that script around without my permission? Do you always do things the hard way?” All I could think of in response was “I guess so, but what’s the easy way? No one’s ever told me.”

Blatty could have. Fortunately David forgave me and then asked how I knew Pernell. He thought my insistence that Pernell would love the script meant I knew him personally. I wondered at that moment how hard it might be to crawl all the way back to Wisconsin.

But even before meeting Dortort I had other brushes with fame. I got an agent for my Rawhide script and he was getting it to Clint Eastwood, because I didn’t know how to get permission to use those characters so I wrote a part for an aging drover. He finally said Eastwood turned it down but had no letter or email to prove it. I had another agent shopping my vampire script “Becoming” to Quentin Tarantino, who’d just made “Dusk Til Dawn,” but that agent called at midnight to tell me Quentin turned him down flat. I think he was drunk when he called. I wrote to Armand Assante and asked him to read my vampire script because I wrote the character of a Greek vrykolakas with him in my head the whole time. He’s still there, actually, as I continue writing Arabus stories. No one else is Arabus Drake. Although sometimes I see a little of Adam Cartwright there.

March 29, 1995: Quick! Someone send me a rejection! This is getting too good! Got a response from Armand Assante … He sent his agent’s name. This is the best news of all, because he hasn’t rejected the idea of being Arabus Drake. Now as soon as I get this darned novel done, I go back to that awesome script. May 1 is my new deadline. Soon – oh,  hope soon – I can give up working and just stay home to write.

Of course, two days later I wrote that a co-worker was happy to hear I got a story published but wondered why I sent it to a non-paying market. So I went through and deleted all my non-paying markets.

May 6th: I lit a candle in a world of darkness on May 1. With no word from Dortort, NBC or any good word from any agent, I sent the script to Pernell. No SASE, no reply expected. It is better only next to throwing it in the garbage. The chance – one in a million – that he’ll read it, like it and set the motion forward to having it produced is worth the $3.00 investment. I will not hold my breath, but I cannot stop the daydreams – of seeing him read it.

June 3rd: Writing is an awful game. I must steel myself, develop toughness. Three days ago Armand Assante sent me an 8×10 “I embrace you” on it. No note about the script. That was it. And he looks gorgeous! But what does it mean? I’ve been waiting for the script to be returned since I think it could mean thanks but no thanks.

Nothing more from Armand, except that, on occasion, I’d have a brush with him on social media. Almost like he knew it was me and liked to tease me. It hasn’t happened at all recently but once I put up a photo I took on one of my trips, posing cutesy in a motel room, and he responded to it. Said a man always needs a woman. Tease! Oh no, he was real. Not like all these fake Brad Pitts, inviting me to email him directly. I’m not falling for that again!

On December 30, 1995 I got a Christmas card from David, out of the blue. He says that he hopes in spite of him that I’m still a #1 fan. Before that card came, I thought, that’s it. We’re done.

May 29, 1996: Dear Monette, I am really quite pleased to learn that you are planning a trip to Los Angeles in the near future. As you know, I have long had the highest regard for you because of the affection and loyalty you have so consistently displayed toward our Bonanza production, and yes, for Pernell. I look forward, if your schedule will permit it, to a most pleasant visit with you. That would provide us an excellent opportunity to discuss points and questions you raised in your recent letter, and, hopefully, allow us to come up with some clearer understanding of the over-all situation in terms of the practicalities and realities involved. When you do arrive in Los Angeles, please call me at (###), and we can set a time for us to get together, and to give you the necessary directions to reach my home. It would be helpful, as well, if you could drop me a brief note as soon as you firm up the actual date of your arrival in Los Angeles. Sincerely, David Dortort

If my time would permit it? Just what kind of lies had I been telling him to include that tone of respect? But I just noticed a bit of a threat in there that I missed through the sheer excitement of getting an invite to his house. A clearer understanding is what I got, all right. You know, he really did want to help me out in LA, but always stopped short of recommending me to anyone. But we remained connected until the day he died. I wish I could have attended his funeral, but cost has always been a factor for me. Ever since I started writing, I could only travel if I could write it off as a writing expense. Still waiting for the IRS to throw me in jail. I would protest unjust tax laws and serve my time while becoming a GREAT writer! Well, what are they waiting for?

So I went, we met, I got yelled at, heard great stories of Bonanza that I don’t remember now, and got permission to sell my Bonanza novel. He told me I shouldn’t get a master’s in history, that it would be a waste of my talent, but I did it anyway. I stopped writing Bonanza scripts, because learning to research took too much time. But that was all ahead of me yet. By that August …

August 2nd: 25-year class reunion tonight. I swore once to myself that I would not go unless I am a success. Am I? I’ve met with David Dortort, received his blessing to publish my Bonanzas, working on a script with him and to get Pernell involved – is that success? Or just a start? Will I still only look like a foolish dreamer? Others seem impressed but it could be politeness. I’m thinking of going to work at Wendy’s, seems like an appropriate job for a writer.

August 27th: The Becoming came back from LA yesterday. The cracks in those doors are starting to dissolve. That’s all I need – for Joe to start thinking it was a waste of money. He’s already on my case about not working. Well, I’ll show him. I just won’t tell him. Boy, something better come of my Bonanza stuff.

September 4th: Dear Monette, I have now read your latest script as well as the synopsis of your novel. I just have to admire your talent and skill in dealing with the Cartwright family, past and future. I laughed and really enjoyed the first 50 pages or so, with their good-natured ribbing and lusty humor. But then the roof fell in. The second half, where you bring in the “heavies,” was frankly pretty awful. Not that the ideas were bad, just the rather amateurish way you handle plot and action. The idea of Josh having an uncle who opposed Hoss’s marriage to his sister and giving us a more detailed version of Hoss’s relationship with Claire, is really what this script should be about. I even thought of a great way to handle it. I promised Dirk Blocker, Dan’s son, that if we ever do another Bonanza MOW, he would play the part of Hoss’s son, the way Michael Landon Jr. plays Benj. He loves the idea, and my thoughts – hang on to your seat – would be for Dirk to play not only Josh, but Hoss also, and to recreate the whole backstory that led to Hoss proposing to and marrying Claire, the angry disapproval of Claire’s brother, all the way to Hoss’s death, and the birth of the child. What a “tour de force” that would be!

Also the present Eugene character is so weak and dull I would combine him with Driscoe into one strong, very colorful Bible-spouting villain (much as you have him) who opposes Hiss’s premarital intimacy with his sister, violently opposes their marriage and wants nothing to do with her or her child after Hoss’s death. Now you have a believable heavy who’s motivation we can understand even though we don’t agree with it. What does that do to A.C. and Pernell? Frankly, their story isn’t nearly as strong and interesting as Hoss’s story. Pernell has made it very clear that he doesn’t want do to another Bonanza, and I’m a little tired of arguing with you about the whole situation. If you don’t like the Hoss idea I outlined, well and good. I don’t blame you for not wanting to write another script, so you decide what you want to do. Also, you should not talk on the record with anyone about the way we are exchanging thoughts. It’s just too premature at this time. You must promise me you will keep a quiet and discreet lip on all this until there is something tangible to talk about. I’m really serious about this and will depend on you not to disappoint me. David. P.S. As for Felling of the Sons, I’m afraid that it reads too much like an overlong TV thing rather than a real book. But good luck with it!

Gosh, David, I hope you don’t mind me talking about this now. Because I can’t even begin to tell you how all this felt, like dropping a heavy stone into a bottomless pit. I loved his comment about my book, though. I wanted it to be like two or four episodes of the show itself. I simply couldn’t write the script he wanted. I was now going to college and time was so limited. I hate myself now, of course, for focusing just on getting something to Pernell Roberts. How foolish are the choices we make.  Don’t they say, stick to your path and you’ll get there? Ha. They’re liars, is all.

October 17th: Dear Monette: Please forgive the delay in sending The Secret back to you. But both Mrs. Dortort and I have both been in poor health the last six weeks. My problem is in my heart, and my doctor has ordered me to cut looks from all conditions that cause even the slightest kind of stress. He wants me to stop working for several months until, as he puts it, my precarious health begins to improve. I guess that means you’re on your own as far as any writing goes from now on. I don’t know if I’ve been of any real help to you, but I sincerely, honestly tried to help you with no other motivation than that. I’m afraid that this means the end of all correspondence between us for a while, but I’m sure you’ll understand I’m an old man and that I simply must watch my health from now on and save whatever energy I have left to take care of my dear wife, Rose. My best to you always and thanks again for being such a loyal fan all these years. I’ll always remember you fondly for that. Sincerely, David

No I never did get a job at Wendy’s. I should have, for all the money scripts made me. For all the money my historian works made me. But life isn’t about money, is it? Maybe once upon a time it wasn’t. But now if you can’t earn a living where’s the respect? I can make all these huge steps in life but my follow-up is like chasing a skunk where all it has gotten me is a tomato bath.

You wonder why I wear perfume? It’s the stench of failure I’m hiding. I can’t even get arrested by the IRS!


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