Archive for October 2011

My Eddie Murphy Connection

October 27, 2011

In many respects, I’ve led a charmed life. Two, actually. The one when I was emulating my writing idols — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson — and my second incarnation as a recovering alcoholic screenwriter. In my last blog post, I said I know why I write, and alluded to my desire to connect with others (i.e., impress girls when I was single). But left unsaid was the need to tell stories. In my younger days, alcohol was the elixir that transformed me into a hero/villain/fool at the center of real life stories that sound like fiction now.

Ethel Merman threw a drink in my face. Bruce Willis, who I knew in college, eighty-sixed me from a bar he was working at. I got in fights, smashed up cars and woke up in jail a few times. After rehab though, I had scripts optioned by the co-writer of Robocop and another optioned by an Oscar-winning writer. I was repped by the woman who discovered Tarantino, and was friends with famous jazz musicians when I lived in New York — guys who played in the Letterman band and Saturday Night Live orchestra. I also have a personal connection with Eddie Murphy through an unlikely source.

In fact, I had an opportunity to pitch him ideas for a heist movie a few years ago… and I blew it. As you probably know, he’s got a new movie called Tower Heist, which Eddie collaborated on with Ben Stiller. I read that Ben says he doesn’t recall whose idea it was in the first place, but I knew Eddie was specifically looking for a heist movie script about four or five years ago. I heard that from an old friend, James Arceneaux. He was Eddie’s personal assistant, and still is. Before I recount how that all came about, I have to hit the rewind button to tell you about my first brush with Eddie Murphy long before I started writing screenplays…

Pre-rehab, pre-internet, around 1986 my wife and I took a deferred honeymoon trip to the Mainland. Isabel used to work in marketing for a rental car company in Hawaii that had “trade” all over the place (rental car use or ads in their drive guides in exchange for hotel rooms, etc.). Here’s lesson number one on networking your way to the top: be nice to everyone, even if you’re having a crappy day or hate your job. People liked working with Isabel, so when she mentioned we had put off our honeymoon due to a tight budget, one of her trade contacts offered to set us up with rooms at the MGM in Reno and L’Ermitage Beverly Hills — free.

We were in our mid-20s and so naive that when we went to the casino for the first time, I bought my drinks at the bar. I didn’t know they gave free drinks to gamblers. On that trip, after a few cocktails at a MGM show featuring Pat Collins, “The Hip Hypnotist,” I wound up on stage with other audience members who were chosen because we showed signs of being susceptible to suggestion during her screening routine (she asked the entire crowd to stand, then had us do stuff with our eyes closed to weed out resistant types). I’m not sure if I was more receptive to suggestion, or merely drunk… but there I was, acting out ridiculous scenarios she had us perform in front of hundreds of people. It was weird because I was conscious of what was happening on stage, yet it felt like a lucid dream.

Her big finale involved having a subject lying flat, with only the top part of a chair backrest supporting the neck and feet. That chosen subject was me. I remember being scared to death that I was going to fall when I got stretched out between the chairs. My entire body went rigid and was shaking. The Hip Hypnotist noticed and put a hand on my chest, then joked to the audience that my “engine was running” or something like that. I kept thinking, finish up before I fall for Christ sake! And then it was over. The other chosen subjects told me they didn’t remember anything that happened on stage. So was I really hypnotized or just acting? I dunno.

From Reno we went to this chic little hotel in Beverly Hills. Years later I would learn that L’Ermitage was known as a place where the rich and famous could hide out. Women and celebs stayed there after undergoing plastic surgery. The hotel had stretch limos to chauffeur guests around, which we took advantage of. On the hotel rooftop, there was a pool and lounge area next to the bar, which went into the kitchen inside where the fancy restaurant was.  It was up on the roof where I saw Eddie Murphy and his lady friend (not sure if he was married back then).

He was wearing a hoodie with the hood up, but having seen him many times on Saturday Night Live, then in Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop, I instantly recognized him. Since I had already met a lot of celebs in New York when I lived there, I wasn’t really starstruck. I didn’t stare or try to get his autograph. Instead, I went to the bar and proceeded to get hammered while befriending the bartender and restaurant staff who were hanging around. Pretty soon, the staff were bad-mouthing some of the snobby clientele and sharing stories about the spoiled celebs. Next thing I know, the cook is giving me shrimp cocktails and the bartender hands me a bottle of champagne on the house to take back to my room. Things get a little fuzzy after that.

All I remember is somehow I wound up in the hallway wearing nothing but the plush bathrobe the hotel supplied to its guests, and the bottle of champagne was in one of the over-sized pockets. I was waiting for the elevator, possibly going back up to the rooftop bar or to my room… and the bottle fell out of my pocket and crashed on the floor. Broken glass and expensive bubbly was all over the place. I went back to my room, expecting a knock on the door because I figured the staff would deduce who did it. The next day I saw the bartender and he gave me a nasty look. After all the talk about how the spoiled celebs made them work extra hard, I had done the same by making them clean up my mess. I apologized for my drunken behavior, but there were no more free drinks or shrimp after that.

I don’t recall seeing Eddie Murphy or his entourage again while we were at L’Ermitage or walking around Beverly Hills. Yet I was going to cross paths with him again, indirectly, through someone I was doing writing work for back in Hawaii… and that contact would probably have laughed had anyone told him he would be working for the superstar a few years later.

I’ll get to that in Part 2 and tell you how it led to another chance for me to write a movie project that my Eddie Murphy connection is involved with… hopefully, I won’t blow it this time.

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October 6, 2011

“Life is short, and full of ironies.”

J.D. Fili, an English teacher at St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel, NJ, wrote that in my yearbook when I graduated in 1974. I’m not sure why he inscribed that to me, but I know this: he inspired me to be a writer. His encouraging comments scrawled in the margins of papers I turned in, made me think I had potential literary talent. He even read one of my essays out loud to a class, which led to an unexpected encounter.

Between class changes, a wholesome beauty named Vanessa Carlson approached me. She was smart and funny, and like a lot of guys, I had a secret crush on her. She was also dating a star jock who was quick to punch out rivals, so there was never any serious consideration about making a move on Vanessa. Yet she walked up to me and said, “I really liked what you wrote.”

And that’s when it hit me. Writing could be a way to impress girls! I suppose when you get down to it, that’s probably the number one motivation for most male writers. We want attention, respect, admiration… we want to be loved for our minds, and what we think or create. It’s all part of the seduction.

When I became a reporter for the college newspaper, once my byline hit the front page, I discovered a new persona within me. In the age of Watergate and “All the President’s Men,” journalists were heroes. There were also gonzo reporters like Hunter S. Thompson typing wild first person screeds for the Rolling Stone. You could be a hero and a rebel at the same time — unpredictable, even dangerous. Which a lot of the ladies liked.

I guess my point is I know why I write. I know why I write. It’s to make that one-to-one connection, to seduce strangers with words and stories. Metaphorically, it’s about getting The Girl, and all that is implied with winning her affections. Because it’s those guys we envision as being rich and famous. I want to be somebody — not just another faceless, nameless soul who toils in anonymity. Isn’t that what most of us want?

What got me to thinking about all this was hearing that Steve Jobs passed away. A million people will tap out Tweets and blog posts about how he changed the world, or how he taught us to think differently. For writers though, it’s even more personal I think. At least for me it is. I’m sitting in front of a 27-inch screen iMac, telling you about stuff that I wrote either in longhand on paper or using a manual typewriter when I was the ace reporter for my college rag. I remember seeing one of the first personal computers on display in the Student Center and asking the sales rep how much it cost. He said it was about $500 and I rolled my eyes — tuition for an entire year of state college in the late 70s was $500! You could buy a decent car for that amount back then.

So I was perfectly content to write on yellow legal pads and bang out final drafts on my trusty manual typewriter. If we needed to change copy before it went to the typesetter, we did cut and paste editing jobs with scissors and tape. Even when PCs began to infiltrate the work place in the early 80s, I was still in no rush to join the computer revolution. Until my wife brought home an early Apple model from her office. It intimidated me at first. But there was just something so… I dunno, likeable and friendly about that Mac. Steve Jobs seduced me with his creation.

I’m not ashamed to say I loved my first Bondi Blue iMac, then the lamp model and now my big screen baby. Although I would have continued writing regardless of whether Steve Jobs or Apple ever existed, I’m not so sure I’d be the person I am today. A writer without an audience is like a monk living in silence. The very first iMac made it so simple to connect to the internet that anyone could become part of a worldwide community, by very narrow or very broad interests. It didn’t matter to me whether I had one reply to a message board post or a hundred blog readers. My words were out there. Not just my words though — scripts that I’ve sent to producers, managers and agents I met online through message boards or email queries… my blog for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser is read by hundreds of people each week… and now, videos I produce for my local Career Changers TV show (using Final Cut Pro, which was developed for Macs) are online too.

And it’s just me, the guy who wanted to impress girls like Vanessa Carlson by writing something worth thinking about. My desire to sell a script or write a book was just a larger scale version of that goal with bigger stakes, bigger rewards attached. But the death of Steve Jobs reminded me that no matter how much success we achieve, all the money and fame in the world will not buy you more time on this earth. He was just 56, one year older than me.

So if you really, really want something, don’t put it off.  Put it out there for others to see, and don’t worry about it not being good enough. It’s the doing that matters.

*******

This was going to be a post about my personal connection to Eddie Murphy and a possible movie project I got a call about, quite unexpectedly yesterday from Eddie’s personal assistant, who I happen to know… which was odd, because I had not heard from the assistant friend in a long time. But this is the power of words: the friend from Hawaii still remembers me from TV/movie pitches I wrote 11 years ago. And now he gets to hang out with people like Brian Grazer and Brett Ratner at Eddie’s mansion. Anyhow, it’s a crazy story I’ll share later!