Eddie Murphy Connection, Part 2

This weekend, my wife and I watched the documentary LIFE IN A DAY, then the Terrence Malick film, TREE OF LIFE. I liked them both, but have to say there were puzzling choices made by the directors of both movies… puzzling in a good way though, because I’m still thinking about what those choice of shots or vignettes really meant.

Readers of this blog may be wondering why I write about the stories I choose to share, and what those anecdotes have to do with screenwriting — or anything else for that matter. It’s like I’m directing/editing my own personal movie, I guess. If I don’t tell these stories, who will? Further, I do think they illustrate how anyone can make connections in the entertainment biz if they really try. You just have to be creative and take advantage of opportunities that might not seem like door openers at first glance.

Eg., freelance writing gigs. Long before I harbored any ambition to be a screenwriter, I was a newspaper reporter. The pay sucked, so I went into marketing and learned how to write ad copy. When I moved to Hawaii, I used my sales job in direct marketing services (more commonly referred to as junk mail) to pick up side copywriting jobs. That’s how I met my Eddie Murphy contact, James Arceneaux.

Back then, James had started a local publication called The Budget Gourmet, which featured food-related news and tips. I did restaurant reviews and came up with the idea for an advice column called “The Hapless Homemaker,” which centered around real life household problems encountered by a newlywed couple — me and my wife, Isabel. It was actually kind of comical, and readers would send in suggestions to me on how to remove wine stains from clothes, hide cigarette burns on furniture, or salvage badly-cooked meals. James liked my writing.

Which brings me to another life lesson: no matter how little the job pays, treat it like it could be the most important thing you’ll ever do. Because you never know who is appraising your work, or where that person may wind up. As it happened, James had bigger plans. He had already started a successful bodyguard business before dipping his toes into publishing. His next goal was to break into the music industry — specifically, song publishing. He did his homework, tapped into personal contacts (he was related to Dionne Warwick, who I think was related to Cissy and Whitney Houston) and began repping local talent in Hawaii.

However, James knew he had to go to L.A. to make the next step. So he needed a promotional package with write-ups about himself and the songwriters/musicians and singers he was representing. I’ll always remember his generosity for paying me more than I asked when I finished the job. It was just before Christmas, and after paying off our monthly mortgage and other bills (not to mention my drinking tabs) I didn’t have much money to buy gifts for my wife. But James peeled off a couple of extra Ben Franklins, and became my Santa Clause that year — a big, black tough-talking Santa.

Well, James moved to L.A., and I didn’t hear from him for three or four years. When he called me out of the blue, it was to invite me to be his backstage guest at a Pointer Sisters concert on New Year’s Eve in Waikiki. He was living with Anita Pointer in her Beverly Hills mansion, and was one of Bobby Brown’s managers at that time. In fact, he told me about Whitney’s cocaine problems long before it became public knowledge… and also told me about June Pointer’s drug addiction. Since I had told him about me going to rehab, he thought I might be able to help her. I never did get a chance to talk to June, but did meet Anita — who liked a pitch I sent to James about a TV series idea I had been working on, called REHAB…

You see, James didn’t just call to invite me to the concert. He decided he was going to use his music connections to get into the TV business. He figured that my promo package was good enough to help him get meetings when he moved to L.A., so he wanted me to write up his ideas for TV, which were primarily meant to be starring vehicles for the Pointer Sisters. James is a savvy dude. He was a former pro football player, and he recognized that Hollywood celebs and music people like being around athletes. So he took up golf, and started playing with agents at Willie Morris (who repped the Pointers) and folks like Arsenio Hall… who was good friends with Eddie Murphy.

Before I tell you what happened with those TV pitches, which led to James telling me about Eddie looking for a heist script, I have to comment on the events of the past week — another example of my bad luck with celeb connections. As you probably know, Eddie was supposed to be hosting this year’s Oscars. Then Brett Ratner, the director of TOWER HEIST, made a dumb remark using the word “fag.” The resulting flak forced Ratner out of producing the Academy Awards show.  A couple of days later, Eddie announced he was dropping out. On top of that, his movie got mixed reviews and did only so-so at the box office.

I imagine things around the Murphy mansion were kind of… interesting. (Speaking of “imagine,” Brian Grazer is now taking over the Oscars show — he produced TOWER HEIST, and has been hanging out at Eddie’s place. He even gave James some screenwriting tips and advice, which James then shared with me… and I’ll share with you in my next post.)

Oh, back to my bad timing: when I was repped by Cathryn Jaymes, the manager who launched Tarantino’s career, one of her higher profile clients was Isaiah Washington. You remember him, right? He was the rising young black star of Grey’s Anatomy. Then he made a comment about a fellow cast member being a “faggot” and the ensuing uproar pretty much derailed Isaiah’s acting career. I remember it vividly because I was pitching ideas to Cathryn for projects that could star Isaiah in lead roles. We were talking on the phone, and she suddenly had to cut the “convo” short because he was having a meltdown. At the time though, I didn’t know it was because the news was about to break about the faggot incident.

That’s the other lesson or takeaway. Words matter. Feelings matter. Being careless or saying something stupid, even if it’s just one small word, can do irreparable damage to your reputation and career. The irony in this case is that when I lived in NYC, I worked at a legal publishing company that was predominately gay… and I heard them jokingly refer to other gays using the “f” word quite often. But it’s like the “n” word: if you’re not gay or black, or Quentin Tarantino, don’t take a chance and use words that could come back to haunt you.

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