One morning last spring, I cast a vote for myself in the Hollywood hills; then I descended to the flats of Beverly Hills for a haircut at the barber shop in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where I found the Wise Hack, now half as old as time; his remaining white hairs had just been trimmed; he was being manicured, the large yellow diamond still sparkles on that finger which he refers to as a “pinkie.” The Wise Hack’s eyes have lost a bit of their sparkle but then eyes that have looked with deep suspicion into those of F. Scott Fitzgerald and of Y. Frank Freeman have earned their mica-glaze.
When I greeted him, he said, accusingly, “Why do you want to be governor of this schmatteh state?” When I said that I didn’t want to be governor, he nodded, slyly. “That’s what I told people,” he said, cryptic as always. Then: “It’s over there. In my briefcase. This Xerox copy. You can borrow it. Everybody’s in it. Not that I know a lot of these young hotshots they got nowadays with their beads and long hair. Remember when there was only the one head of the studio and he was there forever? But a lot of old-timers are in it, too. Ray’s in it. Real hatchet job like that one that—you know, what’s her name, did to Dore….” I supplied the name of Lillian Ross. He nodded, “I warned Dore at the time….”
In due course, I read the Xerox of a book—or tome as the Wise Hack would say—called Indecent Exposure by a journalist named David McClintick, who has examined at great length the David Begelman scandal of five years ago. As I read the book, the Wise Hack supplied me with a running commentary. Although the Wise Hack’s memory for names is going fast, he has perfect recall of what goes on—or went on—behind Hollywood’s closed doors. “You see, the book is told from the point of view of this one young hotshot who, when Columbia Pictures was on its ass, was made president in New York by Ray Stark and Herbert Allen, Jr., then this hotshot Alan Hirschfield…. You know him?” A sharp look, suddenly. I said as far as I know I have never met Mr. Hirschfield. But then like the Wise Hack I can’t keep straight all the young executives who come and go, talking of Coca-Cola—Columbia’s new owner.
I did know the unfortunate Begelman, who had been my agent; and I had once made a film with Ray Stark twenty years ago while…. But as the Wise Hack always says, “First you identify your characters. Then you show us your problem. Then you bring on your hero. Then you kick him in the balls. Then you show how he takes that kick. Does he feel sorry for himself? Never. Because,” and I would recite along with …