• Email
  • Single Page
  • Print

A Star is Born

You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again

by Julia Phillips
Random House, 573 pp., $22.00

How Green Was My Valley: The Screenplay for the Darryl F. Zanuck Film Production Directed by John Ford

by Philip Dunne
Santa Teresa Press, 105 pp., $27.50

PHILLIPS, JULIA, film producer; b. Bklyn., April 7, 1944; d. Adolph and Tanya Miller; grad. Nicolet high sch.; B.A. Mt. Holyoke, 1965; m. Michael Phillips (div.); 1 dau., Kate Elizabeth. Former prodn. asst. McCall’s Mag.; later textbook copywriter Macmillan Publs.; editorial asst. Ladies Home Journal, later asso. editor; head Mirisch Prodns., N.Y.; founded (with Tony Bill and Michael Phillips) Bill/Phillips Prodns., 1970; films include Steelyard Blues, 1973, The Sting (Acad. award for best picture of yr.) 1973, Taxi Driver (Palme d’or for best picture), 1976, The Big Bus, 1976, Close Encounters of the Third Kind; dir. Estate of Billy Buckner, 1974. Recipient Phi Beta Kappa award for ind. work, 1964. Mem. Acad. Motion Picture Arts and Scis. Democrat. Home: 2534 Benedict Canyon Beverly Hills CA 91210 Office: 1201 Producers 2 Columbia Pictures Colgems Square Burbank CA 91505.

Who’s Who in America
40th Edition

Those were the last days when Julia Phillips seemed to have the world on a string, dancing to her tune, the Oscar for The Sting and the follow-up successes of Taxi Driver and Close Encounters not yet consigned to ancient history, the final days before cocaine and freebasing and dealer boyfriends and hanger-on boyfriends and gigolos and too many insults and too many enemies and too little money and too much back taxes and lawyers and suicides and lousy advice and bad deals and rotten men finally took their toll. I knew her in those days, and she was then and is now the quintessential pain in the ass, which in an odd way is the source of her sometimes considerable, more often infuriating, charm.

We were her neighbors in Trancas, at the outermost edge of the Malibu, the older gentile couple in the house on the palisade. The first time we had Julia and her husband Michael to dinner, she got drunk (blaming it of course on the size of my drinks—actually drink; it was one Bloody Mary). She threw up in the bathroom, then checked out the prescriptions in the medicine cabinet, “the most thrilling medicine cabinet I had ever seen, every upper, downer, and in-betweener of interest in the PDR, circa 1973.” All prescribed (in vain) for the migraine headaches with which my wife and I were both afflicted, but to a junkie it is comforting to think everyone else is a junkie, too. The next day my wife sent her some chicken soup to get her through the hangover. “Shiksa chicken soup,” Julia called it, ready with a putdown even in extremis.

A few years later when Julia and Michael were noisily breaking up, and equally noisily getting back together again, they came by the house one day for a script meeting about a novel of mine they were interested in making into a movie. She was heavily into drugs by that time, which only exacerbated her pointlessly aggressive style, a style compounded by a voice that could cut metal. Unfortunately when I am confronted, I have a tendency to push back in kind, especially when someone not a writer tries to tell me what I had actually meant when I wrote something. We sparred edgily, with what I would like to think was a certain amount of humor, then suddenly she got up and left, alone, for what she said was another appointment.

Later that morning I received a call from Michael, in marriage, marital discord, and now in divorce always enormously protective of Julia. He said that she was not used to having people talk to her that way, and that I would have to apologize. What way? I said. I did not think that our conversation had gone beyond the bounds of normal script conference give-and-take, but Michael insisted that an apology was in order. So against my better judgment I did call her at home, and she in her tropistic way began to push and I in my tropistic way pushed back and one escalation led to another, until finally I told her to go fuck herself and hung up. Later that same day I sent her flowers; at the least I thought that the apology I sent with the bouquet would allow me the last word. Not quite. Many years after, she told me the real reason she had left our house that day was not because of our argument but because she had a date down the beach with a novelist with whom she had been having an affair, and who not coincidentally was as heavy into the blow as she was.

With some of the punctuation missing, and without the postscript, these are two of the less racy stories Ms. Phillips now tells in her first book. Masquerading in its Library of Congress catalog listing as autobiography, You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again is in fact the prototype of the classic big Hollywood novel. Most books about Hollywood (I could even argue all), especially those ostensibly based on autobiographical fact, are essentially fiction, so selectively are they recalled and filigreed and their sets dressed. Like most show people, Ms. Phillips tends to prefer, and with reason, anecdote to fact. Facts are unforgiving, but anecdote is essentially selfaggrandizing. Nuance and subtext are purged in the interest of placing the subject in the most favorable light. In this context, truth is an acceptable casualty. The plot never varies. The protagonist, whether it be Monroe Stahr or Julia Phillips, is always presented as the nobler citizen brought down not by his or her own faults or hubris or misdeeds, but by the philistines and the pharisees in charge, to whom this finer sensibility must pay professional obeisance. Billy Brady, Cecilia’s father, was Monroe Stahr’s demon, “with a suspiciousness developed like a muscle” and little more “than a drummer’s sense of a story.” For Julia Phillips, the ogres are names for the most part unknown outside the Hollywood community, “Mike Ovitz, Jeff Katzenberg, and Mark Canton,” three whom she blames “for the decline of the movies.” These three, and their clones, she poses darkly, are responsible “for the real poverty of vision abroad in the land.” Vision, of course, is what the protagonists of these fairy tales always have.

It is well to remember that Hollywood, for all its presumed sophistication, is a small company town where all the mills manufacture the same product. Because they know little of the larger world, the toilers in these factories, the people who actually make the movies, tend to confer totemic wisdom on the most ordinary of the community’s citizens (Mike Who, Jeff What, Mark What’s-His-Name; the names are interchangeable, and indeed are constantly changing) only because they run the company stores. The public is a co-conspirator in this lust for the mundane. Agents today are written about in Vanity Fair, leading one to wonder who has ever heard of Ron Meyer or Ed Limato except Tina Brown, and why it is that their ministrations to Cher and Mel Gibson take up so many column inches.

Such micro-inspection encourages self-importance. Just last year I sat at a table in a restaurant in Los Angeles with a studio executive who the previous year had been compensated in the amount of tens of millions of dollars (a figure verified by his company’s annual report). The host of the small dinner party (seven people) was a man with several billion of his own dollars and several billion more family dollars. Throughout dinner, the multimillion-dollar-a-year-CEO never shut up, while the billionaire never opened his mouth or took his eyes off the executive during the evening-long soliloquy. (The executive’s wife could not seem to understand how I had been invited to dinner. A quick whisper: Did I know the billionaire in New York? Yes. Socially? Yes. In Hollywood, as in all rigorously structured colonial societies, the social faux pas of inviting a writer to dinner is rarely made; it is an invitation to anarchy.) It seemed not to occur to the executive that for all his forty or fifty million dollars a year in salary and ancillary compensation, he was to the billionaire still just someone else’s employee, however highly paid, however the local industry gentry hung on his every word.

It should also be remembered that Hollywood is a men’s club that has always treated women cruelly. Even actresses as honored as Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep complain constantly that they are paid but a fraction of what their male counterparts are paid. Nor are they allowed, in their professional lives, to age gracefully, as male stars are; on the screen, men grow older, women grow old. If to prolong their star life, actresses yield to the demands of modern cosmetic surgery, too often the disquieting result is to make them look like quinquagenarian and anaphrodisiacal nymphets. Non-actresses fare little better. Women screenwriters are always being promised a chance to direct, if they will only cut their screenplay, price, but the no man’s land between promises made and promises kept is littered with the bodies of women who believed.

For women with no negotiable talent, who wish “to work in film” or to produce (that refuge for the untalented), the options are even more limited, and coarse. In the Industry, they are commonly called “development sluts.” Meaning those young women with looks (the overweight need not apply nor those with moles), drive, and no discernible talent to whom the studios sometimes give a housekeeping fund for an office and a secretary, and some “development money” to work with would-be or never-will-be screenwriters whose primary virtue is that they are not in the Writers-Guild, and therefore not eligible for minimums or benefits. Occasionally a screenplay might develop, perhaps even a picture put into production, by which time the developer has been removed from the project (via a clause in the boilerplate of the contract she has never bothered to read) and was setting up still another office paid for by yet another studio, all the while realizing but never quite admitting (in her quaint Spanish-style apartment off Laurel Canyon with the Rolling Stone posters on the walls and the Chianti bottle candles and the high-tech sound system and in the garage the BMW 315 whose payments she could not quite manage) that the reason she was being sponsored by her economic and professional betters was that occasionally she make herself available to scratch the itch of someone more important on the pecking order.

Julia Phillips managed to avoid this particular circle of hell because she arrived in Hollywood with a husband, a few contacts from a series of low level magazine and movie jobs in New York, and private means large enough to allow her and her husband both to option film projects and to rent a house at the beach that was a perfect place to call in those social markers that in the movie industry are always professional as well. She also arrived with a full cargo of emotional freight, most of it rather shopworn—there was an adored scientist father, a not-so-adored mother, and a younger male sibling to whom she appears to have stopped talking somewhere along life’s highway.

  • Email
  • Single Page
  • Print