The 65th Academy Awards, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
29 March 1993
The heat of the lights is as oppressive as the thick cloak of insecurity and desperation that shrouds the audience.
Billy Crystal steps to the podium, his laconic grin a teasing, gentle rebuke to a collection of egos teetering on the edge of explosion.
His fourth time in the role, Crystal introduces the presenter of the next category with an ease born of confidence and familiarity. Romcom queen Lana Delasso glides onto the stage, blonde hair an homage to her namesake and idol, Lana Turner. Her nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actress will be decided later and she’s done everything possible to win. Everything. In her forties now, she doesn’t look a day over thirty in her white, cobweb Versace gown, defying the rule that you should never show tits and ass at the same time. The physical reactions in the audience are instant and visceral: tight smiles of envy on bejewelled women coincide with ferocious hard-ons under the $1,000 tuxedos sitting next to them.
Her words are white noise until they reach the point: ‘. . . Best Original Screenplay.’
Behind her, on a thirty-foot screen, the nominations roll.
Husbands and Wives by Woody Allen. A smattering of applause, hesitations fuelled by the desire to come down on the right side of the moral judgement on Allen’s affair with Mia Farrow’s daughter. In Hollywood, picking sides has little to do with principles and everything to do with career enhancement.
Lorenzo’s Oil by George Miller and Nick Enright. More applause. Camera zooms to a row in which the suits are overshadowed by Susan Sarandon’s uncommon beauty.
Passion Fish by John Sayles. A movie that was released in only two theatres, grossing only a few tickets over $36,000 before its nomination.
Unforgiven by David Peoples. A crowd-pleaser. Directed and produced by Clint Eastwood, the audience of stars greets it with a show of worship reserved for work that has been touched by a deity.
The Brutal Circle by Davie Johnston, Zander Leith and Mirren McLean. An outsider. A harrowing story of a life born in violence, lived in violence, cut short by violence. The big screen spans several seats, but all eyes are on the ebullient form of the producer Wes Lomax, legendary head of Lomax Films, the studio responsible for more million-dollar-grossing movies in the last decade than any other.
The image returns to Lana Delasso, revelling in her moment. The same fingers that held the cock of a studio mogul only an hour before now slide delicately along the folds of the gold envelope.
‘And the winner is . . .’
The band kick into action with a cacophonous drum roll.
‘The Brutal Circle by . . .’
Sycophantic cheers drown out the names; stars rise to their feet, determined to ensure that when Wes Lomax watches the playback, he will see them heralding his triumph.
In the chaos, the producer in the gallery is a fraction late in switching to the three bodies that move towards the stage, all of them almost as unrecognizable as the extras hired to fill the seats vacated by stars drawn to the restrooms by the call of nature or the need for a line snorted off the top of a toilet. When the zoom lens on Camera 5 finally catches up with the winners, they are ascending the stairs to the stage. Davie Johnston, at twenty-two the youngest winner of an award in that category in Academy history, strides forward with the surety of a man with an unblinking eye on his destination.
Behind him, Mirren McLean, in the only haute-couture dress she has ever touched, her wild mane of Titian curls tamed to match the elegance of the midnight-blue Dior. Unaccustomed to heels, she steps with care, her expression a mix of concentration and disbelief.
Finally, with a demeanour that suggests reluctance, Zander Leith. For every woman who tried to ignore her partner’s sexual interest in Lana Delasso, here is six feet two inches of payback. Wide shoulders, his square jaw set in a brooding grimace, he could be heading to a wake, not the spotlight of a winner.
When only a few feet separate them, Lana’s eyes meet his and she instinctively flinches as she recognizes the scorn that is only partially masked by his thick, black lashes. Rebuffed.
While the outside remains a movie goddess, on the inside she is twelve again: the odd kid at school that even the trailer-park waifs avoid. The one that turned into the most beautiful woman in Hollywood, but still felt she had to respond to the summons to Wes Lomax’s yacht and blow him to get her own nomination.
Davie Johnston takes the Oscar and moves forward to the microphone.
‘I just want to say thank you . . .’
More applause. Most of the audience know of this trio, despite the fact that they are barely out of their teens. Wes Lomax has ensured that their story has saturated the Hollywood press in recent months. All three are credited as writers on the script, the two men playing leading parts in a movie that had killed at the box office. The success was due in part to a publicity and distribution campaign usually reserved for A-list releases, and in part to the fact that it was a damn fine piece of cinema. More than that. It was a raw, hardcore two hours of urban menace that had a generation of American teens queuing for their Saturday-night thriller kicks. It hit $15 million on the balance sheets after the first month, and was now close to double that.
This is the kind of American dream, the triumph of the underdog, the discovery of wonder that this city loves. Three friends from Scotland, the creative talents behind an outstanding script, discovered by Wes Lomax when he took his annual golfing trip to the UK. It was beyond surprising that these kids had managed to get their work in front of Lomax. Even more so that he’d taken enough time off from fucking high-class hookers in the presidential suites of the best hotels in the UK to read it.
Now the audience in the red velvet chairs furrow their brows as they try to decipher Davie Johnston’s accent. This isn’t the Scottish burr of Sean Connery. Nor does it come close to the accents they heard from Davie and Zander in the movie. It is harder. More guttural. Like bullets being sprayed from a gun in a scene from Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino’s big hit of the previous year.
‘Thank you to the Academy. Thank you to all of you for letting us be part of this incredible world. And most of all, thank you to the brilliant Wes Lomax. We owe him everything.’
Camera 3 zooms in on Lomax and millions of people watch him nod, eyes glistening, a godfather acknowledging gratitude from his chosen family.
Davie bows to signal the end of his speech, then punches the Oscar into the air. Neither Mirren nor Zander step forward. Recovered from the sting of Zander’s rejection, Lana sweeps them off stage right, into the unbridled chaos of runners, technicians, gophers and make-up artists brandishing thick brushes at agitated stars.
They are propelled into a press room, cameras flashing, journos screeching questions, all of which they answer with naive honesty.
How are they enjoying Hollywood? Fine. Great. Aye, it’s, erm, amazing.
Are they here to stay? Dunno yet. It depends. Nothing decided.
Is their next project already underway? No plans yet.
Nothing concrete. Just ideas.
Davie answers most of the questions, with an occasional contribution from Mirren.
Lou Cole, a young, sparky journalist on the LA Times, changes the pattern.
‘So, Zander, how does it feel to be called the new Hollywood heart-throb?’
His bashful grin is automatic, and conceals the fact that for the second time that night his eyes flicker with pure contempt.
‘I don’t think Tom Cruise has anything to worry about.’ Oblivious to the underlying sentiment, the press pack laugh, as Paula Leno, Lomax Films’ hard-ass head of publicity, sweetly but firmly calls an end to the photocall, determined to minimize the risk of a fuck-up and all too aware that the next winners will soon be arriving on the conveyor belt of achievement.
Finally alone, there is a pause as each of them absorbs the last ten incredible minutes of their lives. Davie is the first to react, throwing his arms around Mirren and squeezing her.
‘We did it. Shit, I don’t believe it.’
She doesn’t reply, because over his shoulder her gaze has locked with Zander’s, dispelling all notion of celebration. Davie doesn’t get the memo. His first burst of excitement over, he turns to the new Hollywood heart-throb. His lifelong friend. Two kids from the same street, bonded as youngsters by a shared recognition that no one really gave a fuck, their symbiotic pairing paying no heed to the reality that in the gene pool of life, Zander got height and physical perfection, while Davie got the kind of non-threatening appeal that made women want to ruffle his hair and tell him about their last broken heart.
‘C’mon, man, that was incredible! Did you hear them? That was for us. That has to make everything worth it. C’mon, man . . .’ The desperate repetition isn’t lost on either of them. Mirren’s teeth clench together as she raises her chin in defiance. She knows there is no point looking for resolution and rapprochement there, and she refuses to show weakness by trying.
Her instincts are right.
For the last photograph, Zander was asked to hold the Oscar to give the picture editors a range of different images to choose from. Now he tosses it to Davie like it is a can of Bud taken from the fridge to wash down a burger.
Davie’s reflexes are just quick enough to save it from the floor.
‘You got what you wanted.’ Zander’s words are barely louder than a whisper, yet drown out all other sounds. ‘Now both of you can fuck off, and if I ever see you again, walk the other way.’
‘Young Americans’ – David Bowie
Beverly Wilshire Hotel, 2013
By the pool, Davie Johnston has taken three cabanas – one for him, one on either side so he doesn’t get overheard or interrupted. He’s wearing linen trousers and shirt, open just low enough to reveal every perfect contour of his lasered torso. Clothes pale blue. Every time he wears blue, someone mentions that it brings out the colour in his eyes. Every time he replies, ‘Oh really? I didn’t realize.’ Then he goes home and orders ten more shirts, same shade.
As always, he’s combining business and pleasure, taking pitch meetings for the next big reality show. He already produces three of the top five in the ratings. He chose the Beverly Wilshire because it kills two birds with one stone. If a meeting goes exceptionally well, he’s only an elevator away from a California-king-size bed.
A couple sit down for the three-o’ clock slot. It’s the first interview after lunch and he’s had two glasses of Pinot Noir. In this postcode that qualifies him for AA.
She’s a supermodel; he’s an ageing rock god, best hits behind him. They pitch the show. Fly on the wall. Beauty and the Beats. Great premise, shit title. They tell Davie every network has expressed interest in this show, but they want him to produce because he’s ‘the Man’. They’re not lying about the second part.
The meeting goes well, like every other meeting in the industry. Both sides flatter the other. Both sides claim interest. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, one side refuses to take the next call.
Davie listens. Definitely has potential. They shake hands; he tells them he’ll be in touch. He will. His secretary will call on Monday and arrange a follow-up meeting. Only the supermodel. Room 567. With the California-king-size bed. On the ground floor, at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant Cut, Mirren McLean is at her usual table, with her husband, producer-director Jack Gore, and their children, Chloe and Logan.
If anyone added up the value of the diners in the room, it would hit the billions. People have no problem paying
$150 for a Japanese 100% Wagyu steak because this place is regarded as the best. And in Beverly Hills, it’s only the best that matters.
Jack has been on location for a few weeks, so Mirren is thrilled he’s back. Even happier because both her children are there. This is what life is about – family. Right now, she’s a mum and a wife, and that’s all she wants to be. Just a mum and a wife.
Paul Bonetti, the legendary producer, approaches her table. Shakes hands. She’s polite because she has manners, but she wants him gone so she can get back to her family. She likes to keep the two separate. But hey, let’s get real. In this town, there’s no forgetting about business.
Bonetti smiles, like he’s her best friend. ‘I couldn’t be more pleased for you – still number one at the box office after three weeks,’ he says, attempting jovial and sincere, achieving latent fury and crippling envy. His leading men could act; he couldn’t. ‘Just hope I’m up against you next time around – make it a fair fight.’
‘Oh, I’m sure you’ll take that one. It must be your turn,’ she says, wide grin, while the words ‘over my dead body’ explode in her head. She makes a mental note to bring forward the release date for the next Clansman movie to ensure it clashes with whatever action killfest he has coming out. Time to put him back in his place. If he wants to play that game, she’ll take the challenge.
She’ll win. Because she’s the biggest and ballsiest player in Hollywood.
And everyone in the room knows it.
On the seventh floor, room 731, Zander Leith is sitting in a solid-mahogany high-back seat. He’s already refused the director-style chair left by the company who organized the press junket, as this one forces him to sit up straight. It’s all about the angles.
His new movie, the sixth in the Dunhill franchise, hits the cinemas in three weeks’ time. He’s now been in this airless room for seven hours, answering the same questions from TV and print journalists who all look different but act equally inane. Cute young girls asking flirtatious questions. The enthusiastic newbies who want to be your best mate. The older, jaded ones who try to catch you out and twist your words.
Very occasionally, there’s someone who has well-researched questions that actually make you think – they’re the only ones that hit the pause button on the eradication of your will to live.
Next door, his hair and make-up team, publicist and manager sit ready to pounce when they are required.
One of them is required now. The journo in front of him, wearing the shortest of skirts, is giving him a glimpse of her Victoria’s Secret panties. He knows the brand because he shagged the model who was wearing them on the catwalk only a month before.
The interview is coming to a close. Once upon a time, he would get someone else to do his bidding. Now, he just cuts to the quick. It’s speed-dating, movie-star 101.
He leans towards her. ‘Warren Beatty Suite. Seven p.m.?’ It’s a question to which they both know the answer.
She leaves satisfied. He will be later. His publicist enters the room, turns to the sound guy.
‘Make sure that last exchange is deleted?’ He nods.
Of course he does.
Because no one ever says no in Hollywood.
‘Got to Give It Up’ – Marvin Gaye
Bel Air, Los Angeles, 2013 A few months later . . .
It never crossed Davie Johnston’s mind to wonder when he’d stopped feeling lucky.
This life he’d created had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with smarts. Skill. Talent. It wasn’t a perfect existence, but as he drove his Bugatti Veyron through the landscaped gardens to the door of his $40-million baroque mansion in the exclusive enclave of Bel Air, he knew it was pretty damn close.
Drego, the Ukrainian gardener, was hosing down the play equipment custom-built for the seven-year-old Johnston twins, Bella and Bray. In this town, his red-haired, fair-skinned twins were a rarity, and it had served them well. Since they were three years old, they’d been in the cast of the hit sitcom Family Three. A week didn’t pass without a request for a family photo shoot from the celebrity mags, and every now and then he indulged them.
Not that he needed the publicity. He got enough of that presenting American Stars. It was still number one in the ratings, knocking America’s Got Talent and American Idol back to the also-ran positions they deserved.
He’d be signing this season’s contract any day now, and that would, once again, put Seacrest in his place too. The last decade had been a tussle for supremacy between them, a battle Davie was winning. Thirty million dollars for his last American Stars contract had made sure of that, not to mention the success of the reality shows he produced. Global profit on those had put him in the financial ‘fuck off ’ stratosphere. He never had to ask the price of anything. But he did. Not because he perpetuated the ridiculous myth that Scots were tight with cash – in his experience, generosity was in their cultural DNA. He asked the price because he was smart. Scots invented the telephone, television and the steam engine. Davie invented the most watched shows on the planet.
He had American Stars. He had The Dream Machine, a sentimental slushfest that made dreams come true and left no heartstring untugged. And his other baby, Liking Lana – a car-crash docu-soap featuring the fucked-up life and family of tarnished has-been Lana Delasso – had finally topped Seacrest’s baby, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, last season.
He checked his limited-edition gold Panerai Kampfschwimmer watch – the case designed and made by Panerai, the movement by Rolex. It didn’t get any better, but it did cost $1 million. Two o’ clock. The kids wouldn’t be back from the set for another hour. Time for a shower and to put a couple of calls in to the East Coast. The second-season premiere of New York Nixons, his latest scripted reality hit, starring the extended family of rock legend Jax Nixon, was due to air next week and Sky, the wayward daughter of Jax’s first wife, Rainbow, was due to stage an overdose in the next couple of days. Cue shock, outrage, sympathy and more free headlines than even the best publicist could drum up in a week. That was Davie’s talent. He was adaptable. Saw opportunities. Ran with them. Strategized for success. When the acting jobs dried up a few years after the Oscar, he morphed, schmoozed, spotted the potential in TV. There was a whole new dawn of talent shows just waiting to happen. They’d already stormed the UK market. Davie sought out Simon Cowell, the man behind them, asked questions, listened, learned. Then he developed his own concept, a variation on the UK theme, and took it to the American networks. They commissioned it as a summer filler. To their surprise, it rocked the country. Massive ratings. Massive buzz.
Davie hitched a ride on that bus of wannabes and it had brought him as much fame, glory and cash as any A-list actor. And when the era of the reality shows dawned, he was in pole position again, using his own cash to bankroll pilots that became syndicated shows that added more zeros to his bank account.
As he opened the front door, he could hear Drego’s wife, Ivanka, singing some unintelligible song in the kitchen. A Russian chick who dressed like a whore and loved country music. Thankfully, she cooked like a dream, and her OCD meant every corner of the house glistened.
Ignoring the temptation of the aromas emanating from the kitchen, he headed up the left-hand side of the sweeping double marble and glass staircase. No point eating now, especially when he’d skipped a gym session and headed home early. He’d pay for it tomorrow. Clay, his trainer, was an ex-middleweight champion on the US Olympic team who abided by the only two rules Davie had set at the outset of their partnership: don’t hit the face and don’t kill me.
Crossing the upper hallway of his palatial home, he lifted his Prada T-shirt – blue, of course – over his head in readiness for the shower. Still moving, he opened the top button of his jeans with one hand, turned the doorknob of his bedroom with the other.
The brush of the white shagpile carpet muffled the sound of the door opening, giving him a couple of seconds to take in the scene in front of him before the occupants of the room registered his presence.
The curve of her back caught his eye first. How many times had he seen his wife’s silhouette on billboards and in magazines, and how many other men had jerked off over the perfection of her breasts or the exquisite beauty of her ass?
Or the deep raven hair, long and thick, that flowed down past her breasts, natural, high, the perfect size for her slender frame. Or the hazel eyes, with flecks of gold that changed colour in the light.
When he married Jenny Rico nearly ten years ago, he’d sometimes find himself lying awake at night just staring, almost unable to believe that he could touch that body whenever he wanted to.
Now, from his side view, he could see every contour of her shape as she knelt on the bed, legs open, eyes closed, her head thrown back as her hands caressed her breasts.
Lying beneath her, another shape, one that would confuse the TV addicts of the nation. On the screen, in the hugely popular cable cop show Streets of Power, these two people were partners, their relationship purely platonic.
At no point in the show was his wife’s clit being licked to orgasm by her slightly older, more experienced sidekick. Mixed race, her skin a luscious caramel, her hair a waist-length curtain of ebony gloss, Darcy Jay was second only to Jenny in her physical perfection.
A sound, once familiar, escaped from his wife’s throat and he paused out of courtesy and curiosity, realizing that she was just seconds from coming.
When her gasps stopped, she fell to the side, reaching over to cradle the face that had been checking out her Brazilian grooming schedule only seconds before.
‘I love you,’ she whispered tenderly, and despite himself, Davie winced aloud.
The two heads on the bed snapped round, his wife’s face creasing into something between quiet amusement and exasperation. Her companion preferred a more vocal demonstration of feeling.
‘Jesus, Davie, have you never heard of knocking? Or were you so busy getting your rocks off you forgot your manners? I’ve told you, you’re welcome to join in anytime.’
All three smiled, acknowledging the exaggeration in the statement. Davie threw his T-shirt in the direction of the bed as he crossed to his en suite, aware that there weren’t many men on earth who wouldn’t have accepted the offer.
A hot threesome with Jenny Rico and her co-star Darcy Jay. Numbers one and two, respectively, on People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Women list for the last three years in succession. In public, both straight, both gorgeous, both sexy as hell.
The irony was that this arrangement had been his idea. On the opening night of Streets of Power six years earlier, the three of them had ended up drinking late into the night in a bungalow at Chateau Marmont. Too many bottles of Dom Pérignon had led to clothes on the floor and a sexual experience that came pretty close to heaven. It wasn’t the first time he and Jenny had played around with a new friend, but as the weeks passed, the two women developed a relationship that went far beyond getting fucked up and indulging in some girl-on-girl for fun. And he was no longer invited to the party.
The transition had been tough, but when it came down to a choice between accepting their relationship or divorce, he’d chosen to go with the flow. Adapt. Hustle. Just like always. To the outside world, he lived a charmed existence with a stunning wife, regularly socializing with her best friend and TV partner, the stellar Darcy Jay.
The world would say that a guy didn’t get much luckier than that. It was all about perceptions. Illusions. Making the view look very different for those on the outside, looking in. So, no, as the jerk-off wet dream taking place on his bed proved, life wasn’t perfect. But as he told himself every day, it was pretty damn close.
All he had to do was keep it that way.
Excerpted from Taking Hollywood by Shari King. Copyright © 2014 by Shari King.
First published 2014 by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world http://www.panmacmillan.com.
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