When I started out as a would-be writer I thought there were certain things real writers did. They drank. I drank. But when I drank I didn’t want to write I wanted to have fun. So much for drinking. But drinking or not I thought writers should hang out at bars and dives and soak up atmosphere or thrown beer. My first adventure out was to a well known sleazy eatery. I sat at the counter listening for tidbits of dialogue, insights into lives. What I got was a shirt full of beer when two guys playing pool a few feet away got into a fight. Free beer, who could ask for more? If a cop had stopped me on the way home my shirt-alcohol level would surely have been over the legal limit. Would they have arrested me or just my shirt?
I also wanted to try almost anything to get noticed, have people read my scripts. I’d send letters to everyone. The bigger they were, generally speaking, the nicer they were. Burt Reynolds had his manager call and take a look at a script. Walter Matthau. Bob Evans. Even Jeffrey Katzenberg. I’m sure they don’t remember, but it meant a lot to me. It was the little ones I never heard from. I guess they were too big, true legends in their own minds.
I sent him a letter and much to my amazement:
“Hello, Paul. This is Gene Kelly. I got your letter. I’d like to see the script. Can you drop it my house?”
The next day I drove to Beverly Hills, a pristine copy of the screenplay I was hoping he would direct in a crisp envelope on the seat next to me. I got out of the car, walked up the path and rang the doorbell. A young woman answered. I told her I was there to drop a script off for Gene Kelly.
“Come in,” she said.
My heart pumped. She ushered me into the living room, offered me something cold to drink, which I declined. I waited. The room was rich and elegant, but out of focus. I couldn’t believe I was there in Gene Kelly’s living room. Hey, we’d filmed some scenes from our film on some of the same sets Kelly used in Singin’ in the Rain. And here I was in his house, waiting for him to make his entrance. Would he tap dance his way into the room? I was in Fantasyland as much or more so than the Fantasyland at Disneyland. You’d think I would have been jaded after the war and my dad, but I wasn’t. That would come later.
He entered the room, wearing a cream colored cardigan, no taps on his shoes. He was shorter than I’d expected, but graceful in his movements. He asked me about my background and we talked a bit about his movies and the state of the biz. He thanked me and saw me to the door. I drove back to the valley on a cushion of air.
Gene Kelly was going to read my script. Gene Kelly had invited me to his house. How did he know I wasn’t a psycho killer?
I would try anything in those days, almost anything. And sometimes it even worked.
Cary Grant called me. I had sent him a letter telling him about a script of mine. Hoping he might give up his many-yeared self-imposed exile from making movies to be in my little script. If he were to be in it, it would certainly go from a script to a movie.
So one day the phone rang. I picked it up. Goddamn ringing telephone. I had just barely gotten home, put my stuff down and sat down. And the phone was ringing.
“Hello is Paul Marks there?” a familiar voice said. My God, could it be?
“Paul, this is Cary Grant,” he said.
Yeah, sure. Someone playing a prank. But it wasn’t.
To make a long story short, we had a nice, pleasant conversation. And though he didn’t want to do my movie, Mr. Grant was as charming and debonair on the phone as his character in the movies. And nice. But I was a like a gushing teenie-bopper meeting Paul McCartney in 1965.
I pictured him under a palm tree by his pool, sipping a daiquiri. Or maybe in his den in an Armani suit, this handsome, debonair man. And while I was talking to the most suave man in the world, I wondered if he could imagine that I was on my throne . . . the toilet. Since the phone was right outside the bathroom door and in those days I never wanted to miss a call. After all, I never knew, it could be Cary Grant calling.
I had just talked to the world’s most charming and elegant man…from my toilet. Will wonders never cease? I wonder if he heard the echo?
Now if only Paul McCartney would call… But we did get to go to his Dodger Stadium concert and had backstage passes. Now that was cool.
I’ll have to use these in a story some day…
*Photo of Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain”: According to Bing’s license search feature this photo is public domain and is free to share and use.
*Photo of Cary Grant: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons