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A Jocelyn O'Roarke Mystery
By Jane Dentinger
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1992 Jane Dentinger
All rights reserved.
1188 Mulholland Drive
LaLa Land, U.S.A.
Listen, Snookums, after our last phone confab, I feel it's only right that I put my proposition on paper so you'll know it wasn't just a will o' the wisp offer on my part. Do, do, do come out here and work on this wretched TV movie of mine. I've already spoken to the director, Larry Goldstein, and he agrees that you'd be perfect for the part. So it's a 90% sure thing (or as close to it as you'll get in this town). And even if it should fall through, the worst that would happen is you'd end up lolling by my pool for a week or two, stroking my fevered brow as I bitch about the whole mess.
Seriously, I think it's time you got away from the Asphalt Jungle for a bit. As an old friend, let me tell you what I didn't have the guts to say over the phone: Josh—you're as dull as dishwater these days ... And I say this with deep affection, as ... someone who knows you from the days when you were considered a "fun kid," a bon vivant. These days you're barely vivant.
I'm not saying that you don't have good reason to be off stride—after the fallout from the Burbage thing and Phillip's—well, let's not go into all that. I just mean that gray has never been your color, depression doesn't suit you. And, odd as it may sound, L.A. may be just the thing to lighten your palette just now ... Think of it, there's nothing out here you need take remotely seriously. Doesn't that notion hold a certain appeal?
Of course, I leave it up to you. You will, as always, suit yourself ... Then again, it's not as if I couldn't really use you on this hateful, incredibly lucrative project, you numb nuts.
Unopinionated love from—
The Players Club
16 Gramercy Park South
I hope this arrives in L.A. shortly after you do because I know how you fret. Rest assured that I've moved my meager belongings into your place so that foul beast you call a cat will not perish from neglect. Actually I cheated and brought fresh crabmeat with me the first night so Angus now thinks I am the way and the light of his culinary future.
To be honest, being here makes a nice break from the Players Club where, as the resident relic of Broadway's ancien régime, I was beginning to feel like a bit like a museum piece.
Per your instructions, I've recorded a new message on the answering machine. It goes: "This is Frederick Revere. Jocelyn O'Roarke is in Hollywood, selling her soul and raking in big bucks while I hold down the fort and pray for her redemption."—or words to that effect ... Dear me, do I hear the pressing of sour grapes? Sorry, I'm just so bored without the sound of your evil tongue. You must write often and give me all the awful West Coast news.
Actually, I think Austin's right—the change will do you good (though it's not as if you were going to Bath, is it?). And I've already said my piece about tying up loose ends ... with Phillip, etc.—not that we want to go into that again. And, naturally, you must always please yourself—My God, I can't believe I'm doing this sort of guilt-mongering. Forgive me, Josh, it's just my way of admitting how much I'll miss you, nothing else.
Have a wonderful time in Lotus Land working on Austin's script (however much they leave intact). I'm certain that, by the time you get back to N.Y.C., the last of the bad winds will have blown over. Meanwhile I promise to keep you abreast of all that's going on here.
1188 Mulholland Drive
Dear Mr. Revere,
Thank you so much for your kind inquiry about the state of my current employment and general personal well-being, also for pertinent details about said "foul beast" (though I'll tell you right now, crabmeat isn't enough. Angus ain't that easy).
And the phone message sounds real cute. Thanks a heap, Freddie. Honestly, everybody and their grandmother goes out to L.A. for part of the year! I don't see why, when I do it, it's perceived as a major defection. Don't think I can't read between the lines, toots. And don't force me to bring up your little piece of Hollywood history circa 1956—what was it called —"Seadogs"? Such an appropriate title.
On the work front, I really am doing Austin's script, I signed the contract two days ago—which is why I must cut this short. I'm having lunch with the leading lady today. Now if you behave nicely and drop the silly references to yourself as "Broadway's ancien régime"— unbecoming in an established star who turns down more work than most of us get offered!—I'll fill you in on all the juicy bits later.
"Ginger, this is Jocelyn O'Roarke. Josh—Ginger Jellicoe!"
Like a circus master, Austin Frost held the sliding glass door open with one arm as he ushered his star through it with the other. Putting down her pen and quickly tying her beach robe, Jocelyn jumped up from the chaise longue, not merely out of politeness, but as an instinctive salute to the geometrically astounding vision that was sauntering toward her. Ginger Jellicoe, twenty-seven-year-old former child star, has-been, and recently resuscitated leading lady, was, even in a town renowned for perfect bodies, a major piece of construction. The broad-brimmed, white straw hat she wore shaded her wide shoulders, full breasts, and narrow hips that dwindled down to long, lovely calves and Oriental feet. She looked like a divinely formed isosceles triangle.
Jocelyn took in the wide-set, china blue eyes against the honey-colored skin and tawny hair and felt herself sinking fast into a mire of physical self-loathing. Then the vision spoke.
"Hiya, Jocelyn. God, I hope you got fruit. I'm starving and that's all I can have for lunch, fruit. It's this damn diet I'm on. And now ol' Frostie says I should go to my natural brunette for this part—dye it back. I dunno. You think Frostie's right?"
Old Frostie was standing behind Ginger, wringing his hands in an elaborate "Oh, please, be kind" signal. So Jocelyn simply said, "We've got tons of fruit. And Austin, for all his faults, is usually dead on about hair color. Plus I read the script and ... yeah, you should go natural."
"But you're a brunette, too. Won't that be a bit much, us both being brunette?"
"Oh, I dunno. I think it's okay 'cause we are playing sisters. Besides, if you change your hair color in this town, they call it stretching your range."
Ginger clapped her hands and giggled like the charming child who had once delighted millions. "Ha! You're right about that—they'll say stuff like 'Miss Jellicoe has finally matured as an actress.' The jerks! And you know, I think we'll look real cute together. Don't you, Frostie?"
"Adorable," Austin deadpanned. "But before I become transfixed by your joint cuteness, let me go forth and fetch fruit. And whatever you'd like to drink. Ginger, a wine spritzer, I assume. And, Josh, the usual?"
The freshly minted "sisters" nodded their agreement, Ginger with gusto and Jocelyn with a grimace. Her "usual" these days was a diet 7-Up with lime. She hadn't touched a drop of liquor since getting off the plane at LAX. Dreading the extra ten pounds the camera adds to a full-breasted woman with a short torso, she'd gone into training as soon as she hit Mulholland Drive, swimming one hundred laps a day and working out with the previously untouched weights in Austin's basement. Austin, who preferred, on a purely platonic level, fleshy women to cranky ones, wished she would knock it off. But, unlike many of his heterosexual counterparts, he knew better than to say so.
Sliding the glass door shut behind him, he heard Ginger confide to Josh, "Frostie's a gas but he talks kinda funny." He didn't catch her reply, only the sound of Ginger's laughter ricocheting off the glass. Good, he thought, That's a good sign. They're getting on fine and O'Roarke's taking shots at me again. Great. For he had begun to worry mightily.
And he had plenty to worry about, on several fronts. Free Fall was his first TV movie script for a major network and his first time out as an executive producer, something he'd sworn he'd never, ever be. Writers can hand in a script, pick up a check, and walk away whistling, which had always been his M.O. and a very good way to maintain one's sanity in Hollywood. But producers never leave the front lines until the bloody finish.
Chopping a honeydew into thin strips, he cursed himself for a fool and not for the first time. The pity of it was he actually cared about this particular script, so deeply that he couldn't bear to see it go through the usual TV meat grinder and come out pulped. So, to protect his baby, he'd become a producer and kissed sweet sanity adieu.
The first battle had been getting the okay to cast Jellicoe. By Nielsen standards, she was washed up, unreliable, and lacked "a nineP.M. time slot sex appeal," as one network mogul put it, all of which was possibly true. But she happened to be dead on, innately right for the role of Christie. Austin knew it and, thankfully, so did his director, Larry Goldstein. Between the two of them ranting and raving, Casting Justice had, for once, been done. Oddly enough, considering that she had absolutely no "TVQ," getting Jocelyn approved had been a cinch. In retrospect, Austin realized that whereas he and Larry both saw it, in trite but true terms, as "small but pivotal," "The Suits" considered the part of Anna too inconsequential to bother about. Which led to his second, more personal concern—his old friend, the Pivot.
The thing that had first drawn him to Jocelyn, back in college, was her wicked tongue and her great equilibrium. Sophomore year she had acted in one of his first student plays and they had both had to endure that most barbaric of all drama school rituals—the "group critique." Or, as Jocelyn had called it, the Lord of the Flies Fest. Hiding in the scene shop afterward, shaking with humiliation and rage, he'd felt a firm thump on the back and looked down to find Jocelyn offering him the first joint he ever smoked, saying, "Look, Austin, you can't believe 'em when they hate you and you can't believe 'em when they love you, either. Both ends of it are bullshit. The good stuff always falls between the cracks and you gotta recognize it by yourself or nobody else ever will. You follow?"
He hadn't immediately but, many tokes later, lying out on the football field, playing Botticelli, he'd suddenly raised up on one elbow and stated forcefully, "They were right about the first act—the structure sucks. But Act Two's fine and those feebs completely missed the ending. And I can see how to make it all work now!"
"Oh, hey, that's great, Austin! ... Now was this person ever involved in politics?"
And that was how it had always been with them—work and games, games and work. Because, with Jocelyn, they were always one and the same: she played at her work and worked at her play. But lately it had changed for her, and Austin missed his playfellow. A promising directing job at the Burbage Theatre had ended for Jocelyn with the death of two company members. This had been followed closely by the engagement of NYPD Lieutenant Phillip Gerrard, her longtime lover, to another woman. While Austin had seen Jocelyn get over broken love affairs the way a steeplechaser gets over a low hurdle, this time she seemed to be having trouble regaining her stride. And he desperately needed her to be in top form.
He wasn't so concerned about her acting. She could do Anna in her sleep and still be passable. But he hadn't hired her entirely for her acting, though he hadn't admitted it outright. He needed her as an undercover coach for Ginger.
Whether she realized it or not, and she probably didn't, Ginger had been hired to play herself, something she'd never done in the past. Her childhood persona, Jilly of "The Jam House," was just a revved-up seventies version of Shirley Temple, with rock 'n' roll replacing tap dance. "The Jam House" was about an average American family that just happened to be a rock band, featuring Ginger as the youngest singing sibling, who managed to upstage the older cast à la Michael Jackson with the Jackson Five. Unfortunately, once the series was canceled, she hadn't managed to parlay that maxi- voice in a mini-frame into anything more successful. There were a few aborted series, followed by the standard stories of drug abuse, a failed early marriage, and a disastrous bomb of an album called Ginger Jams. Then—nothing, until the mid- eighties, when she started popping up in small parts on cop shows, usually as a troubled teenage runaway. Then she got too old to play teenagers and made another bad marriage and fast divorce. After a five-year "hiatus," she turned up in an entirely forgettable low- budget feature titled, appropriately, Sleaze Street, playing a young prostitute desperate to move up to call-girl status. Austin had seen it one night at Josh's as a CBS Late Night Special. They were both aficionados of great-bad films. Sadly, Sleaze Street did not qualify—but Ginger did. She chewed up the scenery with such ferocity that Jocelyn gasped in awe.
"Oh, it's like the early great-bad work of Kirk Douglas or Burt Lancaster! It's way too much. But what commitment. Just think what she'll be like when she can stop acting!"
That had planted the seed for Austin because Josh had a fine eye and a real affection for good-bad acting and where it could lead. And what he needed more than anything else on earth was someone who could get Ginger Jellicoe to not act. Larry Goldstein was a good director with a great sense of story and pace and Austin was grateful to have him. But the nature of the TV movie beast allows scant time for things that are taken for granted in stage work, like rehearsal or preparation. He was counting on Jocelyn to be a sort of walking Cliff Notes for Ginger. But would she?
Looking out the kitchen window, he observed his two ladies standing poolside, engrossed in small talk, or at least Ginger was. Even at a distance Austin could see that Josh was absorbed in something else: "imprinting"—that was his name for it. O'Roarke had no name for it since she was scarcely aware of it. But already she had one hip raised with a hand on the other and her head tilted a little up and to one side ... just like Ginger. Mimicking people was second nature to her, she did it unconsciously whenever she met an interesting type. It was an invaluable trait, but he loved to tease her about it, calling her a "character klepto" or "Ms. Body Snatcher."
Definitely a good sign, Austin told himself. Feeling more optimistic than he had in weeks, he dumped all the fruit in a huge salad bowl and started tossing and singing, "They laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike. You can lose your mind! When—huh?" He stopped midtoss on the last line of the old "Patty Duke Show" theme. The scene outside his window had suddenly shifted from happy girl talk to something that looked alarmingly like soap opera.
Ginger was sitting on the chaise with her face buried in her hands, shoulders jerking up and down convulsively. The look of surprise and concern on Jocelyn's face as she ineffectually patted the girl's head told him that it was more than a fit of hiccups. Looking up, O'Roarke caught his eye through the plate glass and made waving motions with her free hand, signaling him to stay inside for a bit. He nodded back and, with a sad sigh, carried the fruit salad over to the fridge.
"Not a good sign."CHAPTER 2
... SO ONE MINUTE EVERYTHING'S fine and the next we're smack in the middle of an Oprah show. Ginger asked me how I learn lines and I said, "In my sleep." I explained how I like to go over a scene a few times right before I get into bed. Then I run over the lines in my head while I'm drifting off to sleep and usually when I wake up I have them down.
Ginger gets this look like I just said I drink blood for breakfast so I made some dumb joke about having to do it that way since I'm a sleep junkie (your description, I believe). She just looked at me with the most woebegone eyes imaginable and said, "Oh, God, you're so lucky ... I can't ... I'm afraid to sleep!" And that's when the floodgates opened.
Excerpted from Dead Pan by Jane Dentinger. Copyright © 1992 Jane Dentinger. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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