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Backstage in the makeup department at "E!" TV on Wilshire Boulevard, Joan Rivers fired raunchy oneliners at a pack of paparazzi; had them laughing so hard the spare cameras dangling from their necks kept banging together. Vita Nelson, the buxom thirtyish makeup lady on duty that morning, couldn't stop giggling. Joan was SO goddamn funny. Vita prayed she wouldn't pee her pants.
Three of the photographers were standard-issue freelancers who worked the tabloid market. The other was Hollywood celebrity lensman Dieter Boursin, on assignment for Cameron Tull's gossip page in The National Revealer.
It was time to feed the world's insatiable appetite for show biz gossip.
Snorting explosively at Joan's jokes, the four men circled her and her adorable little dog Spike, peering through their Nikons. Pooch and star sat in makeup chairs, swathed to the neck in protective cloths as Vita pretended to pat at them with a big powder puff. The photogs were going for that time-honored staple of the newspaper and magazine trade known as the "celebrity gag shot."
The headline would read something like this:
"Joan's Doggie Demands Equal Time!"
Then there'd be a chock-full-of-chuckles caption, something like:
"Just make sure your readers know I'm not the dog!" joked Joan Rivers, as the comedienne and pet pooch Spike got equal star treatment at The "E!" makeup department. It was the first taping of a new fashion special Joan's hosting on the cable channel ... etc.
Shutters clicked. Flashes fired. Vita mugged for the cameras and waved a powder puff at Spike. The dog barked furiously. Joan made a comical leer at the makeup lady's eye-popping cleavage and cracked:
"That's some set you've got there, Vita. You've got Spike in heat! and he's FIXED!" Everyone cracked up; Vita was laughing so hard she felt her bladder contract. "Oh, Joan, stop!" she gasped. "I'll pee my pants right in front of these guys!"
"Oh, yeah? Upstage me and you're dead, bitch!"
The photogs roared at Joan's comeback, then settled down like good professionals for the shoot. Joan struck poses. Spike mugged. Camera motors chattered like silenced machine pistols. Boursin and one of the freelancers, a scruffy British kid, had their shots in five minutes, then chatted as the other photogs tried for something different with Joan.
Vita unhooked Spike's makeup cloth and plopped him on the floor. She made a show of busying herself with her makeup pots and brushes, listening attentively as Boursin and the Brit traded tabloid industry gossip. Over the years in Hollywood, Vita had learned that keeping her ears open could help pay the mortgage on the Encino house she and her husband Fred, an in-demand lighting tech who worked the major studios, couldn't quite afford. Fred heard a lot of things, too.
In one particularly good year, Vita and Fred had made themselves an extra $43,000 selling gossip items and stories to The Enquirer, The Star, People, The National Revealer and even British and Italian tabloids. Big tits earn big bucks in Hollywood, but so do big ears, Vita had learned. Knowledge was power. The town ran on gossip, hype, and figuring shit out five minutes before the next guy.
Earlier that morning, before the arrival of the photographers, Vita had eavesdropped discreetly as Joan Rivers gossiped with a pal on the phone about Fabio and some Hollywood wife. After Joan got off the phone, she told Vita the wife's name. Vita gasped. "But isn't she married to that new creative hotshot at Warner Bros.?" Joan nodded. "Yes, but they're separated. So no big deal. If it's even true," she added. "But my source on this is pretty good."
Dollar signs danced in Vita's head. She'd have that item sold before lunch. It was sure-fire for Cameron Tull at The Revealer. And if he didn't bite, The Enquirer's gossip columnist would sit up and beg for it. He'd been her favorite until the time she'd been assigned to do his makeup for a TV appearance, and he'd complained that she'd used a shade too light for his skin. Pompous asshole. She'd never said anything to him, of course. He was too big a gossip market to piss off.
As Vita listened to the paparazzi gossip, she heard Boursin mention that one of The Revealer's top editors, Steve Bellini, had gone "in the tank" at the Camino Rio Hotel. Vita didn't understand the term. Boursin was explaining it to the Brit.
"At The Revealer, when you're dry on ideas, or you're working on a story so big you need total concentration, the editor-in-chief sends you to a luxury hotel. You can pig out on all the room service you can eat and drink, but the catch is you can't leave the room. You stay 'in the tank' until you've nailed the story. Sort of like force-feeding a goose to get paté."
Interesting, Vita thought. But I can't sell that anywhere. She knew Bellini. He was one of The Revealer's top editors. She'd even sold items to him. But no one's going to pay for an item that Steve Bellini's "in the tank," Vita told herself. It's just inside trade stuff. Vita had trained herself to evaluate every piece of information she heard, no matter how trivial, and to determine what market might pay hard cash for it. In the past ten years, she'd turned into a competent freelance journalist, although she never thought of herself that way. Vita knew she was nothing more than a slightly over-the-hill lady who'd long ago given up her dreams of making it as an actress. But it was okay. She'd turned into a darned good makeup person and member in good standing of the show biz world she loved.
Then the Brit said something that got Vita's full attention. "Yeah, I've heard Bellini's in a bit of trouble over a $50 million libel lawsuit Charmain Burns filed against him over those pictures of her beating the shit out of a horse."
"Ya, I've heard that too," said Boursin in his chocolate-y Swiss-German accent. "Some of Bellini's enemies on his own paper are putting out the story that he's in the tank at the Camino Rio because he's working on their defense for the lawsuit. But I don't believe that shit. First of all, anybody on a tabloid will tell you that libel suits aren't fun, but they're the best job insurance you can get. The paper can't afford to fire you because they need you on the witness stand if it goes to court. And these fucking lawsuits can drag on for years, ya?"
Vita breathed a happy sigh. What a great day this was turning out to be. She had a hot Fabio story to sell for cash. But even better, she had another bit of gossip that could help her career after she whispered it into certain important ears.
Tomorrow she was scheduled to fill in for a vacationing makeup artist on the super-successful BevHills High series. Vita happened to know that they were looking for someone to head the show's makeup department. The producer, a lesbian named Billie Craine, loved getting inside info she could whisper into the eager ears of studio bosses. Billie Craine would just love to hear that Steve Bellini might be in trouble at The National Revealer. And Billie could give Vita that job. Makeup department head. Wow! She'd be making more than Fred.
Dieter Boursin glanced over at Vita and gave her one of his trademark kewpie-doll smiles.
"What are you looking so happy about?" he rasped.
Vita grinned back. "Honey, sometimes I just love this town, don't you?"
"... You're listening to KFWB NEWS RADIO. It's six past the hour ... Hope all you Angelenos are enjoying the bright sunshine on this rare, smog-free morning ... More on today's weather from meteorologist Bill Dudley ... Bill? ..."
* * *
Two miles down the road from "E!," on the swankier end of Wilshire, the bearded, heavyset man in the $3000 Armani jacket and Levis whirled like a dervish as he spoke, windmilling his arms, furiously pacing the 7th floor balcony terrace of the $2,100-a-day Humphrey Bogart Suite. The man, a producer, was delivering a Hollywood stroke job, spewing honeyed phrases out into the fresh, golden air.
"YOU are the most finely-tuned acting instrument walking this earth today ...
"You are more than a STAR, Miss Meryl Olivier! You are the mirror in which women see their hopes and dreams ...
"But more than all THAT, Miss Olivier ...
"You're a great, great artist. I know you care nothing about my offer to pay DOUBLE what you made on your last picture! and forgive me for even bringing it up because this is petty garbage that should only be for your agent and me to talk. But God knows you deserve REWARD for your great art! And I want to be the first producer, in this schlock town that cares nothing for great art, who finally gives you what YOU, Miss Olivier, truly deserve ..."
The mega-barrage of hype was aimed at a striking blonde woman who sat rigidly upright on a chaise lounge. She was wearing sunglasses, which she suddenly took off. She'd seen ... something. What? She squinted against the light. Ah! There it was again! When he made the hard "s" sound in the word "deserve."
No quirk of human behavior was too subtle to escape the notice of Meryl Olivier, often called America's Greatest Actress. During every waking moment, she constantly watched for the tiniest details of human expression, speech and action, storing them away for that precise dramatic moment when she'd need them. On this morning, Miss Olivier was at the Camino Rio to hear Noel Gold, the notorious wunderkind producer of eight straight monster-grossing action movies, hit her with a high-voltage pitch to star in his next flick, Die Faster 5.
And she was listening. Intently. Yet she was repelled and fascinated to observe that at certain angles, the bright sunlight sharply defined a frothy cloud of spittle that sprayed from the producer's fleshy, liver-colored lips.
Totally disgusting, she thought. But what a FABULOUS effect. Of course, it would require a genius lighting man to get it just right on film. But, oh, the Cahiers Du Cinema critics, maybe even Roger Ebert, would rhapsodize about it in their reviews.
"... and you must listen to me now as you have NEVER listened to anyone, Miss Olivier. Because I truly believe I'm delivering the MOST IMPORTANT message you've ever heard in your life. A crucial message that ..."
No one in Hollywood delivered "The Pitch," or understood its unique rhythm, better than Noel Gold. Now, he slammed into overdrive. Meryl Olivier's eyes blinked, rapidly, involuntarily. All she could hear, concentrate on, was Noel Gold's voice. It invaded her mind. Her eyes tracked him, fascinated, as he paced, whirled, flung out his arms, shrugged, raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips, smiled, frowned. The mesmerizing barrage of words and motion never let up. God, she thought. Enough already, little toad man! Stop pitching long enough for me to say, "maybe."
Noel Gold stared at her unblinking, like some killer bird. Oh yeah, he told himself, you're gonna be mine, baby! I'm "The Gold Man." And the Gold Man never misses. My words are thunderbolts. I have The Power ...
He felt it working. The Power! A hot feeling that started pulsing down around his balls. Now it was emanating from his abdomen. A pure energy beam. Like a death ray. What did the Japs call it? ... Steven Seagal had told him once ... Oh, yeah. Kihon! That was it. Power of the spirit!
It was everything in Hollywood. The lifeblood of deal-making. And Noel Gold was a pitch-meister extraordinaire, a legend. Even his worst enemies! "and that's a cast of thousands," his ex-partner, Lennie Katz used to joke! admitted that if Noel Gold hadn't been born Jewish, he'd have become the television evangelist to watch. The one God Himself would pencil in as a "must-view" in his TV Guide.
A Noel Gold pitch? "Bubala, it would melt paint off a whore's fingernails," Lennie Katz used to say, before his pal Noel screwed him into bankruptcy and he ate a shotgun barrel. But even Lennie Katz, who lived for deals, would have loved the way Noel Gold's pitch was bubbling up out of him like hot lava this morning!
"YOU, Miss Olivier, are the most finely-tuned acting instrument walking this earth today ... "You are MORE than a star! You are the mirror in which women see their hopes and dreams ... And men their deepest desires. But more than all that, Miss Olivier, you're a great, great, GREAT artist. A national treasure. Artists like yourself care nothing for money, I know. My offer to pay you DOUBLE what you made on your last picture will not tempt you. That I know also. But as God in Heaven is my witness ..."
Noel Gold flung his arms up toward the Hollywood Hills and said it again: "As God is my witness ... you will be rewarded, Miss Olivier ..."
He paused dramatically, then thundered, "... Let ME be the man who gives you what you truly deserve. It's time for Hollywood to stop turning a cold shoulder to great art, so let ME give you the rewards, the recognition, that are your BIRTHRIGHT! ..."
Hollywood bullshit is truly lighter than air. As it spewed out of his mouth, bits of Noel Gold's dreck drifted up, up, up from the spacious terrace.
Up ... up ... up ... the bullshit rose. Up toward the seductive California sun. And wafted through the open French doors of a suite nine floors above ... into ears attuned to hearing Hollywood's faintest whispers ...
Hunched over the mahogany desk in his 14th-floor suite, Steve Bellini, senior editor of The National Revealer, was pumping a source on the phone and praying he could finally break the hottest Hollywood scandal he'd investigated in months.
It was the kind of story that sounded almost too bad to be true.
"It's absolutely true! he's not only HIV-positive, he's got full-blown AIDS," the source on the phone said. "He's already showing symptoms, for God's sake!"
A death sentence. Steve shrugged. Fuck him. Star or no star, the creep deserved to die. He cleared his throat and said carefully, "Does this information come from a new source? And DON'T mention any names!"
The voice on the phone was high-pitched, excited.
"It comes from the same colleague who told me the story originally. But I wanted to make sure. And the best way was to get into his computer records. He's a good friend, and I told him that I'd just installed new computer software at my office that's cutting-edge for keeping records. He knows I'm a computer buff, so when I offered to install it for him free of charge, he jumped at it. The two of us went to his office on the weekend. When I sent him out to bring back lunch, I got a look at the medical rec! "
"Hey, cool it!" Bellini snapped. "You never know who's listening on an open line."
He glanced down at the SP-409 Line Resistance Monitor he'd used for years. It blinked red when anyone tapped in, or yellow if a hotel operator picked up. Now the light glowed green. The line was clean. But it never hurt to keep hammering sources! and reporters, for that matter! about tight security.
"Okay, okay. Sorry," said the source. He rushed on, words spilling out of him. "Look, there's no doubt about my information. I'd stake my professional life on it. You've got a great story here, Steve!"
Bellini snorted. He wanted to say: Yeah, but will you testify for us in court if we get sued? But he didn't. You never, ever mentioned "court" or "lawsuit" to a source.
"Okay," he said. "The AIDS part is a great story. But I've got to nail down the rest of it. Then it's a monster. A fucking blockbuster."
"Yeah, what a headline," enthused the source. "'AIDS Movie Star Infects..."
"Gotta go," Bellini snapped, slamming the phone down.
He shook his head in wonderment.
"What an ASSHOLE!"
Excerpted from MALICIOUS INTENT by Mike Walker Copyright © 1999 by Mike Walker. Excerpted by permission of Bancroft Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted November 16, 2000
Charmain Burns is out of control and I loved it. This book is not a rollercoaster--it's the Concorde on a Trans-Atlantic flight baby. Fasten your seatbelts and hold on tight boys and girls--this is one supersonic ride.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.