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Zack Duval fought the urge to protectively cross his legs. The
movie mogul's testicle fixation gave him the creeps-which was
exactly what Goldman intended. Everyone in Hollywood knew that
the C.E.O. of Parapet Pictures had a nasty sadistic streak,
and his office testified to the fact. The walls and ceiling
were lacquered a hellish black, the floor was paved in black
marble, and the only light in the room emanated from
flame-shaped globes on top of tall torchiere lamps along the
walls. The old man's enormous glass desk sat on a recessed
black pedestal, which made it appear to be levitating. All the
old man needed was a pitchfork and horns to make the picture
"Yessir, you've got a lot of nerve, showin' up here to pitch
another movie after the way your last one tanked." The short,
paunchy studio head pulled his ever-present uncut cigar out of
his mouth and pointed the damp, turdlike end at Zack like an
accusing finger. "You went ten million over budget, and you
didn't even deliver it in time for a holiday release."
It was an effort to sit still on the ergonomically incorrect
metal bench, but Zack managed. Word had it that the
bleacherlike seats in front of the movie mogul's desk had been
deliberately designed to make people squirm, and Zack refused
to give the old goat that satisfaction. He might have to
grovel, but he'd damned if he'd squirm.
Goldman waggled his cigar again. "What was that friggin' film
called, anyway-Up In Smoke?"
Oh, hell-now he was going to have to play the old man's
vicious little name game. "'The title was Trial by Fire."
Goldman's lips pulled into an evil grin. "Oh, right. 'Up in
smoke' was what happened to all our hopes for it."
It was classic Goldman. Zack waited until the old man's cackle
had faded into a phlegm-filled cough, then forced a deliberate
calm his voice. "As you know, the weather was a problem on
Goldman made a low grunting sound. "Weather, Schmeather. A
good director shoots around it."
"It's a little hard to shoot around a flood when the movie's
about a forest fire."
Goldman narrowed his beady eyes. "You sayin' I don't know my
Damn-it was always a mistake to disagree with Goldman. The old
man had the fattest ego in Hollywood, but the thinnest skin,
and he took the mildest dissent as a personal attack.
"Of course not, Marvin. No one knows the industry better than
you. I'm just saying some things went wrong on that picture."
"Yeah. The main one being that I green-lighted it in the first
The studio head leaned back in his chair and folded his hands
over his bulbous belly. The man's odd physique had always
reminded Zack of a child's drawing of a person-a large circle
for the body, a smaller circle for his bald, round head, then
short, skinny sticks for the arms and legs. His cartoonish
appearance was enhanced by the fact that his chair back rose a
good foot higher than the top of his head.
"The film before that fire fiasco was an even bigger flop."
Goldman reinserted the cigar in his mouth and contorted his
mouth to speak around it. "You know the one-the one where
everyone had microchips implanted in their brains. What the
hell was it called? Brain Truss?"
The vile old man was sub-human-a depraved, brutish, warped,
malignant sore of a man, with a soul as black as the walls of
his office. Unfortunately, he was also Zack's last chance of
ever making another movie.
Zack unclenched his teeth just enough to answer. "The name was
"Oh, right. Must have been my brain in a truss, givin' that
project the go-ahead." Goldman let loose another ragged
cackle. "What's your excuse for that one?"
"Come on, Marvin-you know how things happen. There were a lot
of unexpected delays and expenses on that shoot."
"Your job is to expect the unexpected."
"How could I expect that halfway through the shoot, the
leading man would have a car accident that would leave him in
a body cast for three months? There were a bunch of other
problems, too." Zack lifted his hand and ticked them off,
starting with his thumb. "Special effects couldn't deliver as
promised, the gaffers' union staged a strike, the set designer
quit in a huff, and distribution screwed up the ship date."
"You left one thing out," Goldman snarled.
"You forgot to mention it was a lousy movie."
Zack choked back the urge to dive across the desk and throttle
the man. He pasted on a congenial smile. "I understand it's
doing well in some of the foreign markets."
Goldman glared at the agent, clearly irritated to have any ray
of sunshine injected into this black hole of a meeting. "Oh,
yeah," he sneered. "It's a big hit in northern Siberia. And I
hear it's got 'em linin' up for miles in outer Mongolia." He
leaned back in his scrotum-upholstered chair and shook his
head at Zack. "Like I said, Jackson, you got guts, darkenin'
my door again."
"Well, you've got guts, too, Marvin," Zack fired back. If he
stroked the little ghoul's colossal ego, maybe he could things
around. "That's why I came."
The old man's eyes narrowed suspiciously, all but disappearing
in his face. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just that you trust your own instincts. You know a jewel when
you see it, and you're smart enough to know that a diamond is
diamond whether it's delivered in a blue box from Tiffany's or
found lying in the dirt."
"You sayin' you've brought me some dirty jewels, Jacksonl?"
Goldman's lip curled around his cigar. "What are they-your
Christ. Didn't the S.O.B. ever give it a rest? "Sorry to
disappoint you, Marvin, but I'm talking about a script. I've
got a real jewel of a story, and since you have the option on
my next movie, you get first shot at it."
The old man snorted. "First shot? Hell, I'm your first and
your last, and don't think I don't know it." Goldman leaned
forward and stabbed his stogie in the air. "You know what
they're callin' you? Jinx. Jinx Jackson. Hell, I'm the only
studio head in town who'll take a meeting with you, and the
only reason I did was to see if you had the nerve to show up."
Bile, bitter and acidic, rose in Zack's throat. He knew how
things were in this business. Hell, he'd been born into it-his
grandfather had been an early film star, his father had been a
big screen heart throb, and Zack himself had grown up in front
of America, playing the precocious son of a small-town private
eye in a popular T.V. series. He'd been in Hollywood all of
his life, and he knew it was an unforgiving town.
Unforgiving, and superstitious. No one wanted to be associated
with a loser. You were only as good as your last movie, and if
you bombed, it was hard to get a second chance. It was even
harder to get a third one.
But that was exactly what Zack needed-another chance. And it
was his lousy luck that his best shot of getting one was the
miserable excuse for a human being sitting across from him. If
Goldman took a pass on the project, so would the other
studios. It would be the kiss of death.
Goldman's chair creaked as he leaned back. " I'm gonna give
you a little advice. The Jackson name still has a lot of
charisma, and you're not too bad lookin'. Maybe you ought to
consider goin' back in front of the camera."
Zack shook his head. "Acting's not for me."
"You did all right for yourself as a kid." Yeah, and he'd
hated it. He'd hated waiting around, doing nothing more
significant than trying not to wrinkle his pants, while all
around him, the real action took place. The power was in the
decisions. Big decisions, like what stories would be made into
movies, which actors would play the roles, which footage would
end up on the editing room floor and which would make it to
the screen. Little decisions, like where the lights should be
set, if the script needed tweaking, whether or not a scene
needed another take. The public thought the actors were the
key to a film, but Zack knew they were just paint and hubcaps.
The producer and the director were the ones who made it go.
And in an increasing number of cases, the producer and the
director were the same person. That had been Zack's goal from
early childhood: to become a producer-slash-director. A
producer/ director had complete control of the picture from
the first draft of the script to the final edit.
And more than anything, Zack wanted control. His childhood had
been one long set of instructions. Do this; do that-no, not
that way, this way. Smile. Don't smile. Say this. Don't say
that. Like a poodle at a dog show, he'd been carefully
groomed, trotted out on a leash, and judged on how obediently
he followed orders. When he grew up, he'd promised himself, he
would call the shots.
And that was exactly what he'd done. He'd made nine
feature-length movies, and he'd made all the decisions for
each of them, from beginning to end. He'd found the stories,
commissioned the scripts, sold the concepts, assembled the
crews, directed the shoots, supervised the editing and
coordinated the distribution. Each film had brought a fresh
set of headaches and problems, but Zack had loved every minute
He loved the challenges, loved the creative process, loved the
way each project completely absorbed him. Hell, he just
flat-out loved movies. In movies, life made sense. People had
clear-cut goals and motives, and it was easy to see the
relationship between their actions and the outcome. Good was
rewarded, evil was punished and the characters got to live
happily ever after.
Real life, of course, was nothing like that. In real life,
love affairs always ended, friendships eventually fractured,
and family ties-if they'd ever existed in the first
place-inevitably frayed and severed. Zack sometimes wished he
had the ability to con himself like the rest of the populace.
But growing up in Hollywood, he'd learned the truth early.
Love and friendship were just gussied-up business
arrangements. Like any business, they operated on the basis of
supply and demand, and they only worked as long as both
parties got an equitable exchange of goods or services. The
fact of the matter was, people inevitably left you or let you
down. Work was the only thing that could be trusted, the only
reliable source of satisfaction. Unfortuately, Zack's ability
to work at the craft he loved was in the hands of the
cigar-sucking, testes-obsessed gnome of a man squinting at him
across the table.
Goldman sucked on his stogie, making the sound of a boot being
pulled out of thick mud. "I'll tell ya what, Jackson-bring me
a project that has you in it, and we'll talk."
"Nah. I'm no actor."
Goldman applied more suction to his cigar. "No director,
either, judging from your last two pictures."
His last two pictures-was all that counted? Didn't it matter
that all the others had done well-damn well, considering the
nature of the business?
Apparently not. Zack's stomach gnarled into a painful knot.
Two strikes and it was all over. He wasn't even going get a
third time at bat.
A desperate, grasping-at-straws gamble formed in his mind.
What the hell-he might as well go for it.
He rose to his feet. "Well, I won't waste any more of your
time, Marvin. MGM wants a meeting, but I told them I had to
talk to you first. Since you're not interested, I guess that
frees me up." Zack strode to the door, his heart slamming hard
against his chest. It was now or never. If Goldman let them
walk out, his career was over.
His hand was on the doorknob when Goldman finally spoke. "Aw,
hell. As long as you're here, you might as well give me what
It wasn't the most encouraging invitation he'd ever received
to pitch a project, but it was an invitation nonetheless. Zack
loosened his deathgrip on the doorknob and slowly turned. "If
you're not interested, there's really no point."
"Sit down, dammit, and give me your pitch," Goldman growled.
Zack strolled back to his seat, trying to pretend his entire
future didn't hang in the balance, trying to ignore the way
his stomach coiled like a cobra, trying to act calm and cool
and nonchalant. He lowered himself on the gawd-awful bench,
drew a deep breath and plunged in.
"As the opening credits roll, we find ourselves inside a
brothel called the Ooh La La. We're in New Orleans, and it's
the late eighteen hundreds. The set is lush-velvet drapes,
Aubusson rugs, lots of mirrors, nude sculptures, elaborate
gold-framed paintings. We hear voices-a woman's laugh, the
tinkle of crystal, piano music. The camera pans the room,
picking up scantily clad ladies, expensively dressed men, and
a blindfolded piano player banging out jazz. We see that he's
peeking out from under the blindfold. The camera goes in tight
on his hands, and then we're in his point of view, seeing what
he sees from under the blindfold."
Goldman stared at him, his expression blank as a movie screen
after the last credit rolls.
"We get little peeks of what's going on in various parts of
the room," Zack continued. "We see a man's hand up scooch up
under some colored petticoats. We see a woman squeezing a
man's behind as they dance in the corner. We see a woman bend
over to pour a man a drink, and we get a close-up of
cleavage-I'm talking major cleavage." Zack held out his hands,
as if he were palming a pair of basketballs. "Our piano player
throws back his head. We see a large, gaudy chandelier on the
ceiling, and next to it, a ribbon-covered swing. The swing is
being lowered from the ceiling by a squeaky pulley. And then
we see ..." Jake paused for effect. "A horse."
Zack nodded. "A stallion. A man leads it into the room.
Everyone steps aside and stops what they're doing-everyone
except the piano player, who just keeps on playing. We're
still in his point of view, so we're just getting little
glimpses of the action."
Goldman pulled the cigar out of his mouth. That was a good
sign. When Goldman took out his cigar, it meant he was
Encouraged, Zack continued. "First we see a close-up of the
horse's face. Then we get a glimpse of a young woman as she
sits in the swing. We get a peek of her leg as she peels off
her stockings, then a colorful whirl of petticoats being
tossed through the air. We see another close-up of the horse's
face. We hear the swing being raised. We hear loud, bawdy
voices. We see a close-up of a man, then a woman, then the
Zack talked faster to convey the tempo. "The crowd gets
louder. We hear murmurs of amazement. More close-ups of
people's expressions-shock, disbelief, revulsion, fascination.
Another close-up of the horse, this time looking wild-eyed.
The music gets louder. We see the piano keys, see the player's
fingers flying across them." Zack paused for just a heartbeat.
"And then we hear a long, loud whinny."
Goldman sat perfectly still, the cigar between his fingers,
his hands on his belly, his eyes thoughtful. "Hmm."
A thrill of triumph shimmied through Zack. Throw in a little
deviant sex, and Goldman's interest level shot up like the
thermostat on the back lot in July. The trick now was to keep
"The horse is led out," Zack continued. "The crowd applauds
and cheers. The piano player's eye pans the room and lands on
a brawny, young delivery man in the back room, who's just set
down several boxes whisky. He's staring through the doorway,
stunned by what he's just seen. The man continues to watch as
the madame, a buxom old dame dripping jewelry, steps forward
and says something like, "'The Ooh La La is pleased to present
Salome and the dance of the seven veils.'"
Goldman leaned forward. "The delivery man is the hero?"
Goldman was asking questions-man, oh, man, he was taking the
Zack nodded. "His name is Joe, and he's just come to New
Orleans from the bayou. He falls in love with the dancer. Her
name is Sadie, and it turns out she's working in the brothel
as an indentured servant. She'd needed some quick cash for a
noble cause-she paid for her grandmother's treatment at a
tuberculosis sanatorium-so she agreed to work for the madame
for three years in exchange for a couple of thousand dollars.
"Joe wants to pay off her debt and marry her, but he doesn't
have any money. He's in despair at the thought of having to
wait until her time is up. And then he sees an ad for a big
boxing match that offers a purse of ten thousand dollars.
Joe decides to go for it."
Excerpted from OOH, LA LA!
by Robin Wells
Copyright © 2002 by Robin Wells.
Excerpted by permission.
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 December 9, 2008
Director Zack Jackson wants to do a movie set in a brothel in historical New Orleans, but his last few films came in late, over budget, and flopped at the box office. He explains his idea to the caustic CEO of Parapet Pictures Goldman that he found an article in the Historical Research Quarterly written by New Orleans University Professor Kate Matthews on a true story that Zack believes will make quite a film. Goldman agrees to finance the movie, but insists that Professor Matthews be hired as a consultant. <P>Kate is thrilled to be on the team until she realizes that Zack is ignoring authenticity. She informs the director that she can supply him with exciting real historical happenings that will bring action to his movie. As they work together, the professor and the filmmaker fall in love, but will this be a Hollywood type ending? <P>OOH, LA, LA! lives up to its title as an exciting contemporary romance that enhances the plot with incite into the historical red light district of New Orleans. The story line engages the audience from the moment Kate and Zack meet and never lets up until the film is finished. Kate is a wonderful protagonist who believes in what she is doing; Zack is a talented individual trying to make a film his way while satisfying Goldman, a throwback to the big studio days with a lot of time on his hands. Robin Wells provides fans with an entertaining novel that is fun to read. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 9, 2013
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