Hollywood Nights

When I was sixteen I learned that my friend Adam’s father was a fairly well known comedian and actor. He and his father became estranged when Adam’s parents divorced, but by the time I was a freshman in college at Hofstra University on Long Island he had reunited with his father, Paul, and was living with him in his Manhattan apartment. I was invited into the city for a weekend. That first evening we sat in their little living room and watched a movie I had never seen, starring James Caan, in which Paul had a small role as a priest. Paul watched it with us. He said he felt James Caan was miscast as the lead. He spoke about James Caan as I might have spoken about a teammate on my high school football team. In the middle of the movie there was a scene in which Paul, as the bumbling priest, enters a room via a short set of stairs. Paul the Priest stumbled on the second stair.

“I just decided to throw that in,” he explained.

It was strange to look at the television and see Paul the Priest and then look to my right and see Paul the Father. Stranger still, he was talking about his work the way I, a smooth-skinned eighteen year-old, often thought about my own work. I fully expected all my worry and self-commenting to come to an end once I’d known any kind of actual, adult success.

The next night Paul gave Adam and me two tickets to a special screening of a new Robert Altman film. I think we were to be a part of a celebrity test audience. The movie was awful. It was supposed to be a buddy comedy, but no one was laughing and the two young leads felt like amateurs imitating Donald Southerland and Elliott Gould in MASH. Sometimes it was hard to tell where the jokes were.

It had not occurred to me that Altman would be in the theater with us. However, in the middle of the film, the sound fell out of sync. After some scrambling, the actors were realigned with their own dialogue. Until the sound fell out a second time. Again the problem was corrected. The third time it happened Altman stood up a few rows behind me and screamed: “No one cares about this movie but me!”

I left the theater not knowing quite what to make of the weekend. “Where are all the special people?” I wondered. I was quite certain movies had promised me they existed.

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