How The West Was Won
by Jack Scribe
1996 was a hurricane of activity for Brent and myself. By mid-year, Brent - now Brad Williams, a card-carrying SAG member - had starting acting in films, with small speaking roles, in Titanic and LA Confidential. I was especially pleased that the director's assistant position allowed me to learn and also contribute to the post-production and editing process of the 'Confidential' film. Being Sam Barron's man can open a lot of doors. But after that, you must produce. Both the director and the assistant director were very encouraging and assumed a mentor's role, and Creative Artists Management assured me that I would definitely be an AD on an independent film scheduled for a fall shoot.
Sam's office arranged for Brent to take a supporting character role with substantial dialogue and some juicy dramatic scenes in a play at the La Jolla Playhouse. Previously only performed in a workshop at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, the play was the West Coast premiere of a new George Furth drama that might have legs for Broadway. A New York cast would open the play on the Great White Way, but Brent would benefit from the attention of the California press and the playhouse production reviews. The two-month La Jolla run of the play would occur from July 11 to September 5, closing Labor Day weekend, and wouldn't interfere with Brent's Navy duties.
I arrived - with my own set of keys and security code to the house - the day before Dave's 22nd birthday event on the Fourth of July. In that the Fourth fell on a Thursday, the studio closed late Tuesday. Editing of 'Confidential' would resume on Monday, July 8. In addition to relaxing in San Diego and enjoying the incredible Swenson hospitality, I planned on helping Brent by running lines for his new play, "The Pleasure Was Theirs," the entire weekend.
"Remarkable," was my immediate reaction to the remodeled house. The interior designer was able to create comfortable spaces of understated masculine luxury around the incredible art that originally was in Dave's St. Paul home. Entering the den for the first time, I recalled the western art on the walls first seen in the Gull Lake cabin when we all visited last fall. I was blown away to learn that the two oil paintings were George Russell originals, and the small Hudson River landscape positioned over the desk was by Albert Bierstadt. The art, furniture and antique collection was a lasting tribute to Dave's deceased parents. And the completed appearance of the house was also a testament to Mike and Dave's collaborative efforts.
For the next three days, the Fab Four made up for being away from each other. Brent and I were cuddling before an early Friday evening of affectionate coupling when we heard from the master bedroom, "Oh fuck, Mike...ahhh...drill me with that big cock...oh..." We both became hysterical at Dave's verbosity and Mike's unintelligible groaning - and got hard immediately. The vision of those two hot hunks going at it was difficult to ignore.
"Hey, Brent, you ready for me to 'drill' you?" I hoarsely whispered.
"Only if we can put on an audible show for the guys," he replied with a snicker.
"Let's just put on a show for ourselves." I leaned down and kissed his genitals - one, two and three - before moving further below. There was a trail of saliva that led to his wrinkly rosebud. After maneuvering my tongue around, and in, this familiar territory, I grabbed the Wet and generously applied the lube on our twitching cocks and his warm chute.
Being together for the last two years had allowed us to become familiar with each other and anticipate each other's movements. Brent automatically raised his legs and wrapped them around my waist and helped guide me into him. After a series of intentional pauses and oral exploration, the act of passion was consummated and enjoyed by two guys who loved each other deeply - emotionally and physically.
The Fourth weekend was a terrific reunion for all of us. Mike and I had patiently worked with all the construction trades on the remodeling project so that it was completed before Dave returned July 1. To see the reaction from Dave when he returned was worth the price of admission. This was a rebirth of the home he had lost, and he was able to share it with a remarkable partner. For me, to be included as a roommate and friend, provided a safety anchor in this new city.
My partner, and soon-to-be assistant director, Doug DiMarco, was able to visit frequently. With the two-hour L.A. commute time, if you drove early morning or late night, getting back and forth wasn't too difficult. Except for a few re-shoots, the film was a wrap. With an editing schedule that required Doug to be at the studio by 7:00 a.m., we would frequently go to bed early so that he could leave by 4:30 a.m. Whenever possible, I would do the reverse commute to L.A. and back, and the 405 freeway became very familiar.
Sam Barron and Chuck Barnett came down to the La Jolla Playhouse for the Tuesday, July 9, preview before the Thursday opening of the play. Sam, Chuck and I were planning a late dinner after the show. They were staying overnight at the Valencia Hotel in La Jolla rather than to return the same night.
The 'house' was peppered with many of the Hollywood press working on early deadlines, agents, studio representatives, and network executives looking for new talent...a new face...someone who could turn on the cash flow. This group religiously traveled down to La Jolla to scope out any new talent or material, and tonight was no exception.
The leads of the play were the fiance and the older man. The supporting cast characters included her parents, another young man who turns out to be the older guy's ex-lover, and me. 'Well,' I thought, 'George Furth is not one to write about uncomplicated relationships.' With the exception of a few lighting miscues that were noticed only by the cast, the play went off smoothly.
My character was a young lover, jilted by his fiance for an older man. I appeared in a few short scenes in the first act, but became more prominent with plot-defining lines through act two. I could hear gasps from the audience when we acted the abrupt, violent, dramatic moments toward the end of the play. As the final curtain was rapidly lowered, we all scurried back for the first curtain call, nervously aware that the theater was silent for a few moments too long. Then, like a tsunami wave, the audience broke out in loud applause and cheers. When the curtain was brought back up, we waited momentarily before returning to the stage. First, the two actors playing the parents came out to take their bows. On their heels was the young man playing the gay ex-lover. All received enthusiastic applause. I came out next, wearing the blood-soaked 501's and an unbuttoned shirt that was my final costume. The audience stood up, and an ovation broke out with energy and excitement. I was astounded at the reception. The supporting cast - myself included - turned and applauded the two leads that entered from opposite sides of the set, one at a time. The ovation maintained the same level as my applause. We were all grinning and taking bows.
The supporting cast left the stage for the audience to honor the leads. After the leads exited, we returned to step forward. A large surge of applause swept through the theater again when I took my turn. Several of the audience started simultaneously chanting, "Brad, Brad, Brad..." I smiled, but was a little nervous at the reception. Looking at my fellow cast members as each applauded and stepped back, I took a bow and then gestured to the leads to return to the center. Then a remarkable thing happened. Rather than allowing me to exit with the other supporting cast, the older lead actor grabbed my hand and with his other hand clutching the lead actress, moved the three of us into an impromptu-choreographed three-person center-stage bow. And the generosity continued as the two leads stepped back for me to take a final bow before all of us left the stage together.
Before the curtain opened again, the lead actor turned to me and said, "Brad, you little shit, that audience almost had an orgasm out there for you. I must tell you, kid, you knocked them dead. After the supporting cast goes out, the three of us will go out together. If I let you loose, your applause would drown mine. And, I'm supposed to be the fucking star." He smiled to indicate that he wasn't upset.
"I'm really excited that the play is being received so well," I shouted as we returned.
"The play's good. But you've got something, Brad, that only a handful of actors in the business have. And, tonight, I'm going to ride on your coattails. This is a business of survival," he replied as the three of us bowed. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the approving smiles of Sam and Chuck, who were wildly applauding along with the rest of this jaded Hollywood crowd.
After three more curtain calls - the last being joined by the playwright and the director - the curtain stayed down, the houselights came on, and the excitement mellowed. The director called me aside and said that the modified curtain call would stay, except for one change. I was to enter with the two principals...but me from center stage.
Back in the dressing room that I shared with the two other supporting male actors, we congratulated each other - I tried to hide my nervousness from the audience's reception - while removing the makeup. After carefully hanging up the costume, I dressed in a comfortable pair of slacks, polo shirt, and classic Gucci loafers - remnants of my past, and forgotten profession. Everyone was happy, and we left the room feeling a hit was in the making. Each cast member said that they would love to hit the 'boards' back on Broadway when the play moved to New York, but they also were aware that it would never happen.
In the hallway behind the stage stood Sam, Chuck, and two other men I didn't know. Walking up to me, Sam raised his arms for me to receive an embrace. This raised a few eyebrows from the cast members who knew of Sam's status.
"Brad," he whispered in my ear, "that was incredible. Tonight, my dad would have been quite proud of his 'nephew'," and kissed my cheek. Sam and Chuck always called me 'Brad' now.
"Thanks, Sam. I'm glad I didn't let you down."
"Let me down? Buddy, you're going to be a big fucking deal if we engineer this right."
"Brad, really fantastic," Chuck volunteered as he shook my hand.
I smiled, winked and mouthed, "Thanks."
"Let me introduce you to a couple of guys from NBC - Len Westfield and Bud Bernstein. Guys, this is the actor I've been telling you about."
"You've got it, fella. I mean your acting is natural, but the way you interact with the audience is amazing." Mr. Westfield said. I was aware that he was president of network entertainment.
"And I'm betting that your charisma will translate on TV," added Mr. Bernstein.
"That's my feeling," Sam replied. "What do you think about Brad as the boyfriend for your show?"
"Is he available?" asked Westfield. "When does he get out of the Navy?"
I felt a little strange being talked about as if I weren't in the room. 'Something I gotta get used to.'
"He's out at the end of the year. Here's my plan for you to consider: Brad takes two weeks leave in September to shoot three episodes, and you introduce the boyfriend character during the November ratings sweeps. If he's as popular as we all know he will be, you can shoot a few more shows after the first of the year when he's officially a civilian."
"Bud, it's your show. What's your read?" Westfield asked.
"From what I've seen tonight, he'll send ratings right through the roof."
"I'll commit to six shows right now, Sam. Let's take lunch next week and iron out the details. But right now, Bud and I want to get back to L.A. at a decent hour tonight." Turning to me, Westfield continued, "Brad, I really look forward to having you with us. See you in the fall." With that, the two NBC executives departed.
"Sam, you want to fill me in on what the fuck just happened?" I asked.
"Kinda feeling like a side of beef?" asked Chuck with a smile, "or, beefcake, for that matter?" He playfully punched my shoulder.
"Just a guy who's not used to not having control," I replied.
"Here's the bottom line. Westfield has just committed to placing you in six episodes on Friends. Next week, we're going to get you a contract, and they'll offer 10k per episode. I'll counter with 30; we'll agree on 20. So, with the gross of 120k, CAM takes 18 for a commission and you have just netted a little over $100,000. Not bad for a new guy," Sam said with a smile.
"Not bad? It's fantastic," I replied with a big grin. 'Listening to Sam is like being next to a verbal machine gun.'
I followed them to George's on the Cove for a light late dinner. Over salad, sand dabs, and a bottle of chardonnay, we discussed the 'big picture' in my career build-up.
"The way I see it, you're going to be all over America like a delicious wet dream in the next 12 months," Sam commented. "The two films you've finished are going to be big - bigger than big - when they're released. Your roles, however small, will be just enough for you to get noticed. Now, add into the mix your six Friends episodes and you're on a modest roll. However, tonight's performance insured your fucking dramatic career. First, I've got the L.A. Times and the New York Times drama critics coming for opening night next Thursday. With the big dogs playing, the little pups won't be far behind. I expect reviews that will single you out as the next hot star coming up. Nothing less."
"You can guarantee a good review?" I asked curiously.
"Naw. But I know what I see. You got 'em by the balls, kid...your performance was that good. The play will open next year, in early winter 1997 on Broadway, and I've decided that you are going to reprise the role in New York."
"Shit, Sam, that's only six months from now," I said, with a worried expression.
"CAM is calling the shots. I've got a theater booked for a February '97 premiere and I'll have your contract written for only a four-month commitment so you can get back here for a movie. Those dumb shits back East will only think that you're some Hollywood stud that needs stage time and will accept my terms. They can cast one of their home-grown Actor's Studio 'serious actor' guys in the role after you're gone." He looked at me ruminatively. "Have I lost you, Brad?"
"Sam, only the part is where I move to New York. You can dictate the casting?"
"Brad, you don't know the reach of Sam," offered Chuck. "CAM packages a lot on Broadway."
"Trust me. I really wasn't sure of how you'd be received on stage until tonight," Sam added. "I knew you'd be magic on the screen and the tube. Your mother was. What I didn't realize was how the public would want to eat you alive on stage. This gives you an incredible advantage over most actors. By this time next year, I will have the next two movies lined up for you. Not name-above-the-title, but close enough."
Just then, a group of three women in their early 20's cautiously approached the table, their boyfriends, or husbands, standing impatiently behind. "Oh, Brad, we loved you in the play tonight. Would you sign our Playbill?" one of the women asked.
Beaming, I replied, "Sure, just tell me your name when I sign." I proceeded to autograph each Playbill with a personal message. They didn't realize that the last time this occurred was when I was signing my friends' high school senior yearbook.
"When will we be seeing you again?" one of them asked.
Standing up, I answered with a smile, "There will be a couple of movies coming out next year, and perhaps a few TV shows." I purposely shook the hand of each of the women, and then consciously included the guys with individual shakes. This eased the tension and I knew I had at least six fans for life. "Thanks for stopping over," I concluded.
Once they had left, Sam interjected, "Don't ever lose that quality, Brad. For in one fucking, magic moment, you just put a spell on them for life. They will be replaying this scene for their friends in years to come. Remember this when you consider bitching about security and the nuisance of fans - within reason, they're your lifeblood."
"I won't forget, Sam. But don't you forget that I plan on enrolling in UCLA in the fall of 1997."
"I've already got that covered. The first film will be done next summer after your Broadway gig. The second one will be shot entirely at Paramount on their back lot during the school year."
"Great. Having a degree is very important for me to achieve. By the way, Doug tells me that he's being considered to be an assistant director this winter?"
"I've got him lined up with a film starring Ed Norton called American X, or something like that...probably a working title. The director is a hard charger with whom Doug will work well. Your friend has gained a terrific reputation on his first two films, and if everything goes the way it should, I'll place him in a large studio picture as AD. Then, he can write his own ticket."
"I'm very proud of him. We're about as committed as two people can be."
"Let's talk about that. You two are going to have great careers, and what I'm going to say is as a friend, advisor and...a businessman. Both of you are going to be great profit centers for CAM," Sam stated with a smile. "And there are some things that I'm going to remind you of from time to time."
"I know, no messing around in public," I replied with a slightly exaggerated perturbed tone.
"Just let good judgment prevail. Take this play as an example. The review will be in the local San Diego paper Friday morning. They have all the press photographs the production company sent out last week. Based on the reactions tonight, I'll bet that any photos they run will include a headshot of you. Be prepared for more of the same that you experienced tonight. It's just starting."
"You mean I'd better use a locked stall when I pee, rather than a urinal in public?" I asked with a smirk.
"Actually I've heard stories of movie stars being asked for their autograph while at the urinal," Chuck added. "And many guys will be curious to see what's swinging between Brad Williams' legs."
"Buddy," I replied with a grin, "Only a select group has ever had that opportunity. I'll keep it that way." We all laughed.
"Brad, the long and short of it is this: The two of you can never do things that will appear to be 'gay' in public. I know it's not fair, but that's the way it is," Sam said.
"Such as?" I asked.
"The temptation to go out to a gay bar or a gay party with people you don't know. Whatever you guys do, keep it under the radar. Straight white guys control the business. The 'suits' are deathly afraid of a gay actor being box office poison, and unfortunately they have a point. Maybe we'll be in a position to change that some day, but not now."
"Don't worry, Sam. I understand. Doug is coming down Saturday night for the play. He won't want any prejudiced roadblocks to his career."
"Please pass on our regards. Tell him that my Saudi associates want to have a party for their new Hollywood friends this fall that'll probably include several of the cast of Confidential. Abe and Fred wanted me to make sure you two are invited," Sam concluded as he paid the bill.
We stood, headed for the door and shook hands with a small embrace outside before departing. Sam and Chuck were booked at the Hotel Valencia down the street and walked back. I returned to the house and considered all that had happened tonight.
Stripping down for the evening and easing into bed after the nightly bathroom routine, I lay on the bed and thought about tonight and all that had transpired. Even though it was after midnight, I called Doug on his private telephone line.
"Hello?" Doug answered somewhat groggily.
"Hey babe, sorry to wake you up. But I had to share the good news with you."
"Hell, I'll be getting up in three hours anyway. What's up, hot stuff?"
"Besides my dick?" I replied with a laugh.
"You horny bastard...trying to turn me on, aren't ya? Tempting as it is, I've got to save my energy for the set this morning. Rain check?"
"Okay. This weekend. The play, babe, was so well received. And the audience really liked me."
"That's fucking awesome," Doug said with an excited tone in his voice. "But I'm not surprised, from the scenes I read with you last weekend."
"Sam and Chuck came down tonight. They loved it. And, I've got some work on the TV show, Friends, this fall."
"You're on your way," Doug remarked, stifling a big yawn. "That show is going to be a big deal."
"We're both on our way. Sam said it's all set on your AD gig. Something with Edward Norton."
"No shit, it's actually happening? We'll celebrate Saturday night...but I'm starting to drift off and gotta go. I love you, Champ."
"Love ya back. Night."
Hearing the click, I hung up. Thinking about Doug always got me turned on. I unconsciously started stroking my cock that had been hard since hearing his voice. Adding some spit to my drooling dickhead, I vigorously worked to release the tension and fell asleep after wiping myself with a sock.
This chapter is dedicated to a friend who appears in the story. Playwright/actor George Furth a friend I've known for several years, passed away earlier this month. He was flattered and amused to be a character in Splash on the Screen. . RIP, George.