malibu confidential

Malibu Confidential

Discretion is seldom associated with Hollywood. Between the tabloid press, the paparazzi, the gossip TV shows and the internet; between the police blotters, the mug shots and the courtrooms; with the glamorous weddings and the nasty divorces; from the nightclubs, the film festivals and the concerts, the high profile denizens of the entertainment world leave nothing to the imagination.
I like to think I offer the exception.
My name is Randall Bristol, and every day I work to put “private” back into investigations in the entertainment industry. My telephone is unlisted; my clients come to me only by referral; and most important, none of my triumphs are ever heralded in any newspaper or on television. From my home and office by the beach in Malibu, I work on problems of the “A list”, the big names who don’t want their laundry displayed to the public. They’ve learned too late that once lost, discretion is very difficult to regain. Lower forms of life prey on the more successful. I even the odds.
But I also have to pay the bills. So, I spend a lot of time finding things: lost honor, lost reputations, lost people and lost artifacts the cream of Hollywood just can’t live without.
That’s why, this morning, I found myself in this office, trying to remember the little speech my secretary, Janet Dryfuss, put together. Janet thought it better for business if I showed a little flair in presenting the items to our clients. Some pizzazz she called it. Today’s dialogue was from a movie I have never seen, combined with her little oration. I held in my hand the object bundled in newspaper and rope, ready for the grand unveiling
“Behold! The stuff that dreams are made of. The object of desire of . . .”
But the name of the actor flew out of my head faster than a jet departing LAX. I shifted my broad shoulders and tall frame around, always uncomfortable in this little chair no matter what position I took.
Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, the telephone on Adolph Hirsch’s desk rang. Hirsch, a mouse of a man who did not want to give me an inch, grabbed it, holding up his hand with one finger extended in the universal Hollywood signal, “Hold-on,-I-am-more-important-than-you-and-so-is-everyone-else-so-wait-until-I’m-good-and-ready.”
So I took the time to survey the room and see what was different.
Hirsch, a film producer on the Warner lot, had an office bigger than average, but not humongous. He kept it perpetually in the chaos that a film production office usually became only during production. The room was the same one Hirsch used whenever he came to this lot. As Hirsch now did almost all his work here, he had settled down, his framed pictures with the famous and near famous on the wall, the framed resolutions from his charity work on another wall, and his minor award plaques opposite. Probably never see one of those gold statuettes from the Academy in here. Any of the Academies. But Hirsch had been doing this for so long that the paint was darker under his displays than the rest of the walls as the pollution and sunlight hadn’t eaten away the color there.
The room didn’t have a lot of furniture. There was simply no space. Besides, these types of offices all fell into a certain formula. The desk was not too big so as not to forget that there were bigger people above with bigger desks, but also not too small so that people below knew they were looking up at someone. There was the table, around which there could be meetings. Or card games. Or drinking BS sessions. And only a few chairs so that none of these meetings could get to be too big. There were no sessions here to plan the overthrow of the studio hierarchy. The writers had their own rooms to use for their plots to overthrow the filmatic despots, so these offices were only big enough for review. There was the small two-and-a-half person couch with a coffee table in front and off to the side there was a small room with toilet and shower.
The problem on the telephone was probably some small issue that could have been settled by an assistant producer in a small cubicle. But Hirsch struck me as a control freak, the guy who had to know everything, all the time, and make all the decisions so he could claim to be hands on. I figured the director and staff sent him the nit-picking stuff while they dealt with the so-called above-the-line people, the actors and the writers.
Hirsch was dressed in California suave, V-neck sweater and casual slacks. I wore what I always wore: a not-too-new black suit, a white shirt and a plain dark blue tie with an old Hamburg now resting on my knee. I must look like I’ve seen too many Mike Hammer movies.
I put one hand behind my neck, leaned back and listened to the “master” at work, figuring this was as much a show for me as it was for the guy on the other end of the telephone. I didn’t want Hirsch to be disappointed, so I pretended to be impressed by the master at work.
“No, No, No, No, No,” Hirsch was saying. “Not Lansford, Lansing. Haven’t you heard of Lansing? How about the actor, Robert Lansing?” Again Hirsch listened. “No. No. Let’s try again. Lansing. Like the head honcho over at Paramount. Or I guess honchette. Lansing. Sherry Lansing?” Hirsh pressed the phone harder against his ear. His face started to burn. Now he was screaming into the telephone. “LANSING. As in the State Capitol of Michigan . . . MICHIGAN! The Great Lakes State? Automotive Capitol of the World!”
Hirsch adopted a very calm voice. As if speaking to a child he began to spell it out. “M – I – C – H – I – G – A – N.” The light went on at the other end of the line. Hirsch relaxed in his chair. “Now you got it. Call me to confirm.” He hung up the telephone with a look of resignation.
But Hirsch’s attention hadn’t left the call. He wore his opinions on his face. These people couldn’t do the simplest of things. What kind of an education did they have? They didn’t know Capitols? They didn’t know States? They didn’t know from actors? Hirsch made a mental note that this was someone to be replaced. This was someone lower than he with whom Hirsch shouldn’t have to deal. Or even have on his staff. This was someone who shouldn’t even have his telephone number! Aloud, he mumbled, “Momser.”
Now Hirsch had vented and his attention returned to me.
“So, Randy, you were spitting out Spade’s speech?”
I sighed and nodded.
“Is that it?” The words came so quickly out of Hirsch’s mouth it was one word: “Zatit?”
I was tired of the game and had forgotten the speech and the reference point all together. I flashed on a movie poster and an ad I saw in the paper once. So I didn’t know then that the object was wrapped the way Sam Spade had found it in the locker where Angel, Spade’s secretary, had hidden it. Newspaper and rope. I didn’t care either. With a flourish, I unwrapped it.
“Behold, Mister Producer, I present to you the object of Mary Astor’s and Sydney Greenstreet’s desire and Humphrey Bogart’s consternation.” As I peeled off the last bit of paper, I placed the black bird on Hirsch’s desk. I paused for a flourish.
“The Maltese Falcon.”
It was Christmas, and this was his pony. The producer’s eyes lit up as he gazed on the highly polished black object. He stared, almost afraid to touch it. It looked to me to be the first genuine reaction of the day. Instead of reaching across his desk, Hirsch slowly rose. From the table behind him, he plucked and donned a pair of white cotton gloves. His gaze never left the bird while he walked around to perch on the desk next to it. In marked contrast to my casual treatment, Hirsch lovingly picked the Falcon up and caressed it like a long lost lover.
He cast a sideways glance at me. “Where did you find it?”
“Boise. After The Black Bird bombed, the studio couldn’t wait to dump it. Went through as many owners as Dashiell Hammett wrote in the original book and came to rest on a shelf of a modern apartment in Idaho.”
He didn’t wait for my reply, turning back to the black object, examining it carefully while I told him a lot of stuff he didn’t care about. He only asked to show what he thought would be the proper interest.
“Randy, you’re a genius. How the Hell do you do it? How do you find these things?”
“Are you kidding?”
“No. Really?”
“Determination, skill, and stern motivation . . . the big bucks in your budget.”
I stood, stretched and playfully poked a finger in Hirsch’s arm. Hirsch didn’t turn back so I headed toward the door. When I had my hand on the knob, Hirsch thought of something else.
“Oh, Randy, one more thing. I need another missing item. Something we couldn’t find in properties storage. Have you ever heard of The Trumpet of Roland?”
“No.”
“Whatever. Find it. I need it. See Rosemary.”
Hirsch had talked to the varnished black bird. When he finished and nothing else came out of his mouth, I figured I’d been dismissed. I turned the knob and went out to find what they’d be paying for next.
As I drove off the studio lot a sign on a building on Barham Boulevard flashed: September 16, 1996. 10:22 AM. 82 degrees.
I tore off my tie and threw it over my jacket on the passenger side of the Porsche. I punched a button on the car radio to KRTH, and Blood Sweat and Tears blasted away. We all sang “You Made Me So Very Happy.”

 

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