I gradually learned to ignore him; sometimes I’d laugh, sometimes not, depending on how much cocaine I had at my disposal or how badly I bungled a particular task. There was an upside to working with Marty, admired for grooming some of the industry’s most successful agents, and it was a privilege to get the job after spending a year in the mailroom analyzing scripts for executives too busy or too lazy to read them. I suppose I did a good job in those early days of my career plus being a key supplier of drugs for the agents and their clients didn’t hurt --not at first, at least, but my reputation sunk right after John Belushi overdosed, and cocaine was no longer considered harmless fun.
It hit our company hard. Belushi was a client of the agency who’d come in for meetings the day before he died. He was a fallen clown, pitiful and lawless. He hugged the walls of the hallway to steady himself; secretaries shrunk from his aimless groping hands as he made his way from office to office until some mailroom boys were asked to escort him into his limousine. Belushi tipped them thinking they were valet parking attendants.
I made a pathetic dealer, though, with most of my profits going up my own nose. In no time, I was in debt to my supplier, completely broke, and looking for a source of fast cash that didn’t involve a pawnshop or prostitution. Sometimes I wasn’t lucky enough to find that cash that fast and resorted to pawning my prized Cartier watch I had stolen through credit card fraud, or worse, I’d call one of a small group of men I knew who would pay me well for my time.
In spite of her waning star, Bo continued to have important directors circling her, but her husband, the faded fifties matinee idol, John Derek, would have none of that. He was thirty years Bo’s senior, wishing-upon-his-own-stardom on the back of his child bride. John demanded control over every aspect of her life, insisting on writing and directing her follow-up film. The resulting disaster was Tarzan, the Ape Man, a laughable exercise in softcore porn that had audiences giggling in all the wrong places. Marty needed to find them another project and eventually, he struck a deal with Golan/Globus, a tacky independent production company that specialized in foreign film distribution, best known as the last resort for financing.
Based on international pre-sales, they agreed to bankroll Bo’s next film, Bolero. Why not create an entire film based on the background song from his wife's only successful film? To John, whose ego was big enough to float in the Macys Day Parade, it was an inspired idea but to most, it could have made eye-rolling an Olympic sport. The plot revolved around some nonsense about a young girl losing her virginity, a period piece set in the twenties. John's script was unreadable. No reputable leading man was willing to step up and take Bo's stale "virginity" on camera for any price. The task eventually fell to Andrea Occhipinti, best known for being a complete unknown anywhere else outside of his native Italy, and the production began in spite of the better judgment of nearly everyone involved.
It all took a ridiculous turn one day when Bo called, in a panic, from the set in Italy. She’d heard from the on-set doctor that Andrea had herpes, and, given the intimate scenes they were about to film, was worried she might contract the virus. She explained the situation to Marty with a nervous giggle. I imagined her chewing on her cuticle, a skittish smile splashed across her million dollar face. When Marty finished the call, he immediately screamed for me to come into his office. As it was my habit and duty to listen in on all of Marty’s calls because he had the attention span of a young teen off his Ritalin, I would take down all of the deals he struck, what he said to whom, and any other information that might become important. I found myself tingly at this particular piece of gossip.
"Get me Begin," he barked, referring to Menahem Golan, whose name he’d sometimes confuse with Israel’s Prime Minister Menahem Begin. He told Golan of Bo's concerns and Menahem assured him that nothing could be further from the truth, but with a little investigation, Marty discovered the story had a few more turns than what was on the surface.
The tale was, in fact, far more compelling than the one filming in Italy. It seemed that Occhipinti had once dated Ursula Andress, a former wife of John Derek's, and it was Occhipinti’s claim he’d been infected by Andress. This made it possible, even probable, that Ursula had picked up her herpes from John. It was a celebrity maypole of sexually transmitted disease.
A cub reporter from the National Enquirer had been courting me for the previous year, once taking me to a secretive lunch in hopes of a story, but I’d always rebuffed any opportunities to cash in with juicy information about our clients. Could any scoop be traced back to me? Was it worth risking my career? The promise of cash obliterated any concern, and if the gossip were front page worthy, the money would be substantial. At that time, Bo was prime tabloid fodder and this, I knew, was headline hot.
During lunch the day after Bo phoned, I dug out the number I’d kept stashed in my wallet for months and made the call, asking just how much a front page story would bring me. The reporter asked for details, but I wisely held back until we’d settled on a price that met my financial needs. He quoted me twenty-five hundred dollars. With that, I hesitantly told him the story as I knew it, but there were still not enough details for him to flesh out the full picture.
"She sounded frightened, didn't she," he led, choosing his words from the well-worn lexicon of the tabloid journalist.
"Would you say scared to death?" he asked, goosing for juice.
"You think it's going to stop production?"
"Maybe," I said, trying to decide how far I should go. Had I said too much? Had I blurted out something that would point right back at me?
"She was crying, wasn't she?"
"Well, um, I guess so," I replied, finally getting the gist of what my responses should be.
"And production will be halted, right?"
I hung up and sat there, shaking, feeling as if I’d betrayed everybody, everything, putting my career in danger, cashed in on a confidence. I headed for a bathroom stall. My hands shook when I put the gold straw into the little brown bottle coming up with it packed full of white powder and the bad feelings went bye-bye for about twenty minutes.
A few weeks passed and there it was -- the front page screaming "Bo Fears Herpes,” an unnamed source quoted as telling the Enquirer that production was in trouble with Bo in near-hysterics when it was discovered her co-star had a herpes flair-up, and that she’d threatened to flee Italy immediately.
"Did you see it?" Bo breathlessly asked Marty, when she called a few days later. She let out a little timid titter as she continued to talk about the story. I could hear John snatching the phone from her hand as he laid into Marty.
"Goddammit, Marty! I want this shit stopped! How can I direct this fucking film when I have all these fucking distractions all the fucking time? Do your job, Marty. Fucking do something!”
With that, John hung up.
I tentatively walked into Marty’s office, almost by reflex, and saw him sitting there, tired but with a bemused smile, shaking his head. If he’d been paying attention to me at all, he would have seen the scared, unsteady snitch responsible for the mess.
"That putz is out of his fucking mind," he said, voicing his inner monologue. I laughed nervously and said, "Yeah, he sure is," all the while wondering which one of us was really crazy -- John, Marty, or me.