A Matter Of Principle
by Michael Brandman
illustrations by Mark Fearing
as originally presented by HollywoodDementia.com
Little has changes in the movie business from three decades ago when nepotism, sexual harassment and racism ran rampant.
Hollywood - Fall/Winter 1988
The sign on the door read, CAPITOL PICTURES, OFFICE OF THE CHAIRMAN.
The Chairman, Leo Moody, often joked that when the Board of Directors finally got around to shit-canning him, they'd save money by not having to change the name.
I was sitting in Moody's outer office, across from his long time assistant Marie Liotta, who was at her desk sorting the morning mail.
From inside Leo's office we could hear him hollering into the phone.
"He shouldn't be doing that," Marie Liotta said to me.
"Yelling like that. You know he had surgery."
"Vanity surgery. He had his neck done."
I didn't say anything.
"Eight days ago. He was supposed to stay home and not speak for a week. For fear he might rupture his sutures."
"He ruptured his sutures. He was on the phone screaming at his ex-wife when it happened. They had to re-do the surgery."
Marie's phone began to buzz.
"Is he here yet," Leo Moody's voice crackled over the intercom.
"Well send him in, for crissakes."
She looked at me.
"Charming," I said.
"Don't get him all riled up," she said.
"He called me."
I stepped into Moody's office, a gigantic affair, seemingly half the size of a football field, occupying the top floor of The Rod Steiger Building.
"Importance in Hollywood is measured by the size of your office," he once told me.
The Steiger, named in honor of Leo's longtime friend, was a six story Spanish Colonial, stylistically different from the boxy office buildings situated around the lot, each housing various production entities and studio personnel.
It stood adjacent to the main entrance and if you looked carefully at the top floor windows, you might spot Leo Moody gazing paternalistically down on the myriad comings and goings of his personally created universe.
He was on the phone when I entered. He nodded and pointed me to the chair in front of his desk. He had on khaki trousers, a light blue sweater, and a post-surgical neck collar that reminded me of the ones you sometimes saw on dogs.
"What do you mean he's not getting on the plane," Moody shouted into the phone. "He starts work tomorrow."
Leo was a big man. He had boxed in his youth and his oversized nose had been rendered permanently askew. His hands, however, with their collection of bent and misshapen fingers, provided a surprisingly elegant accompaniment to his coarse and often ribald language.
I gazed around his office with its abundance of sofas and chairs, its fully equipped bar, kitchenette, and dining facilities, plus its ridiculous three hole putting green, designed and installed especially for him by Jack Nicklaus.
"No, you listen to me," Leo squawked, his temperature clearly on the rise.
The wall behind his desk was lined with bookcases, each filled to overflowing. He was an inveterate reader, always in search of a filmable story and whenever he came upon one, he could hardly wait to acquire it.
Just enough bookcase space had been cleared to display two framed, hand-embroidered tapestries, the first of which read: 'IF YOU WANT TO BE THE BEST, YOU HAVE TO WORK HARDER THAN THE BEST.'
More to the point, the second one pronounced: 'IF THEY DON'T HAVE THEIR NAME ON IT, FUCK 'EM.'
"I'm telling you," Leo was now screaming. "If he doesn't get on that plane, it'll be your ass. I'll track you down and destroy you. You and your entire agency with you."
I sat back to enjoy the rest of his performance. He was a throwback to the oligarchical movie moguls of yore. Goldwyn. Warner. Cohn. Like them, he had transformed a tiny film company into a worldwide production and distribution entity. Also like them, he was a foul-mouthed bully.
"You'll never do business in this fucking town again," he howled. "And that's the God's honest truth."
He slammed the phone into its cradle and looked at me.
"She's driving me nuts," he offered without missing a beat. "Or, rather, her asshole husband is driving me nuts. You heard?"
"Of course you heard. You hear everything."
"What is it you want Leo?"
"It's two days into the shoot and already he's two days behind schedule. He's been hit with a sexual harassment suit by the Second A.D. and a charge of racial discrimination by a SAG member. Oh, and did I mention that the son of a bitch is two days behind schedule?"
"Seems like an excellent hire to me Leo."
"Still with the smart mouth, eh, Bernie?"
"I did it for her," he said. "I can't imagine what possessed me to let her marry this demented Argentinian momzer.”
"No one could ever be good enough for Daddy's little baby."
"Why am I here Leo?"
"I need you to fix it. You have to straighten this out for me."
He stood up and started pacing.
"What is it you're not telling me Leo? What's missing from this narrative?"
He sighed. "He's fucking around on her."
Neither of us spoke for a while.
"I'll think about it," I said.
"I'll pay whatever you ask."
"It's not about money. Better you should get someone else."
"What are you, nuts," he yelled. "There is no one else."
He stopped pacing. "Just do it, Bernie. If not for me, then for her."
I stood and stared at him. "Is the collar you're wearing supposed to be leaking blood like that?"
"Shit," he exclaimed. "It's leaking?"
He pressed the intercom buzzer. "Get me Mel
Greenstein," he shouted. "The fucking sutures ripped again.”
By way of introduction, my name is Bernie Glass. Born and raised in West Orange, New Jersey. Graduate of New York University and Columbia Law School. Long distance runner. Decorated Martial Arts practitioner. Six feet tall. I recently turned thirty two and I've been in Hollywood for five years.
I'm a man with no appreciable talent. Although I earned a law degree, I chose not to practice. Too boring.
I arrived in Los Angeles with a small inheritance and after nosing around for a spell, trying to gain some career traction, I came to realize that my father was right when he said, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." So I set out to know as many people as I could.
I visited all of the various studios and learned that access was everything. I got to know a few of the guys who manned the security booths where visitors to the lots were admitted. These were the people with real power. So I made deals with a couple of them.
I arranged to slip each guy two hundred and fifty bucks a week. In cash. Which would serve to insure my admittance to the Capitol Pictures and Universal Studio lots where they worked.
Whenever I planned a visit I would inform my guy and sure enough, a drive on pass would be waiting for me at the gate.
I also came to know the Hosts at each of the studio commissaries and as a result of some seriously generous tipping, a table would magically appear whenever I showed up.
People began to know me. And I them. Soon I was doing favors and arranging introductions and developing a cadre of clients for whom I provided personal services. I engaged a few more gatekeepers, thereby increasing my list of accessible Studios.
I never failed to stop by Lew Wasserman's table whenever I visited Universal. Ditto Michael Eisner's at Paramount. And I always paid homage to Leo Moody when I was on the Capitol lot.
One day, during my weekly pilgrimage, I took note of a young woman lunching alone at the Moody table. She returned my smile, so I introduced myself.
Turned out she was Leo's daughter Laura, who, like myself, was an NYU graduate. She was currently second in command of Capitol's highly successful TV operations. She invited me to join her.
The Capitol dining room, named for Paul Newman and brandishing bottles of his salad dressing on every table, is located at the southeast side of the lot, adjacent to the Steiger Building, steps away from Leo's office. On any given day, a plethora of Hollywood's elite could be found dining and dealing there.
Beams of sunlight streamed through the Newman's skylights and picture windows, illuminating the potted trees, indigenous plants, and colorful flowerbeds that lined the walls and by Leo Moody's estimation, replicated the essence of Southern California.
The room's centerpiece, a porcelain-tiled water fountain boasting a life-sized statue of Mr. Newman bubbled and gurgled noisily, thereby muting the various confidential conversations that were taking place all around it.
"He's on to you, Bernie Glass," Laura Moody said as I sat down beside her. "He knows what you're up to."
She regarded me with a deadpan stare out of deep green eyes. In her early twenties, dark haired and fetching, she exuded an attractive combination of intelligence and wit. "Did you really think you could fool him?"
"I'm afraid I don't understand."
"Don't play dumb with me, Bernie Glass. It doesn't suit you."
I didn't say anything.
"He noticed you almost immediately. A well put together young man who appeared from out of nowhere and then continued to turn up regularly. He was on to you in no time."
"He never said anything."
"He didn't need to. He was watching you. Trying to figure out your game. Imagine bribing one of his security guards to gain access to his lot. It was like something out of Scott Fitzgerald."
A waiter appeared with menus and Laura ordered for us both. A handsomely dressed young woman stopped at the table and whispered something in her ear. She looked at the woman and nodded.
"So Mr. Bernie Glass," she said, returning her attention to me. "NYU graduate Bernie Glass. What exactly is your flight plan?"
"Finding a safe place to land."
"Looks to me like you've already done that. What else?"
"Learning as much as I can."
"You've come to the right place. He likes you. He admires your chutzpah. Thinks you're smart. Says he sees a lot of his younger self in you.”
I didn't say anything.
"You should take advantage of it. Get to know him better. He says you have a future."
She leaned into me. Traces of Black Orchid perfume invaded my senses. "Maybe you could be my friend, too, Bernie Glass," she whispered. "A girl never knows when she might need a fixer."
She sat back.
"That's what you say now."
"John Gregory Dunne once wrote, "Hollywood is where the shitheels come for the finals." "So?"
"Welcome to the finals, Bernie Glass."
Juan Jose Bonilla had accompanied his father on his journey to Hollywood, where he had come to cement a working partnership with Capitol Pictures.
Following in the footsteps of the notorious Latin playboys of yore, the younger Bonilla had enjoyed a privileged childhood. Exclusive private schools. Summers in Majorca. Winters in Gstaad. He lived a decadent lifestyle, one that essentially trained its adherents to become wastrels. His primary interests were cars and women, but not necessarily in that order.
His father, Ugo, owned Argentina's largest film studio, and in partnership with Leo Moody, was preparing to embark on the production of a series of adventure films that would be produced both in Hollywood and at Bonilla's Buenos Aires studio. They were to be distributed worldwide by Capitol Pictures.
Having shown an interest in filmmaking, Juan Jose, or JJ, as he was called, had recently completed a bull fighting movie, his first directorial effort, one his father praised heartily and incessantly to Leo Moody.
Sloe-eyed and macho, JJ was smitten with the movie business. He surmised that directing films would provide him the perfect entry into Hollywood society. What better place for a twenty-seven year old prodigal son, especially one who was both presentable and lusty. And who better to introduce him around than his doting father.
JJ and Ugo were honored guests at an extravagant dinner party held at Leo Moody's home, one that attracted a goodly number of filmland's A-listers.
Leo lived high above the Hotel Bel Air, at the top of Chalon Drive, in a mansion once owned by action hero Jeff Chandler. Chandler intended it to be home to him and his soon to be bride Esther Williams. But when Williams, alone in the mansion, inadvertently stumbled upon a hidden closet and to her horror, discovered Chandler was a cross dresser, their relationship collapsed.
"He has more gowns than I do," Williams was heard to exclaim. "Costlier, too."
It was at that very house that JJ Bonilla met and immediately hit on Laura Moody.
He didn't exactly cut a dashing figure, but the younger Bonilla was an energetic person with an angular face that stopped just short of handsome. He was five foot nine, fashionably dressed and suavely continental.
Unaccustomed to being the center of any man's attention, Laura found herself engulfed in Juan Jose's.
When he suggested an after party round of nightclubbing, she agreed. When he came on to her in his rented Mercedes in the parking lot of The Bling Room, she did little to stop him.
She was a neophyte in the ways of romance, so when he ardently initiated her into his gymnastic style of lovemaking, she surrendered all reason. He was insatiable and she became his willing slave. She was besotted, but more likely with the sex than with JJ himself.
When Ugo Bonilla and Leo Moody announced that Juan Jose would be directing "A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE," the inaugural attraction of their joint venture, which was to be filmed both in Hollywood and in Buenos Aires, Laura was delighted. He'd be around for a while.
It was when he proposed marriage following an exhausting night of playing 'Positions We Never Tried Before,' that she began to think perhaps things were moving a little too quickly. That maybe he was a bit too priapic to maintain a monogamous relationship.
But before she could devise an exit strategy, JJ leaked the story to a studio publicity wonk, and in no time, Juan Jose Bonilla and Laura Moody became Hollywood's new IT couple.
They married at The Beverly Hills Hotel, but postponed their honeymoon in order for JJ to begin production on "A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE."
"What have I done," Laura muttered to herself as Leo was giving her away.
The production meeting took place at dawn. All of the Department heads were present. We met in Capitol's private dining room where I was confronted by a dispirited group of filmmakers.
A plentiful breakfast buffet had been laid but none of the gathered seemed terribly interested. Only the coffee was in demand.
Ava Lockwood, the First Assistant Director, brought me up to speed. Ava was a Hollywood veteran, a tough looking forty something with dozens of movies to her credit. She had risen through the ranks from Production Assistant to First A.D. and was fond of saying there was nothing more that could surprise her.
But JJ Bonilla did.
"I have no reason to believe he ever directed anything before," she said. "He has no set protocols. He's clueless.”
"What about the bullfighting movie," I asked.
"The rumor is his father directed it and credited it to JJ," David Lewis, the Production Designer, interjected. "To bolster the kid's credibility."
"He's a fake, Bernie," Ava said. "He shows up on set wearing jodhpurs and riding boots. He looks like he's hunting something."
"Yeah," Billy Proxmire the Cinematographer added. "Pussy."
That opened the flood gates and everyone present was soon waving hands in the air, seeking to add to the dialogue.
"He fancies himself irresistible," Barbara Conroy, the script supervisor offered. "He thinks that because he's the director, every woman on the set will roll over for him."
"He has no directorial talent whatsoever," Ava Lockwood continued. "He does twenty takes of everything and still can't decide which ones to print. He doesn't make his days because he never pays attention to the schedule. Nothing he shoots matches. The action in his close ups is different from that in his masters. Nobody does the same thing twice. He seems more interested in directing the background then he does in directing the principals. It's gotten so bad that Alejandro Garcia is now refusing to do more than two takes of any scene he's in. The Bond company rep is already making replacement noises. It's a disaster, Bernie."
"What's with the DGA charges," I queried.
"He's a groper," Bobby Ashford, the crusty Unit Production Manager said. "Everyone's on guard. It was when he grabbed the Second A.D.'s ass that the shit hit the fan. She spit in his face and went directly to the Guild steward."
I sighed and stepped over to the buffet where I picked up half a bagel. I spread a dollop of cream cheese on it and added a strip of smoked salmon. I poured myself more coffee. Several of the others took this as their cue to load their plates also.
After a brief respite that involved eating and slurping, I asked Bobby Ashford about the racial discrimination charge.
"Marjorie Jamison," he said, dabbing at a spot of jelly that had dripped onto his checkered sport coat.
"Oscar nominee Marjorie Jamison?"
"None other than. She's playing the maid. Principal confidante to Madeleine Stewart's character. Critical role. So she's sitting on set in her costume and JJ starts talking to her like she actually is a maid. Starts asking her to get him things. Treating her like she's some kind of servant. She stormed off the set and now the Screen Actor's Guild reps are swarming."
"I swear he's some kind of pervert," Mary Lou Reason, the Costume Designer, offered. "He shows up for wardrobe fittings but only for the women. He stands around ogling them. He makes everybody crazy."
"What are you going to do about all this Bernie," Ava Lockwood asked.
I looked up and noticed everyone staring at me.
"I'm going to fix it, of course."
I caught up with JJ Bonilla at wrap. I was waiting in front of the sound stage and when he stepped outside, I sidled up to him and draped my arm around his shoulder.
He was wearing a black poplin safari jacket, a white dress shirt and khaki cargo pants. He had on uncomfortable-looking, knee length leather boots.
He stared at me and tried to shake me off, but I held tight. I hustled him to a deserted corner of the building and backed him against the wall.
"What do you think you're doing," he said, struggling to break free. "I'm the Director."
"Not any more."
"What are you talking about? Who are you?"
"Either your worst enemy or your new best friend.
It's up to you."
He glared at me. He was clearly uncomfortable with any kind of confrontation and I had succeeded in raising his anxiety level.
"Let's talk about tomorrow for a moment," I said calmly. "I can tell you exactly what's in store for you tomorrow."
"You're a crazy person," he said, struggling to engineer his escape.
I slammed him back into the wall.
"Listen to me JJ. First thing in the morning The Completion Guarantor will officially remove you from the picture on charges of directorial incompetence. In the Hollywood Reporter, Hank Grant's column will break the story of a lawsuit that's just been brought against you by The Director's Guild of America. On behalf of one of its members who claims you sexually assaulted her. And as if that weren't enough, you'll also be served with divorce papers claiming adultery. Big price tag attached. Plus your father's deal with Capital Pictures will collapse. Is that really what you want to live through tomorrow JJ?"
He stared at me, defeat emanating from his sad gray eyes.
"Not to worry JJ. I can change it."
"What do you mean change it. How?"
"You step aside and surrender directorial control to Ava Lockwood."
"Of my movie?"
"Wrong answer JJ. If you don't cede control to her, you'll be frog-marched off the sound stage by Studio security personnel and the rest of what I just predicted will come true. Face it JJ. You're done.
"The Studio might be willing, however, to allow you to remain on the picture and save you the embarrassment of being publicly executed, but only if you do exactly what Ms. Lockwood tells you to do."
"That's a load of the crap," he said, attempting to elbow himself away from me.
"Sexual harassment is seriously frowned upon around here JJ. Do yourself a favor. Save your reputation and step aside."
He stood quietly for a while.
"How do I know you're telling the truth?"
"Because I say I am."
Again he was quiet.
After a while, he whispered, "Okay."
He took hold of my hand and shook it. His hand was damp and clammy. Sweat stains had begun to appear on his safari jacket. Head down, he started to walk away.
"There's one more thing," I said.
He stopped and looked back at me.
"Your wife. If you cheat on her again... even once... I will track you down and destroy you. You and your father with you. And neither of you will never do business in this fucking town again."
He stared at me.
"And that's the God's honest truth." I said.
"He's lasted four days without rupturing the sutures again," Marie Liotta was saying. "Perhaps you could do your best not to upset him."
"Hey. He called me."
"Be that as it may, try."
She buzzed the door and I entered Leo Moody's outsized sanctuary. He was seated in a rich leather armchair and he pointed me to its twin directly across from him.
He was dressed casually in khaki slacks and a maroon cashmere sweater. Another post-surgical collar adorned his neck.
"Are they designer creations," I asked as I sat down opposite him.
"The collars. Gucci? Hermes?"
He glared at me. "Not funny."
"What was it you wanted Leo?"
I didn't say anything.
"I'm told we're back on schedule and that things on the set are much improved. So, how much?"
"Don't insult me Leo."
"Don't take the high road with me, Bernie. It doesn't become you."
"There's no charge. It's on the house."
I could sense his discomfort. He was a man unused to receiving something for nothing. He shifted position in his chair and glared at me. It was all he could do to prevent himself from raising the decibel level.
"You're succeeding in pissing me off," he said. "In case that was your intention."
"I did it for her."
"You told me to do it for her. So I did."
"I don't want your money Leo."
"Because maybe I'm not a shitheel. Maybe I'm not here for the finals."
"What are you talking about?"
I stood and headed for the exit.
"Bernie," he called to me.
I turned back to him.
"Call me if you ever decide you want a real job," he said.
I smiled at him and closed the door behind me.