The Rosie Wood Talent Agency by Gary A. Berg
The Rosie Wood Talent Agency
by Gary A. Berg
Rosie Wood had seen just about everything in her thirty years in the entertainment industry. In her little Hollywood office in the Crossroads of the World building facing Sunset Boulevard, she had watched a parade of struggling actors, writers, and directors walk through her Arabic archway, each with a story. Rosie had learned to assume that everyone was lying to some degree, and in Hollywood that was generally a safe bet. When she was wrong, it would be a happy surprise.
The work of an agent has many facets—part business manager, cheerleader, therapist, and at times, something of a private investigator. Rosie’s father had been a veteran Los Angeles police detective, so she naturally had a nose for helping her clients around the law–domestic disputes, child custody, restraining orders on fans and paparazzi, DUIs, even blackmail attempts.
Loren came into Rosie’s office carrying an almond milk iced coffee and sat across from Rosie. “Am I going to pay rent this month?” Rosie gave her client a visual once over. Loren was the kind of wannabe actor that chokes the streets of Southern California. Anywhere else in America, he’d stand out as a shockingly handsome young man with blond hair and a muscular body. In Los Angeles, he was the waiter with an attitude, the barista handing you a latte at Starbucks, the young man in front of you on the celebrity hiking trail off of Laurel Canyon talking too loudly on a cell phone about an audition. He was the Los Angeles everyman.
“I don’t know about rent, but I have a good opportunity for you.”
“Come on, Loren. You have to keep acting, and you never know who might see you,” she said.
“People see me all the time at the Guild. Problem is they are just walking right by into the theater.” Loren took a sip of his iced coffee. “What’s the role?”
“It’s the lead, and you can quit if something else comes up.”
“You know I don’t want to work for free anymore.” Loren so far had refused to do what many struggling actors in Los Angeles do, that is to occasionally take jobs in local theater. Of course, these non-equity jobs in 99 seat theaters paid nothing to agents. But Rosie actually found it useful to divert her clients into theater until other opportunities came along—in fact, it took pressure off of Rosie to come up with paying jobs.
“Come on, just read the script and see what you think,” Rosie said as she handed a tattered script across the table.
“Does it include parking?”
Just to make ends meet for now, Loren worked as a security guard. But at least it was in the “industry”. He actually had three different jobs, all security. One at the Guild theater where he’d waive members into advance release screenings, another at Burbank studios ushering audiences in and out for live television tapings, and then finally working a snack bar at the local multiplex. The last one he really hated. The Guild was the best because many celebrities attended, and some even got to know him well enough to nod as they sauntered into the theater.
There was also Nichole. She worked upstairs in the membership office putting on events for the Guild–the biggest of course was the awards show. Nichole was also in a hurry on her way to somewhere else up in the business. The Guild was a good “base of operations” for now, she told Loren. Loren worked big events that Nichole helped organize, and they rushed around together moving tables and chairs, getting coffee for celebrities, and listening to complaints from publicists. And they flirted.
Nichole was married to a college schoolmate and had a two-year old girl. Her husband, Robert, was a “director” working as a temporary production assistant on a children’s television show. They lived in a small duplex in the flatlands of Hollywood, the historical working-class section of the city for the industry. Their lives were a high-pressured mixture of dreams, ambition, immaturity, and the dead weight of responsibility. Robert came from a wealthy Boston family, and his mother called daily. How is the career? With the baby, isn’t it time to get serious? Can you come back home for an interview at your father’s firm? Bring the baby for me?
Nichole hated Robert’s parents, especially the mother. She refused going to Boston to listen to Robert’s mother. So after a sometimes passive, sometimes cuttingly direct discussion, Robert took off to Boston for a long weekend, with the two-year-old as the mother had requested. Nichole felt immediately liberated, but had a big screening event scheduled for the weekend.
“I hear some are going out to karaoke after work, you going?” Loren asked her as they carried boxes of brochures to the elevator upstairs.
She smiled, “I don’t sing.”
“That’s the whole point.”
They walked into the elevator where the Executive Director was talking to one of the suits. He spotted Nichole and turned from his conversation.
“I know you emailed me, Nichole, about the Pension report,” he said. “But I’ve been busy, and frankly you’re not very important.” He laughed and then continued his conversation with the other suit.
“Right,” Nichole said and rolled her eyes at Loren.
When they got out of the elevator the Executive Director called after her, “I’ll get back to you.”
“What an ass,” Loren whispered to Nichole.
It was then that Nichole decided to throw it all to the wind and go out after work with the crew. She started with the super sweet apple martini, but by the end of the night was throwing back shots of tequila. Loren was there to watch after her when the evening progressed, with the bar closed and the patrons unraveling onto the empty LA streets. He insisted on driving her home, and she didn’t resist. When he pulled to a stop, she thought about the deserted apartment waiting for her upstairs. “I’m not done. Let’s go up to the Hollywood sign.”
“Everyone does it.”
They drove up into the hills and walked out towards the Hollywood sign. They sat together, and looked down on the glistening night lights of the city. Nichole turned and kissed Loren passionately.
Six months later, Nichole and Loren were living together in his apartment off of Pico and Robertson. The divorce papers were almost complete. Nichole’s Hollywood dreams would involve being a single mother.
In Hollywood no one pays to see a film. Studios do everything they can to get their pictures seen by potential voters in the various professional associations, guilds and academies. Between free preview screenings, passes at regular theaters, and digital copies sent to homes, there is access to everything. But the screenings at the Guild are special as a place to network and see the film perfectly projected. Traditions are maintained: projection and sound quality is perfect, and attendees wait to leave until all the credits have rolled at the end–a sign of respect for the work of colleagues.
While being an usher at the Guild was only tangentially “in the business,” it was better than pouring fake butter on popcorn at the local multiplex. Loren actually found his work at the Guild diverting. He knew all the staff and had developed a comradery. From the security guard at the front desk, to the staff working upstairs, all had adopted the wry worldly understanding of the way things work in Hollywood. The ushers were mostly struggling actors between jobs. The Guild members all understood this and warmly greeted the ushers with a wave, and “what’s happening.” The ushers worked between the first and top floors of the building. The theaters were on the first floor, off the expansive lobby. The fifth and sixth floors housed the staff. Loren and the other ushers went back and forth between attending to the theaters, and the boardroom and meeting rooms on the sixth floor.
As he checked I.D. cards at the theater entrance, Nichole approached Loren from the side and whispered in his ear. Loren looked up and spotted the Executive Director of the Guild across the lobby. The Executive Director approached Shelly, the security guard, who was sitting at the central security/reception desk. Loren handed something to Nichole, and then checked another I.D. card. The Executive Director stared at Loren, and Shelly picked up a phone.
Like most agents, Rosie was once in show business herself–a dancer. She put decades of dance classes to use in her twenties starting with artistic modern dance productions for little or no money, moving on to dancing in the chorus line of touring Broadway shows, to at the end regular work on a cruise line going back and forth between San Diego and Acapulco. She liked the people and the varied schedule. Her experience motivated her to represent artists, and help them out, as she had been helped. Bernie, her mentor, was an agent who had taught her the ropes when she first started in the commercial business. He had one regular response—“fuck ‘em.”
“Do I sign the contract, Bernie?”
“Should I ask for medical?”
“What time is it, Bernie?”
Now long out of the business as a dancer, Rosie still tried to stay in shape. She danced three or four times a week at a studio off of Santa Monica Boulevard, next to a gym. It was an eclectic combination with professional dancers dressed flamboyantly passing puffed up weightlifters on the sidewalk, all in a hurry to get to class.
At this stage in her career Rosie took class for exercise and occasional inspiration. The instructors were all top-notch, and she ignored the dance starlet-wannabes who would force their way to the front of the class acting as if a spotlight followed them everywhere. The male instructor was dressed in hot red booty shorts, and after their warm-up, led them in a routine across the floor in pairs. Rosie was matched up in line with a thirty-something dark haired woman who obviously had a lot of ballet training. They both managed to pick up the routine quickly and the instructor pulled them in front to demonstrate for the rest of the class. Rosie found herself enjoying the attention and the hard work out. Afterwards while gasping for breath and taking sips from her water bottle she introduced herself to her partner, named Heather.
“You work at the Guild?” Rosie said. “I have a client who is an usher. Loren, do you know him?”
“Oh sure. Everyone knows Loren,” Heather said. “I hope he keeps his job.”
“What do you mean?”
“I shouldn’t say anything, but you know it’s pretty tense there right now.”
“You mean the contract negotiation?” Rosie said, getting concerned about Loren.
Heather paused and was about to say something, then stopped. “I’ve got to go. Nice dancing with you.”
Rehearsing and reading through scripts in Hollywood is a way of life, as common as walking a dog or glancing through the morning newspaper. At the theater in an industrial complex, Loren and his fellow actors ran through their lines. Margaret, a red-haired woman in her thirties, played the lead opposite him. Her husband, Burt, was the director.
Outside in the alley during a break, Loren approached Margaret trying to talk in a low voice. “I need those spreadsheets back.”
“It’s too late,” Margaret said. “I’ve already passed them along to the attorney.”
“Nichole is going to lose her job.”
“They can’t do that to her. It would be wrongful termination.”
“She’s already been threatened.”
“What happened?” Margaret asked concerned.
“They are serious,” Loren said and turned back into the theater.
The Guild had 10,000 members, but really less than ten percent worked in any given year. Regardless, all members needed to attend an annual meeting. Some of the better known members simply checked in at the desk, shook a couple hands, and then went out a side exit before the meeting started.
The Executive Director of the Guild wore $5,000 suits and $100 haircuts. He rose in front of the annual membership meeting at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to give his report. But before he could get started a heckler shouted out, “Where is the audit of the pension fund?”
The Executive Director stopped and stared with anger in the direction of the voice. He began his report, “The fiscal year saw a five percent increase in revenue collected by Guild members for all work, with the greatest increase in television production.”
“What about our pension funds? Why are you stalling?” a voice shouted out.
The Executive Director dropped his notes on the podium. “We will have order here. As you know there is a special committee looking into the pension fund.”
“Who picked the members of the committee?” someone shouted.
“I’m not going to answer to you here in this setting. You want to talk to me man to man, make an appointment.” He then continued his report. Security closed in on the man in the audience.
Loren working at the door watched.
Rosie met Loren at a hot dog stand near the Guild to have him sign a contract for a small part in a commercial that she had landed for him. The stand was famous for its toppings and versions named after Hollywood stars. Rosie couldn’t resist a good chili dog when the opportunity presented itself. They sat at a small white table behind the stand and Loren signed the papers while they waited for their number to be called to pick up their food.
“How’s rehearsal going?” Loren asked.
“Fine. It’s one of those weird experimental things, so it’s hard to know what’s working.”
“Right,” Loren said as she eyed her order when it was delivered on a tray.
“I’m working overtime at the Guild so I don’t have a lot of time to remember lines.”
Rosie looked up between bites. “How’s the Guild job? I hear there is some trouble in the leadership.”
“I hear things, but try to stay out of it,” Loren said his eyes adverting Rosie’s.
“Be careful, Loren. The pension issues at Guilds have always been contentious. “
Loren looked at Rosie deciding how much to reveal. “I’m sympathetic to some of the members. It’s hard enough to develop a career without someone taking your retirement money.”
They finished their hot dogs and Rosie dropped Loren off back at the Guild. “Watch yourself,” Rosie said to Loren as he got out of her car.
Rosie made a point of attending the first preview performance at the small theater in Venice Beach. On the side of the old warehouse, “Fun House Theater” was printed. Rosie knew this was one of those interactive theater pieces that became very popular in the 1970s and needed to be increasingly edgy to draw an audience. They were dramas, often mysteries, staged in old buildings, ships, and trains. Audience members would wander around the spaces at will, and watch the unfolding action, sometimes interacting with the actors. This updated version involved more technology including digital headsets and computer-generated effects.
Rosie caught Burt, the director, in the lobby before the show started.
“These experimental pieces always lose money,” Burt lamented.
“Let’s hope this one is different.”
“It’s Margaret’s play thing. I just wish she wouldn’t make the plotline so autobiographical.” Burt then spotted someone across the room. “Will you excuse me, Rosie?” Rosie watched as Burt walked over to a slender woman.
Margaret joined Rosie.
“Are you acting tonight?” Rosie asked.
“Yes, I’m a cuckolding wife,” Loren said distracted. “We need to get in our places.”
“I’ll see you after the performance.”
The audience then lined up at the entrance to the theater space. Stage assistants dressed all in black fit each audience member with a headset and gave simple instructions on use. Then a curtain was pulled back and the audience members entered the performance space one-by-one.
Inside, Rosie walked out onto a set made to look like a city park with artificial grass patches, benches and lamp poles. Rosie adjusted the headset volume and listened to the narration: “You’ve suspected him for a long time. He called tonight to say he was working late. You followed him to this park.”
Rosie saw a man and a woman wearing stylized clear masks meeting by a fountain.
“Don’t let them see you,” the narrator said over the headset. The couple turned to Rosie, and she hid behind a fake tree. She then turned back to the entrance and saw another audience member being fitted with a head set.
“It destroys you to watch, but you can’t help yourself. You follow them through the park,” the narrator continued. Rosie followed the couple and watched as they stopped and kissed. A stagehand in black then led Rosie to a doorway, into another set which was the inside of a house.
“You go to the makeup table and dry your eyes.” Rosie pulled a tissue from a box and smiled to herself as she faked wiping her eyes. “You turn over the photograph of your husband,” the narrator said over the headset. Rosie followed the direction. “You remember about the gun in the top drawer of the dresser.” She stood, went to the dresser, and pulled out the revolver. “You check to see if it is loaded.” Rosie glanced at the gun—it felt real. She then continued down a hallway. She stopped in front of room 313, and tried the door handle.
Inside, the man and woman were embracing. As Rosie entered, the man and woman looked at her embarrassed, and broke apart. Margaret, who played the part of the woman, gave Rosie a barely perceptible wave of recognition. Rosie held the revolver out in front of her playfully. “Shoot her.” Rosie smiled playing along and raised the gun at Margaret as she cowered with Loren in the corner. Something made her point the gun down at the last second, she then pulled the trigger. A loud bang was followed by Margaret whirling on the floor, hit. Rosie went to Margaret in Loren’s arms.
Lieutenant Thorndike questioned Rosie and the other actors in the theater set of room 313. Loren told the police that he had been given the responsibility for the gun prop. The theater didn’t have the money for a full stage crew, so the actors had to pitch in. However, he did see a stranger backstage before the performance.
Lieutenant Thorndike interviewed Rosie separately. “I don’t know why I pointed it down. I’ve been around guns my whole life, and it just felt too real—I couldn’t aim directly at her,” she said.
“It’s a good thing you didn’t.”
“I feel terrible I wounded her.”
“She’ll be fine, but someone intended worse.”
“How can I help?” Rosie asked.
“I’m going to have to take Loren in.”
“What about the second man?” Rosie said.
“Loren’s the obvious suspect, and we need to follow up.”
And then there’s the affair.”
“Loren and the woman you shot.”
Officers led Loren away in handcuffs.
Rosie knew where she could find a Guild member that could give her inside information on the dispute at the Guild. Brandon Scott, a former client, was a “hyphenate” or writer-director in the old school mode. For decades writers had been meeting at the donut stand in Farmer’s Market. Even when Farmer’s Market was remade into a kind of amusement park-shopping center, the old retained donut stand was a morning hang-out. The coffee was horrible, and the donuts not much better. But the writers liked habit and any excuse to put off going back to their offices to work.
Rosie made her way across the front parking lot off of Fairfax Avenue, and then zigzagged through the over-priced vegetable stands, nut and juice displays, and novelty shops to the donut stand in the back. She spotted Brandon at a table with six other men in the entertainment industry. They were all middle-aged men of the same generation with a similar attitude sipping bitter coffee with indifference and picking at donuts and pastries on paper plates.
“Hello Brandon, I wonder if I could talk to you a moment?” Rosie said speaking directly to him.
“Call ITM, dear. I don’t get involved in the business side unless I have to.”
“This isn’t about business,” Rosie said.
“I think she’s trying to pick you up, Bran,” one of the other men cracked.
“Shut up,” Rosie said to him. Then to Brandon, “I’d appreciate a moment.”
“Okay, for old time’s sake,” Brandon said. Then he turned to his table and quipped, “This is why she doesn’t represent me anymore.”
Rosie rolled her eyes when everyone laughed, knowing that she had dropped him, not the other way around.
Brandon got up and followed Rosie around the corner of one of the stands to an isolated table.
“I need some information on what’s going on at the Guild.”
“You’re going to need to be more specific.”
“Come on, Brandon, I know you are a major troublemaker.”
“Same old thing—the pension fund mostly.”
“But something is making it more tense than usual.”
Brandon sighed. “Information.”
“Did you get it from Loren?”
“Loren is in jail.”
“You mean the guy from the Guild?”
“You know who I mean. He needs help.”
Brandon thought about how much he should trust Rosie. “What’s your relationship to Loren?”
“I’m his agent, but also a friend,” she said. “And I got him into the mess at the theater.”
“The kid was helpful to our cause.”
“Anything connected with the attack at the theater?”
“I heard about that. Many of us are old lefties. Margaret was one too.”
“She was a member?”
“Yes, from the old days.”
“What did Loren do for you?”
“He got us some inside information about the pension fund.”
“I need a copy,” Rosie insisted.
Brandon was silent and then whispered to her, “Okay, okay. But you didn’t get it from me.
“Loren works in the theater, not the offices. Where did he get the pension information.”
“From his girlfriend,” Brandon said.
Rosie took the elevator to the top floor of the modern copper and glass building. As she exited she brushed past four men in suits, undoubtedly lawyers. In fact, almost the entire top floor was attorneys, the core of the entertainment labor union. The chief role was legal watchdog for the position of the directors in the industry as the leadership, and the guild as the premiere union. Every location and studio workplace was visited so that work roles were respected. Every film and television program reviewed to assure that billing was correct and in order, with members given proper credit.
As in many organizations, the person who really is in charge is often the executive secretary or assistant to the CEO. This was the case at the Guild with Elizabeth. Rosie had a mutual friend with Elizabeth, and was able to get on the Executive Director’s calendar by pulling in a chit with her. Rosie entered Elizabeth’s suite bearing a bottle of wine gift. “I heard you like Pinots.”
“How sweet of you,” Elizabeth rose and took the bottle as her right and put it quickly behind her desk. “It will be a few minutes.”
“No problem, I’ll take a seat.”
“Have you met him before?” she asked nodding her head towards the office door.
“Since I arranged this meeting, I need you to be discreet.”
“He doesn’t like agents, or actors, or writers. Pretty much no one.”
Despite the warning, the Executive Director was very gracious when he came out and shook her hand. He possessed a European grace welcoming Rosie into his outer office and directing her to a couch. The room had an expansive view of the Hollywood hills and was furnished like a living room. Clearly this was his socializing space, not the place where real decisions and work occurred. Rosie figured this was a sign that he didn’t think of her as a problem quite yet.
“Thank you for seeing me,” she said.
“Why not.” He looked at her directly with cold confidence. “Who do you represent?”
He stared at her hard think she was about to waste his time. “How does that concern me?”
“He’s an usher here.”
He smiled, “With representation?”
“Yes, me. He’s in trouble and I’m trying to help.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I’m not completely sure, but he was arrested.”
“I don’t see that this has anything to do with us.”
“Guild members may be involved.”
“I still don’t see anything.”
“Can I ask you about the pension report?” The Executive Director was quiet. “Are files missing?” she asked.
“You don’t know what you are getting into,” he said standing up and walking towards the door.
“Elizabeth, don’t ever schedule a meeting with an agent again,” he said pointedly.
Elizabeth got up from her desk and escorted Rosie out. “Thanks a lot,” she whispered under her breath.
Loren had been released from jail after questioning. Rosie met with him at a bar near her office. The bar and connected restaurant was a long-time Hollywood establishment, with waiters that looked like funeral parlor directors, and a menu that hadn’t changed since the 1930s. But the drinks were great, and strong. Rosie ordered the Irish coffee, which came with a separate carafe of whiskey. Loren tried to order a sweet mixed drink, but changed his mind when the bartender gave him a disapproving look.
“You were having an affair with Margaret?”
“Of course not.”
“Then why did you tell the police that?”
“It’s all I could think of at the time,” Loren said. “I’ve been working on something with Margaret at the Guild and I couldn’t lead the police in that direction.”
“What was her connection?”
“She has been working with an underground group trying to get control of the entertainment unions for the members.”
“They see entertainment guilds as high profile unions. The alleged Mafia connection hurts the image of all unions.”
“You think that’s why someone tried to kill her?”
“I don’t know.”
Two rough looking men entered the bar and sat at the far end of the bar. Rosie noticed that they tried too hard to avoid her gaze. They both ordered beers and acted like they were interested in the soccer game on the TV over the bar.
“Let’s get out of here,” Rosie said.
Loren and Rosie walked out into the crowd on Hollywood Boulevard towards Hollywood and Vine. The area in recent years had become revitalized with nightclubs with velvet ropes holding back crowds in front. Rosie could see that up ahead on the street there were television production trucks, and klieg lights.
“I think it is a commercial,” Loren said. “I saw and assistant director I know earlier who is working on this.”
“I’m sure everyone appreciates the traffic jam it’s causing,” Rosie said as she looked back and saw the two men from the bar following behind them. “Let’s cross the street.”
“My car is parked ahead.”
“There are two men following us for some reason,” Rosie replied as she pulled Loren’s arm. They crossed at a light and quickened their step. The men started to run after them. Loren saw this and pulled Rosie towards the video production under the bright lights. A production assistant with a radio stopped them.
“David asked me to help with the extras,” Loren said authoritatively. The production assistant turned and looked at a man holding a clipboard. Loren waved to him, and the production assistant let the two pass. After them the two men following were stopped. They watched as Loren talked to the Assistant Director. After some discussion, Loren and Rosie were led to a crowd of extras who were cheering a band in a limousine who lip-synched a song.
“Let’s go back the other way to my apartment,” Rosie said. “They probably followed you from your car and will go back there and wait for you. The two then slip out the back of the crowd of extras and disappeared into the audience on the sidewalk watching the production.
Rosie lived in a duplex off of Hollywood Boulevard within walking distance of her office—but she never walked to work. She spent the first couple minutes walking around her apartment straightening up and putting dirty clothes in a wicker basket. “I haven’t had any company here in a while,” Rosie explained to Loren.
“Don’t worry. I’m not in a position to judge.”
Rosie opened a bottle of wine that was a holiday gift from a client, and they sat in her living room on her couch. “This is getting scary,” Rosie said with atypical vulnerability.
“I shouldn’t have drawn you into this,” Loren put his hand on her arm.
Loren looked directly into Rosie’s eyes: “I’m not used to seeing you like this.” Loren kissed her.
She broke away: “Why do they want to kill you?”
“I get that reaction.” He kissed her again and she responded.
Rosie sighed in the morning light as it came in filtered through her bedroom blinds. She looked over and saw Loren sleeping peacefully. Rosie’s romantic life was like the plotline of a low-budget horror movie. If there was a film version, the audience would be sitting in the theatre warning her of the guy behind the door with the chainsaw, the suspicious pizza delivery man, and the too-friendly neighbor with pet snakes.
Rosie got dressed and made coffee. As she was straightening up the living room, a cell phone vibrated in Loren’s jeans. Rosie looked at the screen and saw that Nichole had left multiple text messages. Later, Rosie was dressed and ready for the day when Loren came out of the bedroom. He tried to kiss her, but Rosie turned her cheek. “Nichole wants to know where you are.”
Loren took a deep breath and sat. “I should have told you, but the relationship is over.”
“Does she know this?”
“Come on, Rosie,” Loren said holding out his hands. “I didn’t plan this.”
“Seems like from her texts that she expected you last night.”
“I’ve got to move out.”
“You’re living with her? Jesus.” Rosie stood up, grabbed her purse and coat and went out the door.
Rosie always called Bernie when she needed insider information. His secretary put her through right away. “Can you believe people still use the fucking fax machine? I’m a hundred years old and even I know it’s stupid. He wants to fax me a contract. Right, let me get out slide rule and I’ll calculate the back end. What a fucking idiot.”
“Nice to hear from you too, Bernie.”
“Okay, what do you need?” She could hear him wheezing in the background and knew he was covering up a long-term emphysema condition brought on by years of smoking cigars.
“Anything on the Guild and pension problems?”
Bernie laughs so loudly Rosie has to pull the phone away from her ear. He ends with a long coughing fit. When he’s done, she said, “I know it’s been going for years.”
“Are you kidding me? It’s like taking a piece of profits after expenses—you’ll never see that money, and they’ll never see their pensions.”
“There’s got to be more controls these days,” Rosie interjected.
“Right, lawyers. Fucking lawyers everywhere.”
“Something is different this time. I’m sensing very strong push back from the Guild.”
“You better believe it. Do you know the biography of the Executive Director? He was groomed for that job. They paid for his law school and put him in place.”
“The mob, of course.”
It isn’t discussed much in polite conversation, but it has been common knowledge for many years that there is deep involvement of the mafia in Hollywood. This involves power relations from both ends of the food chain, from union represented talent and craft people, to the top end of the financiers, studios, and producers. It is a closed society with high stakes finances, and glamour to boot. There are numerous opportunities for money to flow in and out of accounting books, with accounting justifications that are hard to trace. It is the perfect nest for organized crime.
In the silent and Depression eras labor was cheap in Southern California and mammoth spectacles with casts of thousands could be put on film for little money. When red-backed labor groups tried to make their way into studios they were met with strength and increasingly the balled fist of organized crime. But then the talent, especially powerful directors, got involved and the industry became unionized. This then brought the mafia in even further as they were an insidious force to control labor from within. This pattern held true up to the current day.
One studio in particular was long associated with organized crime. Unlike the other studios that had long ago been dismantled, this one still held together intact. In order to understand what was going on with the pension Rosie needed a studio insider to trace the funding. She had represented a daytime TV actor, Reed, who ended up being an accountant. He had distinguished grey hair and played attorneys, and accountants on TV. This look had proved useful with the studio as well, as he rose to vice presidential rank. Rosie had gotten him out of a bind over a legal matter with his ex-wife.
Rosie was on the list at the gate, drove through and parked in front one of the numerous bungalows on the edge of the lot. She noticed that a dark-haired man in a car seemed to try hard not to look at her as he drove past. Reed shook her hands warmly in his office. After some pleasantries about the TV business, Rosie took some spreadsheets she had gotten from Brandon out of her briefcase and showed them to Reed. He looked at them and began turning the pages intently.
“You shouldn’t have these.”
“What do you mean?”
“This is inside information. How did you get it?”
“What does it mean?” she said avoiding his question.
“I’d have to look at it more closely to get the whole picture, but I can tell with right off that this is some sort of shadow booking system designed to hide funds.”
“I would guess it is more than that.” He handed the spreadsheets back to her. “I can’t have these. It’s illegal for us to have and see these.”
Rosie looked at him closely. “Is it enough to prosecute someone?”
“Maybe. It wouldn’t be healthy for anyone connected to those spreadsheets and the money trail.”
After the meeting, Rosie decided to take a walk around the lot to clear her head. She always enjoyed seeing the various street sets from New York row houses, to suburban Leave It to Beaver neighborhoods. Rosie went by one of the sound stages and saw a huge door open. She poked her head inside and saw a large set with half a ship built facing the camera and lights. It looked like most of the crew was off on a break and she decided to look around. Rosie went around back behind the ship and in the darkness heard someone coming.
Rosie moved quietly through the large set until she heard a creak on boards behind her. Two figures struggled in the darkness, and Rosie was knocked to the ground. Then one ran off and out the stage door. Rosie stood up and found Loren on the ground. “Loren, what are you doing here?”
Loren pushed his hair back and gathered himself. “I knew you wouldn’t let me come along if I asked so I followed you.”
Rosie gave him a relieved hug in spite of herself. “You happened along at the right time.”
“Any idea who that was?”
“Maybe one of those guys who followed us the other night.”
Later at the theater performance, a couple was fitted with headsets. Rosie and Lieutenant Thorndike watched in darkness at the side of the set as participants moved through the sets. “Looks pretty much the same to me,” Rosie whispered to the Lieutenant. They moved into the next set, and Rosie bumped into a stagehand dressed completely in black.
In the hallway, the Lieutenant and Rosie watched as participants walked down the hallway one after another following the directions of the narrator on the headset. A woman left the hotel room, and put the revolver in a fake laundry chute.
Backstage, a stagehand in black watched from the shadows and pulled out a revolver. Rosie watched as the woman audience member with the gun listened at the door of room 313 and then entered. Loren and Margaret were in their positions as lovers in the room. Rosie and the Lieutenant moved into Room 313 and watched from the wings as the woman participant confronted the pair of lovers. The gun was raised and fired, just as the stagehand shot. Loren was knocked backwards onto the bed and Rosie screamed. The Lieutenant ran over to Loren and pulled him to his feet. He exposed a protective vest under Loren’s costume.
Backstage there was a scuffle and two officers brought the black clad stagehand in. The Lieutenant went over and pulled the mask off—it was Nichole.
“Nichole!” Loren yells. “What are you doing?”
“It was Nichole all along,” Rosie says.
“What do you care, Loren? You have other women,” Nichole said move to strike him before two officers restrain her.
“Who else is in this with you?” the Lieutenant asked confronting Nichole.
The Guild Executive Director and two of his men enter on cue. “No one, Lieutenant.”
“Convenient that you are here tonight,” the Lieutenant observes.
“This woman came to me trying to blackmail the Guild with information on the pension fund. I turned her down.”
“Why were your men following us?” Rosie asks.
“We have our reasons for being careful. You were poking your nose in something that isn’t your business.”
“That’s because you are stealing pension funds,” Margaret interjects.
“I’ll remind you that I’m an attorney, and I have a building full of attorneys working for me. I’d watch what you say.”
“The blackmail didn’t work, but Nichole could be useful for the Guild,” Rosie says.
“Agents need to be careful too,” the CEO warns.
At the Rosie Wood Agency, Rosie sipped her coffee and read the headlines in the trade papers. A small article mentioned that Nichole had been convicted of attempted murder. The Guild had decided to drop any extortion claims. A larger article on another page announced that the Guild Executive Director was resigning his position to take a top position at a studio. The move included a large pay increase. The article mentioned that investigations were pending on the use of pension funds.
The phone rang and Rosie answered.
“Do you represent clowns?” a husky voice asked.
“I’ve been accused of worse,” she replied.
“No, I mean really. I’m in town on tour and want to transition into something more stable.”
“Okay, I’m game.”
“And I also hear you are good at fixing problems,” he said.
“A clown with a problem, why not?” Rosie said and leaned back in her chair.
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright Gary A. Berg 2015