Excerpts from PIANO LOVER: THE MOVIE
Excerpted from Chapter 1: Hooray For Hollywood
As they stepped into the hotel elevator, David asked Alex, "You don't think Abe actually told Bumgarner what you said yesterday about keeping your manicure appointment or about preferring to wait three months until the option expired rather than wait three hours for Bumgarner."
As the doors whispered shut, Alex chuckled. "Of course not. The poor schlub probably told him that sending a team to our hotel was my idea, not his. Abe may seem sleazy and sweats a lot, but he's been kissing executive ass for so long, he knows what different things to say to different levels of people, and that involves a lot of what not to say to the people above you. He could probably tell Freud a few things about ego-maniacal behavior."
As the elevator doors opened on the palatial Bel Air Hotel lobby, Abe stood waiting with an excessive professional smile on his face. "Gentlemen, gentlemen, so happy to see you. Thank you for meeting us so promptly. We would have been happy to wait for you as long as you wished." He gestured for them to follow him. "We've rented a small banquet room for our meeting," and he ushered them into a sound proofed room with what appeared to be a boardroom table. Four men were seated at one end as Abe joined them at the very end of the table. The two lawyers were distinguished by their dark blue suits and ties, and their balding heads and stoic expressions. The two producers were dressed in light colored casual clothing, printed sport shirts under their sport coats, and longer hair, one curly and one slicked back with too much hair dressing. There were two empty chairs for Alex and David at their end of the long table. Abe and the two directors smiled at them expectantly.
Alex looked at David, then at Abe. "I thought we were going to have lunch together?"
Abe blinked. "Well, we can have them serve you lunch in here."
David was slightly amazed at Alex's confidence as he heard Alex say, "I'm sorry, but this will not do. David and I will wait in the lobby while you have them remove this boardroom table and replace it with one of those large round tables from the dining room, and bring menus for everyone." Alex raised his eyebrows. "Any problems with that, Abe?"
Abe inhaled deeply. "No, no! Of course not."
As they exited to the lobby, David smiled at Alex and said, "You love playing these games, don't you?"
Alex plopped down into one of the upholstered chairs in the lobby. "Executive upsmanship is like cat fights at a gay bar, only the barbs in the gay bar are overt sarcasm and not disguised as condescension. Instead of talking trash, executives use the power of money to put you on the defensive."
David sat in the opposite chair. "So you're constantly putting them on the defensive by playing hard to get."
Alex closed his eyes and nodded. "It's an end game. We can thank your boss for limiting the option to only three months. They originally wanted three years, and if we were stuck with a much longer option period, we'd lose the publicity momentum we have and have to settle for a lot less. Right now, we're in the position to hold out for three months, if necessary."
David laughed. "I'm surprised you became a choreographer. You have the skills of a corporate CEO."
Alex snorted. "They're the same thing. If you ever had to whip a chorus line of a dozen bitches into shape, you'd have to learn the same skills as a CEO."
Abe showed up with his professional smile. "They're setting up the round table now, if you'd care to join us."
When everyone was seated, Alex smiled at each in turn. "I hope everyone is hungry. I would feel much more comfortable if we were all sharing a meal....like a family."
The curly haired producer smiled and said, "I understand. I made a movie in Africa with lions, and part of the storyline depended on understanding that all the other animals felt vulnerable, except when the lions were eating. Then and only then did they feel safe enough to move and graze."
Alex smiled. "Well, my astrological sign is Leo, and I'm having eggs Benedict, and I invite you gentlemen to make the next move."
Abe laughed nervously and said, "I think our next move is to order our food." A waiter came and took everyone's food orders, then left. Abe stood.up. "Okay, if we're a family, let me introduce everyone." He gestured to Alex. "Mr. Alex Pienas is the Director, Choreographer, and Associate Producer of The Piano Lover." He gestured to David. "Mr. David Wales is the co-author of the book and composer of all the music. On my far right is producer Harry Morgan. On my near right is attorney Sol Brickner. On my near left is attorney Samuel Wallenstein. And on my far left is producer Francois Marquette. The attorneys will be the architects of the contract’s wording, but the producers will be the architects of the film adaptation. Harry and Francois saw the show in New York, and asked to possibly be a part of the production." Abe took a deep breath. "Before we start, does anyone have any questions?"
Harry spoke abruptly. "Yes! For starters, are we stuck with Dorothy Lamour as the female lead?"
Abe shook his head. "No. We've already agreed with the TGC producers that she's out and we have the freedom to cast someone younger. However, the original lead, Gwen Verdon, is committed too far into the future to be available."
Francois held up his hand. "And Dimitri Lebedov, do we have to deal with him? Aside from the Communist thing, I've heard he can be very opinionated about the sanctity of the book."
David shook his head. "Dimitri and I have no ownership of The Piano Lover as an intellectual property. I only own the music, and Alex and I are the only creative consultants you have to deal with."
Harry nodded his head. "Okay then. With all due respect for the success of the musical and the brilliance of the writing, how do you feel about updating the theme of the show?"
David looked puzzled. "Updating? The show is contemporary, laid in the here and now. Are you suggesting projecting it into the future?"
Harry blinked. "No, no! I'm talking about the issues it deals with. America is not facing a gay revolution. America's facing a civil rights revolution." Hie eyes lit up as he raised his hands. "One of the directors interested in this project came up with a great idea. How about changing the setting from a gay nightclub to a straight nightclub, and changing the character of Patrice from a transexual to a mullato girl who passes for white and suffers the exposure of her colored ancestry?"
David looked at him in amazement. "You mean, like in Showboat?"
Harry shrugged. "Well, no. That was a period piece, but we could update the idea to fit in with today's civil rights movement. This director just made a movie with a great colored actress, Dorothy Dandridge, and she got an Academy nomination and her face on the cover of Life Magazine."
David's brow furrowed. "I'm sorry, but, as one of the co-authors of the book, I cannot accept changing the transexual character to fit a Showboat theme."
Harry sighed. "Well, if not the transexual character, how would you feel about changing the God character from a blue woman to a black man? I worked on several films with a great black actor named Rex Ingram. He even played God in an old movie called Green Pastures. The character's name in the script was 'De Lawd.' That would get us a civil rights tie-in thing."
Alex rolled his eyes. "With all due respect to Rex Ingram, who I love, God does not appear in this musical whatsoever."
After several seconds of silence, Francois asked, "I realize the two of you are Southerners, but you're not prejudiced against coloreds, are you?"
Alex frowned in amazement. "If you gentlemen had done your research, you would have discovered that I am of Negro descent."
Sol frowned and cupped his mouth with his hand to whisper to Abe, but was heard by all to say, "You mean we've been jerked around all this time by a schvartza?"
Francois' eyebrows raised. "Oh! Pienas? I thought you were of Spanish descent."
Alex looked at him stoicly. "I am. Puerto Rican and Afro-American."
Three waiters came in and began serving the food. Abe looked panicked. "Let's take a moment, folks, to enjoy our food and restart the creative process here. Alex, are those eggs Benedict to your liking? How about a drink to go with them. I think I remember that Louis Prima taught the bartender here how to make a Sazerac cocktail. May be the only place you can get one outside of New Orleans."
Sol was oblivious to Alex glaring at him as Sol took a bite of a giant dill pickle and tried to pick up half of his giant corned beef sandwich. Alex then looked at Abe with a pained smile. "Too early in the day, but thank you, Abe, that's nice to know."
Francois explored his Cobb Salad with his fork. "Then, Mr. Pienas, can you suggest some way we can inject a civil rights theme into the film? After all, most of that flack you guys got from the religious right was more about the gay thing than anything religious."
David was surprised by Alex who calmly said, "Again, if you guys had done your homework, you'd know that, not only am I of Negro descent, but I am also gay."
Corned beef dripped from Sol's mouth as he cupped his hand toward Abe and could be heard in a stage whisper saying, "A schvartsa feagele?"
Abe glared at him and said curtly, "Shut up, Sol!"
Alex looked at David, then back to the group. "Correct me if I'm wrong, David, but I assume I speak for both of us when I say we do not accept changing the setting, the ethnicity or sexual orientation of the characters, or the female God theme of The Piano Lover."
Harry turned to look at the others with disappointment, then back to Alex and David. "Damn, if we can't change it to a civil rights theme, then we can't get Dorothy Dandridge or the big name director."
David looked at him suspiciously. "What big name director?"
Harry looked at David suspiciously. "Max Deutsch. He's made two very successful films with me so far."
David turned to look at Alex with a pained smile, then back to the group. "If you gentlemen had done your research, you'd know that Max Deutsch was removed as director of The Piano Lover for the very reason that he wanted to change the theme of the show to a 1930's Berlin cabaret show."
Harry shrugged. "I didn't know that, but he had a very good track record in the German film industry and with my last two productions."
Alex closed his eyes, then looked at Harry. "I suspect that Max Deutsch wanted this project knowing he would have conflicts with us and he would walk away from it before completion in an effort to kill it for revenge. Therefore, we are saving you a great financial loss when we say, emphatically, that we would never accept Max Deutsch, or any Nazi, as a director on this project."
Sol turned to Abe, but Abe glared at him and shook his head negatively. Then Abe smiled professionally at Alex and David. "That's fine. It's progress to learn each other's likes and dislikes. Perhaps we could order dessert. I myself like Wolfie's cheesecake, and the Bel Air flies it in daily from Florida. Have you guys ever had it? Would you like to try it? It might help sweeten the proceedings."
David looked from Alex to Abe. "It's never too early in the day for cheesecake. I'll have some."
Sol was oblivious to Alex's repeated glaring. Then Alex said, "In the interest of inter-ethnic cooperation, I'll forego my usual slice of watermelon and have some Wolfie's cheesecake also."/p>
Abe looked momentarily at Sol who was absorbed in sloppily eating his corned beef sandwich, then smiled at the group and said, "Why don't I just order us all some cheesecake," and he gestured to the waiter who stood at attention just inside the door before exiting to fulfill the order.
Francois pushed his half eaten Cobb salad away and said, "If you're not giving us any flexibility with the basic theme, then what flexibility, what options DO we have?"
David looked back and forth between the directors. "You have far more options than we had making the stage musical. You can shoot the opening scene in the real Jackson Square. You can shoot the coffee klatch scenes in the real Cafe duMonde. You have the backdrop production value of the real Antoine's, Arnaud's, Toujaque's, and Tortorich's Restaurants. If you don't want six chorus girls and boys to come out of nowhere, have a street minstrel introduce the opening song and teach the tourist group to sing along with him. You have the option to bring a fantasy musical to life as a fantasy movie enhanced by the realism of the moving camera and the real life city of New Orleans."
Francois' eyes bulged as he turned to Harry. "Damn, we should've brought some writers to this meeting."
Harry shrugged. "I thought I'd be talking to them later about a whole different story line."
Alex looked at them sternly. "But you DON'T have the option to fuck up the message of this musical."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Really! The public doesn't like message movies."
David looked at Harry sternly. "Tell that to Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, and Gregory Peck, and the public that made their message movies box office history."
Francois chuckled as he looked smugly at Harry. "He's got you there, Harry. And weren't you pitching a civil rights message movie a few minutes ago?"
Harry looked resentful. "That was just an excuse to get Dorothy Dandridge on board, and you well know the need to get 'A' list actors as funding insurance." He turned and looked at Alex and David defiantly. "And what the hell is the message of this musical, anyhow?"
Alex gestured to David who moved forward in his chair. "The message of this musical is that a patriarchal system has led to the wars and woes of this world, and getting in touch with your feminine side may temper some of those misogynistic tantrums and avoid Armageddon."
Alex raised one eyebrow. "And getting in touch with your feminine side wont make your dick fall off. I know, because I still have mine, and it's a bit of a legend in some circles."
David couldn't resist. "And he's famous for his modesty."
The others laughed nervously, then Francois said, "Yes, but the two of you are gay and the vast majority of the movie going public are not."
Alex repressed laughter. "Oh pleeeeeease! Don't call David gay. If anything, he's a rampant heterosexual, and a tad homophobic, I suspect."
Francois raised his hands and rolled his eyes. "Oh! I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you."
David shook his head sideways. "I'm not offended to be taken for gay, I'm just surprised at all of your lack of research and lack of understanding what The Piano Lover is about."
Abe's eyes darted to everyone at the table before he spoke. "David, if we drafted a contract that agreed to retaining the musical's theme and cast of characters, and also gave you a position as one of the screenwriters, and the only one with a veto power regarding creative control, would that get you to take the contract to TGC, Incorporated?"
Harry interrupted abruptly. "I don't think I could work if a writer had the power to restrict or dictate my artistic choices!"
Francois looked at Harry defiantly. "I don' think David would be restrictive or dictatorial. I like the ideas he's come up with, and I think he would be reasonable with a screenwriting team."
David looked at Alex and opened his mouth to speak, but Alex put his hand on David's arm to silence him as Alex said to Abe, "David would require five times current scale for a head writer, and his screen credit would be as Head Writer, first in the writer credits, and in larger type than the other writers."
Abe hesitated as he looked from one lawyer to the other, then looked at David and said, "We don't use credit titles such as Head Writer. That's in television. How about, in addition to being the only writer with veto power, four times current scale, first in the writer's screen credits, and on a line all by itself, but not larger than the others?"
Alex and David smiled at each other, then David answered Abe, "Done." David whispered to Alex, "I hope you're not gonna ask for a fifteen percent commission."
Alex shook his head and whispered. "No, just save our musical from these hacks."
Excerpted from Chapter 6: Crossing Lines
Aurora set the gun metal colored metallic urn at the center of the glass patio table as she, Princess, and David sat in the padded white wrought iron patio chairs while the Pacific surf pounded Malibu Beach behind them. Their black clothing was incongruous to the white furnishings and bright sunlight bouncing off the sand and sea. Aurora and David stared guardedly at Princess as she frowned at the urn. Princess' voice was bitter. "I am so angry." Aurora and David looked at her in surprise. Princess inhaled deeply. "It's not so much all that money for the rehab facilities, although that was an utter waste. It's that he didn't try harder. Not for himself, and not for me."
David looked concerned for Princess. "I guess any of us who have managed to avoid addiction can never really understand how hard it is to overcome."
Aurora's brow wrinkled. "Done take id personally, Princess. He canna stop drink done mean he done love you. Widoud you he probably es muerto muchos anos antes."
Princess looked down at her hands as tears welled in her eyes. "I feel so guilty. When you said that, I thought for a second that it would have been better if he died before I met him." She looked up at them. "But that's just the anger. He brought so much to my life. My life was so much richer because of him."
Aurora rose, then knelt before Princess and held both her hands. "Dad's ride. Dad's importan para recordar. He love you mucho, tanto dad he made you su esposa."
Princess tried to smile. "That's right. He was the first man to ever keep his promise to marry me." She wiped a tear from her eye. "I know everyone thought I was insane to marry a man old enough to be my father, that, because I had been abused by an older man for years when I was a child, I had a fixation on old men. And I know everyone thought he was in denial that I was a transexual, and his insistence that I was a woman was psychotic." She shrugged. "But I could understand his thinking that being with a biological woman would be unfaithful to his dead wife, and I could forgive his discovering that being with a boy prostitute in Morocco was a sublimation of his need, and that experience made him attracted to me."
David tried unsuccessfully to smile. "I think those of us closest to you came to understand that. Certainly everyone accepted whatever made the two of you so happy."
Princess smiled at them sadly. "I wont pretend that, in the beginning, I thought he was crazy, and I wont pretend that I wasn't attracted to a lot of handsome young men who came on to me." She raised her eyebrows and nodded her head. "And I screwed my fair share of them."
Aurora and David smiled.
Princess shook her head as she stared at her hands in her lap. "But, other than some intense orgasms, with them I never felt that feeling of being enveloped in security, enveloped in love, like I did with Richard." Princess sighed deeply, then looked off into space. "And there were lots who proposed, but none of them had the guts to follow through like Robert did."
David leaned forward and clasped his hands over his knees. "I'm sure Robert brought more to your life than most of those others could. He was talented, he was educated, and he was worldly."
Princess smiled sadly. "Yes. He turned our place into a Moroccan home with rugs and wall hangings and engraved brass vases. It was kinda like Rick's Cafe in the movie, Casablanca."
David tried to have a positive tone. "And his repertoire was so international. He loaned me some French and Italian sheet music so I could learn the French lyrics to La Mer and C'est C'est Bon and others."
Princess looked at him. "You're welcome to any of his music stuff, David. I don't think his clothes would fit you, but I'm just going to give all that stuff to The Salvation Army."
David nodded. "Yes, thanks, Princess. I'd like to look at the music, and I'd be happy to deliver any of that stuff wherever you want."
Princess turned to look at the waves behind them which crashed onshore in greater volume. with the incoming tide. "Thank you for inviting me, Aurora. It's beautiful here with the sand and those huge rocks."
Aurora stood and looked out to sea. "Si, es muy bonita. Id remind me o' Matzatlan an' Puerto Villarte. I gez toda la costa del Pacifico god deez grandes rocas, nod lake de Gulf Cose."
David stared out to sea with them. "I think all beaches are good for the soul. It's a line of demarcation between two domains, the land and the sea, each with its own special environment, its own special population."
Princess almost whispered. "Two domains, like life and death."
Aurora frowned at David, then smiled at Princess. "Princess, I had Cecilia pud you in de bess guessroom wid de view o' de beach. An' David, you in de udder guessroom across de hall."
Princess blinked at Aurora. "Thank you, it will be great to wake up and see the sunrise over the water."
David tilted his head. "Actually, the sun will rise in the East over those hills behind the house. But you'll get to see the sun set in th West over the water, which can be spectacular."
Aurora moved toward the glass patio door, which opened automatically, stopping at the threshold to turn and look at them. "Princess, I godda leave after dinner for New York. Dey pud me in de Waldorf Hotel for a talk show tomorrow add de RCA building, an I godda ged a good nide's sleep for de interview, nod have red eye from early morning plane ride. Is dere someting you wan me bring you from New York, a New York pizza, maybe one of dose grade hod dogs dey have oudside de RCA station? I be back tomorrow fo' dinner. Den we go someplace especial, maybe in Hollywood; De Imperial Garden, o' maybe Villa Capri where we may see de Rad Pack."
Princess smiled sadly at Aurora. "Nothing special from New York, but I may be up to dining out tomorrow night, if you guys want."
Aurora smiled enthusiastically. "Good, den we enjoy ourselves, be Hollywood touristas an' go stare add movie stars. Id be fun."
David's brow wrinkled questioningly as he smiled at Aurora. "Aurora, you are aware that your neighbors on both sides of this house are 'A' list movie stars, aren't you?"
Aurora shrugged. "Yeah, an' I ged to see dem bade in de nude, but, in de restaurant, dey dress up real fancy, an' sometimes dey ged spinach on dey teed. I lake dad."
Princess laughed. "That would be fun, to see Cary Grant with spinach on his teeth."
David shivered and reached to pull up the sheet, but the sheet was billowing with a cool breeze that swept through the guest room. He looked up at the starry sky through the skylight Aurora had installed above the bed in every bedroom, because she had so enjoyed the one in his French Quarter apartment. As he raised up to reach the sheet, he heard the whispering of a sliding door closing, and the breeze seemed to stop. Naked, he got out of bed and put on the black bikini undershorts Aurora had bought for him. Peeking out the hallway he saw nothing, then he turned into the living room and, through the patio doors, saw Princess walking across the beach toward the water, the wind whipping a pink baby doll nightie around her petite figure. He thought about returning to his room for the plush robe Aurora had given him, but fear for Princess made him walk rapidly toward the patio door, which whispered open automatically.
As the cool night breeze hit him in the face and the sound of the surf filled his ears, he saw Princess slowly wading into the water directly toward the horizon. He ran to the water's edge and entered it, seeing the waves rise to Princess's waist and recede to reveal the gossamer material clinging to her so tightly you could see the clefts in her buttocks, thighs, and calves. He called to her, "Princess! Sweetheart! What are you doing?"
She stopped and turned her face to him, the moonlight glinting like silver highlights in her copper colored hair. He marveled that, without makeup, her almond eyes and voluptuous lips still made her face feminine and beautiful. She looked to the horizon, then back at him. "I'm standing at the border."
He looked puzzled. "What border?"
She looked back to the horizon and he could hardly hear her. "Like you said, between the two domains of life and death."
He took two hesitant steps toward her. "You're the one who interpreted it as a line between life and death."
She held her hands out to maintain her balance in the water. "That's what I feel like. Like I'm standing at a line between life and death."
He moved forward until he could clasp his arms around her. "You're young and healthy, and have a long life ahead of you."
She folded her hands on top of his forearms as she stared at the horizon. "I'm not afraid of my body dying. It's my emotions, my soul, my psyche that feels like it's teetering on a fine line between life and death." She lifted his arms from around her and started to move forward toward the horizon.
He lunged forward and picked her up in his arms, saying, "No, Princess! No, sweetheart. Let me take you back to the house."
She folded her arms across her chest and closed her eyes as he carried her back into the house and into her guest room. He set her gently in her bed, but, as he moved away, she raised her arms and gripped his head, looking into his eyes and, whispering in her breathy little girl voice, she said, "I need...I need something to help me move toward the life side."
He put his hands on top of hers. "What are you saying, Princess?"
She lowered one hand to caress the hairs on his chest. Looking at her hand, she said, "I don't want to intrude on any relationships you have. I'm not asking for anything beyond tonight." She looked up at him again. "But tonight I need someone to possess me physically, someone I know sincerely loves and cares about me."
He closed his eyes. "Princess, I have to tell you what I told Dimitri. Not only am I heterosexual, but I have reservations."
Her hand around his neck pulled his body down to rest on top of her. "Apples and oranges, David. There are mirrors behind the bars we work in. I've seen you look at me many times, and it's not the same way you look at Dimitri."
He raised one hand to still her hand on his chest. "What are you asking for, true confessions? Yes, I couldn't have written Dimitri's story line for The Piano Lover without imagining the plausibility of Dan sleeping with Patrice. But that was a fantasy."
She raised her head until her lips touched his neck. "Fantasies are desires waiting to be fulfilled." Her voice became increasingly urgent. "If you can't admit to your own desire, then fulfill my desire, fulfill my need. Fuck me, David. I need you inside me."
Whether it was compassion or lust, or simply her thigh rising against his groin, David raised her knees until they were beside her head, and let her insert him into her tiny body. A seagull landed clumsily on the skylight above and watched with curiosity a long time as the couple on the satin sheets below contorted their bodies in a variety of positions until the sun rose over the hills.
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