Authors: David Handler
The Boy Who Never Grew Up
Open Road Integrated Media
For the Bartuccas,
who found us a home
You can’t run away from true love, Debbie. Just like you can’t run away from God or your country or your family. It’s a part of you, and you’re a part of it. That’s why you and me, aw heck, we’ve just gotta get married when we grow up. We’ll have a mess of kids together. We’ll get old and gray together. It’ll be really neat. You’ll see.
—Badger Hayes to Debbie Dale in
Badger Hayes, All-American Boy
, a film by Matthew Wax
ATTHEW WAX’S VERY OWN LITTLE MOVIE
studio, Bedford Falls, kept its very own little suite of rooms all year around on the eighteenth floor of the Waldorf Towers, the major-bucks wing of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The Towers comes with its own special entrance around on Fiftieth Street off Park, its own doorman, its own desk, its own elevator, and its own style, or lack of it. Understated elegance is what they aim for. Stodgy is about as close as they get. Still, the security isn’t terrible. Ronnie and Nancy used to stay there when they hit town from the White House. The Bushes still do. On this crisp autumn morning the place was a madhouse and there wasn’t even a single politician in town. Unless you count the mayor, and not many people do. The street outside was mobbed with reporters and photographers and television news crews. There was local TV, national TV, tabloid TV.
A Current Affair
, everybody was there. The police had set up blue barricades to contain all of them, but it was no use. They spilled out into the street, blocking traffic and exchanging graphic taunts with the cab drivers who were trying to get by. Limo drivers who were parked there gulped hot coffee from take-out cups and enjoyed the free show. And the divorce war between Matthew Wax, the most successful director in the history of Hollywood, and Pennyroyal Brim, his breathtakingly adorable leading lady, was indeed a show. The press hadn’t pursued a bedtime story with such lunatic zeal since Donald and Ivana split. Every morning brought fresh hot scoops, each more lurid and venal than the last. Just this morning alone
The National Enquirer
had Pennyroyal claiming that Matthew had forced her to make love to her costar, Johnny Forget, in a bathtub while he sat there watching them do it.
not to be outdone, was contending that Pennyroyal was secretly pregnant. The identity of her love child’s father was being kept under wraps, they revealed, though Pennyroyal’s current boyfriend, actor Trace Washburn, certainly had to be the lead candidate. I doubted that. My own money was on Elvis.
I stood there on the edge of the crowd for a moment, collecting myself, much like a diver up on the high board. The only difference is he dives into clear blue water, and I was diving into a sewer. I took a deep breath and plunged right in, elbows flying. It gets a little easier every time I do it.
At the door I was halted by a phalanx of gruff, beefy cops in uniform. I gave one of them my name and assured him I was expected. He looked me over top to bottom. I wore the glen plaid double-breasted cashmere suit I’d had made for me in London by Stricklands. There was a fresh white carnation in my lapel. The white cotton broadcloth shirt and burgundy-and-yellow silk bow tie were from Turnbull and Asser, the silver cuff links from Grandfather, the cordovan brogans from Maxwell’s. My trench coat was over my arm. My borsalino, freshly blocked for the fall, was on my head. I did not look like any of the others. This he couldn’t deny. Grudgingly, he gave my name to the doorman, who gave it to the desk. He called up. After a moment, they let me inside. I still had to wait in the lobby for a security guard to come down and get me. I did, watching the commotion outside.
It was no surprise that this one was so hot, given the principal players and their images and the millions of dollars involved. In one corner we had Matthew Wax, the gentle giant with his gee-whiz films and gee-whiz life-style. The man was straight out of
Ozzie and Harriet.
He didn’t smoke or drink or take drugs. He liked his mom, milkshakes, and his privacy. Matthew Wax was only nineteen years old when he directed his first TV series. He had gone on from there to helm five of the ten top grossing films in Hollywood history, including
and the highest grosser of them all,
Dennis the Dinosaur
. Estimates of his personal worth ran somewhere between $250 and $400 million, depending on who you talked to, and he wasn’t forty yet. In the other corner we had Pennyroyal Brim, the goody-goody star of his last three movies, the perky, dimply little twenty-five-year-old blonde who was so squeaky clean she made Lady Di look dirty. And so impossibly cute the public had fallen for her just as Matthew Wax had. She was Pretty Penny, America’s sweetie pie and
magazine’s most popular cover girl. Her adorable dimples were even insured by Lloyds of London for two million dollars—one million per dimple. Two years ago, she and Matthew Wax had tied the knot. For each it was their first. Six months ago, she had given birth to their first child, a healthy baby boy they named George Bailey Wax. “Little Georgie,” America’s cutest little mother called him. It was all right out of a storybook or, more appropriately, a Matthew Wax movie. Until the marriage abruptly fell apart a few weeks ago. Penny had filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences, most notably Matthew’s “personal and professional tyranny.” She wanted sole custody of Little Georgie and—given that they lived in California, land of golden sunshine and community property—one half of Matthew Wax’s entire fortune, including Bedford Falls, the independent movie studio he had purchased a few years before. Matthew’s counteroffer: joint custody of Little Georgie, the deed to their Pacific Palisades mansion, an undisclosed cash settlement believed to be around ten million dollars, and
share of Bedford Falls. That’s when it turned ugly.
She hired herself Abel Zorch, the meanest, most ballistic divorce attorney in Los Angeles, a flamboyantly gay bad-ass who loved the limelight so much he had his own full-time publicist. In an earlier life, Abel Zorch had been a hand-picked Nixon thug, a high-ranking young official in the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Unlike so many of the others, he’d been smart enough to leave no fingerprints behind when Watergate hit the fan. In fact, a number of well-informed people believed it was he who was Deep Throat. He quickly relocated in Hollywood. It proved to be a natural fit. A gifted go-between, deal maker, dispenser of favors, and trader of inside information, Zorch was now one of the most powerful men in the movie business, and certainly one of its most ruthless. Out there he was known as the Iguana—because of his personality and because he happened to look like one. No one liked to go up against him. To do so was to get Zorched. And that’s what was happening right now to Matthew Wax. Pretty Penny’s lawyer was destroying him. Day after day, nasty little items about Matthew’s carefully guarded private life were finding their way into the tabloids. Items about how he kept Penny a virtual prisoner in her own home. About how he was a Howard Hughes-like recluse who spent hundreds of hours at a stretch in a darkened room eating Fig Newtons and watching tapes of old movies and TV shows. About how he hated to bathe and refused to cut his toenails. And how he suffered from chronic premature ejaculation. And was hung up on his mother. And insisted on sleeping in twin beds because Beaver Cleaver’s parents had. On and on it went. And it would keep on going until Matthew backed down. But he wouldn’t. Instead, he had sued Pretty Penny for defamation of character. And withdrawn his settlement offer. He now wanted sole custody of Georgie, claiming Penny was an unfit mother. His basis for this: the very public affair she was carrying on with Trace Washburn, the fiftyish, ruggedly handsome leading man who had starred in a number of Matthew’s biggest hits and whose reputation as a filmland hound rivaled that of Warren Beatty. “Best sex I’ve ever had,” America’s sweetie pie had boasted to the world on page one of the
New York Post.
“It’s great to be with a real man for a change.”
The press was calling it the House of Wax.
The public couldn’t get enough of it.
For me, it was just another day at the office.
The security guard was big and blond and bulked up. He carried an old copy of the first novel,
Our Family Enterprise
, the one that prompted the
to label me “the first major new literary voice of the eighties.” The one that won me every award in existence, including Merilee Nash. I still have the awards someplace. Merilee is another story. My picture is on the back of the dust jacket. I’m standing on the roof of my brownstone looking awful goddamned sure of myself, and about nineteen.
He peered at it, then at me. “You’re Stewart Hoag?”
“I don’t know,” he said unsurely. “You look awful different here.”
“You would, too.”
“I guess this was taken a long time ago, huh?”
“Why don’t you take out your gun and finish the job?”
“No need to be touchy, mister. Just being careful. This way, please.” He started for the elevator, then stopped. He had noticed Lulu, my basset hound, for the first time. She was traveling incognito that season in the wraparound shades she’d taken to wearing when she picked up a dose of pinkeye while summering at Merilee’s farm. Her eyes were perfectly fine now. She’d kept on wearing the shades because she thought they made her look sexy. I thought they made her look like George Shearing.
“Is she with you?” the guard wanted to know.
“She is,” I replied. “But we still haven’t made any serious commitment to each other. If you want to take a crack at her, I won’t stand in your way.”
He started to say something. Nothing came out except for an exasperated grunt. I get a lot of those. The three of us got into the elevator and he punched eighteen. Then the doors closed and up we went.
To be honest, this wasn’t where I really wanted to be right now. Fiji was my first choice. Merilee was shooting a movie there with Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. I had stayed behind to work on novel number three. It’s a dirty job, but nobody’s got to do it. She also hadn’t invited me to come along with her. The two of them were playing turn-of-the-century Catholic nuns who fall in love with each other. Merilee didn’t think she could stay in character if I were there. Or so she’d said. The fact is we hadn’t been getting along too well lately. She’d been snappish, moody, distant. Something was troubling her. What, I didn’t know. She had left six weeks ago. For good, according to Liz Smith, who reported the very next day in
that we were no longer an item. Merilee and me, that is. I’d been dumped, said Liz. I didn’t know where she’d heard that. I didn’t know if it was true. Merilee wouldn’t answer any of my letters. I hadn’t heard one word from her since she left. Not even a postcard. I had kept good and busy though. So far I had generated a whopping seventy-five pages of tumid, overheated gibberish. Presently I was lost in a jungle of my own delusions with no compass and only a dull pocket knife to hack my way out with. That takes time, and time takes money. That’s why I was here to see Matthew Wax’s brother-in-law, Sheldon Selden, the president of Bedford Falls. My agent said he answered to Shelley. She didn’t say if he could also roll over and play dead, but she did say he was housebroken—a rarity among studio executives. She thought he sounded nice. They always do, when they want something from you.
When we got to the eighteenth floor my escort got out first and looked both ways down the long, carpeted corridor. Then we proceeded. There was another guard just like him parked outside the suite.
“Expecting a Libyan hit squad?” I asked.
“The Seldens always travel with security,” the one on the door replied.
“Do they need it?”
He rapped twice on the door and told me to go in. I went in. They stayed outside.
The living room was large and charmless. There was a fireplace, a terrace, and a lot of toys scattered about. Also two midget human life forms, one female, one male. The girl was about five, tanned and dark-haired. She wore a Bedford Falls sweatshirt, jeans, and hot pink nail polish, chipped. The boy wore a Dodgers warm-up suit. He was younger, maybe three, chubby and fair-haired. He squealed with delight at the sight of Lulu. Both of them made right for her. Lulu let out a low, unhappy moan. Something she picked up from me. Not that I mean to sound churlish. I don’t mind kids. I like them just fine—as long as they’re properly stuffed.