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Authors: Michael Tolkin

The Player

BOOK: The Player
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Praise for
The Player:

“One of the most wounding and satirical of all Hollywood exposes: dark and mordant … savage … A portrait of life among the high rollers and deal makers of a major Hollywood studio in the post—Golden Age. Unnerving … A nightmare rendered with icy dispassion.”

Los Angeles Times

“[A] surely crafted novel … that defines the machinery of moviedom in incisive vivid strokes … A winning black comedy.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Bizarre and brilliant … A grand guide through the private offices, board rooms, and restaurants where Hollywood deals—and throats—are cut.”

Boston Herald

“Deliciously amoral. Just like Hollywood; full of asides and in-jokes and wisecracks.”

The Washington Post Book World

“[A] memorably vivid Hollywood novel.”

Rolling Stone

“Reminiscent of
The Last Tycoon
… suspense keeps you flipping the pages.
The Player
is thoroughly convincing, both as a portrait of a power broker and as a depiction of the stratagems within the coterie that runs Tinseltown.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“An unusually classy mystery.”

The Plain Dealer

“Reverberates with the ghosts of Cain and Camus.”

Women's Wear Daily

“Gets inside Hollywood today…. What makes
The Player
such a standout work is that it examines the mind-set of the film industry and all its posturing behind the cameras…. It reveals a continuum of viciousness that seems indigenous to Hollywood.”

The San Diego Union

“A thoroughly up-to-date fable that maybe Kafka would have written if he'd been employed at MGM. The book has a sinister inevitability about it and it's probably as detailed an account of the contemporary Hollywood psyche as we're likely to find in current fiction. Anyone who has some connection with the film industry should get a big, knowing kick from the book and never be able to look at a studio executive in quite the same light again. Michael Tolkin just about convinces us that the devil is alive and well and hanging out at Morton's.”

—Bret Easton Ellis

“Icy irony and extreme accuracy.”

The Village Voice

“A scathingly funny tale … a corrosive novel of Hollywood hustling.”




The Return of the Player
Among the Dead
Under Radar
Three Screenplays: The Player,
The Rapture, The New Age


a novel by

Michael Tolkin

Copyright © 1988 by White Mountain Company

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, or the facilitation thereof, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

“Provide, Provide” copyright © 1936 by Robert Frost. Copyright © 1964 by Lesley Frost Ballantine. Copyright © 1969 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Reprinted from
The Poetry of Robert Frost
edited by Edward Connery Lathem, by permission of Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

“To the Film Industry in Crisis” copyright © 1957 by Frank O'Hara.
Reprinted by permission of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

Published simultaneously in Canada
Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Tolkin, Michael.
The player: a novel/by Michael Tolkin
I. Title.
PS3570.042781P55      1988      813′.54—dc19         87-33478
eBook ISBN-13: 978-1-5558-4747-0

Design by Laura Hough

Grove Press
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
841 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Distributed by Publishers Group West

This book was written with the good counsel
Wendy Mogel and Louis Breger

This book is dedicated
Horace Beck and Olga Smyth,
two fine teachers

The witch that came (the withered hag)
To wash the steps with pail and rag
Was once the beauty Abishag,

The picture pride of Hollywood.
Too many fall from great and good
For you to doubt the likelihood.

Die early and avoid the fate.
Or if predestined to die late,
Make up your mind to die in state.

Make the whole stock exchange your own!
If need be occupy a throne,
Where nobody can call

Some have relied on what they knew,
Others on being simply true.
What worked for them might work for you.

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard
Or keeps the end from being hard.

Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide

Robert Frost,

Provide, Provide”

Not you, lean quarterlies and swarthy periodicals with your studious incursions toward the pomposity of ants, nor you, experimental theatre in which Emotive Fruition is wedding Poetic Insight perpetually, nor you, promenading Grand Opera, obvious as an ear (though you are close to my heart), but you, Motion Picture Industry it's you I love

In times of crisis, we must all decide again and again whom we love.

Frank O'Hara,

To the Film Industry in Crisis”



Just as Griffin suspected, there was a meeting in Levison's office without him. From the path outside the administration building he could see the back of Levison's couch on the second floor. Was the meeting over? Levison was shaking hands with someone; Griffin couldn't see who it was. He knew he was watching the end of his job. He debated whether he should go to his office or return to the screening room he'd just left. He could use the phone there to call Jan, his secretary, for messages. If he went straight to his office, he would pass Levison's, and he didn't want Celia, Levison's secretary to see him in this moment of shame. Well it is shame, he thought.

He stared at the notebook in his hands and hated Levison for putting it there. Levison had asked him to watch the directing debut of a British producer, an old friend. And out of respect for Levison and his friendships, Griffin had made a careful assessment of the film, since Levison said he hadn't time to see it before a meeting with the director. Did Levison really care about the film or his old friend? Not enough to screen the thing for himself. Twenty-one minutes into the movie, Griffin could have stopped it, because not enough had happened. He had stayed in the screening room to hide, because he knew that Levison needed him, literally, in the dark for a few hours. Griffin was used to hiding at the right moment. Once he had gone to Paris to hide, when a film he had supervised was coming out. The
film was terrible, and he wanted to avoid the blame. That was only last year, when he had been heir apparent. Everyone thought Levison was finished, but Levison held on.

He went back to the screening room. When he opened the door, he saw the production staff of a television show about to watch the film they had shot the day before. He didn't know anyone's name, but they all knew his. He apologized for interrupting them, someone asked if he wanted to stay. It was a transparent flattery, and he closed the door. The room across the hall was empty. He called Jan.

“Griffin Mill's office.”

“It's me.” He sounded weak, something caught in his throat.

“You got another postcard. Maybe I should call Walter Stuckel.” Stuckel was head of studio security.

“What does this one say?”

He waited while Jan went through the pile of mail on her desk. “It says, ‘You said you'd get back to me. I'm still waiting.'”

“What's the picture?”

“It's a joke card. There's a wagon pulled by mules, and in the wagon there's this huge watermelon. It's some kind of a trick picture. It says, ‘We grow' em big in Texas.' Come on, Griffin, let me call Walter.”

“No. A watermelon? I think I know who it is.”

“Tell me.”

“If I tell you, you'll tell Celia, and then everyone will know.”

“So what, whoever it is who sends these cards looks like the jerk, not you.”

“Trust me, it's contagious.”

“What is, looking like a fool?”

“Yes. Besides, I know who it is, it's either Aaron Jonas or Steve Baylen, probably Baylen.”

“No,” said Jan, “I don't think the cards are coming from an agent, I think your secret correspondent is a writer. If you ask me.”

Griffin knew it was a writer. The cards began about four weeks ago, a few a week, and yesterday, one of them appeared in his mailbox at home. It was in his pocket now. He supposed he had been followed home. Friends have my address, he thought, but this isn't from a friend. Why hadn't he called Walter Stuckel? Why was he so scared of him?

“Jan, trust me, this is some jerk friend of mine playing a stupid game. Let's change the subject. Any calls?”

“There's a meeting of all the department heads in Levison's office. You weren't invited.”

“That's not a call.”

“I thought you should know.”

“Am I out?”

“Who knows?”

They said good-bye.

It was March, and when Griffin stepped out of the editors' building, the streets between the soundstages were empty. He wasn't sure why, but the idea that in this stillness lay all that was Hollywood excited him; he was almost embarrassed by this excitement over nothing, because there were no hordes of Indians and armies of Napoleon wandering around the lot, there was no sense of activity. Almost everyone said they hated the harsh yellow light that bounced off the high walls of the stages, but Griffin was not depressed by this calm. He liked the way he always separated into parts in the worst of the midday sun. It reminded him of marijuana, the pleasant terror of getting stoned in the middle of the day, of marching in step with the significance of things. Hot bright noons in Burbank were a kind of cosmic experience for him, because
they were pointless, because the only tonic for the light, which was, in some sense, redemption's gleam, was money, work, authority. In what sense? he asked himself. In the sense that if Judgment Day is the only reason for conscience, then the bad feeling stirred by the light is an echo of some ultimate regret.

Now he was mad at this writer who had been sending him postcards. He took yesterday's card from his pocket. Paris Nightlife, the Eiffel Tower surrounded by cameos showing the Moulin Rouge, a fountain, Notre Dame. And the message. Typed, so the thin plastic coating of the card was broken, rippled: “You said you'd get back to me. We had a meeting, I told you my idea, you said you wanted to think about it, and you said that you'd get back to me. Well?”

The first postcard had come with a short message: “You said you'd get back to me.” The handwriting was even, the letters a bit high and slanted but not eccentric, they were carefully spaced; it was like the impersonally romantic script of a love letter seen close-up in a movie. The postcard was probably from the early 1950s, a woman on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, under a bright orange umbrella. She wore extravagant sunglasses and a tortured smile. Griffin thought she would be happy that a Hollywood bigwig was finally looking at her. A few days later another postcard arrived, a glossy shot of the Eiffel Tower. The message was, “I'm waiting for your call.” The day after that the third card came, with only one word. “Well?” The card was a picture of
a shortened version of the Boeing 747.

BOOK: The Player
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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