For Hannah Fairchild, jaded Hollywood trust fund baby and aspiring astronomer, life as she knows it (financially secure, albeit emotionally frail) goes out of orbit when her father -- the larger-than-life legendary actor and playboy, Leo Fairchild -- drops dead while making love to a nineteen year-old C-list television starlet. Not only has Leo's conniving fourth wife frozen Hannah's trust fund -- putting a pinch on her ability to gaze at the only stars she feels are worth watching -- but the grieving widow has also been having an affair with Hannah's indie producer boyfriend.
Faced with Rodeo Drive credit card bills that rivals the national debt, Hannah is forced to put her planet search project on hold while she takes the job of personal assistant to British actor and People's "Sexiest Man Alive," Louis Trollope. Because Louis is just as egotistical, self-centered, insecure, demanding, flirtatious -- and yes, irresistible -- as her father had been, Hannah is determined to keep him and his super-model girlfriend, bad boy entourage, and over-sexed agent at arm's length. Besides, she's falling in love with his best friend, the screenwriter Mick Bradshaw.
"Brown captures the humor of working for a megalomaniac...A well-paced, entertaining story." --Publishers Weekly
"The tone is confessional, the writing laced with venomous humor." -- Wall Street Journal
"A fine piece of literary work." -- New York Post, Page Six
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CHAPTER ONE: BLACK HOLE
When a star appreciably larger than the Sun has exhausted all of its nuclear fuel, it will collapse to form a black hole—“black" because no light escapes its intense gravity.
In the Hollywood you know, here’s how the world ends:
The ice caps melt.
A meteor hits the earth.
In the Hollywood I know, here’s how my world ended:
I buried the only man I ever loved: my father.
I discovered that my boyfriend of the past two years was a lying cheating louse.
And the money that had allowed me to pursue my one and only passion—astronomy—vaporized into thin air.
And it all happened in less than 72 hours.
I guess I should start at the beginning. And since this story takes place in the land of fairy tales, I’ll give you the fairy tale version first, courtesy of Hollywood’s official newspaper, Daily Variety:
* * * *
The King Is Dead
Leo Fairchild, the most charismatic film actor of the latter part of the 20th century, has died. By most accounts, he was sixty-eight.
Fairchild succumbed to a heart attack late Thursday night at his palatial Bel-Air estate, Lion’s Den. His fourth wife, former actress Sybilla Lawson, and his daughter, Hannah, were at his side. He was pronounced dead at 1:50 A.M. at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, said his attorney, Jasper Carlton. A private memorial is planned for today.
"Leo Fairchild was a true original," said a bereaved Jack Nicholson, a contemporary with whom Fairchild shared adjoining courtside seats at Los Angeles Lakers basketball games. "He had that special magic, that elusive alchemy that convinced audiences he was their hero, their best buddy, that noble guy we all wished we could be . . .”
Leo X. Fairchild started out as a child actor in the 1940s, working with such esteemed directors as William Wyler, John Huston, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and Billy Wilder. While the adoring spotlight fades on most child actors by the time they enter their teen years, Fairchild—tall, fair, and possessing a square-jawed handsomeness—matured seamlessly into a boyish teen heartthrob, then took on roles that seemed to mirror his personal escapades as a playboy raconteur, for which he won three Golden Globe Awards and two Academy Awards.
Fairchild's celebrity continued to burn brightly through the 1960s cinematic auteur era—he was a favored leading man for such directors as François Truffaut, Bernardo Bertolucci, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese—and into the 21st century, as he played muse to such pop-culture-infused art house giants as Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, John Woo, and M. Night Shyamalan.
Fairchild leaves prolific credits, some of cinema’s most memorable moments, and—if the tabloids are to be believed—a string of broken hearts . . .
* * * *
However, not exactly accurate—at least, not the part of how Leo died. I’d like to set the record straight, here and now:
First of all, my dad, Leo Fairchild, was called to meet his Maker while he was screwing the latest love of his life—a 19-year-old starlet currently playing the eldest, ditziest daughter in a Disney Family Network sitcom—at that legendary celebrity hangout, the Chateau Marmont.
The staff there was able to convince the other hotel guests that the hysterical, high-pitched shrieks emanating from his playmate were in fact the whimpers of Sharon Osbourne’s pooch Minnie, which, they insisted, was in a nearby suite, being supervised by Hollywood’s most renowned canine midwife while giving natural birth.
Then, as a pacifier, they offered the human whiners a suite upgrade or a complimentary massage, whichever they preferred.
By doing so, Marmont staffers were guaranteed that the inquisitive guests were preoccupied while the starlet—her screeches stifled amid stiff gulps of an expertly mixed French 75—was whisked out of Leo’s suite, down the back stairwell, and into a waiting Humvee limousine. At the same time, Leo was being bagged and tagged by discreet personnel of the renowned Hollywood Forever Cemetery before taking his last ride in a limo. (You’ve got to hand it to the hotel’s staff: no one handles a celebrity death like those folks. Just another example of how practice makes perfect.)
Second, it is true that his current wife, Sybilla Lawson—a former beauty queen who considered herself an actress because of one walk-on she had in a ’90s made-for-TV movie—was at Lion’s Den, Leo’s obscenely humongous Roman-Greco palace in Bel-Air, which she insisted he build for them. Considering her usual martini-induced state of unconsciousness, however, if Leo had indeed died there, it might have been another 16 hours or so until she’d discovered him—and that is a really big maybe, given her propensity to stay in her bedroom for days on end and her assumption that any other prostrate bodies lying around were also suffering the slings and arrows of an outrageous hangover.
And, to my regret, I wasn’t at Leo’s side either. Quite frankly, he had been dodging me for the past month, texting lame excuses for ducking out of our weekly Thursday-night dinner dates at the Sunset Lounge. And thanks to his cell’s caller ID, he could easily ignore my many concerned voice messages. I couldn’t figure out why, although I had some inkling: He didn’t know how to tell me that he’d decided to pass on the project pitched to him by my current boyfriend, Jean-Claude, a fledgling (albeit fully financed) independent producer of French-German-Swiss-Hungarian extraction.
Leo was wary of any man-boy I brought home. This made sense when I first started dating. After all, like most daughters, for the most part I chose guys who were anti-Leos. Having moved through my fair share of slackers, nerds, and pseudo-intellectuals—none of whom earned more than a derisive sigh from Leo—I took it up a notch and began dating third-rate actors: all sincere dudes and hard workers to the one, but they were still guys who were never destined to score beyond the second male lead in a made-for-TV movie, or be the nameless “Man in Video Store” or “UPS Man” in blockbuster films employing casts of thousands.
“Hannah, my darling,” Leo would sigh. “If you’re going to date someone in the industry, at least find someone who’ll earn the right to share our legacy.”
Translation: find a guy whom Leo would be proud to call his son-in-law.
I thought that was what I was doing when I started dating Jean-Claude: handsome, wealthy, European, and itching to get involved in producing small films with meaningful messages. However, Leo thought (although he didn’t say it in so many words) that Jean-Claude was just another Eurotrash hanger-on looking for a free ride; that I was playing Lisa Marie to Jean-Claude’s Nick Cage—which, once again, made Leo the King in that scenario.
Still, I denied this vehemently and clung to Jean-Claude, knowing we would someday prove Leo wrong.
Ironically, the night Leo died, it was Jean-Claude who gave me the news.
“Where are you, Hannah?” he asked tersely.
I was annoyed because he should have known the answer to that: not three hours earlier, bored listening to him and his expat buddies with obscure royal titles and dwindling bank accounts commiserate under a murky L.A. sky about the stuck-up L.A. women promenading poolside at Skybar (specifically, the ladies ignoring their well-worn pickup lines), I quite distinctly remember telling him that I was going to head over to the Griffith Observatory with my telescope. Whenever I could get away (which, considering Jean-Claude’s predilection for barhopping, translated into every night of the week) I went planet hunting—that is, seeking out undiscovered planets circling suns in other galaxies.
My current target was the red dwarf star known as AU Microscopium—or “Mic,” as we called it—which was moving in tandem through the galaxy with its sister star, beta-Pictoris, through the constellation Saturn. For nearly a year, I had spent every spare evening glued to the eyepiece of my telescope, watching that particular patch of ebony sky and carefully measuring every wiggle or flicker emanating from Mic for proof that some yet unnamed celestial body—a new planet—was in fact shadowing it.
This “silly little hobby” (Jean-Claude’s declaration, not mine) was something he indulged me—particularly if there was enough eye candy to distract him from my absence.
His frantic call put an end to all that.
“It’s Leo,” Jean-Claude said, in a dire tone. “I think you’d better get over here as fast as possible.”
“Where? Skybar?” I was confused. It was a wannabe’s hangout, not one of the usual watering holes that established players like Leo often frequented.
“No—uh, Lion’s Den,” he murmured distractedly. “Look, I don’t have time to explain. Please—” he choked—“just get here!” He then heaved a soft sigh into the phone, and hung up.
That was how I came to realize that my father had finally left me for good.
I didn’t jump into my car immediately but instead kept my eye on Mic. It seemed to quiver ever so slightly. At least, I thought so. Then again, through all my tears, it was hard to tell.
* * * *
Leo’s memorial service was held at dusk in the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Crystal Garden. The setting sun’s soft rays, bouncing off the hotel’s pale pink stucco walls, provided a healthy glow to the complexions of the many stars in attendance.
No doubt that was greatly appreciated.
True to the claims that Leo had been “a thespian bridge between Hollywood’s Silver Screen era and that of a newer, rawer epoch in filmmaking” (not my proclamation, but that of Premiere), the turnout was a Hollywood Who’s Who: Barbra was there (in classic black Karan, of course), as were Nicole, Renée and Charlize (in funeral frocks provided by Prada, Lacroix, and Marc Jacobs, respectively); the two Toms (Hanks and Cruise); Nicholson, Pacino, De Niro, Scorsese, as well as the two Stevens (Spielberg and Soderbergh), and both the Coen and the Farrelly brothers. Also milling about was every up-and-coming actor, mobster, gangsta/rap singer-cum-actor, Playboy bunny, limo driver, bartender and waiter who had ever crossed Leo’s path.
The eulogies were touching and numerous. Everyone had a “Leo” story. Both Toms waxed poetically about being “discovered” by Leo, and how his mentorship had changed their lives, while Madonna sobbed, albeit dry-eyed, “He was like a father to me.” (Of course, this immediately gave credence to the old rumor that the two had been more than “just friends” in her romantic hiatus between Sean and Warren in the summer of ’89.) Everyone’s head nodded in unison, leaving one with the impression that the “grand-père of cinema” (Newsweek) had mentored, bullied or screwed his way into the heart of anyone who had ever stepped foot on a studio lot.
Having relieved the semi-comatose Sybilla from the process of planning and coordinating Leo’s funeral, I had not yet allowed myself the opportunity to acknowledge my own grief. By the time Warren and Gene began rhapsodizing on and on about some ill-fated bad boy shenanigan that the three of them had attempted during some on-location shoot in which Leo was once again the cockeyed hero, I couldn’t contain myself anymore; I let my tears fall freely along with everyone else’s.
(Well, admittedly, most of the puffy eyes in the crowd were from the many eyelifts that had been performed that week. Still, it’s the thought that counts.)
Long after the final guests had successfully maneuvered the paparazzi gauntlet and been whisked away via remotely-summoned limos, and after said paparazzi had finally snapped their final photos (including some of the catfight between Sybilla and the Disney Channel junior diva, which Jean-Claude was kind enough to break up), and after the waterworks display put on by Wife #3, a former soap opera diva, had finally trickled out (ironically, just seconds after the CNN cameraman had packed up his gear), I finally had the chance to collapse in anguish.
I stumbled into the private hospitality cottage that had been rented in tandem with the Crystal Garden for use by the bereaved. At first it appeared that the small but elegant space was totally empty. As it turns out, it wasn’t. Sybilla had also decided to take her consolation there. I knew this because I could hear her wailing in the cottage’s bedroom.
I sighed. In truth, I didn’t like the woman. While wooing Leo, she had been sickeningly sweet to me, hoping to inspire me to be her ally in that cause. I hadn’t obliged. I’d had my reservations about her, but I’d never shared them with Leo because he was a big boy and could make up his own mind in that matter, with or without my blessing.
To my chagrin, once they married, she did her best to keep the two of us from seeing each other, or else she readily excused herself from our get-togethers. So as not to feel like a third wheel, Jean-Claude made it a point to bow out as well, which is probably why our Thursday-night dinners were so comfortable—that is, until Jean-Claude made it his life mission to produce Leo’s next movie, which is why Leo made it his goal to avoid Jean-Claude’s entreaties in every possible way.
Speaking of Jean-Claude, where was he? I wondered. Sybilla’s wailing was excruciating. Since the moment she had heard of Leo’s death, Jean-Claude had taken it upon himself to give her a shoulder to cry on, so I couldn’t really blame him for finally ducking out.
I tapped gingerly on the bedroom door. No answer. I tried again, a little bolder this time. Her convulsions only grew louder.
Wow, I thought. I guess she really did love Leo!
That was where I was wrong. Peeking through the bedroom door, I was able to confirm that, yes, Sybilla was hysterical with emotion—however, it was the ecstatic kind that only happens when you’re enjoying illicit wild monkey sex with someone who makes it his business to play women as if they were Stradivarius violins.
That virtuoso was none other than Jean-Claude.
Both of them looked up at the same time. It was as if the three of us were suspended in a time warp. Then, in slow motion, the desire in their faces melted into guilt. Still, it was no match for my own look of horror, I’m sure.
I ran out the front door, ignoring Jean-Claude’s pleas as he grappled with the pants tangled at his feet. He caught up with me as I was unlocking my car door. “Hannah, please—” he stuttered. “It’s not at all what you think!”
“What, are you crazy?” I screamed. “I know exactly what was happening in there.”
“I was just—consoling her! It meant nothing, I swear!”
“It may have meant nothing to you, but she was sure enjoying herself! Believe me, Jean-Claude, that was no performance. Sybilla isn’t that good of an actress.”
He nodded resignedly. “All-right, Hannah, you want the truth, you’ll have it: Sybilla and I—we love each other.”
“You—you what? Since when?”
The thought suddenly struck me: Had Leo known about it?
“I won’t lie to you. We’ve been in love for quite some time. We were just waiting—well, for the right time to tell you.”
“And Leo, too?” I spat out the words.
He frowned. “Yes, we were going to tell the both of you.”
I couldn’t speak. It was as if someone had knocked the air out of me. Finally I murmured, “When would that have been? After he completed your film?”
Jean-Claude didn’t answer.
“Well, then maybe he was right not to want to do it.”
“Don’t be so sure he wouldn’t have. Sybilla would have talked him into it.”
I winced at the inference: that she could have made Leo do something that I could not.
“In fact, we were planning it as a comeback vehicle for her, too.”
“For Sybilla?” The thought was so ludicrous that I laughed in spite of my anger. “Why, she couldn’t act her way into an infomercial! Marriage to Leo saved her from having to be turned down for—for a position as a QVC hostess!”
“You’re cruel, Hannah.” With that, he turned and walked back toward the cottage. I wanted to call out—I don’t know, I guess I wanted to curse him, curse them both . . . or, maybe, ask him what I had done wrong to deserve this.
Instead I got into my car and fumbled to put the key in the lock. I couldn’t quite keep my hand from shaking in order to achieve that goal, so instead I sat silently, watching the fronds on the stately palm trees scattered throughout the hotel’s lawn rustle to and fro from the gentle breeze blowing in from the ocean.
My cell phone beeped. The caller ID showed that it was Jean-Claude calling. A shiver of hope ran through me: Maybe it was all just a big mistake, a bad, stupid dream! Maybe he realized how much he’d hurt me, how much I really meant to him. Maybe—
I clicked it open.
“Hannah, my sweet—” Sybilla.
I almost dropped the phone. “What do you want, you conniving bitch?”
“Just to warn you,” she cooed. “The will is being read tomorrow, and if I were you, I wouldn’t make any trouble.”
“Don’t threaten me, you two-timing stepmother-fucking whore.”
“Ouch. That hurt—you, dearest, and tomorrow you’ll find out exactly what I mean.”
The line went dead.
It was my turn to wail, which I did: loudly, angrily, and only because I knew that the chorus of sprinklers humming up and down the hotel’s emerald lawn was drowning out my sobs.
* * * *
The bereavement calls came in all night. No matter who it was from—one of my dad’s many friends, acquaintances, enemies, ex-wives, former girlfriends, new girlfriends, etcetera, etcetera—it started out the same way: asking me if there was anything, anything at all that they could do for me. . .
Very, very kind.
Within a sentence or two, however, they’d choke up as they reminisced about the first time they ever met Leo. Then the sniffling began, at which point the tables were turned, and I was now consoling the caller: “That’s okay, Matt—” (or Brad, or Tobey, or Meryl, or Sharon or whomever).“Oh, I know, I know. He was the greatest. He always loved you, too. Yes, really! He mentioned you all the time. . . Yes, I know, he was like a father to you, too. I guess we can console ourselves that, Leo being Leo, is charming the pants off a different crowd now. . . ” . . . or something to that effect.
Sometime between the second and the seventh call, I got smart and decanted a bottle of Château Lynch-Bages 2000 Pauillac (Leo’s cardinal rule: a good hostess stocks her bar with at least one $100 dollar bottle of wine) and I allowed myself to take a sip before picking up the phone each time.
The final call came about ten o’clock at night. By then the bottle was long gone, and I no longer felt the obligation to man the Mother Teresa hotline, so I let it ring. But whoever was calling wouldn’t give it a break. I finally resigned myself to that fact and picked up the phone.
“Hannah, I’m glad you’re home. It’s Jasper.” Jasper Carlton is—was—Leo’s attorney. He is also the third and only Carlton of the venerable old Beverly Hills law firm of Franklin, Carlton, Gregory, Churchill, Carlton and Carlton who is still living and breathing. As such, in Hollywood his representation is like a rare stock, or akin to buying a thousand shares of Microsoft in ’82; in other words, golden.
I felt an immense flood of relief. I didn’t know what Sybilla had up her sleeve, but whatever it was, if there was someone who could launch a successful counterattack, it was certainly Jasper.
There was another reason I was glad to hear his voice on the other end of the phone: I hadn’t yet taken the opportunity to thank Jasper for his unwavering loyalty to Leo all these many years, despite my father’s errant behavior, including the now legendary tiffs with studio heads, the public bickering and estate plundering by Leo’s four wives, and his innumerable affairs, including the one that had led to the birth of Leo’s “one and only love child” (my most unfortunate nickname, courtesy of Star magazine) with the one woman whom he hadn’t married: my mother, Journey Sterling.
In many ways, Jasper is not your typical Beverly Hills lawyer, although that isn’t evident by his trendy attire. His suits may be Brioni (his one concession to a client base that considered itself cutting edge), but his heart is very much classic Brooks Brothers, and it showed in the formality and honesty with which he treated his clients.
“Jasper, I’m glad you called,” I whispered, my voice breaking. “More than anyone, you were always there for Leo, and I thank you for that.”
Obviously touched by my kind words, Jasper sighed. “Don’t be so quick to thank me, kiddo.”
“What do you mean?”
“About eighteen months ago, when you first started dating that French fellow—”
“Yes, that guy. I saw him at the funeral today.”
I laughed harshly. “Well, you don’t have to worry about him any more, Jasper.”
“I know,” he answered, pointedly.
I blushed hotly, glad that Jasper couldn’t see me through the phone. “How?”
“I’ll get to that. As I started to say, about eighteen months ago, Leo came in to see me. To change his will.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Apparently he was upset, thought this lad was trying to take advantage of you. He felt that, in order to protect you, he should make some changes to your trust fund.”
“What—what kind of changes?” Suddenly I felt cold. I sat down, hard. Thank goodness there was actually a chair behind me.
“Your trust was to continue only until his death.” Jasper let this sink in.
I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t known that Leo had felt so strongly about Jean-Claude. In fact, I had assumed we had cleared whatever hurdles had stood between the two men in my life. Obviously I had been wrong.
And once again, Leo had read the situation right.
Jasper continued. “Well, last week he came into my office again, requesting that I draw up another new will. In it, you were to be included again. Sybilla was going to be cut out.”
“I think I know why,” I muttered.
“Yes, I can imagine. Neither Sybilla nor Jean-Claude seems to have a discreet bone in their bodies.”
So, Leo had known after all! I dropped my head, ashamed at my own naiveté.
“However, Hannah, he never got around to signing it.”
“What? What does that mean?”
“For right now, it means that the current Mrs. Leo Fairchild will inherit his full estate. However, you would have every right to contest that will.”
“I can’t even think about that now, Jasper. It’s—it’s just too soon.”
“I know, kiddo. I just wanted you to be aware of the true situation before the will is read tomorrow.”
“So that’s what she meant.”
“Sybilla. I—I just found out about them today, I mean her and Jean-Claude. She told me not to ‘make waves,’ or else I’d regret it.”
“Sounds like she knows she’ll have to accept a settlement of some sort,” he answered thoughtfully. “Still, I think that under the circumstances, we’re going to have to move fast. I’ll ask the court to freeze whatever assets there are. But the way your stepmother is already spending it, there may not be much left when all is said and done. Which brings us to a very important question: how are you fixed for money?”
I grimaced. “My rent is paid up for the month, but it’s slim pickings after that.”
I didn’t mention that I’d recently splurged on my new convertible Beetle with all the bells and whistles, along with a summer wardrobe from Fred Segal to go with it; or that I was still paying off the $4,000 I’d borrowed for my telescope, lenses, mount and other stargazing paraphernalia. “I haven’t exactly been very frugal, I guess. And you know I don’t have a job. I’ve been concentrating on my planet hunting.”
Jasper cleared his throat, which I interpreted to mean that he viewed my astronomy project as just another harebrained example of TFB (trust fund baby) busywork.
“Can you type?”
“Sure, slowly, with my index fingers.”
His silence spoke volumes.
“I see myself more as a people person,” I backpedaled brightly. “You know, hostess with the mostess. And I’m great with details.”
“I know. You came through like a champ in planning Leo’s funeral. I can’t even imagine how things would have gone off if that addle-brained stepmother of yours had taken the reins.
You know, Hannah, I always felt you were the one thing in Leo’s life that made him proud. You were his anchor, whether he was willing to admit it to himself or not.”
A knot formed in my throat. Jasper’s kind words made me both happy and sad at the thought of Leo. “So, what do you have in mind, Jasper?”
“I’ve got a new client who needs some help. Don’t worry, it’s not a lot of office work. His manager can make arrangements to handle that kind of stuff.”
I silently waited for the punch line.
“What he needs is a gopher—you know, someone who can run errands for him, help him run lines, be on the set with him to make sure he’s got everything he needs—”
“You want me to babysit an actor?”
“Well, yes, in a way. You’d be his personal assistant.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Are you serious?”
“Frankly, yes I am. It’s Louis Trollope. You know, the one they call the new British heartthrob. He’s a young Hugh Grant, but with a Colin Farrell edge.”
“Colin is Irish.”
“That’s beside the point, my dear. The point I’m trying to make is that Louis is hot right now; the wet dream of the month. And because of who you are, you’d be perfect for the position: you won’t be star-struck, you understand the importance of discretion, you can’t be intimated—”
“You can say that again.” My mind flashed on all the screaming matches I’d had with Leo. In most cases I had stood firm, to his chagrin. Of course, those times had usually ended with me hiding in a bathroom, upchucking my pent-up inclinations to run, hide, and cry myself to sleep over our colliding obstinacy.
“And—” Jasper continued, “you’re already familiar with actors and their—well, let’s just call it their ‘idiosyncrasies.’ ”
“I don’t know if that’s a compliment or a slap in the face.”
“It’s neither. It’s just a fact of your life. So, why not capitalize on it?”
I saw his point, but I didn’t exactly like it.
Sure, I could handle whatever some up-and-coming actor could throw at me; if Leo had given me nothing else, he had given me a ringside seat on high-profile notoriety. But that had been a living hell. Now that I was free of it, why would I want to relive history with a cardboard copy of Leo?
I wasn’t that desperate. At least, I hoped I wasn’t.
I let loose a loud sigh. It had been an exhausting week, and I was ready for it to be over. “I don’t know, Jasper. I really don’t think I’m cut out for it. But thanks for thinking about me.” My lack of sincerity was palpable, I’m sure.
“I understand, sweetie, believe me I do. But the money is decent—six thousand a month—and it won’t be forever, just however long it takes for Leo’s estate to be straightened out. If anything, the hubbub around this kid might help you keep your mind off of it. And he’s not a bad sort—at least, not yet, anyway. You might actually enjoy yourself.” He paused. “Take a day or two to think about it. If you change your mind, call Svetlana in my office, and she’ll email over exactly what you need to know about the job. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to keep Leo’s widow at bay.”
“You’re very sweet to be concerned about me, Jasper. But don’t hold your breath.” With that, I said good-bye.
And pulled the phone out of the wall in silent protest.
Then I walked over to my telescope. Peering through the lens, I suddenly realized that I was too dizzy to be standing up, and so I stumbled off to bed.
The good news: If I was going to get wasted, at least it was happening on a $100 bottle of red.
The bad news: It was probably the last expensive bottle of wine I’d ever drink.
* * * *
Here’s the part where you get my backstory:
Let me start off by saying that it’s not easy being a trust fund baby. First of all, everyone naturally assumes you're lazy because you don't have to work in order to make your rent money.
In most cases, that is so wrong. Of course, many of us work! It's just that we are usually working at something that doesn't come with a salary attached. I mean, many TFBs are struggling actors, artists or musicians.
And a lot of us do charity stuff (in other words, those who can’t, volunteer.) We TFBs put the "junior" in Junior League, regardless of our age.
My own form of hereditary atonement is astronomy research for UCLA: I do mapping of late-type stars that are found at the center of the galaxy. And because I’m a volunteer, it's initially assumed I'm a saint—that is, until people find out that I'm the daughter of Leo Fairchild, and then they change their minds based on a new assumption: that I'm too stupid to use my family’s connections or trade on my illustrious name to get a real job.
Well, they’re wrong. I'm not too stupid. I'm just too stubborn.
Maybe that’s because I’ve always felt that my birth was in fact an accident, the result of too much hashish and a defective condom shared between a man old enough to know better (Leo was forty-two at the time) and a girl young enough to be his daughter: Journey, my mother, who was all of nineteen.
I must admit, when he heard he was going to be a proud papa, he did try to do right by us. At the time, he was between wives (numbers One and Two), so why not?
But hey, it was the late ’70s, and a chant murmured in a Mount Tam redwood grove at sunrise in front of a bunch of stoned acolytes does not a union make—at least, that was the conclusion Leo reached just prior to my first birthday. So he offered Journey her freedom (“It wasn’t our karma, sweetheart”), along with generous child support for me.
He deduced, quite rightly, that my mother was not the kind to make palimony waves. She left Los Angeles for Northern California without a backward glance. In truth, she couldn’t stomach the industry. Her love beads and New Age values were out of place with the true Hollywood: lies, doublespeak and business-as-usual backstabbing.
Besides, Leo’s wandering eye hurt even more than his callous dismissal of their union.
For the first sixteen years of my life, I lived with Journey on a tiny houseboat docked along the Sausalito waterfront, a pseudo-bohemian enclave that welcomed free spirits with open arms. For a little kid, it was a virtual play land: our homes—made out of anything that could float, from tugboats to abandoned barges to hobbled-together skiffs—were anchored so closely together that we could play tag by hopping from one gangplank to another.
We appreciated that our parents were, for the most part, big kids, too: artists, musicians, writers, poets and activists who were not tied to work schedules or deadlines, laughed at conformity, and deviated from mainstream answers in favor of any and all alternatives.
There was a caveat, however: while encouraging our own sense of freedom, adventure and experimentation, they expected us to accept it wholeheartedly from them as well.
By the time I became a teenager, I was finding this harder and harder to do. To Journey, I wasn’t merely her child, but also her soul mate, pal and confidante. I was always expected to be there: panhandling alongside her at the ferry terminal as the nine-to-five commuters were on their way to work in San Francisco’s financial district, or hawking Journey’s handicrafts—poorly made candles, painted rocks, and recycled denim made into tiny purses—at the dusty Marin City Flea Market, whenever Leo’s monthly stipend ran out, which it did all too often, particularly after one of Journey’s infamous monthly houseboat parties, where the thick pot haze did little to obscure the pairing-off of errant spouses or significant others.
When I turned thirteen and asked Journey if I could join her in a toke, she made a big deal out of my request, insisting that we throw a “joint mitzvah” to celebrate the occasion. All I remember about it was how ill I was afterward—and how Journey was too stoned to wake up and comfort me.
By my fifteenth birthday, I’d had enough of Journey’s way of life. I now had a thirst to know more about how others lived—specifically, my father, beyond what I had gleaned from his old movies, tabloid clippings and our too few daddy-daughter phone conversations and my occasional visits to his many homes in the Southland.
All my life I had been taking care of Journey. Now I wanted someone to take care of me.
She was not all that open to my suggestion that I live with Leo until I turned eighteen. “Despite being a total shit head, he is your legacy. But still—”
“I know all that. But he’s also half of who I am. Shouldn’t I give him a chance to be something different, at least to me?”
Neither of us thought that there was a snowball’s chance in hell he’d agree to my scheme. I mean, who would want a goonishly tall, gawky, pimply, flat-chested Jane Austen-enthralled teenage girl with crooked teeth and terrier-like hair hanging around the house? Particularly when the average age of his current flock of busty, burnished and blond girlfriends was twenty-three: for sure legal, but still young enough to trade clothes, CDs, and secrets with his daughter.
You could have knocked both Journey and me over with a feather when, through his assistant, Tammy, I got the word to “Come on down to L.A.” Journey bought my ticket on Southwest the very next day.
The morning I flew out of San Francisco was cold and foggy. An hour later I departed the plane into brilliant sunshine, my eyes blinking to adjust as I hopped into the waiting limo Leo had sent to pick me up. I felt like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.
That adjustment took three years, and Leo made it a truly eye-opening experience: Not only was I versed on how to choose fine wines, tie a tuxedo bow tie, and tell a great script from a real stinker but I also learned how to lie with a straight face to his agent, his latest director, the press, studio heads and, most importantly, to Leo’s various and sundry girlfriends.
Leo marveled, “Honey, you’re a chip off the old block. A natural-born liar!”
Although on the surface his compliments seemed more heartfelt than backhanded, they really weren't.
I also learned that I, too, was not immune to Leo’s duplicity, which usually occurred when I needed him most. My 104-degree fever and strep throat couldn’t keep him from a Lakers game, although he claimed he had to “stay late on the set” and sent Tammy in his place to take me to the hospital. (There I was in my hospital bed, flipping channels with my remote, when I came upon Channel 9 as its camera panned the Lakers’ court. And there Leo was, in his floor seat, right next to Jack.) And on my seventeenth birthday, he missed my party because he was “on location”—in Palm Springs, I later learned, with the woman who would soon be his third wife, the soap star.
Then there was the time he showed up for my apartment-warming party immediately after my graduation from high school but disappeared an hour into it, claiming he had to meet his agent and a producer on the Fox lot. A couple of hours later, changing out of my bathing suit in the pool’s clubhouse, I overheard two of my so-called girlfriends comparing notes on his sexual prowess in the apartment complex’s hot tub.
After that I skeptically parsed everything he said to me. Doing so wasn’t easy on either of us: Leo wasn’t used to others so obviously calling his bluff, and I was too hurt to realize that my pointed inquisitions were only exacerbating the problem between us.
To some extent, moving out of his house helped our relationship. He was much easier to love from afar—and far more tolerable when we did get together.
I also found another way to drown my sorrows: while I might not have been able to trust another woman to like me for myself as opposed to my proximity to Leo, I could always count on the fawning attentions of every sales clerk between Rodeo Drive and Melrose Avenue. Love me, love my credit card—which Leo paid in full—was my motto. We both accepted this as his grudging penance for absentee parenting.
My saving grace: astronomy, which I discovered through a UCLA extension class. Looking up into a cobalt sky at millions of tiny white dots, and grasping hold of the concept that these other worlds were millions of light-years away and far beyond our reach, put the frailty of our humanity—even Leo’s—back into perspective for me. It’s why I spend hours hunkered over a telescope in the hope of discovering something so spectacular.
Even Leo got it. Once he surprised me, tracking me down at one of the viewing platforms outside the observatory. I was so engrossed in a star shower that I hadn’t heard him come up behind me. He just stood there, silently watching me until I looked up.
It would be an understatement to say that my father had a way with words. Coming out of his mouth, the phrase “Pass the salt,” was not a simple request but a truly moving experience of passion, verve, and elocution—which was why most of the world’s renowned film directors had salivated at the chance to pay him millions of dollars to hear him say that or other phrases just as mundane.
To me, he simply said, “ ‘You teach your daughters the diameters of the planets and wonder when you are done that they do not delight in your company.’”
“That’s beautiful,” I stuttered, still surprised to see him.
“Samuel Johnson said it.” He gave me a kiss on the cheek and took a turn at the telescope.
It was the only time in my life that I felt my father totally and completely understood me.
And then he was gone, as unreachable to me as any supernova moving through the cosmos.
And there I was, alone on planet Earth, with overdue rent, a car payment to make, foreclosure eminent on my telescope, and a very big Fred Segal bill landing in my mailbox any day now.
Not to mention a lawsuit in the making.
I’d weathered Leo and survived. How bad could life be looking after Louis Trollope?
"…The tone is confessional, the writing laced with venomous humor..."
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"Josie Brown does an outstanding job capturing the glitz and glamour of Hollywood living yet illuminating the stark loneliness present beneath the façade. Filled with good-natured humor and witty repartee..."
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"With tongue-in-cheek dialogue, TRUE HOLLYWOOD LIES provides a fascinating look at the jet set lifestyle of the rich and for-the-moment famous.... You will laugh, cry, and wonder if it's worth it to be rich and famous."
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