THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
One of my closest friends—and biggest enemies—died last weekend. He had a heart attack, brought on by an overdose of cocaine.
Whenever I think of him I don’t think of his name but of the title he gave himself. So it seems fitting to me to call him that here.
That’s right. We’re talking about a Hollywood type. The subject of uncountable stories and at least two fictionalized films. Starmaker’s career was based on “discovering” unknown actors and actresses and molding them into stars.
“I pick the least talented people I can find,” Starmaker said to me once as we sat on the deck of his Malibu Beach home. “That way when they make it everybody knows it’s because of my talent, not theirs.”
As you can see, modesty wasn’t one of Starmaker’s virtues. Neither was honesty. In fact, his success was based on the fact that he was the best liar any of us will ever meet.
Know how most people lie by taking a little kernel of truth and then exaggerating it? As unethical as that kind of thing is, those of us hearing the lies often can form a judgment about their basis in reality just by knowing a little something about the subject at hand.
With Starmaker, though, that didn’t work. He created his lies out of whole cloth.
For example, “He’s the most gifted actor since Al Pacino” not only didn’t mean, “He’s the most gifted actor since Al Pacino,” it didn’t even mean, “Hey, he went to acting school.” It meant, “I don’t know a thing about this guy and I don’t care. I just want you to believe he’s a genius.”
So if you automatically adjusted for exaggeration and thought to yourself, “He went to acting school,” you still were buying into a lie.
In showbiz, this gave Starmaker a very big edge.
Working for Starmaker was like working for a grizzly bear with mange. His life itched him uncontrollably, and his way of scratching was to lash out at every employee. The year I went to work for him on a television series I was the sixth producer in four months. He’d fired three of them. The other two had walked off the job after threatening his life.
When I didn’t do what he wanted exactly the way he wanted he fired me too. But first he called the head of the network and told him, “I’m firing this guy because he’s having an affair with your wife.” Who, for the record, I didn’t know. Had never even met. (And I didn’t really know the head of the network either.)
Starmaker made the call in front me, as I sat stunned. When he was finished he smiled. “You’re a talented man. I know that all you want is your piece of the pie. But any piece you get is one less for me. So I just made sure you’ll never work on this network again.”
That’s exactly what happened too.
Now that I’ve explained the “biggest enemy” part you may be wondering about the “closest friend” side of the coin. I’ve wondered about it too.
I wondered why, for years after this, Starmaker would invite my family and me to parties and premieres. Why he messengered over the biggest wreath in history when my father died. Why he would call in the middle of the night and tell me his deepest, darkest fears.
I wondered too why I always listened. And gave sincerely meant advice. Why in the world was I helping him?
Yesterday, while Brannigan the Contractor and I were walking through the Paradise town square, I told him about Starmaker. And how surprised I was that a man who destroyed people’s lives as handily as he created their careers was dead and I wasn’t celebrating.
“That’s ‘cause he loved you!” Brannigan roared. “It’s as clear as that tick crawling up your arm. Of all the people who’ve taken a swing at me, the ones who hit hardest were my ex-wives. On account of they loved me and were so disappointed at how badly I loved them back. How can you be happy when somebody who loves you dies?”
I’m not sure about the love, but could be Brannigan’s on the right track.
Starmaker was rich. Famous. And also the loneliest man I’ve ever known. He always was disappointed. About everything.
How can I feel anything but sorrow for a man who wasted his life demanding so much more than anyone could ever give?