Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #45 – “The Past Comes Calling”

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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 weekend, while I was paddling down the Buffalo National River with Gwen the Beautiful, Brannigan the Contractor, and Brannigan’s girlfriend Sweet Jane, Jane asked me if I miss show business. It was a fair question, and I gave it some thought. My mind went all the way back to the Prehistoric Era of the late ‘60s, when I first got into the “Biz.”

I remembered how awed I was by everything Hollywood. I was completely overwhelmed by the fact that entertainment was the main business of the huge sprawl of ambition that all of Southern California had become. I loved the fact that everyone I met was part of showbiz in some way. Even the waiters and waitresses (we didn’t have “wait people” then) were really actors waiting for the rocket to stardom to zoom them away.

I reveled in the conversations that took place around me at the gas station or in a department store. Words like “deal,” “option,” “post-production” gave me chills. I still remember the first time I saw a real live star. Rick Nelson, standing ahead of me in the supermarket check-out line.

I remember the second time too. I was stuck in rush-hour traffic on the Hollywood Freeway, sweating in my un-air-conditioned ’66 Mustang. I looked to my left and saw a familiar face behind the wheel of an exotic Italian car. Steve McQueen. He saw me looking and gave me his trademarked crooked grin. And a sly thumbs-up.

Only a few weeks before, I’d been living in Iowa City, Iowa. You didn’t see fancy sports cars or Steve McQueen there, that’s for sure. Although there were a lot of crooked grins—deliberately copied from the cool Mr. McQ.

Over the years, as I toiled at studio jobs that, regardless of their sometimes fancy titles, were still just long, exhausting hours of “workin’-for-the-man-and-payin’-the bills,” I grew disenchanted with a way of life that never went beyond who was making what movie or TV show and how much they were getting paid. Oh, and who was having how hot an affair with whom.

Nothing else in the world seemed to matter. Not the cure for cancer. The end of poverty. World peace. Not even taking care of your kin. One day I was in the office of the head of what is now Sony Pictures. “Of course we’re worth more as human beings than doctors or scientists or even the President of the U.S.!” he thundered. “If we aren’t, why are we being paid so much more?”

It was the day after Father’s Day and I was wearing a new watch my pre-teen son and daughter had given me. The studio head glanced down at my wrist.

“Rolex?” he said.

“Seiko,” I told him.

The studio head stared at me in disbelief. After that meeting he never spoke to me again. Later, when my contract came up for renewal he cut me loose because, he said to someone we both knew, “He let me down.”

Yep. I sure had. I’d proudly worn a $50 Seiko instead of a $5000 Rolex. How could I do such a thing?

Thirty-plus years in any business can take a huge toll. Showbiz is no different. Creatively, I did the best I could and was part of some shows that made me beam with pride and others that made me ashamed. Sometimes they were the same show.

I did the best I could personally too, with similar mixed results. Although most of my pride there is in how well my kids have turned out in spite of me and the shame has to do with mistakes that were all my own.

I’ve got no qualms about having moved on to a place where the only foreign cars I see are Toyota pick-ups and instead of waiting for a rocket to stardom everyone’s working hard just to survive. Where money doesn’t define a person because everyone knows it’s not what we’ve got that’s important but who we are inside. And where instead of playing roles on the screen, folks are starring as themselves in their own real lives.

Do I miss show business? That weekend on the Buffalo, after Sweet Jane asked me that question I closed my eyes, just for a second. And during that second I missed the rush of the river and tangled green of the trees growing along its bank more than I’ve ever missed anything about Hollywood.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #44 – “Hazardous Material”

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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

Few things are as all-encompassing as being part of a group of people who are on the same wavelength. It’s a feeling of belonging you can’t get any other way.

Last week I found myself in such a group. All because of Chet the Unhandyman.

What happened was Chet got a new job. Financially, it was everything anyone in Paradise could hope for. Full time. Health insurance. Pension. The highest hourly rate for unskilled labor in this part of the state. All for operating a forklift all day.

Okay, there was a slight downside. Chet’s forklift would be carrying hazardous material. Extremely hazardous material.

As in:

“Don’t touch it!”

“Don’t eat it!”

“Don’t even breathe it!”

Chet’s risk was his friends’ gain. Right after Chet said he’d been hired, Dwayne the Earth Mover called me excitedly. “I’ve been thinking about how Chet’s job could shorten his life expectancy,” he said,. “and I’ve got an idea.”

“What kind of idea?”

“Insurance,” Dwayne said.

“Insurance?”

“Life insurance. What say we take a policy out with us as the beneficiaries? This job’s bound to kill him in a few years, and we’ll all collect.”

“Doesn’t sound right to me,” I said.

“Chet owes you money, right?” said Dwayne. “This way you’re sure to get it. Think about it, okay?”
An hour later Brannigan the Contractor roared into our clearing. Jumped out of his truck. Stuck his hand into the mouth of Belle, our dog who always bites him. “Let’s get this over with!” he said.

Belle obliged with a crunch. Brannigan laughed. “I love this dog! And I love Chet!”

“You love Chet?” I said. “Why?”

“Didn’t Dwayne call you about the insurance policy? Isn’t it perfect? Chet’s gonna make us rich!”

Before I could reply, Gwen the Beautiful came out on the front porch. “James Marshall’s on the phone. He said he’s got the insurance information you need.”

James Marshall is a part-time insurance agent in Paradise. Here on the Mountain he’s known as, “that fast-talking SOB who keeps trying to sell us what we don’t need.”

I turned to Brannigan questioningly. “Yes!” Brannigan said. “This boy is sharp! I only called him fifteen minutes ago.”

Gwen handed me the phone. James Marshall went right into his pitch. “Here’s how we have to do it. You’ll be the beneficiary. That’s because you’re the only one with what we call an insurable interest in Chet. Because he works for you, the law assumes you want him alive—“

“I do want him alive!”

“Sure. We all do. But you, Brannigan, Dwayne, and I will be paying for hundred thousand dollar term insurance at the rate of ten dollars a month each—“ James Marshall broke off. “Got another call. Hold on a minute.” A minute later he came back. “That was Tommy from Chicago,” he said. “He wants in too. Oops, hold on…”

Three more “Oops’s” later, James Marshall’s math had changed. “Let’s see now. With Tommy, Doug the Dog Breeder, Lily the Librarian, and Old Fred aboard we can double the payoff to two hundred thousand. And then, when Chet joins the dearly departed, you give us each our share.”

“I don’t even know Doug the Dog Breeder,” I said.

“Oh, he’s a good old boy,” said James Marshall. “You’ll get along fine.”

Chet started his new job last Monday. Wednesday all the “partners” gathered at our ranch to watch me sign the insurance policy. To make sure I went through with it even though Gwen and I both had our qualms. At the time I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do.

James Marshall laid the policy on the kitchen table. Dwayne the Earth Mover thrust a pen at me. And then the telephone rang.

“Let it ring!” Brannigan roared.

But Gwen answered, handed it to me.

“Hello, this is Nurse Rollins at Baxter Regional Medical Center. There’s a patient in the Emergency Room by the name of Chet the Unhandyman. He wants you to know t he won’t be home tonight. He fell off his forklift and broke his foot.”

And there it ended. Our group had no choice but to disband. From now on I’m calling him Chet the Escape Artist. Once again, he’s lost a job in the first three days. But this time it may well have kept him alive.

And, almost as importantly in these parts, it kept me from disappointing the boys.