UNITED STATES—Wylie had a big house on Sixth Ave., near Country Club Park. The neighborhood is just as peaceful as it sounds. The house actually seemed grand with a third story added on top, but they’d done it on the cheap with aluminum window frames and you could tell it had been a later addition, but there’s still something about that extra story that lends gravitas to a house. Well, always nice people lived in the house on Sixth Ave. People of many colors, from many lands. They were well mannered, quiet individuals, teachers, office workers—no actors except for that Frenchman, but that’s another story. They didn’t quarrel about loud music or get invaded by crack cocaine and go all screwy. The point is: these people, the ones who aren’t oddballs, or broken-winged birds, they leave few stories.
Until now, I thought I didn’t have any Sixth Avenue stories, but I cracked myself up recently talking to my daughter and out spilled one:
Two rooms were vacant now. We were trying to improve the appeal of the place, and Wylie gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted. Gosh, I was pleased with myself. I chose a pale blue latex, so ritzy—the paint probably had some silly name like silver fox azure—and bright red carpeting from Larry Lester with this brass fittings to keep the carpet in place. I thought the entry was the cat’s pajamas. And this brand-new tenant, a short perky woman who’d been in home decorating—at least she put it on her application—gave me my first critique:
“It looks like a movie theater.”
Hey, I thought what I had done was classy. Sid Grauman himself couldn’t have done better. The lady kind of hurt my feelings, but it was the right comparison at the time. My screenplay, “The Strawberry Butterfly” was about to take wing after—what?—two whole years of creation and rewrites. I totally get why some writers would shake hands with a leper before writing a screenplay.
Anyhow, I ran into Hisham Abed, my cinematographer friend from U.S.C. We were at a get-together in the apartment of Aziz who had produced a film Hisham photographed in beautifully raw black and white, “The Natural History of Parking Lots.” Hisham asked about my screenplay. By now I had almost built up a resistance to talking about it, much as I loved when people read it and especially when they read it aloud: the screenplay had occupied me totally, I had done as well as I could, and was going in a new direction—moving on.
Hisham said why don’t you show it to Everett Lewis? Everett was the big-shot director of “The Natural History of Parking Lots.” That was my perspective on Everett after attending the premiere and then having to go back to Estrella Ave. and drag out the garbage cans for the next day—of course Everett was a big shot and also the force behind the artistry of this film, which did the most with the least. Think about the genius of it, using parking lots to create an existential drama between brothers.
Heaven knows that the U.S.C. premiere stood out in high relief from life at Estrella Ave. as I dunned tenants, showed rooms, and toiled on my first screenplay at a tiny wood-grained cardboard desk on my Olivetti that I’d been pretentiously carting around everywhere since I going to a high school Model U.N. conference in Berkeley.
“How do I show it to Everett?” I asked my friend, expecting a rather complicated process getting the screenplay to a person who was enough of a player now to be tagged by his first name alone.
“Give it to Aziz in the equipment room at U.S.C.,” Hisham replied. “He’ll get it to Everett.”
When Aziz Ghalal wasn’t producing independent arthouse movies he was manning in the equipment room where all the student filmmakers checked out to the gear to create the magic and finish their homework assignments.
Grady Miller is a humorist. He is author of the Hollywood humor collection, “Later Bloomer.”