Friday

Week 15: Memo's between retired movie producer, Sydney V. Celnik and the ghostwriter of his autobiography "If I Do Say So Myself", Aaron Fleishmann.

3.8.58. Fleishmann, I don’t care what you think about the creative process. I ain’t sitting down and writing my recollections out longhand. I’m seventy-three years old and the only way I ever knew myself was talking loud so I’ve hired a stenographer to take down my thoughts whenever they hit me. Mostly they hit me about two in the afternoon, right after my post prandial gin kicks in so I do hope His Majesty forgives me if I ramble. You’re the writer, kid. You just do what your kind have been doing for me for the last 40 years: polish my turds until they shine.

25.8.58 Mr Celnik, your output these past weeks has been impressive. I have more raw matter to work with than any writer starting from scratch could hope to produce in a first draft. The detail you go into, especially in Chapter 3, The Casting Couch or The Best Arse Money Doesn’t Have To Buy (I think we can find a subtler title) is vivid and evocative to say the least. Yet, for fear of alienating the fairer half of your potential readership, may I suggest that we tone down the bragging and the contempt for the young artists whose careers you helped get started, and cast you more as a hopeless romantic, whose heart’s affection was the barometer by which you measured the potential of aspiring actresses to enchant audiences across the world? The story you tell of Delilah Day and the circumstances under which she rose and fell during the filming of The Mystery of The Longest Shadow, well, I think it best we don’t mention any of that to anyone, not least to protect you against possible litigation by her or any relatives who may have survived her in the event that she did, as you bid her the last time you saw her, “Go to hell, slut!”

27.8.58 Cut the crap, Fleishmann. I don’t care what people think of me. The more I tell my secretary about myself the sicker I get. I never once in all my life stopped to think about any of the shit I pulled except to strategise and think deeper into the game. This ain’t no death bed conversion. I’ve got at least another ten years in me. But maybe they won’t be as miserable as the last seventy if I repent for the evils I’ve done. Hell, if we get it right, Chapter Three could be something for the feminists to get their teeth stuck into and maybe help young girls avoid the kinds of situations I put them through. Girls like Delilah Day, they had so much talent and I chewed em up and spat em out. For what?

Don’t get squeamish on me, Fleishmann. If Delilah’s kin want to come round and take turns kicking me in the balls, so be it. The kid stays in the book.

5.9.58 Whatever you say, chief. I must say, the more I read the pages you wrote on Delilah, the more fascinated by her I become. Out from under some haystack in Idaho, she came to California seeking fame. She did the rounds of casting agents. She was lovely and so was invited to decorate some of the right parties where inevitably some of the wrong people were also in attendance. One such night she was approached to play the “lead” in a little “European art film”, Palace of the Tenth Muse.[1] I imagine that the reason you cannot remember seeing her in it, though you do not rule out the possibility, is that audiences at the soirees where it was screened were more interested in each other than the events on screen. After the scandal erupted she received no more invitations. Her career was over before it had begun. Then, what a stroke of luck, you hit her with your car!

8.9.58 Don’t get cute, kid. Did I mention I suspect she walked in front of me on purpose? She knew who I was from the screenings. She was sometimes invited to provide a live performance. Anyway, I didn’t stop to get a good look at her, but she had my license plate and there weren’t too many gold-plated Bentleigh’s rolling around in those days. Throw a rock in the air and you’ll hit one now. But she didn’t go to the cops. No sir, she’s straight to a lawyer who drafts up a letter proposing that, rather than sue the pants off of me and the studio, which she could have done and won, in exchange for her silence she gets a three picture contract. You should have seen her at that first party she showed up to once she got out of the hospital. Triumphant she was, the bandages on her head were hid under a silver turban thing that made her look like some Arabian queen. Up until that moment I’d resented her for forcing me and the studio into a bind. But when she smiled at me and called me Sid like we were old friends, and took my arm for me to parade her around the room, to introduce her, I decided then and there to destroy her. Try and get that moment right, Fleishmann. The rest is just a series of after shocks from that instant my rage split my brain in two and out the lava flowed.

17.9.58. Sid, let me see if I have this clear: did you write the scenario for Mystery of the Longest Shadow or were the scenes of her character’s torture improvised? I’ve watched the reels you sent over and she is such an intense performer I can’t tell whether that is genuine terror on her face or not.

20.9.58 It’s real alright, Fleishmann. The director walked out before we finished. I let a grip direct. I forgot to mention that. He was a nasty piece of work. Had all these ideas for predicaments to put her in. Cold water. Dogs. We drove her batty and we didn’t even use half the stuff we shot. She wasn’t the lead. We’d negotiated her down to a supporting role ‘first time around’. So she played the abducted girl the main character of the detective was looking for. She was the Mcguffin. Not even the hero’s love interest. But she played it all to the hilt. If she hadn’t disappeared after shooting finished I might have changed my mind about her. She might be a star today.

31.10.58. Fleishmann, where the hell are you? Answer your fucking phone.

20.12.58 Merry Christmas, Mr Celnik. I’m sorry I’ve been off the radar these past two months. I went away to work in peace. I didn’t want to go off the reservation. I wanted to devote myself to your memoir. But I couldn’t shake Delilah out of my head. I had to tell her story. Even if only to get her out of my system. So, here it is. Please find enclosed the first draft of Dark Star Day: The Delilah Day Story.

28.12.58. Son of a bitch. Screw my memoirs. I’m coming out of retirement for this. That’s how good this script is. The title’s all wrong. We want to make her into a legend. A tragic beauty destroyed by Hollywood and her own ambition. But it’s got Academy written all over it. It’ll be my last great statement. My testament. The only question is, who do we get to play her?



[1] See Week 3, Palace of the Ninth Muse.

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