203. Where’s Johnny?

Chapter 203

“We could write one of these,” Michael said. “Do you think if we wrote a script you could get it to the producers?”

“Yeah, probably,” I said. “But every Tales From the Crypt episode is based on an old EC comic, so we’d have to start there. They have them all photocopied at the production office.”

“Can you make copies?”


For the next couple of weeks I burned as much time as I could at the photocopier, running off thousands of pages from Vault of Horror, Crime SuspenStories, Vault of Fear, and Tales From the Crypt comic books. I stuck them into fat black binders, and Michael and I started reading them.

The idea that a veteran writer like Michael wanted me as a partner was flattering. I hadn’t written a thing since leaving Savannah and art school, and I’d never written anything worth reading. I was a writer only to the extent that I told people that I was a writer, not because I actually wrote. But Michael saw something there. What it was eluded me.

“You’re sure you can get a script to the producers?” he asked.

“Yeah, pretty sure,” I said.

WIMbot_Web_BW_smThe Tales episode being edited on the Paramount lot was finished, the thousands of feet of film sealed into cartons destined for a storage facility in the San Fernando Valley just as soon as I could load them up. I walked past Jack Nicholson’s parking space for the last time, and for the first time a gleaming Mercedes convertible filled the space. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Jody that I saw Nicholson’s actual car.

I stepped into the empty alley, on my way to the external staircase that led to the cutting room. A man stepped out of the door near the foot of the stairs.

Jack Nicholson.

If a Jack car sighting was a thrill, an actual Jack sighting was like winning the fanboy lottery. The big man stood directly in front of the stairs: Not only had I spotted the wily Nicholson in its native habitat, but if he didn’t move before I covered the next hundred feet I might have to talk to him. But what would I say?

Excuse me.

Nice day.

Hi, Mr. Nicholson. I’m a big fan.

Wait, wait? What the hell am I doing? We’re both in the business. We’re both on the lot. I’m not just some goon bothering him in a restaurant.

Hey, Jack.

How’s it going, Jack?

I was ten feet away. He looked so much more serious in person.

How’s the film coming, Jack?

This was it. I was at the foot of the stairs, and Nicholson wasn’t budging. I opened my mouth and said, “–

“Hey, do you know where the john is around here?” Jack said.

“Oh, there’s one upstairs. Follow me, I’ll show you,” I said.

Nicholson shot me a pained look. “Isn’t there one closer?”

“Sorry, that’s the only one I know,” I said, and Jack rushed back through the door at the bottom of the stairs.

James Stafford: Piss Boy to the Stars.

WIMbot_Web_BW_sm“So what did you find?” Michael asked. We sat at his kitchen table.

“I think this one could be really funny,” I said, and I opened my binder to the bookmarked page. “This guy’s a philanthropist, so I was thinking we open with a scene where a delivery guy comes into the office and the receptionist has a big sign on her desk that says ‘We Do Not Validate.'”

“Yeah, that’s funny,” Michael said. “But check this out. This is a classic Tales story where the protagonist’s greed gets him in the end. I’m thinking the main character is ex-Special Ops, drives some American muscle, and studies kendo at a dojo in Little Tokyo. Why’s that funny?”

“It just sounds funny,” I said. “Ken-do at a do-jo in Little Toky-o.

“Well at least I’m not writing fucking Looney Tunes,” Michael said. This is Tales From the Crypt, not a fucking sitcom. It needs to have some balls.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s do yours.”

For the next few weeks I went to the office early every morning and sat at my boss’s desk, typing away on his Macintosh, trying to be a screenwriter. In the evenings Michael and I reviewed pages, which consisted mostly of striking out my Looney Tunes humor in favor of ’80s-style action. We had guys with AK-47s hidden beneath their dusters. We had hot rods and half-naked babes. We had neon, slow motion, and mullets. We had ponytails, sunglasses, and stilted dialogue. We had your basic Shane Black “guy clinging to the hood of a speeding car” opening.

I hated it. I couldn’t bring myself to hand the finished script to one of the producers. It seemed presumptuous and arrogant. I was a piss boy, not a writer. I stuck the script in a box and tried to forget about it.

About halfway through the season, one of the scheduled Tales From the Crypt directors backed out and took his script with him. The producers scrambled and found a last minute replacement, but they needed a script. They bought one from the office receptionist, who had been writing between phone calls.

What’s the moral of this story? I’m not sure, but I think that it’s this: When faced with a great opportunity, be sure to scout out the location of the nearest restroom. Jack can only wait for so long.



Categories: Memoir

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