Every afternoon I drove to Modern Video on Sunset Boulevard and picked up VHS copies of the Tales From the Crypt dailies. Much like a Kardashian, the facility welcomed visitors through the front and shipping/receiving in the rear. An unused alley bisected the back of the facility’s property, creating a deserted four-way stop in the middle of their driveway. Modern video, I mean. Not the Kardashians.
I loved watching the dailies. Seeing the many takes of the same scene was like reading a rough draft. Watching the actors work through the lines was interesting, too: take after take of changing inflections, trying to get things just right. Apparently acting was really difficult for topless women, as directors always seemed to shoot more coverage of any scene featuring nipples.
As much as I complained about being a messenger boy I loved delivering the dailies. Sometimes I’d get to peek inside the executive producers’ offices. Walter Hill had a rare pinball machine in his, the spoils of a lawsuit against its manufacturer, who used the Alien image without permission. Walter’s office neighbor, Michael J. Fox had a working Pepsi machine in his office.
Robert Zemeckis’s office was near Spielberg’s on the Universal lot. Each day’s drop-off promised the chance of the Great Spielberg standing out front enjoying a Little Debbie snack cake or whatever the hell he did between billion dollar movies.
Going to Joel Silver’s office was like entering the Death Star. The mood over there was always one of fear, like visiting the home of a friend whose father was always pissed off. The feeling was contagious: If Joel happened to be there when I dropped off the dailies I tried my best to be invisible. The one time he noticed me his expression immediately turned to “Who are you and why haven’t I fired you yet.”
Joel’s office was at what was then called the Burbank Studios, now Warner Brothers. Often Kevin Costner’s vintage Shelby Mustang hunched in the parking lot, as did any number of Jay Leno’s rides if he was filling in for Carson that night. I didn’t care for either performer, but I lusted after their cars.
The bungalow facing Joel’s belonged to Richard Donner, whom everybody called Dick. Donner was the yin to Silver’s yang: Everyone in his office seemed relaxed and happy. Unlike Walter’s office, I couldn’t peek into Dick’s from the reception area. I couldn’t peek into Joel’s, either, but I assumed that it was decorated with the severed heads of his enemies.
I’m not sure why it happened. Perhaps Donner called in sick, or that day’s footage was particularly nipply; regardless, one afternoon when I set his dailies on the front desk, the receptionist said, “Would you mind running those up to Dick’s house?”
“Sure, no problem.”
“Thanks. There are some things on his desk that need to go, too. You can go back and get them.”
The inner sanctum, the fortress of solitude. I hurried back and opened the door before she changed her mind. Dick’s personal office was bigger than my entire apartment which, come to think of it, isn’t saying much. It was bigger than two of my shitty Hollywood apartments, the walls lined with memorabilia from his career: The Omen, Goonies, Lethal Weapon, Scrooged. His greatest success was memorialized by the Superman pinball machine in the corner.
On a table in the center of the room rested a Lucite block, a million dollar check encased inside. Some people frame their first dollar, others their first million. I lost track of time looking at all of the keepsakes in his office. Afraid I was going to get fired for loitering, I grabbed the stack of stuff on Dick’s desk and headed over to his house.
That was the routine every afternoon: pick up the dailies, rush them wherever they needed to go, lust after a cool car or pinball machine, occasionally catch sight of a celebrity. It was exciting in its way, but it was also horribly boring. I made the run so many times I could do it in my sleep.
Nobody ever used the alley behind Modern Video, until the day that somebody finally did. I was riding my motorcycle on that particular day, and when I popped the clutch and raced through through the alley/driveway intersection I ran straight into the bumper of a Volkswagen Rabbit.
“Holy shit, are you okay?” the driver asked as I picked up my bike.
“Yeah, I’m all right.”
“Why didn’t you stop?”
“Nobody ever comes down that alley,” I said.
He stared at his car. “Fuck. You bent my bumper.”
“Let’s go inside and figure this out,” I said.
“I’m going to call my dad. He’s a lawyer.”
“Okay, they’ll let us use the phone. They know me.”
I sat in the lobby of Modern Video while the kid talked on the phone. My right hand stiffened and swelled. The driver finally put down the phone. “My dad says you’re at fault because you didn’t yield the right of way.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“He says your insurance will probably double.”
“Probably,” I said.
“My dad says since the damage isn’t too bad we should just settle up. That will be better for you than your insurance going up.”
“What does your dad suggest?”
“Give me 300 bucks,” the kid said. I wrote him a check that wiped out Jody’s and my savings.
By the time I got back to the Tales cutting rooms I could barely work the brake and throttle. I told my boss, John, the whole story.
“He hustled you,” John said. “He probably didn’t have insurance and knew he’d lose his license if you reported the accident.” He stared at my balloon of a hand. “You should go get that looked at.”
“Nah, I’m okay,” I said. I sat around the office for another ten minutes. “Hey, John, can you drive me to the hospital?”
Two hours later an emergency room doctor was waving around an x-ray and pointing at the broken bones in my right hand. He casted me up to my fingertips, handed me a painkiller prescription, and sent me on my way.
The next day I called in sick. “Okay, hope you feel better,” John said. I puttered around the apartment, adjusting to the weight of my new arm and my lack of fingers. Later in the afternoon John’s boss, Steve, called.
“How’s it feeling?” he asked.
“Sore, but better.”
“So we’ll see you tomorrow?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Sounds like a bad spill. We were all worried about you.”
“Let me know soon so I can start looking for a replacement,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you aren’t much use to us if you can’t drive.”
“You’d fire me for getting hurt on the job?”
“No, I’d have to let you go for not being able to do your job,” Steve said.
“I’ll be there.”
“Great, we’ll see you in the morning.”
I grabbed a kitchen knife, went down to the garage, and sat in my MG, and then I sawed away the cast until I could wrap my fingers around the gearshift.
The next time I dropped off dailies at Donner’s office, the receptionist asked me to wait while she packaged some crap up that needed to go to the Tales office. I could hear him coming down the hall, shouting “good night” to his people and them replying with a cheery “Night, Dick.” The door opened, and Donner stepped into the lobby. “Good night,” he said to the receptionist, and then he turned and looked at me, cast resting on my thigh.
“Stay off the skateboard, kid,” he said, and then he winked and walked out the door.