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Before You Ask Her Out, Do a Background Check

April 02, 2006|Charles E. Johnson | Charles E. Johnson is a screenwriter whose projects include "The George McKenna Story" and "Beyond Atlantis."

In 1971, as a fledgling screenwriter from South-Central, I met Nate Monaster and Stanley Shapiro (who wrote "That Touch of Mink," starring Cary Grant and Doris Day) and Walter Brown Newman (writer of "Cat Ballou"). They became my mentors and taught me everything I needed to know to make it in Hollywood.

Well, almost everything.

Armed with a screenplay that was circulating and getting some interest, my cigar-smoking guardian angels, Nate and Stanley, took me to an A-list party where I met my first agent, a pint-sized man. I also met a stunning redhead. Practically ignoring the agent, I went in search of Red.

I found her. But our conversation didn't last long. It quickly became clear that my lack of a high-end car and upscale real estate in the best ZIP Code were deficits too glaring to overcome.

Poverty, I discovered, kills ardor in Hollywood faster than a bucket of ice water in the face.

Labeled a loser and feeling like one, I began dating neurotic, psychotic industry hopefuls. Pretty soon, I gave up altogether.

And then, after months of seclusion, I decided to stop wallowing and get busy. If women like Red were success groupies, I was determined to have some success. And within six months I'd written and sold my first screenplay.

Never mind that it was for a price that was as close to below scale as was legal. I didn't care that grips and cleaning crews had higher incomes. At last I'd arrived. I was a paid screenwriter.

Most important, I now had the bait to lure the likes of Red.

The picture, called "Hammer" and starring Fred Williamson, was about a boxer who makes it to the top only to find himself in the clutches of the underworld. It received a great review from Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times, who described the film as one "of unusual grace." Man, I could use that to spear 10s!

For a hot minute, even my gnome of an agent stopped glaring at me, with his single eyebrow furrowed. I was on a roll.

There was a modicum of fame, money and grudging respect from my unproduced peers. And with all of that came the return of Red. She flew into my life like a heat-seeking missile, dripping sex like chocolate while promising unspeakable fantasies with her smoldering eyes.

But as swiftly as she came into my life, she went right out. And curiously, my agent suddenly turned cold. Really cold.

When he accidentally ran into me on the street, he berated me. My phone calls were answered with, "Sorry, wrong number." Finally, as I was jogging one day on Sunset Boulevard, he pulled alongside in his sleek sports car, locked his beady little eyes on me and, straining to peer above the door panel, hurled my latest script at me, called me a lot of rotten things and left me choking in a cloud of soot.

Three weeks later it all became clear. One of my vengeful unproduced friends (with whom Red and I had been on a double-date) informed me that my girl was my agent's mistress.

I now have a new agent, but I've also thought from time to time about hiring a private detective. Before I spring for that first get-to-know-you Starbucks cup of coffee, why not have the object of my affection pass a background check? Call it paranoid. But it sure pays to be careful whom you date in Hollywood.

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