“My problem is with the whole notion of hierarchy as it’s presented here. It’s entirely debasing to the collective.” Tommy Kirk was adamant. He’d been nursing his Hire’s root beer and listening quietly as Frankie Avalon railed on about strength through collectivization and the importance of strong central leadership. Kevin Corcoran perked up, “I think it’s pretty safe to say we’re fronting a cult of personality.”
“An odious one at that,” Tommy shot back and slurped his soda, shaking his head. Frankie disagreed. “Odious? Jeeze Tommy, that’s painting it a little harsh, don’t you think? I mean, there’s no question we’re here for the party, but that’s a good thing. It serves us all well.” He trailed off, watching as young Annette Funicello wandered by, shaking her firm 19-year old, nearly perfect ass ever so slightly at them. Her eyes locked on mine. Her smile disappeared.
She scowled at Tommy. “What’s he doing here?”
He glanced at me then back at Annette imploringly. “Art’s got some kicky ideas about doing a series of beach party movies. Really hip stuff.” She was unconvinced. Tommy continued, “If you’re nice to him he might have a big juicy part for you.” She looked at him, amazed and more than a little disgusted. “I don’t care how big his part is, or even how much he’d pay me to work on it…Not interested.” And with that, ignoring me completely, she turned her perky butt toward the table and strutted away.
Tommy shook his head and looked at me, “Boy, you really got her pissed off. I gotta give you credit, two weeks and you get the nicest girl on the planet wanting to have you torn apart by wild dogs…” I was appalled. “She said that?!” He saw how distressed I was and backed off a little. “Well, not in those exact words…” Kevin decided to clear up any misconception. “Rabid. She didn’t say wild, she said rabid. Big, mean, rabid dogs. She was very specific. She even knows where to get them.”
I felt sick. I had loved Annette since I was aware of her, just like I – and all pubescent and pre-pubescent boys – was supposed to. Everybody loved her: men, women, boys, girls, fucking dogs and cats, it was infuriating. Birds above her on a wire would scoot aside and shit on Shelley Fabares instead, or any of her other sycophantic buddies as they basked there in her luminous glow, hoping her reflected star stuff would suffuse them and make them, if not universally adored as she was, at least locally well received.
And this universal ambassador of niceness wanted me horribly dead.
It’s important that people understand I don’t set out to be reviled. In fact, my desire is to be loved enough to be paid by men and laid by women. This is not an intransigent desire; I’m open to being paid by women, too. But that’s where I draw the line. I mean, unless we’re talking about some pretty amazing pay. Otherwise, I stand firm.
Anyway, invariably the person I most want to impress is the one I end up pissing off the most. It’s a fascinating thing to watch: I come in a little shy, loss for wordsy, then I overcompensate, saying something clever, dirty or otherwise inappropriate with a hint of a stammer, followed by my grand epic fail recovery with multiple layers of offense. The curse of the smart mouth with the stupid mind. It becomes easy to mouth off with mind off.
My Annette disrepute was entirely innocent of my mouth and I found myself a victim of ridiculous circumstances. Tommy got me a role as an extra on the Disney horror, Babes in Toyland, a remake of film that needed no remaking, poorly remade. It starred Tommy and Kevin and Annette as well as Ray Bolger, Ed Wynn and Tommy Sands. Uncle Walt envisioned it his Wizard of Oz but as we know, intention doesn’t guarantee results.
Regardless, my association with Tommy did deliver results and I found myself performing with some of Hollywood’s finest talent on a couple of numbers as background. I joined Annette and Tommy Sands and the wonderful Disney stable children singing “Toyland” and some of “Forest of No Return” as one of the singing shrubs. Originally the script called for singing trees and singing shrubs – along with a moaning cactus – but after a couple of takes, first the cactus, then the shrubs were replaced, removed. Pruned.
I was devastated. Cast from the garden before being allowed to branch out, made to leave before any could root for me. I stumbled around the stage, dazed, exhausted. I hadn’t adjusted to the Hollywood time zone (4 hours south of Modesto) and the early calls were wearing me out. I’d been staying with Tommy (Kirk) but he wasn’t on that day, so he told me he’d pick me up after wrap based on the assumption that my shrub would be singing until then. I had 4 hours to kill. I decided to kill it by finding a place away from all the horrible music to take a nap.
This was a bad idea. No matter how tired you get, you should never sleep on set. It has huge pointy teeth to bite your ass written all over it. Producers, associate producers, executive producers, directors, assistant directors, etc., are busy people. Busy people get annoyed around sleeping people, especially on the clock, and these particular kind of busy people love to shout. It makes them feel important – bellowing there with people around them snapping to reverential attention, sir, yes sir! Which makes them decidedly not the kind of people you want to find you, should you try sleeping on set, beyond the fact of their inherent noisiness, because they can fire you. People who feel important shouting often also get kicks by humiliating people publically, which firing can do. Do not feed these savages, stay awake on set.
My problem was entirely different. I’d located an empty room backstage with a good sized closet with louvered doors. There was nothing in it and no restrictions as to its use posted. I had secured a walkie-talkie from Dennis the PA and told him my intent. He had no problem and had me set the walkie to channel 8, which wasn’t being used that day. He said that he’d alert me at wrap or if they called for any more singing floral arrangements. I bid him thanks and retired to the empty room of my somnolent designs, where I sequestered myself in the closet and closed the door.
I woke to the sound of voices. I had no idea what time it was. A few feet from me as I lay on the closet floor, on the other side of the louvered door, Paul Anka was macking furiously on Annette. She was being resistant, but still flirty enough to keep him interested. Watching them through the louvers I realized the door to the room was closed; it was quite the cozy group. I thought of getting up and clearing my throat and easing out the door, but by the time I had realized my predicament, Paul had made some fairly impressive advances – if I stepped out I would be first a pervert but second, a pervert that knew a lot about a couple of big name stars real fast. The longer I debated it, the worse it got.
Then I thought of the walkie talkie: what if Dennis called for me? Then they would find me and be sure I was a pervert. I was fucked and getting worse. I reached down for the walkie, gingerly trying to avoid triggering it as I turned down the volume. If I turned it off, there would be a click and as I was literally inches from their encounter, I would be given up. I felt stupid and helpless, at the same time curious and fascinated. Where would this lead?
What if Paul got out of hand, tried to force himself on sweet Annette? I’d be morally obligated to step up. But what if I did and my presence startled Annette so badly that she and Paul panicked and pummeled me into peanut butter, as a purely defensive reaction? I’d go from hero to heel in less time than it took to type it. What if they did it, right there on the floor, mere inches from me? I could see them, lovers through the louvers, a lecher loafing listlessly secluded; if they lowered themselves to my level they could see me as well. Not good.
Snore. That’s it; I could pretend to be asleep and snore to alert them, fake-up like I’d slept through the whole sordid affair. But of course by the time I’d considered that option, the likelihood of it playing, even in Kansas, was just this side of nil. And still he pushed, and still she resisted and still I percolated, like a still, ready to bubble over. Because, of course, the first thing my body likes to do when it wakes up is take a leak. I had moved from mental distress to physical discomfort with no end in sight. So far.
But Annette showed signs of breaking so that still loomed as an option.
Suddenly, Paul threw up his hands and fled the room. Hope loomed on the horizon, through little slats. Now, the thing I’d dreamt of so many times in my silly young life, me alone in a room with Annette Funicello, had become the most humiliating experience of my life. An unwitting voyeur, I knew things, fascinating at the time, perhaps illuminating, but still things that were none of my fucking business.
Alone with the woman of my dreams, I wished she would leave. But she stayed. What the fuck? This floor is a cold hard slab, my back is killing me and my ass is numb and I’m about to bust a kidney here – just go. But no, she needed to decompress. So she sat down. Now she was on a level that if she looked at the closet two feet from her, she would see me through the slats. Paul’s departure hadn’t improved my position in the least. She was so close that if I reached my arm toward her I could rest my hand on her shoulder, or even better places. She faced the back of the room so I saw her in profile. Had she turned her head to the right, I would have been found out. I held my breath. And my crotch.
Then I observed something very odd: she started talking to herself. At first little grunts, but then entire sentences. It wasn’t for my benefit as it wasn’t a conversation one would have around a stranger, friend, priest or psychiatrist. It was very private stuff. Now I was horribly embarrassed on top of ashamed of myself for allowing the situation to continue. But each minute made the prospect of revelation more egregious and the likelihood more probable. And the floor more hard. I found myself utterly bemused.
“Oh, there you are. They need you on set for your duet with the azalea.” The voice of liberty, one of the sweetest voices I ever heard, was a fairly average AD, looking for his missing talent. And though I was within ten feet of him, I never saw his face, could not pick him out of a crowd of 2, unless the other one was a Gila monster or something. Annette looked up, her perky smile evident in her voice, then fairly bounded to her feet. “Oh good, I was afraid they were going to cut that.” His voice trailed off. ”Guess Mr. D has a soft spot for azaleas.”
I was free. I listened but it was silent. I sat up painfully then, peering through the slats, pushed the door open. I was clear. I made my feet fast then headed to the door. As I stepped into the corridor, my walkie cued loudly – I had turned it up instead of down. I reached down and lowered the volume then looked into the corridor. Annette stared back at me for an instant before disappearing onto set. Did she know?
She knew. I was fucked. I debated with my other less sensible self the prudence of just coming out with my tale, make light, avoid specifics, making it no big deal. But I knew it would be perceived as a pretty big deal indeed. Careers are destroyed with blithe abandon in Hollywood over less than that – they didn’t do anything wrong, just engaged in the fucking game, a ritual as old as fucking itself. I didn’t do anything wrong beyond being stupid; I didn’t betray them.
But I had something on them and it created resentment in Annette, thoroughly understandably, toward me. It radiated to her friends and well-wishers and within days had made me a pariah on set. I could read the writing on the wall, Disney has no need for Art, and in fact was blamed for that as well – they made me scrub it off before booting me from set. My beginnings steeped in ignominy, I was ready for Hollywood.
I had been staying with Tommy during Babes in Toyland and we got along famously at first. I had some excellent cannabis on me when I arrived and Tommy seemed to really take to it. Before my shameful exile, I had also made friends with a grip named Larry, who had some delightful drugs available to him and, as a result of our burgeoning accord, to me as well. Which I shared with Tommy when I got home. The acid was fun and revelatory – entheogens are helpful in facing troubling issues with an enhanced perspective in a good set – but Tommy got a little randy for my tastes when we did coke and rum.
I had no problem that he was gay, though sad it didn’t make him happy. But I’ve found that no combination of drugs I’ve been able to concoct and consume have ever driven me into that camp – I’m pretty strictly a pretty strict lady’s man. And she doesn’t have to be strict, just a lady, pretty preferred. But our social umbrage at total strangers’ sexual preferences is considerably more destructive than those preferences put into play. Harming people who only seek their own joy in life is societal sickness. We cannot choose our natural attractions. If such a thing as God exists, then It is the creator of those.
Humans are the ones who declare such things unnatural. But if what we are drawn to exists innate within us, if we cannot choose what excites or stimulates us, what gives us pause or fear, then how can these impulses be anything but natural? They must come before we can. But they are always good for another go as well, so there’s that…
Tommy and I went our separate ways owing to a mutual understanding. “It’s not that I don’t like you Art, it’s just…well, I don’t like you.” He could see how displeased this made me and by way of amelioration added, “I love your drugs though. If you could leave those when you go, that will make it better. Especially with you gone. I have my career to think about.”
I didn’t begrudge him that; he did have his career to think about. I apparently had nothing to think about, worth thinking about, or interesting enough for him or his mousey clique to think about. So I was kicked to the curb with only the clothes on my back and $420.00 I lifted from Tommy’s sock drawer to my name. Tommy kept my drugs and connections.
The whole sordid affair soured me to my artistic calling and hearkened in my memory an earlier foray into showbiz quashed by a mouse…