Monday, February 7, 2022

Hauntings from a beloved old ghost

At an early point in your writing career, you were yanked out of a rent-paying, non-writing job by the actor, John Carroll, one of your early screen heroes, thanks to his role in the black-and-white film, The Flying Tigers.

Working with and for John meant working for a man of many moods and facets.  Most days of the week, you reported to his farmlike estate in the northwestern aspects of Los Angeles known as Chatsworth, where you were expected for breakfast, presided over by Carroll's towering, graceful mother, best described as a New Orleans version of the stately actress Maria Ouspenskaya.

Breakfasts often had grits and Creole sausages, but there were also platters of steaks, piles of beignets, and fluffy omelets, interrupted by two of the least disciplined French poodles you'd yet experienced in your mid twenties.

More often than not, these breakfasts consisted of Carroll questioning you about things you'd learned at UCLA and instructing you in such matters as how to write a screenplay, how to direct a scene in a film, and how to write with conviction about things--such as exploration for oil in Texas and Oklahoma, or how to put out fires in oil wells--in which you had no interest.

It was a rare breakfast when Carroll and you were the only two participants.  You breakfasted numeroustimes with one of Carroll's closest friends, who happened tobe one of your mother's favorite actors, Grant Withers.  On at least two occasions, you were asked to loan the shirt you were wearing to the actor Clark Gable because Gable had gotten blod spatters on his from a dynamic you were aware of repeating at least three times:  When Carroll and Gable, frequent brothers of the carouse, reached a certain point, they often became combatants, twice in your sight in the driveway of the Carroll estate.

Never mind.  When John's mother called us in for breakfast, the brotherly rivalry was ended.  Either Carroll's mother or his ex-wife, Lucille, served a platter with warmed, moist washcloths.

Other frequent guests included a Major Baumgarten, who insisted on loaning you his Jaguar saloon, and the producer, Jed Harris, who often congratulated you on your choice of an employer and who told you on several occasions that John Carroll would have had a better career if he hadn's been so handsome.

Nothing you wrote while in Carroll's employ was ever produced, but as in so many previous and subsequent situations, production, publication, or their absence, didn't mean you were not learning things of immediate and eventual value.

At one point where you began to suspect your time with Carroll was cominng to some sort of closure, he took you into his bedroom suite, gave you five or six suits he no longer wore, stuffed five hundred-dollar bills into your pocket and said, "Lad, I wish there were more."  At this point, he made you swear you would never change your name, threatened to return from the dead if you did.

Years, but not too many, later, you were writing under the pseudonyms of Craig Barstow, Walter Feldspar, Adam Snavely, and Gail Spencer, an indication of your prolific output.

Earlier today, while waiting for responses to the edits by your editor at Penguin/Random on a title by Craig Barstow, you put some of the things you'd learned from John Carroll into play--you added a rascally character to the outline of yet another Craig Barstow western.  The character is named Julian Lafaye, born in New Orleans, wishing to make a name for himself in the mineral rich northwestern portion of theNewMexico territory.  The Lafaye character comes on stage first with the name Jake Carroll.  The protagonist will discover the duplicity.

For complete disclosure, John Carroll was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, as Julian Lafaye.  For greater disclosure still, were a person to consult the book pages at the Amazon store, he'd find two Craig Barstow titles from 1960, one announced for March of this year (2022) and yet another for August of this very year.

John has indeed returned to haunt you.  Your payback?  Bringing him on stage once again, recalling Jed Harris's observations and thus determined to rough him up a bit.