Most of my life I’ve been a smalltown boy. I say “most,” because I was in Montreal for six years, and gained 40 pounds by eating in the right French restaurants, and a shocking knowledge of sex by going to the wrong bars. The rest of my life I’ve lived in a small town. Thus I was unprepared to meet Jim Magee.
Actually, I’m rather vague about how and where I did. But I’m clear on the why. He wanted me to collaborate with him on a movie script.
“It’ll be a takeoff on pornographic movies,” he explained.
I stared at him. Then I remembered a corny joke. “Gosh, Jim, I don’t own a pomograph.”
I thought, of course, that he was kidding me. But he wasn’t. He had a skeleton script and I read it. It is about a Russian plot to demoralize Canada. They hire the biggest dingbat producer in Hollywood, who is to go to Toronto and make the film. He knows even less about Canada than he does about making a movie. “Nothing up there except Eskimos and ice. Why, everyone knows there’s no sex north of Boston.”
I had always labored under the illusion that there was no sex in Boston, and said so.
“We’ll use that,” Jim said, and wrote it down in a notebook.
“What I want from you is background on the Canadian scene. I don’t know Canada. I want you to fill me in.” “Haven’t you been to Canada before?”
He shook his head. He looked at me hopelessly. “Son, I’m in an unidentified town in an undiscovered province with an unlisted phone number.”
“We’ll use that,” I said, trying to sound professional.
After all, Jim had written for Jackie you name it. I had a column in the Bridgetown Weekly Monitor.
Later I discovered that the government organization they wanted to assist them financially demanded that a certain number of Canadians be on the film credits. I was flattered that they chose me.
“We couldn’t find Stephen Leacock,” Jim said. “He lives in some place called Mariposa.”
I discovered that my knowledge of pornography was anemic. I went down to the local drugstore, which is the nearest thing we have to a bookstore, and bought two pocket books — My Mother Was A Lesbian Sadist, and I Was Raped By My Identical Twin.
I read the pocket books late at night, and in the morning I felt more secure. Anything I might write couldn’t be on the level with that trash.
“I’m ready,” I said to Jim.
“Pornography,” I said blithely.
“By the way, we have a third writer. Kenny Delmar.”
The name sounded vaguely familiar.
“Do you remember Fred Allen’s radio program? Well, he was Senator Claghorn, boy, I say, boy.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s in Connecticut. He got that far from Florida, but he won’t go any farther north. He doesn’t like the cold.”
I stared at him. It was August, and stifling hot. I was beginning to feel I had gone through the Looking Glass with Alice, and somehow lost her.
“When do we start on the script?”
Jim laughed. “First, we sit around and rap.” American slang has always puzzled me. (Once in a New York bar the guy next to me at the bar turned to an excessively feminine girl and said, “Do you want to make the scene, man?”)
David E. Lewis is a free-lance writer and A Lover Needs A Guitar.
“Hear you’re making a movie,” the would-be actor from Newfoundland said. “Sorry,” Jim replied, “we’re only using Canadians”
“I better get some paper and pencils,”
I said with stoic Nova Scotian logic.
“No rush,” said Jim, and produced a quart of Cutty Sark. “I better get some glasses and ice,” I said.
After the second script, he says, “We can get Paul Lynde for $50,000”.
I had $3.95 in my wallet.
“The backers will like some names.” He looked at me shrewdly. “You know, you have to spend money to make it.”
“I’ve always been taught you make it and then spend it,” I said.
“We can use that,” he said.
1 begin to feel important.
Jim casually mentions Kirk, and he doesn’t mean the Scottish church in Wolfville, but Douglas. I make a study of his technique.
I meet a friend on the street and say, “Senator Claghorn is visiting me next week.”
“He connected with that Watergate affair?”
“He was the guy in Allen’s Alley."
“I had a cousin who was mugged there once,” my friend confided.
I have learned one thing from Jim. Humor is universal when it is honest. He tells me anecdotes about the science-fiction world of Hollywood and I tell him a story about Miss Dimock, who has never been more than 15 miles out of Bridgetown, and that was to attend a funeral.
When he tells a story about Gleason he automatically takes on the appearance of Gleason. He was on his team of writers, and once he wrote a skit about a would-be composer trying to pick out a tune at the piano. His mother comes in with a sandwich and a glass of milk. He motions her away. An hour later she reappears, with the tray. He throws her downstairs, and goes back to the piano and starts to pick out “M is for the many things you gave me.” The next day Gleason comes barging into the office, like a water buffalo, eyes bulging and yells at his head writer, “Marvin, who did it? I want to know who did it! Just give me his name!”
After we had spent several days rapping I suggested to Jim that we really hadn’t done much with the script.
“I’m thinking about a scene where Trudeau calls a royal commission to decide whether Americans should be allowed into Canada to make pornography. How many states are there in Canada?”
“They’re called provinces. Ten.” “We’ll get Vincent Price to be chairman.”
“He’s the most un-typical Canadian I’ve ever seen, except Zsa Zsa Gabor.” “We’ll have a senator from each province. The chairman says, ‘And what is the state of sex in . .’ what’s a good province?”
“ ‘And what is the state of sex in Manitoba?’
“The Manitoban senator replies, ‘Under control.’
“And he asks the Nova Scotian senator, ‘What is the state of sex in Nova Scotia?’
“ ‘There’s no sex in Nova Scotia!’ ”
I get indignant. “I was born in Nova Scotia.”
Magee looks at me. “1 can’t conceive it.”
“My mother did,” I counter.
“We’ll use that,” said Magee.
As the script progressed, so did I. I discovered that a script writer only writes when he has an idea, which sounds logical but which, of late, has been causing some problems. At four in the morning Magee taps on my bedroom door.
“I’ve got a line!” he announces ecstatically. I blink at him in sleepy incomprehension.
“Get this. I would buy you a pumpkin farm, but they’ve canceled Hallowe’en.” “Go back to sleep, Magee.”
“It’s a good line.”
“It was in 1910, too.”
Word gets around that the movie director is looking for actors.
There is a knock at the door. There is my fisherman friend, in full regalia — sou’wester, rubber boots, raincoat, and he presents us with two lobsters.
“I’m usually beware of Greeks bearing gifts, but not when it’s lobsters.”
“Hear you’re makin’ a movie,” he says. He introduces himself to Jim as a Newfoundlander.
“Sorry, fellow. We’re only using Canadians in the movie.” Jim’s knowledge of Canada is negligible.
“Newfoundland is part of Canada,” I whisper to him.
It soon became apparent that half the town had thespian ambitions.
“We don’t necessarily need talent,” said the director “just local color.”
The influx became so intense that I decided to ebb the enthusiasm. I whispered around it dealt with pornography. We started getting applications from all over the Valley.
Meanwhile, we have reached a halcyon period. Backers are not appearing as rapidly as would-be actors, but the future looks bright.
Jim, meantime, is working on a series of CBC scripts. He can dream up the wildest stories. At the moment he’s working on one concerning a young married couple. The wife has just had a baby boy. She wants to call him Claude. The husband wants him called Bruce. Neither concedes. The husband becomes stubborn and refuses to pay the hospital bill. The hospital holds the mother and baby as hostages until the bill is paid. Finally they send the mother home (she eats too much), but they keep the baby. It grows and grows and grows. Still an impasse. Finally he is a young man, he has never been outside the hospital, he has no name. The hospital trains him to be a male nurse. “You get me some clean towels, please.” He thinks his name is “You.” The parents come visit him (they can’t write to him, as he has no name). He reaches 22 years of age. Jim gets stuck. He looks at me despondently.
“What am I going to do with him?” he asks desperately.
“I’m going to bed, Magee.”
The phone rings. It is one of our more matronly wives.
“Is it going to be a musical?” she chortles excitedly.
“I’m afraid not.”
“Oh, how disappointing. I do a galloping charleston. Of course I’m a little rusty, but . . .”
“I’m afraid we couldn’t work it in. But thanks for calling.”
The movie director is in the kitchen talking about Otto Preminger.
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