Hollywood HusbandsBy: Jackie Collins
Somewhere in the Midwest…
Sometime in the seventies…
The nightmare began for the child when she was fourteen years old and alone in the house with her father. Her brothers and sisters were long gone. As soon as they were old enough to earn a living they left – quickly – and never came back to visit. Her mother was in the hospital, ‘women’s problems’, a neighbour had sighed. The child did not know what that meant, only that she missed her mother desperately, even though she had only been gone two days.
The little girl was an accident. Her mother often told her that. ‘You’re a late accident,’ she would say, ‘an’ too much work for me. I should be restin’ now, not raisin’ another kid.’ Whenever she spoke the words she would smile, hug her daughter, and add warmly, ‘I wouldn’t do without you, my little one. Couldn’t. You understand me, darlin’?’
Yes. She understood that she was loved by the frail woman in the carefully patched clothes who took in other people’s washing and treated her husband like a king.
They lived in a run-down house on the outskirts of town. It was freezing in the winter and too hot in the summer. There were hungry roaches in the kitchen and giant rats that ran across the roof at night. The child grew up with fear in her heart, not because of the vermin, but because of the many times her father beat her mother, and the terrified screams that continued throughout the night. The screams were always followed by long, ominous silences, broken only by his grunting and groaning, and her mother’s stifled sobs.
Her father was big, mean and shiftless, and she hated him. One day – like her brothers and sisters before her – she would leave, just sneak off in the early dawn as they had done. Only she had more exciting plans. She was going to go out in the world and make a success of her life, and when she had enough money she was going to send for her mother and look after her properly.
Her father yelled for his dinner. She fixed him a steaming plate of tripe and onions just as her mother had taught her. It wasn’t satisfactory. ‘Slop!’ he shouted, after he’d eaten most of it, belching loudly as she hurriedly removed the plate and replaced it with his fifth can of beer.
He looked her over, his eyes rheumy, his face slack. Then he slapped her backside and guffawed to himself. She scurried into the kitchen. All her life she had lived with him, and yet he frightened her more than any stranger. He was brutal and cruel. Many a time she had felt the sharp sting of his heavy hand across her face or shoulders or legs. He enjoyed inflicting what he considered his superior strength.
She washed the solitary dish in a bowl of water, and wondered how long her mother would be in the hospital. Not long, she hoped fervently. Maybe only another day or so.
Wiping her hands, she made her way through the cramped parlour where her father snored in front of a flickering black and white television. The buckle of his belt was undone, and his stomach bulged obscenely over a grimy tee-shirt, an empty beer can balanced on his chest.
She crept outside to the toilet. There was no indoor plumbing; a cracked basin filled with luke-warm water was the only means of washing. Sometimes she cleaned herself in the kitchen, but she wouldn’t dare to do that with her father home. Lately he had taken to spying on her – creeping up when she was dressing and sneering at her newly developed curves.
Wearily she pulled off her blouse, stepped out of her shorts, and proceeded to splash water under her arms, across her chest, and between her legs.
She wished there was a mirror so that she could see what her new figure looked like. At school three of her friends and she had crowded together in a toilet and examined each other’s developing buds. It wasn’t the same as seeing her own body – she had no interest in looking at other girls’ breasts.
Carefully she traced the swell of her small nipples, and sucked in her breath because it gave her such a funny feeling to touch herself.
So intent was she on examining her new body, that she failed to hear the clump of her father’s footsteps as he approached the outhouse. Without knocking he flung open the creaking door before she had time to cover herself. The buttons on his fly were open. ‘Gotta take a piss,’ he slurred. And then, as if working on a slow fuse, he added, ‘What you doin’, girl, standin’ around naked?’
‘Just washin’, pa,’ she replied, blushing beet-red as she frantically reached for the towel she had brought in with her.
He was too quick for her. With a drunken lurch he stepped on the flimsy towel, and blocked the door with his bulk. ‘You bin seein’ any boys?’ he demanded. ‘You bin sleepin’ around?’
‘No.’ Desperately she pulled at the towel, trying to dislodge it from under his foot.
He staggered towards her, all beer breath and bloodshot eyes. ‘Are you sure, missy?’
‘Yes, pa, I’m sure,’ she whispered, wanting to run and hide in her bed and die of embarrassment.
He watched her for a long moment. Then he touched himself and grunted loudly.
Her heart was pounding – signalling DANGER DANGER. She held her breath. Instinct told her she was caught in a trap.
He fiddled with his thing until it was completely visible, sticking through his trousers like an angry red weapon. ‘Ya see this?’ he growled.
She stayed absolutely still and silent.
‘Ya see this?’ he repeated, his face as red as his weapon. ‘This is what ya gotta look out for.’ He stroked his erection. ‘This is what every boy ya ever meet is gonna want to stick ya with.’
As he reached for her she began to scream. ‘No! No! No!’ Her voice was shrill and unreal as if it belonged to someone else.
But there was no one to hear her. No one to care.
And then the nightmare really began.
There were two major events taking place in Hollywood on a cool weekend in February 1986.
The first was a funeral.
The second, a wedding.
Some people felt obliged to attend both. Although, of course, they changed outfits for each occasion.
Jack Python walked through the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel with every eye upon him. He had money, charisma, a certain kind of power, razor-sharp wit and fame. It all showed.
He was six feet tall with virile good looks. Thick black hair worn just a tad too long, penetrating green eyes, a two-day stubble on a deep suntan, and a hard body. He was thirty-nine years old and he had the world by the balls.
Jack Python was one of the most famous talk show hosts in America.
‘Hello, Jack,’ cooed a voluptuous woman sprayed into a mini tennis dress.
He smiled his killer smile – he had great teeth – and looked her over appreciatively, knowing eyes sweeping every curve. Standard greeting – ‘How’s it going?’
She would have been happy to tell him, only he didn’t break stride, just kept walking towards the Polo Lounge.
Several more people greeted him along the way. Two tourists paused to stare, and a very thin girl in a red tank top waved. Jack did not stop until he reached his destination. Table number one, a cosy leather booth directly facing the entrance of the Polo Lounge.
A man was already seated there. A man with a slightly manic look, clad in white sweats, black Porsche shades, and a Dodgers baseball cap. Jack slid in beside him. ‘Hiya, Howard,’ he said.
‘Hiya, Jack,’ Howard Soloman replied with a wink. There was something about the perpetual motion of his features which gave him the crazed look. He was always mugging, crossing his eyes, sucking in his cheeks. In repose he was quite nice-looking – the face of a Jewish doctor who had strayed into the wrong business. However, his constant mugging gave the impression that he didn’t want anyone to find out. ‘What was the action last night?’ he asked, restlessly rimming the top of his glass with a nervous index finger.
‘You’ve been to one screening at the Goosebergers’ house – you’ve been to ’em all,’ Jack replied easily.
‘I coulda told you that,’ Howard said smugly.
‘Why didn’t you then?’
Howard took a gulp of hot coffee. ‘Adventure is finding out for yourself.’
Jack laughed. ‘According to you no movie is any good unless it comes from your studio.’
Howard licked his lips and rolled his eyes. ‘You’d better believe it.’
‘So invite me to one of your screenings.’
‘I always invite you,’ Howard replied indignantly. ‘Is it my fault you never show? Poppy’s quite insulted.’
‘That’s because Clarissa has very particular taste,’ Jack explained patiently. ‘Unless it’s a film she’s been offered and turned down, or unless she’s actually in it, she has no desire to see it.’
‘Actresses!’ spat Howard.
‘Tell me about ’em,’ agreed Jack, ordering Perrier and two eggs over easy.
Saturday morning breakfast at the Polo Lounge had once been a ritual for Jack and Howard and Mannon Cable, the movie star, who had yet to appear. Now they were all too busy, and it was a rare occasion when they were able to sit down to breakfast together.
Howard headed Orpheus Studios, a recent appointment and one he relished. Heading a studio had always been his big ambition, and now he was there, King of the whole fucking heap – while it lasted. For Howard, like everyone else in Hollywood, realized that being a studio head was an extremely tenuous occupation, and the position of great and mighty power could be snatched away at any given moment by faceless corporate executives who ran the film industry like a bank. Being a studio head was the treacherous no man’s land between high-powered agent and independent producer. The saving speech of every deposed studio head was: ‘I need more creativity. My talent is stifled here. Too much to do and too little time. We’re parting amicably. I’m going into indie prod.’ In the industry, ‘indie prod’ (independent production to the uninitiated) equals out on your ass. Canned. Can’t cut it. Tough shit. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. And so… most indie prods faded into oblivion after one failed movie.