You drop straight down from Kansas City, through Oklahoma, you come to Paris, Texas, just across the state line. It's a town of 25,000. There's an Eiffel Tower there, 65 feet tall, topped off with a cowboy hat. Another roadside attraction. I've never been there.
But Paris, Texas seeped into my life in Los Angeles like a microbiome. I was freelancing art and copy in L.A., getting by, until I got a gig for Nokia phones, a newsletter, which I wrote and designed. This brought me to the attention of a CD at Dancer, Fitzgerald, Sample, and I was hired on writing TV commercials for their New York account, Toyota. I had virtually no car experience, little or no TV in my book, so, of course I started writing car TV. The first one I wrote got produced and it was looked upon with favor by the Japanese president of Toyota. Life got better out there. DFS became DFS-Dorland, then Saatchi & Saatchi, and I weathered those changes, hardly noticing the new brass letters that kept appearing on the outside of the building.
And it pulled me away from Paris, Texas. But not for long. During my gestation period in L.A., my pain at getting stiffed every other job (a brochure for Car Stereo to the Stars comes to mind, may that guy roast in hell) and the bleak outlook for an unknown freelancer in L.A. let's say I was a dues-paying member of The Precariat, the largest class out there.
Before I struck it middle class (lower middle class) I was circulating in some odd constellations. I met a PhD nicknamed Dogmeat for his specialty (explosives) in Vietnam. We got along well. Through him I found a mercenary bar in downtown L.A. that led to some short stories. I met the daughter of a deposed banana republic general. I was taken in by a kindly cocaine addict. I wrote a screenplay that the agent for "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" said was "surprisingly professional." He died. I met and was befriended by the owner of a small Beverly Hills ad agency who allowed me to work in the space.
I bemoaned my standing in L.A. and he said, "Look, you drive a nice car, wear nice clothes, have a tan, and not a pot to piss in. You're like all the rest of us out here." Dennis was his name. He was from Texas. During our time together we dreamed up a number of treatments for screenplays. And he implored me to see Paris, Texas, the movie. I did. Again and again. I was numbed and transfixed by it. Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Ry Cooder score, Wim Wenders direction. Whew.
I started writing this blog a couple of days after the death of Harry Dean Stanton. He died on Friday, September 15th, 2017. He was kind of my patron saint out there, though I never met him. His every film appearance, short or long, blew my lame ass away. He was probably the best actor Hollywood ever knew. Plus he was kind, generous, funny, multitalented. At any rate I had steeped myself in his movie, Paris, Texas. Dennis wanted to do a screenplay that was "pure" like that. He was obsessed with it, and so was I. We finally settled on a thing I wrote named "The Shaman" and we shopped it. We got a small option offer, but declined. A friend of Dennis's got the script to the actor who starred in "Eddie and the Cruisers" and the word was, he was interested. Nothing came of it. Dennis sent the script, along with ten of our treatments, to a Cannes Film Festival with a trusted associate. Some were reviewed, Shaman included, with interest. We waited. Nothing.
But the odd part of this dismal story, this everyman in L.A. narrative, is the joy. Right, joy. The feeling of a breakthrough after leaving a polished conference table where some movie people said, "Hmm. Something here. Maybe." That addictive floating on air feeling. It'll sustain you for a while.
I've been an optimist since boyhood. There's a proverbial tale about a kid who gets a box of horse manure for Christmas. Cruel joke, of course. But the kid opens it up and says, "Wow! Horse manure. There must be a pony around somewhere!" That's me. That was L.A. My pony turned out to be Saatchi & Saatchi, bless them. And my patron saints were Harry Dean Stanton and Raymond Chandler.
Dennis went back to Texas, accepted an executive creative position with Dave and Buster's in Dallas. Sadly, he died of a massive heart attack not too long after that. He was a creative dynamo, savvy and funny and so talented. And he was a bright spot in that tourist trip of mine. We gave it our try, that arena. And we did okay for a couple of flyover country boys. And Harry Dean Stanton gave us a hand. RIP, HDS. I'm going now to Amazon for a copy of Paris, Texas.