Official Site of Author Robert S. Levinson
CHAPTERS ONE AND TWO
By Robert S. Levinson
SLUG LINE: HOT RODDY
By Neil Gulliver
It was a long time ago, more than a decade ago, a lifetime ago, several lifetimes, in a galaxy not so far away from anything but the real world, Hollywood by name, show biz capital of the solar system, where the movie stars are also famous for confusing themselves with the center of the universe.
Roddy Donaldson, for example.
Movie Star Supreme.
He of the sunshine smile.
Acknowledged leader of the “Diapered Dozen,” the bumper crop of teenage movie stars whose every nose-picking escapade back-when routinely sold trillions of copies of the weekly tabloid scandal sheets that turn supermarket checkout counters into libraries for our gossip-drenched society.
People magazine’s choice as “Sexiest Man of the Year” two years’ running, whose adoring armada of young and not-so-young female fans, the heralded “Rod Squad,” staged a mass protest demonstration at the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard the year he lost the glittering crown to Sean Connery.
The guest insiders said Carson wanted most before he willingly disappeared into the anonymity of retirement (and tracked down by phone with a personal invitation, not Johnny’s usual M.O., something he did about as often as he forgot to tap his coffee mug).
That Roddy Donaldson.
Entertainment Tonight’s Mary Hart reported breathlessly the night after Roddy’s appearance how Carson had compared the young man’s hauntingly blue eyes with the violet majesty of Miss Elizabeth Taylor’s royal gaze and gone on to ask, “How blue are they? . . . They’re so blue, so blue, Paul Newman checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic with a case of eyeball deprivation.”
Nobody laughed louder than Roddy, and what a laugh: Appreciative. Ingratiating. As frisky as his Cuisinart voice.
Nineteen-year-old Roddy reveling in the fun and attention with graciousness and the public good manners that supposedly had gone away with the old studio star system.
Somebody had taught him well.
Show your dazzling orthodonture.
Pose for the photographs.
Sign the autographs.
Do the endless premieres, benefits, fundraisers, and personal appearances, even the sporadic opening of a manhole cover, to remind the fans how much you appreciate them, so they’ll be understanding of your occasional “bummers,” the infrequent dark moods and bad moments that can’t be hidden from a world media that covers scandal the way chimps relish bananas.
The media sponsored an international headline festival after I found those two girls sprawled out naked and in bed with Roddy.
Underage and overdosed.
Their static eyes singing the too-late blues.
Lifeless coming attractions for more death, what the movie business refers to as “trailers,” before a climax as shattering as any of those in the films that brought an easy, early stardom to Roddy Donaldson.
Death in the real world of Hollywood.
Where hundreds of people arrive every day to live out their stardust fantasies, unaware Hollywood is actually a town where dreams come to die.
All those years ago, the night I found the girls dead and Roddy clinging to life in his apartment climaxed the kind of day that, had it been a pack of cigarettes, would have come with a warning label printed on the back.
More than ten years ago, but—
—the details as vivid as ever whenever I think back to Stardom House and so much else unthinkable that began and ended with Roddy Donaldson, the stuff of nightmares that continue to haunt me.
What kind of a day was it? you ask.
It was the kind of gut-wrenching day that kept me on the go until almost midnight, getting too emotionally involved in a story I’d be cranking out for “On the Go,” the column I’ve been doing six days a week for the Los Angeles Daily since I was promoted out of the crime beat a few years ago.
An eight-year-old boy on the edge of death at the City of Hope in Duarte, a last haven for hopeless cancer victims. Little Pedro Cisneros, his frail, failing body a pincushion for the finest needles modern medicine had to offer, his stagnant brown boulder-sized eyes staring at the hospital ward ceiling for signs of angels.
His parents, Pedro senior and Maria Elena, at his bedside. Pedro, who’d already cried beyond tears and now was onto a catalog of grunts and groans that translated into despair in any language. Maria Elena, working her beads in silent prayer. And working them and working them and working them.
I’d sat with them for hours, smiling a smile I didn’t mean and feeding them dream words about possibilities for little Pedro that we all knew were no possibilities whatsoever, but me needing to say something, do something, anything, trying to shoulder some of the load they were no longer able to hoist for themselves. It was me being a lousy reporter, unable to remain subjective and distanced from the story—victimized by an unquenchable need to be a good human being.
Not the first time.
Not the last time.
Later, finally, an escape to home.
Off the freeways into a slow ride through the dimly lit, mostly empty streets of downtown and midtown to my part of town, a trip made by memory, my mind too busy suffering through words and phrases I might want to use in describing for my readers the kid and a death worse than dying, most inadequate, making me feel more inadequate than usual.
I owe my condo at the Heathcliffe Arms in Westwood to my ex-wife, Stephanie Marriner. Stevie, still the “Sex Queen of the Soaps,” not yet the major movie and stage star she’d go on to become, loaned me the money I needed to buy the place after she dumped me. She called it an act of generosity. I still don’t know if Stevie meant the divorce or the loan.
Mine is the smallest of the one-bedroom apartments in the three-story, two hundred and fifty-six unit complex below Wilshire Boulevard on Veteran. The Heathcliffe is not as tony as the high-rises that stand sentry on both sides of the Wilshire corridor between Beverly Hills and Westwood Boulevard. You wouldn’t know it from the average high-six figures it costs to get into something like my six hundred and ninety square feet castle.
I grumbled trying to get the keypad to the underground parking garage entrance to accept the date code, cursed the black iron gate for refusing to budge until I remembered the code had been changed yesterday from 1914 to 1690, the year William of Orange had maneuvered the Boys Brigade into the Irish Sea. The gate slid back and I sailed through. I navigated a deliberate turn off the steeply inclined ramp and, moments later, angled the old Jag into my assigned space by mindless rote.
I hoofed the stairs to the third floor rather than risk the elevator, which lately was breaking down with irritating regularity, and was out of my tie and sports jacket before I double-locked the apartment door behind me. I liberated the last cold Heineken from the fridge and checked for messages on the machine from habit, no intention of making any callbacks before morning.
It didn’t work out that way.
Among five calls and three hang-ups was one logged around ten o’clock from the Heathcliffe Arms’ resident manager, Sharon Glenn.
There was an unusual urgency in her chronically calm voice, which resembles the sound I imagine someone would make buttering a pane of glass: “Neil, it’s Sharon. Call me back, please. No matter what time you hear this, okay? Okay? Call me back.”
I punched in her number on the automatic dial.
Sharon answered with my name before the first ring finished.
“Not too late?”
“I said so,” she said, sounding relieved at hearing my voice. Before I could ask, she said, “It’s Roddy Donaldson again.”
“Roddy’s mother has been after me for the last two hours to go over and check up on him. I didn’t want to do anything without you, you know?”
As well I should have.
There were a half dozen or so recognizable celebrities resident at the Heathcliffe, including a former sitcom regular and a two-time All-America on Bruins teams that went to the Rose Bowl back-to-back and got clobbered by Ohio State and Michigan State front-to-rear, but Roddy was the only movie star. In this town that’s like the pearl in the oyster.
The entrance directory listed him by the name of the character he’d played in a lush remake of Captains Courageous, opposite the illustrious Brian Armstrong (in the role that won a second Oscar for Spencer Tracy). Lush remake. How Freudian a choice of word.
Shortly after Roddy moved in about eight or nine months ago, Sharon learned the kid was an alcoholic. Certified and chronic. A kid who couldn’t handle one step, much less try for twelve, but discreet in his staggering; savvy enough to avoid being spotted by other residents and abetted by our building security guards, who guided him upstairs and through the right doors like they were auditioning for a part in Roddy’s next buddy movie.
The first time the kid’s mother called, asking Sharon to check out the apartment and confirm Roddy’s presence, Sharon discovered him sprawled half on and half off his bed in a stupor. Smelling like a distillery. Using his puke for a pillow.
She was on the phone to me immediately.
We got the kid cleaned up.
And again the next time.
And several times after that.
It became obvious without Melba Donaldson telling us that her megabucks movie star son was nineteen going on early liver problems.
Last Christmas, as an expression of her gratitude, Mrs. Donaldson sent Sharon a gift basket containing VHS copies of all his movies.
Her note, hand-printed in large capital letters on an embossed notecard that reeked of money as well as perfume, said: THANKS FOR KEEPING YOUR EYES OPEN. (Had it been a larger card, she might easily have added: AND YOUR MOUTH SHUT.)
One early-morning alert, Sharon found Roddy snoring off a hangover with a small American flag dragging at half-mast from his cock. I admired Roddy’s patriotism, but all Sharon could think to do was blush. That’s one reason I keep getting Sharon’s calls asking me to join her and go inside the apartment first. Like was happening now.
I pushed out a sigh and said, “I’ll meet you at your place in two minutes.”
“Two minutes, great . . . Neil!”
“I mean it, Neil. Thank you.”
“I mean it, too. You’re welcome. Does this mean we’re friends again?”
Sharon let the question marinate for several moments before answering with one of her own: “Were we ever never?”
minutes,” I said.
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