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Chapter 1

Our own little Jackie Coogan shifted from foot to foot in the shadows just beyond the lit kitchen set, basking in the attentions of the makeup girl, the property master, and the teacher dispatched by the Los Angeles Unified School District to ensure that his thirst for knowledge was slaked even while performing in this soap commercial.

“Lift your face, honey.” The boy obeyed the makeup girl reluctantly, since he was three years older than he looked and his eye level was perfect for inspecting her chest.

He favored her with a melting gaze - one of his better models. “Not too much powder.” His incipient baritone would put him out of business in about six months.

“And keep his front curls high; we don’t want a shadow on his eyes.” His mother hovered too, skinny and tight as a banjo.

As production manager, I hadn’t much to do now that the shoot was almost over, so I wandered toward the sound stage door, winding around Century stands, director’s chairs, lights, and foam cups full of cigarette butts pickled in coffee. As I ambled into the corridor, the massive door thunked behind me like the hatch of a walk-in meat locker.

Ken Simmons, the commercial’s producer, visible through the doorway of the lounge he was using as an office, clamped a phone receiver between chin and shoulder and waved me in. He mimed “be just a minute” and resumed his conversation.

“What’s so bad about them?” Pause. “Alan, dailies are hard to judge without experience. They looked okay to....” Pause. “Well....” Longer pause. “Well, Alan, I hear what you’re saying, but....” Very long pause.

I collected two half-donuts and my tenth foam cup of coffee from a side table and sat down to watch Ken through a foreground of Italian loafers propped on the table. Even Ken’s soles looked glossy, as if he shined them nightly. He dresses for the Polo Lounge in the perpetual hope that one day he will be big enough to do business there.

But not quite yet: “Alan, where am I going to get the budget for that?”

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