Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An Evening with George Plimpton

Unfortunately, Temp X had some bad allergies and wasn't up to blogging today, so we're re-running a speech that George Plimpton gave at Reed College in 1975 talking about his experience as a Hollywood temp. Temp X will be back soon.

Many years ago, I believe it was 1953 or 1954, I was doing a story for the Paris Review on Alan Ginsburg. We met in a coffee shop in Soho. Alan, as one of the first Vegans I'd ever met, was having a some sort of tofu-based snack alongside his triple espresso -- leaving him terribly wired. I, of course, drew his ire by indulging in a cappuccino with extra foam, a dash of cinnamon and a delightful chocolate chip cookie.

Well, after discussing last night's Brooklyn Dodgers game where they'd lost a heartbreaker in 12 innings to the Giants at the Polo Grounds, he mentioned he'd just been out in Los Angeles pitching an idea to an executive at RKO. As he explains it, during their conversation, an assistant came into his office with breakfast -- Eggs Florentine and a pot of Earl Gray tea. Well, the executive takes one bite and like a mother heron feeding her young, he regurgitates the eggs and places it in the hand of this poor assistant.

"Take this back and make it the way I like it, or your fired," he demanded.

Well, as you can imagine, Alan was horrified. But in a stroke of sheer genius, Alan says to me in a way that only Alan could, "George, " he said, "get your self to Hollywood and write about what it's like on the inside. It's like Bellevue with Palm trees." As one to never back down from a challenge or opportunity, I caught the next flight I could to Los Angeles and worked as a temporary employee.

Now I've boxed with Archie Moore. I've been trampled under a heap of humanity playing with the Detroit Lions. I've even "played" the triangle for Leonard Bernstein -- quite well I might add (he might disagree). But I can assure you, nothing is harder and more illogical than spending a day working for a Hollywood executive.

It's not that 2+2=5 out there. It should only be so easy. You could then just encourage them to subtract one and perhaps find the correct answer. No, in Hollywood you can't have 2 + 2 because the people you meet are always on some sort of narcotic, and they're questioning why you would add these two together in the first place. Someone either owns the rights to 2, or you're getting sued by 3 because you had a deal with them, and 4, well, 4 is trying to blackmail you because you broke up with her when she got too fat. Nothing is simple out there. The only thing the executive knows that he needs to find someone to yell at and his health plan only covers therapy 3 days a week. Which means that you, the assistant, draws his ire the other 2 days. Leaving you feeling a little like a Zero.

I bet you didn't know that this was going to turn into a math class.

(Polite chortle from the crowd)

Well, to make a long story short, I worked a half day, and was so high on fumes from the mimeograph machine that I passed out and knocked my head on the desk. So all I had to show for my day was a bulbous knot on my forehead and a slightly aggravated migraine. Which I suppose is exactly what every other assistant feels as well.

Now let's open the floor for questions...


Anonymous said...

I can't believe nobody has commented on the George Plimpton bit. Philistines! This is simply hilarious.

Brian Robinson said...

Just discovered this brilliant blog and am going through it post by post. I've temped for years while struggling on with writing/filmmaking but not in the big, bad, likely-to-be-madder-than-Bunuel world of Hollywood (just for the UK civil service, where the egos not quite mad enough for film go to die).

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