I’m not a detective, though I have made one up. But this week I’ve been re-reading the Oscar tweets and Matt Jacob (http://zacharykleinonline.com/matt-jacob-ebooks/) invaded my head. Who the hell was this Oscar fellow? Was there a real man behind the little gold? Since this year was the Awards’ 85th birthday, Oscar Sr. would no longer be with us, but that’s no problem for the man who interviews the dead. Or so I thought.
My first call went to Louis B. Mayer who initiated the awards in 1927.
Me: “Mr. Mayer? My name is Zachary Klein and I have a series…”
Mayer: “You think I’m stupid? Word gets around. You interview the dead—and it’s about damn time that you finally fucking called.”
Me: “I’m sorry but I didn’t call to interview you—today, that is. Of course you are on my list.”
If I had a list.
Mayer: “Then why the hell you bothering me? You think I got gornisht to do? Down here, we’ve always got deals to make and people to fire!”
Me: “I’m looking for the person the Oscar was named after and thought you would know.”
Mayer: “You dug me up to ask that?”
Me: “Mr. Mayer, I haven’t dug you up. It’s a telephone call.”
Mayer: “Not that big a difference when you’re busy or sleeping, dammit!”
My temper got the better of me.
Me: “Fuck it, I’ll find someone else.”
Mayer: “Don’t get your shwartz twisted. It was either Bette Davis who said the damn statue looked like her uncle or columnist Sid Skolsky who claims he stole it from an old music hall joke with the tagline, ‘Will you have a cigar, Oscar?’ Frankly, I don’t give a damn and don’t know why you do either.”
I thought about explaining but his attitude continued to piss me off.
Me: “Well, I appreciate the information and will let you go.”
Mayer: “You coming back?”
Me: “If you’ll let me.”
Mayer: “We’ll see.”
I guess what people say about old time movie moguls is true. They are pricks. Still, I had two leads and I didn’t need a weatherman to tell me who I was going to contact first.
No easy do. The administrators at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood Hills were a tough crew to get past and it took my interview with Richard lll before they accepted my bone fides as an interviewer of the dead. Or maybe they were just impressed that I flew out there despite their repeated refusals. No matter, I was finally sitting on the flat stones in front of her grave-site monument.
Divas aren’t an easy get either. But if I learned anything writing novels and chasing dead people, I’d learned persistence.
I started off with my usual calling card but nada. Then tried raising my voice. Worse, the afternoon was creeping toward 5 o’clock, when I had agreed to leave. Then I remembered going with my grandmother to her first husband’s grave-site. She’d find a few rocks to tap on his stone. Although I kept a “safe” distance, after a few moments of knocking, Grandma engaged in animated conversations.
Why not? But even finding stones was difficult, given the care the groundskeepers gave these VIPs. Once I finally wedged a couple of pebbles from the ground I began tapping away like a woodpecker. That is, until I heard a throaty voice chuckle, “Not so loud, Darling. You’re waking the dead,!”
Me: “Is that you, Ms. Davis?”
Davis: “Who else were you expecting?”
She emerged from the white marble and I caught my breath. Don’t know what I expected—perhaps it was because I had recently interviewed Richard III—but she was drop-dead gorgeous. Tiny, flashing blue eyes, in a striking black and grey dress, black gloves and hat.
Davis: “Where are we going, Sweetheart?”
Me: “Actually I promised to leave and have you back inside by five.”
Davis: “But I began dressing when you first shouted. You do have an awfully loud voice.”
Me: “Just trying to get your attention.”
Davis: “Well, you have it—though apparently not for long. What is it you want?”
I knew she was upset about not leaving the grounds so I quickly explained why I’d come and told her what Mayer had recounted. She burst out laughing.
Davis: “Louie. What a pip! Was he smoking one of those foul smelling cigars?”
Me: “We were on the phone.”
Davis: “He took your call. I’m impressed. You really must have a knack for this line of work.”
Me: “Not a lot of competition. So, was Mr. Meyer accurate about how Oscar got his name? That you said the statue looked like your uncle?”
Davis: “Ahh, I guess we’re all growing old. Louie always remembered everything but not anymore. I never had an Uncle Oscar. That comment was made by Margaret Herrick, the Academy librarian. You tell me whether you’ve ever seen a statue named after a librarian’s uncle?
Now, my first husband’s middle name was Oscar, but all I ever said was that the statue’s ass looked like his. Ham was a wonderful musician, but nobody ever named anything after his behind.”
Me: “What about the Sydney Skolsky story? Do you know whether that was true?”
Davis’s lips curled in obvious contempt.
Davis: “‘Will you have a cigar, Oscar?’ Please. Louie must be losing it cooped up for so long. He probably offered mini-Winchell one of his.”
Davis: “A nasty small minded man who used Schwabb’s for an office once he came out here. He’s nothing but a self-serving liar. Just look at his Times Square Tintypes.”
Me: “So no cigar, no uncle, and not your husband. His middle name is just a coincidence?”
Davis: “Just a coincidence. Frankly, Darling, nobody really knows why that award is named Oscar and nobody ever will.”
I glanced at my watch and saw it was time. Ms. Davis noticed.
Davis: “You’re ready to leave, aren’t you?”
I saw Security walking in our direction.
Me: “I promised and they’re going to hold me to it.”
Davis looked over my shoulder with a half-smile.
Davis: “I’ve been known to cause a fuss, but today I’ll just go for the dramatic exit.”
I left Forest Lawn and debated hunting for Sydney Skolsky. I asked myself what Matt Jacob would do and a voice crashed through my head. “Some mysteries are better left unsolved! You just heard Bette Davis tell you that a statue’s ass looked like her husband’s. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”