When Tim Kazurinsky and I, writers of the movie "About Last Night,” went to the Hollywood premier in 1986, it was kind of like the Academy Awards you see on TV.
Limo after limo pulls up in front of the theater where reporters and photographers have set up on an honest-to-goodness red carpet. Doors open, movie stars emerge, sunspots of light explode with the rat-a-tat-tat of cameras. We watch this hoo-hah from the back of the line as our car inches forward. Demi Moore—Flash! Rob Lowe—Flash! James Belushi, Elizabeth Perkins, Ed Zwick—Flash! Flash! Flash!
Then it's our turn, Midwestern 30-somethings thrilled to be included in such a glamorous scrum. Wearing our Sunday bests, we modestly alight from the rented limo and—something happens. All the bright lights go dead. We're stunned. Power outage? Electrical snafu? Nope. Nobody recognizes us. Nobody wants to take our pictures. We are the nobodies nobody knows, officially un-arrived in Hollywood. We had worked on this script for seven or eight years, and were thrilled with the whole idea of the movie being made. If we didn't know our place before, we knew it then, and actually thought it was kind of funny.
Nevertheless, it turned out that some people in Hollywood learned about us and they were the ones who wrote the checks. Tim and I graced the Hollywood writers' "A-list” for decades. We thought we'd be young and popular forever. Time passed. And then nobody wanted to pay us to write movies anymore. Tim continued to get better and better as an actor and is doing wonderful work. Meanwhile I thought it was time for me to (in the way we ended our scripts) FADE TO BLACK.
But Tuesday night, July 30, reminded me of the L.A. "red carpet" night, 27 years ago. I was invited to Chicago for a special outdoor screening of "About Last Night.” WBEZ presented the film on their terrace at Navy Pier as a special treat for their regular High Fidelity donors. The Chicago International Film Festival and Northwest Chicago Film Society chipped in to help, as well as Virtue Cider, Divine Chocolate and Mother Butter's Popcorn.
They wanted somebody connected with the film to say a few words. While everybody else was too rich, too famous, or too busy to show up—I was totally available. Perceptive and insightful Alison Cuddy, who hosts WBEZ's Weekender show, asked me a few questions. I answered and got a few laughs.
I flashed back to 1974 when I first saw David Mamet's play, which we adapted to become "About Last Night" at the Organic Theater on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. I wasn't crazy about it. Maybe what Time Magazine called a "sleazy sonata of seduction" was just a little too mean-spirited for my tastes. But a few years later Tim and I saw a knock-out production at the Apollo Theater, farther north on Lincoln Avenue. What knocked us out was Jim Belushi playing Bernie Litko.
The play is about a couple (Danny and Debbie) trying to fall in love and build a committed relationship amidst the free-for-all singles scene of the 1970s. They're the protagonists. The conflict comes from young adults experimenting with newly found freedoms, defiantly against commitment—personified by their best friends, Joan and Bernie.
Belushi loved the brutish, loutish, boorish Bernie Litko and played him like he was a "cool guy.” I learned a lot about writing bad guys from him. Bad guys have to love themselves or the drama doesn't work.
It was beautiful to be on Navy Pier at night looking back at the city's skyline—much different from the one we saw years ago when we slipped out onto the old Navy Pier that was dark and creaky and stinky and dangerous. My movie didn't look its very best projected on an inflatable screen that dipped and squished a bit in the Lake breezes. There weren't any movie stars around or moguls or really anybody who wanted anything other than a nice night out in the city they loved, showcased so lovingly in "About Last Night.” My husband, Mike McCluskey, shared the trip down the memory path with me, along with friends: well-known long-time Chicago artist and teacher, Peter Hurley, and Trisha Ricketts, author and songstress. Best of all, my niece, Laurel Johnson, grad student and the future First Librarian of the United States, joined us for the show.
Another film I wrote with Tim and Sheldon Patinkin through Second City, "My Bodyguard,” will be shown later in August for the High Fidelity Crowd. That should be fun, too.
There weren't any limos at Navy Pier, or a red carpet. No big city bright lights went out, because none ever went on. But I gotta tell ya, it was great to be part of an appreciative crowd, hearing the lines we wrote and cut and pasted together all those years ago (way before computers), spoken so well by honest characters who will never get any older.
I basked in the lights from the city and the glow of the movie screen as I thought how Debbie and Danny and Bernie and Joan had learned as much as they ever would. They will stay young and beautiful, if flawed, forever. But we can still learn from our mistakes. Can't we? Yeah, sure we can.