In the spirit of New Years, I thought I’d share this “only in Hollywood” moment. Firstly, I’m not a big fan of New Year’s partying. Neither is my beloved War Department. Something, perhaps, about the forced gaiety of it all and why must the page turn on another year for us all to celebrate?
Some years ago, the War Department and I were invited to Barbara Broccoli’s New Year’s party. It was an annual black-tie event, a tradition Barbara had taken on from her dearly departed father, the one and only Albert “Cubby” Broccoli.
So on that particular December 31st, my beloved and I – otherwise known as the San Fernando Valley shut-ins – slipped on our best duds and Volvo’d over Coldwater Canyon to Barbara and Fred’s Beverly Hills address. As I handed the keys to the valet, I recalled feeling like the proverbial fish out of water. Sure, I was a working Hollywood word-jockey with a couple of credits, but it was as at that very moment I’d just realized what a virtual tadpole I was when it came to the showbiz social game. I was comfortable with my name being on a screening invite list or cleared for a meeting and a movie studio drive-on. The event I was entering, though, was on a whole different strata.
Barbara’s party was the old school Hollywood of power players and private glitz – an exclusive club to which I was not a member and, for that one night, a mere tourist. Even today, as I think back, it feels like we’d only bussed through the night, viewing it from seats inside one of the trams that service the Universal Studios backlot tour.
A massive tent had been erected for the night with the interior decorated to the holiday nines. There were dozens of tables set for a sit-down dinner with white-glove service, a pair of open bars, and a parquet dance floor next to which was a four-piece party band with a singer. The cheesy combo busted through an endless list of arcane favorites that seemed relegated to another era. It was hardly ticket worthy. My guess was that when the band wasn’t booked for weddings and bar mitzvahs, it might’ve worked the retirement home circuit. Despite my petty complaint, the music added an odd charm to the top-drawer event.
But for hosts, it appeared we didn’t know a soul at the party. Luckily, I eventually bumped into fellow scripter, Chris Gerolmo (Mississippi Burning). We shared the same attorney, had attended a few ball games together, and seemed to appear equally out of our depth. I say seemed because I’ve never actually quizzed Chris on his recollection. And unlike me, he’d been invited to another exclusive club with his Oscar nomination.
Then there was Gary Sinise and his wife Moira. We’d been introduced once before through some Chicago theater peeps. Somehow, we all found ourselves sitting at one of the outer ring tables for dinner, boozing and laughing and boozing some more.
Somehow my affection for cigars became a subject. Sinise, who’d chewed through a few stogies while shooting Forest Gump, expressed an equal jones. Then Gerolmo, who was palsy with Barbara’s husband, Fred mentioned that Fred had a humidor full of aged Cuban smokes. I’m sure we would’ve asked Fred if we could’ve found him. Instead, the three-amigos-for-the-night went on a surreptitious quest through the old mansion in search of Fred’s private humidor. Too drunk to act cool, we were busted by a member of the staff. I believe it was Gary, the lauded actor of course, who put on a show that Fred himself had sent us in search of his Caribbean-cured stash. The housekeeper showed us to the prized box of cigars, we each chose an appropriate heater, returned to the tent and blazed up in time for a New Year’s toast.
Of course, because it was what it was and we were where we were, there was more and more drinking. Driving home looked like it wasn’t going to be an option. But before pondering a cab ride back to Casa de Gracias por Die Hard, my ears pricked up with a sound. Oddly, I noticed the same look on my cigar compadres’ faces.
“Is it me,” I asked, “or did the band just get better.”
“We’re pretty drunk,” laughed Gerolmo.
“No,” said Sinise. “That band just got a lot better.”
As I alluded, the sound was altogether different. The same instruments in the hands of the same musicians, only the singer had changed from the lounge chanteuse to a male crooner. Nostalgic stylings. And this dude had some bloody great pipes.
“On a clear day, rise and look around you…” sang the voice.
And then it hit us like we’d all be skull spanked with the same lead pipe.
“Robert Goulet,” we all practically said in unison. I say, in unison, knowing that we were drunk and memory gets fuzzy when liquor is introduced. Nonetheless, if we didn’t all say it at once, we sure as hell all thought it at once.
Between our table and the band was one of the decorated pillars holding up a portion of the tent. None of us could see who was singing. But in the seconds it took each of us to push away from the table and skirt around a table or two, it became crystalline and true that the man on the microphone was indeed none other than Robert Goulet.
Okay. So before you young’ns ask or Google who the hell is Robert Goulet? let me just say he was famous for Broadway, movies, and television. His voice alone had wet enough post-WWII panties to achieve rock star status. That said, why the hell would Gary Sinise, Chris Gerolmo, and yours truly get our collective (and drunken) boxers in a bunch over some old fart crooner?
Simple answer. Our moms. As it turned out, our singular moment of ear-wareness was due to that each of our mothers had owned those very same Robert Goulet records. To a man, we remembered those ladies who’d borne us, singing along in either the car or while performing household chores, moving in time to every sumptuous Robert Goulet vocal sway carved into vinyl.
Though we were dressed in tuxedos and smoking Cuban cigars, there was no way what followed could’ve looked cool. As Mr. Goulet was winding up his impromptu three-song set which included If I Ever Leave You from Camelot and What Kind of Fool am I? from Stop the World I Want to Get Off, this mid-thirties trio of drunken dudes stood at the edge of the dance floor, waiting like bobbysoxers for a chance to be super-fans for our mums.
“Mr. Goulet,” I started, first to stick out my sweaty hand.
“Bob,” the singer replied.
“Okay, Bob,” said Gary, taking his turn. “Really great stuff.”
“We gotta say,” I continued, “when you started singing? Each of us got this thrill because we all realized at the same time that when we were little kids, our moms had played your records over and over.”
Okay. So it wasn’t the swiftest compliment you blurt out to a living legend who’d just voluntarily serenaded the glitzy private party with his three biggest hits. Not just that, he’d just returned from treatment for cancer and, from what my host told me, this was his first public performance in eons. And these three lunk-heads, loaded and giddy and reeking of cigars, couldn’t muster any real personal compliments before gushing about how excited their sweet mothers would be to hear that, in their stead, we’d flat out fangirled Robert Goulet.
Though we eventually found our own appreciative voices, offering gratitude for his fine and mellifluous vocals, our aim had been clear. And thankfully, Bob couldn’t have been more gracious while, perhaps, being slightly let down as we absent-mindedly reminded him that he had aged beyond our generation.
As three amigos, we ended the night promising to keep in touch while slapping each other on our respective backs that we’d shaken Robert Goulet’s magical mitt for our dear mothers.
However, my dear mum, who was the queen of underplaying her excitement, seemed less impressed than I.
“Oh yes,” she said. “I used to listen to those records. I’m glad to know Robert Goulet is still alive.”
“Yes, alive,” I said to her. “And killing it.”
“Glad you had a good time,” said my mom in her classic flat-liner style. “Did you remember to call your father for his birthday?”
Like I said before – at least when I look back – it feels more like I was a tourist on the Universal Studios tram that night. Yet I’m still very glad I said yes to the ticket.
THE SMOKING GUN: True Tales from Hollywood’s Screenwriting Trenches is now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the Writers Store.