(GK: Garrison Keillor, SS: Sue Scott, TK: Tom Keith, TR: Tim Russell)
TR: A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets, but high above the empty streets, on the twelfth floor of the Acme Building one man is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions --- Guy Noir, Private Eye ---
GK: It was May and I was tired of looking at my fellow Minnesotans, all gray and dull like they're waiting for someone to do the autopsy, and Californians look so terrific all the time, so I was in Los Angeles, staying at the Marlowe Motor Inn, a mildew factory on La Cienega Boulevard. It's good to know a little Spanish in L.A., like La Cienega, which means "The Swamp," and La Brea, "The Tar," and La P.D., which means "The Cops". La P.D. towed my car from a No Parking 4-6 zone which I was in because I had neglected to turn my watch back from Central Time.
TK (COP): That's gonna run ya about two hundred bucks. And the impound lot is down in Hawthorne somewhere.
GK: There I was, without a car, in a city where people drive to their own block parties. --- I'd come to L.A. in response to a letter I received from the Silver Screenwriting School, whom I had written to after seeing their ad on a bus. I wrote to them asking if a screenplay about a romance between two hefty people in their late fifties who share an interest in bonsai trees and chinchillas might have commercial possibilities. And back came the reply---
SS (ACTRESS VOICE): Dear Mr. Noir, All of us at the school were tremendously energized by your letter. It was so clear from just a few sentences that you indeed possess the talent required to succeed in the lucrative screenwriting profession. Now you simply need to hone these skills---
GK: And they offered me a 50% scholarship for the spring term.
SS (ACTRESS VOICE): No payment necessary until June. All major credit cards accepted.
GK: I had one credit card with a little juice left in it, and I thought, what the heck. I'd never had a dream of California before. I mean, I'm from St. Paul, we're realists. We know that Evian spelled backward is Naive. (MUSIC) But I flew out and rented a car and found the school (INTERIOR OF CAR, TRAFFIC PASSING, HONKING) in Suite 11A of the West Hollywood Chiropractic Clinic and Tanning Salon---(CHORDS)
SS (GUM CHEWING): Welcome to our screenwriting program, Mr. Noir, and here is your first lesson.
GK: A video?
SS (GUM): Yes. You have a VCR?
GK: I was kind of hoping, for this kind of tuition, there might be an actual teacher, you know---- somebody in slacks and loafers and an open neck sportshirt?
SS (GUM): There is. Barry Barrett. He's one of our best teachers.
GK: Barry Barrett. --- I took the video to the Marlowe Motor Inn and I put the first lesson into the VCR (CLUNK, CLICK) and watched some jerk in a turtleneck talk about storytelling----
TR (HIGH, PHLEGMY, MONOTONE): Every story requires a narrative voice, hero, a quest for a sacred object or totem, a battle with evil, and a wound. And every story ends in redemption. Or a car chase. (KNOCKS ON DOOR)
GK: Yeah. Let me turn this stupid video off.
TR (HIGH, PHLEGMY MONOTONE): Let's start by talking about the hero. The audience needs to identify with the hero so he shouldn't be too short. (CLICK) (FOOTSTEPS, OPEN DOOR)
GK: Yeah, what can I do for you?
TR: I'm sorry. Must have the wrong room. I'm looking for Dave.
GK: Dave must've checked out, sir.
TR: He was here just a few minutes ago.
GK: Hey. Don't I know you? You're in the movie business, aren't you?
TR: Listen--- Mr.---
TR: I'm James Couth --- from Couth & Chaste, the film producers.
GK: Couth & Chaste!!
TR: You've heard of us? We did the Virginia Woolf adaptation --- we did the film version of Thomas Hardy's "Far From The Madding Crowd" - --- we did those Jane Austen films---- and "A Room With A View Of The Bridge on The River Kwai".
GK: You're the guys who always get those awards. You did that four-hour version of Henry James's "Portrait of A Lady".
TR: An hour and a half, actually.
TR: May I come in, Mr. Noir? I'm desperate.
GK: I could tell.
GK: The paper bag full of twenty-dollar bills----
TR: But--- how did you-----
GK: I'm a private eye, Mr. Couth. What do you say we step around the corner and have a drink? (MUSIC BRIDGE) It was one of those bars where they keep the lights low so you can't look too close at the drinks and the air-conditioning is turned up high so as to keep the patrons dormant. --- So this Dave character. What was he blackmailing you about?
TR: What was he--- what?
GK: C'mon. You were bringing him about fifteen grand in twenties --- what was the deal?
TR: My real name isn't Couth, Mr. Noir. And this isn't my real accent. My name is Gatz. Jim Gatz. I'm from Duluth. And I didn't start out in the business making Jane Austen films.
GK: I see.
TR: I made my first million from an X-rated version of "Babes In Toyland".
GK: Sure. I know people who've seen that. Nobody I know well, but people I've sat next to. Or used to.
TR: We followed that with "Babes In Boyland" and "Babes In Joyland" and "Babes Of Many Lands" and "How To Land A Babe" and then a whole series of videos of naked women walking their dogs.
GK: And I associated you with voice-over narration in which people reminisce about their childhoods in Yorkshire and Sussex.
TR: I made my fortune, Mr. Noir, by cashing in on the adolescent obsessions of the American male. I went legit about ten years ago. Changed my name to James Couth and left Malibu and bought a house in Pasadena. Donated a wing to the Huntington Museum. Mayan art. Went on the board of the California Institute of Technology.
GK: And then this Dave guy tried to put the squeeze on you?
TR: I thought I'd buried my past.
GK: We all think that.
TR: My daughter is twenty two, she's finishing up her MFA in film. She's asked me a lot of questions about what I was doing fifteen years ago. I don't know what I'd do if she found out.
GK: What do you want me to do?
TR: I want you to tell her you're Jim Gatz.
GK: That I produced "Babes In Boyland"?
TR: Please. I'll pay you well. I can't let Lindsay know about Voyeur Pictures. She's so proud of me. Please.
GK: You ask a lot, Mr. Couth. (BRIDGE) But I went back to the motor inn and put on a blue silk smoking jacket and lit a pipe and sat in bed with a bunch of 8x10 glossies, and waited for Lindsay to return the message I'd left on her machine. (KNOCKS) Yeah, come in. (DOOR OPEN)
TK: Hi. It's me. Dave.
GK: Uh. Right.
TK: Let's go.
TK: Down to the parking lot, mister. To talk.
GK: But I'm expecting someone.
TK: Sure. Of course. We all are.
GK: What you want to talk to me about, Dave?
TK: I seen you with that Couth guy. What you doing horning in on my squeeze, huh? Get your own pigeon.
GK: What's the 411 on Couth, Dave?
TK: I ain't telling you, mister. I'm just saying, get out of my way.
GK: Before you start threatening me, Dave, I better tell you, I'm trained in seven martial arts and I have three black belts and four blue. And one ecru which used to be brown until I put it in the wash with my bleachables by mistake. I could slice you like bread, mister. Don't make me hurt you.
TK: Don't make me hurt you!! (HE STARTS TO LAUGH. HARDER, THEN UNCONTROLLABLY. THEN HE STARTS TO COUGH AND CHOKE. THEN SUDDENLY HE HAS A HEART ATTACK AND DIES AND FALLS TO THE FLOOR.)
GK: He's dead. Heart attack caused by severe amusement. (BRIDGE) The police came (SIREN) and I was booked on suspicion of manslaughter and was taken downtown and put in a holding cell with a bunch of desperate characters who turned out to be actors working up parts for prison movies.
TR (JACK NICHOLSON): That's interesting, the way you eat that sandwich. Is that how cons do it?
GK: Don't watch another con eat, Mr. Nicholson, you never do that.
TR (JACK): Howdja know it was me?
GK: Just a lucky guess. Who's your friend?
TR (KEANU): Take a guess, dude.
GK: Keanu Reeves? Wow. And who's this? Mr. Rogers? I didn't know you were a movie actor.
TR (ROGERS): Yes. I play a man who's in solitary confinement for thirty years and he makes little puppets who sit on the bed and talk to him. I think I can play that part. I think so. (BRIDGE)
GK: Finally, one of Mr. Couth's assistants came and got me. (TRAFFIC)
SS: I'm sorry, Mr. Gatz. It took me awhile to find a parking space.
GK: That's all right, miss.
SS: I'll drive you back to the Marlowe Motor Inn.
GK: Is Mr. Couth at the office by any chance?
SS: No, he flew to Boston.
GK: So he's doing "The Bostonians," the Henry James novel?
SS: Yes. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Mr. Rogers.
GK: He's hot right now.
SS: Here's my car. (DOOR OPEN)
GK: Thanks. (DOOR CLOSE) I was curious as to whether Mr. Couth had sent along a check of some sort and I was about to ask ---- (DOOR OPEN, CLOSE. CAR START, PULL AWAY) By the way, you---
SS: I'm Lindsay. Lindsay Couth. His daughter.
GK: Ah. Your father mentioned you.
SS: How do you know my father, Mr. Gatz?
GK: How about we stop for dinner and I'll tell you. (BRIDGE) We went to a dim little bistro over on Zarzuela and Hibiscus where the waiters were performing with flaming desserts (TR FRENCH OUTBURST, EXPLOSION OF FLAME) ---- and we sat in the corner, and we ordered drinks ----
SS: An Evian for me.
GK: A martini straight up with a twist of barbed wire, not too rusty.
TR: Oui, monsieur. (PIANO)
GK: And I told her the story of Jim Gatz, as I'd been paid to tell it. How I'd founded Voyeur Pictures and made skin flicks over the objections of my classy partner whose dream was to bring great literature to the screen and encourage young people to read the classics. And how my dream was to rake in the shekels any way I could.
SS: And my father was your conscience?
GK: He was indeed. Always trying to get me to put a message in my movies. And if not a message, then clothing.
SS: Funny, but I don't believe a word you say.
SS: You're no Californian, Mister. You're from Minnesota. I can tell.
GK: How's that?
SS: That barbed wire in your drink. Your pallid complexion. You look like a mushroom.
GK: I've been in an editing room all winter.
SS: You're a Minnesotan, Mister.
SS: Mr. Noir, you don't know enough about sex to make a dirty movie.
GK: You're right. My idea of a threesome is me and Ben and Jerry's.
SS: So my father made those skin flicks.
GK: Yes, he did.
SS: And that's what put me through Yale. All those sweaty ten dollar bills.
GK: I suppose so.
SS: Darn. ---Well, at least he didn't sell maps to the homes of the stars. He didn't produce game shows.
GK: That's one way of looking at it. --- You thinking about going into the movie business?
SS: That's my plan. I want to direct.
GK: Really? That's great.
SS: I'm interested in the personal film. Absolutely original stuff. No formulas.
GK: Odd you should mention it. I have a screenplay about a romance between two hefty people in their late fifties who share an interest in bonsai trees and chinchillas.
SS: I love it.
GK: They live in a trailer park outside Manitowoc, and she works for Krispy Kreme and he's on 30% disability. They've never been married before and their feet hurt but they're basically pretty happy, especially after they eat ice cream.
SS: I can't wait to see it. What's their names?
GK: Joy and Danny.
SS: What's the movie called?
GK: Built For Comfort.
SS: I want to do it. When can I see a screenplay?
GK: Well, it's pretty much written itself ---- I can probably get it to you by Friday.
SS: Fabulous. We'll go into production next week. Here's to you, Mr. Noir. (CLINK) I think this could be something wonderful.
GK: Of course. Why not?
TR: A dark night in a city that keeps its secrets, and there on the twelfth floor of the Acme Building is a guy still trying to find the answers to life's questions.....Guy Noir, private eye.
(c) 2000 by Garrison Keillor