Mr. B Goes to Hollywood

by W. F. Nolan

"Mr. Weewig, sir. There's a man outside."

J. B. Weewig, production head of Superscreen Pictures Inc., dramatically crushed a wet cigar to death in a mammoth kidney-shaped ashtray and fixed an evil eye on his blonde secretary. "That's a wholly ambiguous statement, Miss Muss, which I might interpret in many ways."

"I - I mean a man -- to see you." Miss Muss had just graduated Hollywood High, was only nineteen, and flustered easily.

"Does he have an appointment?"

"No, sir. And I told him --"

"-- that it was impossible to see me without an appointment. Nobody, NOBODY, Miss Muss, sees me without an appointment -- except my bookie. Is he my bookie?"

"No, sir. He's --"

"By GOD! NOT EVEN LOUIE B. MAYER CAN SEE ME WITHOUT AN APPOINTMENT!" He was waving clenched fists in the air, mentally comparing his performance to that of Charles Laughton in The Big Clock.

"He -- he says you asked about seeing one of his scripts. He brought one with him."

"OHMAHGAWD! ANOTHER WRITER!" Weewig stormed across the office, papers fluttering from the desk in the wind of his passage. "Dime a dozen. Every bum in town's a writer. What in Sam Hill would I be doing reading his script? You know, I PAY people to read." He leveled a Humphrey Bogart gun-barrel finger at the trembling girl. "Has he got a spectacle? We're in the market for spectacles."

Miss Muss was confused and on the verge of tears. "Oh -- I'm not sure. . . He. . . He wears glasses."

"Are you trying to be funny, Miss Muss? You know, I PAY people to be funny."

"Oh, no, sir. . . I didn't mean --" She was openly sobbing.

"I must insist you pull yourself together! Now -- what is this fellow's name?"

"R-Ray Bradbury. He mentioned something about scenic friction."

Weewig lit up like a Christmas tree. "Science-fiction, my dear girl! Science fiction. Up and coming thing these days. And we here in the film capitol are proud to say we discovered it first! Why, they'll be printing the stuff next. Spectacle. That's what it is. Spectacle. Send the fellow - whatzis -- in."

Hands folded behind his back, Mr. Weewig pleasurably scrutinized his secretary's trim legs as she left the room, congratulating himself on his choice of office personnel. He felt very much like James Mason in The Seventh Veil.

The door opened. A young man with a crew haircut and bow-tie entered. He smiled at Weewig. "We met at a party. My name is . ."

"Yes, yes, I know." Weewig gripped the other's hand and pumped it up and down, violently, until he heard bones snap. "Sit down, Ralph. Have a cigar."

"The name is Ray," Bradbury said, massaging his right hand. "I don't smoke, thanks." He sat down.

"So you've brought me a script - eh?"

Bradbury handed the producer a manila envelope.

Weewig re-seated himself at the desk, rolled a freshly-lit cigar across his ample mouth, and glanced over the typed pages. "Mmmmmmm. Umph. MMMMMMM. Not bad. NOT BAD! No title. What do you call it?"

"I thought The Outer Ones might convey the feeling of loneliness, of sadness, which is the dominant theme of. . ."

"Lousy title, Ralph. No zip. No zing. No sales appeal." Weewig paused to belch. "No sex! But forget the title. You know, I PAY people to think up titles."

Bradbury squirmed in the chair. "Maybe I'd better --."

"Whydja bring it ta me?" The producer's speech occasionally lapsed into that of a Brooklynesque gang leader, once enacted by Richard Widmark.

"At this party I attended some weeks ago, you expressed interest in the idea."

Weewig chuckled slyly. "When I'm at a party, I am drunk. And when I am drunk, I am interested in everything. Especially," he winked knowingly, "--women."

"Maybe I'd better take my script and. . ."

"Nonsense, my boy. Sit down. I think you've GOT something here. I might even call it a rough-hewn classic!"

The adjective disturbed Bradbury. "I did seventeen drafts before bringing it in."

"Of course, of course. It's in good shape. By God --" Weewig arose and smashed his fist on the desk to punctuate his decision. "I LIKE the idea. And what I like - I buy. Ralph, how about thirty thousand?" He picked up a fountain pen and began to scratch rapidly in a checkbook.

"Uh-- the name is Ray," corrected Bradbury, somewhat shaken.

"There you are, my boy." He handed the check to Bradbury and pressed a wall button. "Our catastrophe man'll be here in a jiffy."

"Your what?" asked Bradbury.

"Joe Niblick. Does all our catastrophes. Great guy, Joe. Damn sensitive, too. When we want an earthquake -- a tidal wave - a typhoon, he's our boy!"

The door flew open and a voice, vast and thunder-throated, boomed across the room, setting Bradbury's teeth on edge. "HIYA J.B.!"

Weewig rushed to embrace the smiling newcomer. For a moment they exchanges obscenities regarding Weewig's secretary. Then --

"Joe, I want you to meet a talented boy -- Ray Bogbury."

Before Bradbury could supply the proper name correction, he felt one of his bones crack under Niblick's handshake. After that he didn't care. Niblick, a small greasy man with a tic in his cheek, suddenly quit smiling. "Let's get down to business. You got a catastrophe in this script?"

Bradbury, again seated and massaging his hand, replied uncertainly, "Well, I wouldn't actually call it --"


Bradbury had the uncomfortable feeling that the man's skull, lobster-red and nearly hairless, would, at any moment, pop its skin like a suddenly squeezed grape.

Niblick was ruffling through the typed pages, his cheek ticing furiously. "Ahhhhhhaaaaa -- here's one. Rocket crash!"

"Mr. Niblick, if you read further I think you'll find the --"

"Never mind - never mind. I can see it now." Niblick's eyes glazed and he began to tip back on his heels in an ecstasy of creation. "Times Square on Saturday night. Throngs of people. Neon lights. Music. Sex. And then - WHAM!!!" Niblick smacked the desk top with a ruler. "Five rockets come out of deep space and obliterate half of New York."

Bradbury was out of his chair, hand raised in protest. "It's only one small rocket, and it lands in the Arizona desert."

Weewig swept past Bradbury and threw both arms around his friend's neck. They wept together. "My God, Joe - IT'S GREAT!" Niblick, clutching part of the script, retired to a corner of the office and slid down to a sitting position on the floor. He began red-pencilling the pages with savage intensity. Weewig pressed another button.

Within seconds, a tall loose-jointed man with sideburns rushed into the room. He wore a seersucker suit.

"Ralph, I want you to meet Sid Siss. Does all our Illinois dialogue. Sid, this is Ralph Bedbury."

:Hello," said Bradbury, not offering to shake hands.

Sid was facing J.B. Weewig. He had eyes for no one-else. "I can't tell you how much this means, J.B. A whole year and no Illinois pictures. Sitting in that office -- day after day. Darts and checkers. Checkers and darts! I thought I'd go crazy. But now, NOW, I can get my teeth into something." A strange light glittered in his eyes as he turned to the script.

"Uh, wait a minute." Bradbury was on his feet once more. "The Illinois section is very brief and entirely visual. You just get a subtle glimpse of --"

But the hungry-eyed Siss was already at work on his section of the script and another button had been pressed. The new arrival was gaunt and silent, with deep hollows under bird-bright eyes. His name was Pike.

"Does all our cracker barrel sequences. That sort of thing. Good to break the mood of a spectacle with a little down-to-earth country store human interest."

Bradbury nodded, numbly trying to recall a cracker-barrel sequence in his story while he watched Pike extract another section from the diminishing script. The tall man grunted twice and walked slowly to the window where he seated himself.

More buttons were pressed.

Bradbury was introduced to a squirrel-faced individual sporting a set of highly-burnished plates whose smile was an overrich and dazzling affair, not unlike a display of glittering china under lights. His name was Grist and he had worked with Cecil B. DeMille before signing with Superscreen. Poking a sharp elbow into Bradbury's ribs he repeated, with obvious relish, his favorite pun: "Grist for DeMille. Get it pal? Grist for DeMille!"

It seemed his specialty was comedy production numbers encompassing hordes of chorus girls and huge revolving stages.

Mr. Chester was summoned next, a singularly ill-mannered fat man whose personal attractiveness was further handicapped by bad breath and a nasal drip. Bradbury couldn't recall his organizational function, but it had something to do with the fact that he had been divorced seven times and was supposed to know all about women. The office was gradually filling. The increasingly argumentative rumble of voices mixed with heavy swirls of cigar smoke made Bradbury slightly ill. Someone mentioned Martin and Lewis and Weewig's scream of delight rebounded from the walls.

Bradbury had begun to edge toward the door when a uniformed waiter, emerging from the press of bodies, belligerently thrust a tray of sandwiches in his face. In order to avoid attracting attention, Bradbury apprehensively selected a small triangle of odorous bread smeared with a sickly-hued paste which stuck in his throat like melted chalk when he attempted to swallow. Face flushed and almost gagging, he made his way through the cigar haze to a large kidney-shaped potted plant near the window, wherein he furtively deposited the soggy remnants of the delicacy.

Both hands clutching at his stomach, he finally reached the hallway. It stretched ahead of him -- cool and inviting.

No one noticed the door close.

. . . .

Six weeks later, the completed script of Vampires From Outer Space lay on J.B. Weewig's desk. The producer was on the phone, discussing the picture with Louis B. Mayer.

"Who wrote it? A fellow named Redbury. Very funny guy, with a great sense a' humor, but, just between you and me, L.B. -- a SLOPPY writer. The original script he handed me had no polish whatever, L.B. But the minute I read it I knew we had something. A classic I called it -- yessir, L.B. -- a rough-hewn classic!"

Data entry and page scans provided by Judy Bemis

Data entry by Judy Bemis

Updated November 8, 2007. If you have a comment about these web pages please send a note to the Fanac Webmaster. Thank you.