Onyx Publications
  • Hollywood Forever

    Written By: Jordan Canio

    © 2021 by Jordan Canio

Roy Ashcroft swirled his drink and for a brief second, thought he saw his career caught in the spiral.

He was only 33 but knew that his A-list days were numbered. Despite being a bankable movie star at the tender age of 22, the returns on his last projects weren’t too appetizing. If he could sense this, then so could the studios. Scripts began to dry up, promised collaborations fell through, and other opportunities all but evaporated into the latest LA heat wave.

Now, Roy found himself in the office of Howard Tuller, a studio head with more clout in Hollywood than the President has in Washington. Howard was a box office kingmaker. Your favorite actor and actress have probably shaken his hand. This drew Roy to Howard’s office. That, and a slight push from Roy’s pitbull agent, Charles.

The receptionist fixed Roy a drink while he waited. Howard himself was running thirty minutes late. It was the oldest power play in the book. Howard’s the one with a busy career after all. With each passing minute, Roy felt his importance diminish.

His attention returned to his drink. He swirled it once more and inspected another spiral. Before it sucked him in, he threw the drink back and swallowed it whole.

The office door swung open, and on cue, Roy stood up from his chair. Howard strolled in wearing a nice suit but a cheap smile.

“Roy,” Howard said. “How the hell are you?”

Howard grasped Roy’s outstretched hand with both of his and delivered a firm handshake.

“Howard, it’s good to see you,” Roy said.

“Please,” Howard said. “My mother and my ex-wives call me Howard. Call me Howie!”

“Of course, Howie.”

Howie took his seat behind his desk. During his salad days, Roy quickly learned that the best acting in Hollywood takes place during this game. Pleasantries are exchanged and each player pretends to be invested in the other’s answers. At least until they find the perfect opening to insert their dominance. It’s Oscar-caliber material.

“So what brings you here today, Roy,” Howie asked. “Aside from drinking my booze!”

Howie laughed obnoxiously and Roy mirrored him.

“Well, aside from that,” Roy said. “I wanted to talk to you about my career.”

“Yes, Charlie said you wanted to speak,” Howie said, leaning back in his chair.

“That’s right,” Roy said. “See, I’ve had my eye on a few projects that, for one reason or another, seemed to have stalled lately. You know how these things go.”

“Of course.”

“Right. Of course you do. And as a person who I consider to be an expert, I was wondering if you could help me figure out my next move.”

“You mean your next movie?”

“Well, yes,” Roy said. “I still have a lot to offer. I just need the right role to show off my range.”

“Did you have anything in mind?”

“I do actually! I told Charlie that I was looking to play something with an edge to it. He snooped around and found out that Paramount has just green-lit a remake of The Getaway.”

“Ah yes, we’re very excited for that one,” Howie said and then leaned in. “Between you and me, we might have locked down Marty for that.”

“Really,” Roy asked. “Wow, that’d be something else. Now, I haven’t managed to get a hold of the script yet, but I did read the book a little bit ago.”

“Oh.”

“Howie, I’m not going to beat around the bush. I want to play Rudy, the villain.”

Howie stared at Roy in silence.

“I guess I could see that,” Howie said.

“It’d be a great turn for me,” Roy said. “Like the Joker was for Heath or how Pulp Fiction revived Travolta!”

“I admire your passion, kid,” Howie said with hesitation building. “However, I’m not sure if you’re quite there just yet. I don’t want to be too blunt, but the studio will have to consider the receipts of your last film.”

And there was the shoe Roy was expecting to drop. He ran his lines for this, but for the moment, he had forgotten them.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Howie said. “I loved Battleship 2! But unfortunately, there’s not 10 million of me to buy tickets at $10 apiece to fill those seats.”

“I know,” Roy said. “It’s a longshot but what if I could do a miniseries first? I mean, True Detective has been a godsend for McConaughey and Stephen Dorff! I could prove my range with something like that before making the leap back to the big screen.”

“You could,” Howie said. “But I don’t think you’ll be able to get into that type of room just yet neither.”

Roy leaned back in his chair. There had to be some other way.

“I’m at a loss, Howie,” Roy said. “I’m an actor but I don’t have any direction right now. You have more wisdom in this field than anyone. Please. Direct me.”

Howie turned to stare out the window of his office. He pretended to ponder.

“It’s quite the predicament, kid,” Howie said. “Frankly, there are plenty of actors in your position who don’t bounce back. Their fates are resigned to the Sci-Fi Channel and $2 movies on iTunes.”

“I don’t want that to be me, Howie,” Roy said. “I’ve got more fight in me than that. I’m willing to do anything. All I’m asking for is the right opportunity to prove it.”

“Hmmm, well,” Howie said. “Do you mind if I ask you some personal questions?”

“Yeah, sure,” Roy said.

“Do you love your wife?”

“Yes, yes I do.”

“Do you two see yourselves having children in the future?”

“We….we haven’t fully discussed it, but I believe we will eventually.”

“That’s nice. Any chance you can expedite that process?”

“Uh….”

“Sorry, my wording there was a bit too frank,” Howie said. “You know what? Forget it. I don’t want to force you into something you’re uncomfortable with.”

“No, no,” Roy said. “It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with it. It’s just that-“

Howie leaned in as Roy sighed.

“Do you really think that having a child will help my career,” Roy asked.

“Your career? Who said anything about a career?”

“I’m sorry, Howie,” Roy said. “I don’t think that I follow.”

“Listen, kid – I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Are you ready?”

Roy nodded.

“Careers – they’re overrated. They’re fickle. They can last anywhere between a few years to, if you’re lucky, a couple of decades. Easy come, easy go. Do you know what really lasts?”

Roy cocked his head.

“Brands,” Howie said. “Your Pepsi’s, your Nikes, and your Toyotas. With proper quality control and the occasional innovation here or there, a good brand can last well over half a century.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.”

“Do you have any idea how many Fondas there are,” Howie asked.

“The actors?”

“AND actresses,” Howie said. “There’s many – Henry, Peter, Jane, Bridget, et cetera, et cetera. There are multiple generations of them. And while they all have their respective careers, do you know the one thing people always like about them?”

Roy was silent, which was good because Howie was too eager to reveal.

“Their name, kid,” Howie said. “People like it when they recognize a name. Henry circles back to Peter while Bridget reminds everyone of Jane and so on and so forth. Do you understand what I’m getting at?”

“I think,” Roy said.

“Think about it this way: how do you go about buying a TV?”

“A TV? I, uh, go to the store?”

“Right,” Howie said. “But when you’re trying to pick out the right TV just for you, what do you do?”

“I guess I read the reviews or look at the brand.”

“OF COURSE YOU DO,” Howie said. “You look at the brand because you are a sensible consumer. You research to make sure that your hard-earned money is being well spent. I commend you for your practicality.”

Roy was unsure where this was leading, so he smiled to cover that up.

“So tell me,” Howie said. “If you had a choice, would you buy a Samsung or an Insignia TV?”

“I’ve never even heard of Insignia,” Roy said.

“But you’ve heard of Samsung?

“Of course.”

“So because of this, you would be more likely to….”

“Buy a Samsung,” Roy answered.

“Exactly,” Howie said. “At the end of the day, you – like many – will rely on a brand name.”

Howie opened his drawer, took out a manila folder, and sat on the end of his desk with it.

“An actor’s name is their brand, kid,” Howie said. “People feel more inclined to see a film if their favorite actor is in it. That’s the system at work!”

Howie’s glee lingered but then soon morphed into stoicism. He broke eye contact with Roy.

“Howie,” Roy asked. “What’s going on?”

“I know how to save your career, Roy. I’m not speaking figuratively neither. I know EXACTLY what can save your career. But before I proceed, I need to know that what I’m about to say now doesn’t leave this room.”

Roy nervously nodded.

“I’m serious, kid,” Howie said. “If this information gets out, you’re finished, and not just in the movies. You’ll have trouble getting a job as a fucking cook at In-N-Out. Capice?”

“Capice, Howie,” Roy said. “You can trust me.”

Howie smiled at the sentiment.

“I know. I just needed to hear it.”

He stood up and walked to the window.

“As I was saying, we know that people will flock to see their favorite actor, but then we asked ourselves  - would they do the same for their offspring? We did some studies and found that while some people didn’t like the idea – art school types who hate ‘nepotism’ – many were open to it.”

He turned to Roy.

“I mean, even if Bridget doesn’t look exactly like Peter, many people will still see her movie just to see what she can do. Do you catch my drift?”

“You want me to have a kid so that I can advance my career and…….theirs?”

This question made Howie laugh so hard, he snorted.

“Shit, kid! If it was that simple, I’d have your woman spitting out kids every Christmas!”

Despite his acting prowess, Roy couldn’t hide the offense he felt from the suggestion of turning his wife into a broodmare.

“Sorry,” Howie said. “That was inappropriate. We have tried that before though. We let everyone have their own kids on their own time to see if they’d move into the world of acting in an organic fashion. The results are about 50/50. Some of the kids go on to have fruitful careers.”

“And the other 50,” Roy asked.

“They end up in rehab, dead, or worse – they quit showbiz altogether. Do you follow?”

“I’m trying.”

“I know,” Howie said. “It must sound strange.”

Howie took a seat and let his chair swing for a moment.

“This whole thing would be a lot easier if we could just clone you!”

Roy laughed, but Howie just smiled.

“Do you know who Ireland Baldwin is,” Howie asked.

“Alec and Kim’s kid, right,” Roy asked.

“Yes. Have you ever noticed how drop-dead gorgeous she is?”

“She’s a stunner.”

“YES! Just like her mom, Kim. Practically the spitting image.”

“Yeah, she definitely got the good genes.”

“Yes, she did. I look at her and Cindy Crawford’s kid and think if only we were all that lucky! Have you seen her daughter?”

“Of course. She’s a real beauty too. But what does that have to-”

“Tell me, kid. If you could describe Cindy’s kid’s looks, what would you say?”

“I’d say that she looks just like her mother, probably.”

“Indeed! Indeed you would. And how would you describe Ireland?”

“I’d say that she also looks like her moth–“

Roy stopped himself and Howie smiled wider.

“Something wrong, kid,” Howie asked.

Roy laughed nervously.

“No, nothing at all,” Roy said.

“Then why did you stop?”

“Nothing, I just- I just had a silly thought.”

“And what would that be?”

“It’s…it’s just not possible.”

“Of course it isn’t. It’s not possible at all.”

Roy let out a weak chuckle and felt human again.

“Not unless you work in a very powerful industry,” Howie said. “Like Hollywood.”

Howie winked and suddenly, Roy felt very cold. He tried to laugh again but when he saw that Howie wasn’t budging, his brain began to swim.

“But how,” Roy asked. “How is it possible to..to..”

“Make copies,” Howie asked.

The notion of it made Roy’s mouth go dry. Unable to speak, he nodded.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Howie said. “I leave that to the eggheads in the lab and they seem to know what they’re doing. But I can tell you why if that’s what you really want to know.”

Howie stood and moved to the front of his desk again.

“After a while, the child actor routine became too unreliable. For every Fonda, there was a Sheen. For every Bridges, there was an Aniston. Try to understand, kid – when the movie industry is already suffering from record low returns, we can’t risk anything remotely volatile happening behind the scenes. So we tried something else. Something that some might find unethical.”

Howie pulled the folder off his desk and handed it to Roy, who took it cautiously. He slowly opened it to see a younger headshot of actor Jeremy Irons. Howie quickly peeked the photo.

“Ah yes, Jeremy,” Howie said. “I call him Jear-Bear. He was one of the first that came to us back in 1984. He too was struggling to transition from the stage to the screen. He came to the studio and we agreed to help him.”

Howie took Jeremy’s photo away to show a photo of someone else. Or was it?

“So after mixing a heavy bit of his DNA with a dash of hers, Sinead soon gave birth to their lovely ‘son’ Max. And voila! One career is saved, another is created, and a brand is born.”

Roy felt the sweat pool near his scalp as he studied Max and Jeremy’s photos. He did so until Howie took both photos to reveal a photo of Kim Basinger.

“Kim and her ex-husband came to us too. In the 90s, her career was struggling. This may be a bit of a shock to you, but after she bought a small town and walked off a contracted role, she ran into some financial hardship. Her roles started to dry up as well and soon, she approached me. I think you know where this is going.”

Howie flipped the page to reveal a photo of Ireland.

“Not only did she give ‘birth’ to this little bundle of joy, but shortly after, she scored the Oscar for LA Confidential. Truly a win-win for everyone involved.”

Howie chuckled at his own joke while Roy was checking to see if his head was still there.

“Are you alright, kid? I know it’s a lot to process.”

“Howie,” Roy said. “What you’re talking about is…is human engineering.”

“I prefer ‘brand maintenance.’ I’m talking about taking an existing product and developing it to its full potential. I’m talking about creating something reliable, something that keeps the audience engaged and happy. In this uncertain world, I’m talking about giving people shelter in a familiar glow. I’m talking about giving them the comfort they deserve.”

Roy’s pulse quickened but he went dead-eyed. It must have been a defense mechanism to keep his brain from imploding.

“It’s like harvesting food. People like apples, right? So if you’re a farmer, you’re going to grow the same crop that people want to buy. You pick the apples that people like and then you sow the seeds so that there’s more fruit come next harvest.”

Howie crouched down to Roy’s eye level.

“And once you’re in, you’re in, kid. You’ll be taken care of for the rest of your life. You still want that role in the Getaway? I can have a contract drawn up this afternoon. You want to pursue TV? I’ll kick whatever schmuck they have attached to the latest season of True Detective to the curb and the role is yours. The world will come up Roy Ashcroft and the system will make sure of it!”

Howie leaned in expecting an answer, but Roy still had a question.

“This sounds nice Howie, but am I selling my children,” Roy asked.

“WHAT,” Howie said. “No. NO! That’s not at all what we’re trying to do here!”

“It doesn’t seem like they’d have much of a choice!”

“Of course, they have a choice! We’re not savages! They’ll have free will. Now, it just so happens that they might want to take a career in film or modeling over, oh I don’t know, being a fucking plumber! But the choice is always THEIRS.”

“I’m sorry, Howie,” Roy said. “It’s just….it’s just a lot.“

“It’s a lot to take in. I get it. But if they do want to be a lawyer or a doctor or what have you, then they will have the connections through you AND us to have access to the best. The best education, the best opportunities, you name it! If they choose to get into showbiz, we are there for that as well. But if anything, you’re doing what any good parent should do. You’re securing their futures!”

Howie placed his hands on Roy’s face to hold his attention.

“I like you, Roy. I always thought you had the potential to be the next Brando. So why not make it happen for yourself? Why not go from Roy Ashcroft, the fading movie star, to ROY ASHCROFT - the first of an EMPIRE?!?”

Roy saw it. The Henry Ford of the silver screen. His future “kids” and “grand kids” would be bankable, go through life in a way most never get to experience, and get exposed to the best of the very best. If he was to be a father, wasn’t it his duty to do that for his kids?

Howie stood up and stuck out his hand.

“So what do you say, kid? Are you ready to be fitted for the crown?”

Roy then saw his life if he didn’t choose this – moving back to the middle of nowhere, having kids he struggled to support, and drinking cheap beer while watching football games on Sundays.

He shot up from his seat and firmly grasped Howie’s hand.

“Excellent,” Howie said. “I’m so happy for you, kid.”

“So what’s next,” Roy asked.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll want to break the good news to your wife. We have people that can help you facilitate this news so we’ll set you up with them.”

“Okay, that sounds good,” Roy said.

Howie walked over to his minibar and poured two drinks. He handed one to Roy and raised his glass.

“Roy, I believe this is the start of something beautiful.”

“Me too, Howie.”

Howie laughed, Roy smiled, and as their glasses clinked, not a single spiral formed.