Sunday, August 22, 2010

A True Hollywood Story...

One of my fondest memories of my studio days in Hollywood were the monthly meetings of the Film Information Council.

It was a small informal group of marketing, publicity and promotion executives from the studios, production companies and agencies. This was an electic group of  talented, opinionated and passionate men and women who loved working behind the scenes on the greatest movies ever made.

Getting invited to join the FIC was no small feat. So, I was thrilled when I got my first invitation for a small lunch gathering on the Sunset Strip.

I walked in, and I was speechless. There was Stanley Kramer surrounded by the inside elite of Hollywood publicity from Columbia Pictures, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, the Editor of Daily Variety, and every major PR firm in town. Stanley Kramer was THE MAN who produced and directed some of the greatest films of all time;  High Noon, The Wild Ones, The Caine Mutiny, Judgement at Nerenberg, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and my all time favorite Inherit the Wind.

And I was there. Amazing.

The next two hours flew by. I quickly regained by ability to speak, and naturally had to ask about working with with Spencer Tracy and Gary Cooper. Being part of that lunch and shaking the hand of Stanley Kramer was one of the true highlights of my career.

I told you that story to tell you this one....

The FIC meetings were always lively, interesting and full of gossip and good natured ribbing. We'd gather at Ma Maison, or the Beverly Hilton, or some other swanky LA eatery (that's what we used to call restuarants back in the day) and talk shop.

On this particular day, we were discussing the recent opening of Bugsy starring Warren Beatty, Annette Bening and Ben Kingsley.  Gathered around the table were John Strauss, Arthur Canton, Leo Wilder, Dick Kahn, Mel Powell and John Flinn. If this were a story about sports, it would be like Branch Rickey, Walter O'Malley, Casey Stengel and Judge Landis at the same table talking baseball.

Instantly, the talk turned to Billy Wilkerson the firey flamboyant founder and publisher of The Hollywood Reporter. They had all worked with "Wild Bill" for years, and the true story behind 'Bugsy' quickly emerged.

It was Billy Wilkerson who started building the Flamingo hotel. It was Billy Wilkerson who wanted to lure the Hollywood stars to a small patch of desert called Las Vegas. And it was Billy Wilkerson, who broke and distraught, sold his stake in The Flamingo Hotel to Ben Siegel.

At that moment, I looked up and noticed a comotion at the entrance.  Ben Kingley had walked in and it looked like he was heading directly to our table.

I turned to John Strauss, who was finishing his tale of Billy Wilkerson and said, in my not so quiet voice...

"Hurry up and finish...Meyer Lansky is here".

Everyone looked up and after a momentary pause, erupted in laughter. It was completely surreal.

We were sure that Billy Wilkerson had somehow made his way back from the grace for one priceless ironic moment from one of the great true inside Hollywood stories.