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Waiting to Make It

by David Westheimer

 

Im eighty-three now.  I was 43 when I moved to Los Angeles from Houston in 1961.  My family and I moved into a two-bedroom apartment, a nice enough place but we intended staying there only until I made it in Hollywood and could buy a real home.  In Houston wed bought and lived in three houses since our marriage in 1945 and when I was recalled to active duty by the Air Force in 1950 we bought another house in Falls Church, VA, and lived in it until I went off active duty and returned to Houston and a new home.
      After moving to Los Angeles and into our temporary apartment 39 years ago the job Id moved there to take ran out after a year and for a while I did what Damon Runyon so accurately described, the best I could, a field which is very overcrowded at this time. 
      In desperation I hunkered down at an unfinished pine desk in a corner of a bedroom and wrote a novel, my sixth, Von Ryans Express, my first best seller, a Book of The Month Club selection and a nice film sale.  I now had enough money for a home but instead invested the money in a sure thing.  The next best sellers would take care of the house. 
      Besides, I had a contract for the first draft of the screenplay as a condition for the sale of screen rights.  I didnt get a whole lot of money for that first draft and no screen credit, either, after I was fired and the traditional new writers brought in.  It did get me accepted into the Writers Guild, where I have now been a member for 36 years, and gave me my 15 minutes of fame to exploit, which I did by developing and writing a half-hour TV pilot which never made it to the regular schedule.
       But not to worry, I had a new novel at the end of my fingers, My Sweet Charlie, which had great reviews but less than great sales.   I turned it into a Broadway play starring Bonnie Bedelia and Lou Gossett, Jr.  It ran 30 or so performances, thanks to the  faith of Bob Banner, the producer, with every performance a losing one.  It  later became a highly successful TV movie for Dick Levinson and Bill Link, with Patty Duke and Al Freeman, Jr., and while Levinson and Link graciously shared the glory with me the  royalties remained theirs.  No down payment for a house here.
       Eight more novels followed, some optioned and a couple even getting into development but none made, even The Avila Gold, optioned umpteen times and thrice reaching the script state.  (Its under option again even as I write.)  The advance for one novel, Lighter Than a Feather, was enough to pay my way for the three years it took to research and write it; with nothing left over for a house. I was never hired to do a screenplay for The Avila Gold but I did one on speculation which didnt sell.  Over the years Ive done three more of my novels, without success, and a couple of original scripts, which met the same fate.  And Ive been hired for other scripts and TV  pilots, which kept me solvent but none of which reached the big screen or even the little one.  In the 36 years I was available in the script-writing dodge, I managed to get only two movies of the week, two series episodes and one sitcom pilot on the air, one of the movies and both of the episodes thanks to the friendship of a  producer I knew.
       So were still living in the apartment that was to be our temporary home until I made it in Hollywood.
       But in 39 years weve never missed a days rent and Ive learned to kind of like the place.

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