The Chateau Marmont- the notorious Hollywood hotel, witness to Led Zeppelin’s motorcycle riding through the lobby and one of the heart attacks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, among many other infamous incidents. But Rodger Jacobs’ recently never-before-published play, Last Summer at the Marmont (2004/12) which is set in the lavish hotel does not contain the ostentatious or glamorous characters recently found there. Instead we are introduced to Lewis Hogue, an almost obsolete film producer of a different time and Hollywood, who is now battling health problems and the new faces of the new Hollywood scene. The title hints at two possible meanings- whether our ailing protagonist is discussing his last summer ever at the Marmont, or whether, less likely, it is just one summer there of many to come. In any event, the play’s underlying theme appears to be death, or endings and change, and the death of times past.
Based on producer Howard Gottfried, Hogue could be considered the ‘bastard with a heart of gold’ character; he’s intelligent in the respect of knowledge and wisdom, dropping names and pop culture references while also providing us with near-telepathic insights and brutal truths of the world that the rest of the the characters can’t see, or refuses to. While pessimistic, this trait does not corrupt Lewis’ character and make him bitter and dislikeable. Instead his ability to see the humour where others cannot highlights his overall normality in an otherwise detached and pedantic LA. He at first appears as a typical sardonic producer, but he is not cold-blooded and heartless, and he’s got character, showing his human side before unleashing unapologetic sentiments to other unsuspecting and dim-witted characters. Whosever feelings he hurts, we applaud him for it, because we know he is right and is doing it for a reason, not just purely for fun. Yet beneath it all is Hogue lamenting the state of Hollywood: ‘There used to be creative people in this town. There used to be people who loved movies and literature.’
Hogue is considered obsolete or ‘washed up’ by his colleagues. Dizzy Bluefish, a Russian debt-collector, asks in disgust, ‘What happened to you?’, to which Hogue replies, ‘Nothing happened to me, Diz. The industry has changed, that’s all.’
Meanwhile, the ex-Mrs Hogue, Theresa, has hired your typical aspiring actress, Leah Grizzard, a wanabee actress with the standard blonde hair and blue eyes, who has read nothing except the dictionary, and can quote various definitions, such as interloper, explode and implode. But Lewis is wise to her bullshitting and the SAG card carrying actress no longer appears to be the sharp woman we initially take her for: ‘You’re about a dozen dead-end auditions away from becoming a porn star,’ Hogue tells her.
There is also, in the same vein as Leah’s bland character, Carson, a young producer and now partner of Theresa, who writes video games. Carson represents the fall of the previous generation and the apathy and hollow construct of the Y-generation: ‘You’re generation doesn’t have to deal with loss,’ Lewis tells him, ‘you’ve discarded it.’ Lewis manages to appeal to Carson’s anaemic pop culture knowledge, yet is still very much of a different time. But Hogue is adaptable, and his acute observations of the present state of the entertainment industry are unnervingly and undeniably accurate. Lewis walks in two worlds, but belongs to neither.
Interwoven with stories of the death of the famous, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom Leah has not heard of, Lewis compares the great deaths of the past to the ones of the day: ‘I want to die on a dusty railroad track in Old Mexico, like Neal Cassady.’ It is not even that he may very well soon pass away, but that he will eventually die in a world that no longer feels death, and does not care. So while the underlying theme may be death, this expands to emphasise the apathetic response to death: ‘You’ll understand. You won’t feel it, but you’ll understand it,’ and, ‘You can withstand the painful hurdles that life is going to throw your way. But you’ll die stupid.’ It shows the generation that can’t feel, and that experiences everything through image, screen.
Hogue observes that we don’t think about the plot when we think of a great movie. We think about the characters. ‘Bogart and Bergman as Rick and IIsa. Chuck Heston as Moses. Pacino as Michael Corleone. De Niro as Jake La Mota. Do I need go on?’ This play functions in the same way. The plot is secondary to the characters, who function as stimuli for a perspective of today’s world, and the players that are at odds with it.
‘Rod Serling would have got it. Shit, all the good writers who would’ve jumped on that idea and turned it into something intelligent and entertaining are dead. Paddy Chayefsky is dead. Reginald Rose is dead.’
The cynicism running through the story is similar in tone to Matthew Asprey’s protagonist, Kenny, in his short story Gut Bucket Blues (2008). Kenny reflects on his girlfriend, Nelly, and her lack of any real life experience:
‘Only Nelly abstains: never drinks, never gets high. She is high on “life”. Of course she is. “Life” has given her beauty, intelligence, wealth, no failure, no demands, no humiliation. Ergo: no character.’
A comedic though ultimately sobering take on the ‘greats’ of the past and the hollow ground that has been left behind. The play mercifully ends of a light, humorous note, rather than giving us what we believe will happen. As Lewis notes, ‘The first thing that comes to your mind will be the first thing that comes to the mind of your audience, and you always want your plot to be one step ahead of audience.’ The direction of the plot then serves to stay well ahead of the reader. Hogue, a producer who has been there, done it all, heard it all, seen it all, stays one step ahead the entire time.
Be sure to read the Preface as well, as it offers valuable insight into the story.
Rodger Jacobs is also the author of Invisible Ink (2012), Drowning Roses (2012) and Mr. Bukowski’s Wild Ride (2012). All of these and his Marmont can be purchased on www.lulu.com. He also wrote the preface to the 2010 anthology, Jack London: San Francisco Stories, edited by Matthew Asprey, which is available at Amazon.com