I began my relationship with Harvey visualizing Rolls-Royces and starlets. I ended up as so many writers have—staggering, script in hand, out of this erstwhile mogul’s office straight into the nearest bar; a cut-rate version of Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend. Attend to this cautionary tale, all of you who would avoid the same grisly fate.

Harvey was co-owner of a large film exhibiting corporation and the spouse of an old high-school friend; yes, my “entrée.” A brief note aimed at reminding her of my writing skills bore fruit, and she wrote back to tell me they were ready to expand from Exhibition into Production and were developing an idea for a teen-oriented movie. (I eventually came to understand that “ideas” for teen movies were not really developed; they were actually extruded from various tubes until the proper ilk of goop oozed out onto the page.) She asked me to forward any scenarios I might have on hand and then, perhaps, Harvey and I could talk.

I didn’t have anything that really fit the bill, but after a week of intensive effort, emerged with two rip-snorting scenarios: Blood-sucking Nymphets of Planet Gamma Z, the plot of which is self-explanatory, and Nazi Motorcycle Bimbos, Part 5: The Resurrection, my homage to the early Howard Hawkes. The fact that he liked them pleased me; the fact that he didn’t think they were satirical scared me to death.

Either way, they served their purpose and the day finally arrived when I was ushered into the sanctum sanctorum—the offices of Worldwide Cinema and its East Coast president, Harvey Lemmon. The conference room/ office was decorated, as all such offices are, with a Variety-laden coffee table, a half-dead ficus tree, cushy leather sofa, large black conference table, posters of Halloweens I through IV, a stereo system, and Harvey’s enormous desk. I soon learned that Harvey followed a strict routine when entering the space: first, he surveyed his bald spot in the mirror and did whatever patchup he could, and then he went to the stereo and put on his favorite lite rock station. (“I think music makes the office much cozier, don’t you, Steve?”)

Wearing the unofficial uniform of the mogul—sweater, eyebrows, pinky ring, and potbelly—he began by reminding me of my tenuous status: “Steve, do you realize how many people would give their right arms to be in your position? I mean, as soon as you get off the plane in L.A., everybody’s trying to show you their screenplay—the taxi driver, the waitress—everybody.”

Then, he gave me a history of the project up to that point, which sounded like the gory odyssey of the Maltese Falcon (“The property somehow came into the hands of one M. Kamiroff, a Russian agent, who coated the valuable script with a layer of thick black enamel . . . “). Several other “spec” writers had already been chewed up and spit out by Harvey and his West Coast partner, but when you have stars in your eyes and what passes for your bankroll wouldn’t choke a gerbil, it’s hard to hear the warning bells going off in your brain. As we parted, Harvey suggested that I acquaint myself with the genre by taking in some teenage films and off I sallied, firm of mind, if ignoble in purpose.

By the time I finished the orgy, thirty days and uncountable Junior Mints later, my fedora, which used to fit like a glove, now bobbed on my head like an olive in a martini. I did, however, learn the generic elements of your basic teen movie: it is populated by savage and/or cretinous adults; kids who are either geeks or heroes of Olympian stature (in the more complex versions, these two transpose); the tone is a sort of washed-out sit-com moralism, with just enough T and A to get the sacred “R” rating; obligatory scenes include voyeurism in the locker room, wimp loses virginity, peeing in the popcorn, barfing anywhere, and cheerleader simulated striptease.

Throughout this period of “research,” Harvey’s ongoing commentary was: “Steve, you’re not writing art here, you’re just baking a pie. That’s all it is. You put in a little of this and a little of that and there you are.” As time rolled by, I began to think of myself as a kind of ersatz Sweeny Todd, grinding up half-baked ideas and forming them into semidigestible, 90-minute celluloid pies. In the end, he could have saved us both a lot of trouble by just arming a fifteen-year-old with qualudes and a pair of scissors and locking him in a room with piles of stock footage.

I’m only human, however, and allowed the perks of the job to keep me from thinking too closely about what I was doing: I could walk into most theaters in town whenever I wanted; I was lounging in penthouses at the Prudential Center, drinking wine and watching video tapes. Plus, I was attending screenings in the Fox Building in what passes for a film district in Boston. Imagine the cachet of being able to see Woody’s latest before it was released.

The first draft took three weeks, a time during which my friends began to notice a de-maturation process that would continue until the very end. I had immersed myself in my task to the point where my face started to break out and my conversation became an incoherent sequence of “likes,” “grodies,” and “awesomes.” Harvey’s response was cautiously optimistic: “This is a good start, Steve, but we still have a long way to go.” When I asked him what he didn’t like about it, he leaned over the table, pointed toward his navel and said: “I just don’t feel it in my puppik.” Unfortunately, his criticisms never became any more specific, and I began to see that our relationship would indeed be 50/50. That is, half tooth-grinding frustration, half paranoia.

The paranoia arose from the title of the movie, which was so good, so sure-fire, that they had already lined up their investors on the basis of it alone. I was told that if there was a leak, there would be big trouble. What trouble was never actually spelled out, but the following true exchange gives you—as it gave me—a good idea of what they meant.

We were wrestling with a tricky plot point: one of the protagonists has his manuscript stolen and discovers the culprit; what revenge should he take? Harvey asked what I would do if someone stole the idea for our movie. I shrugged my shoulders and said I thought these ideas were pretty much common currency and that I didn’t suppose I’d do anything. I asked him what he’d do.

“I’d have him killed,” says Harvey.

The expression on my face must have betrayed some disapproval, because he backed off to the extent of saying he’d at least have his legs broken.

I like to think I used some of this struggle between the sacred and the profane in my next draft, especially in the part where the villain gets his anatomy put into a vise by a pack of rampaging coeds, and Harvey, too, thought it was pretty good: “Steve, I think it’s time for a conference call to the coast.” Well, call we did, but the West Coast mogul was unmoved and apparently Harvey didn’t feel it strongly enough in his puppik to fight for it, so we were back to square one.

It was decided that our location wasn’t right and that the answer was to set the movie on Cape Cod. So, I was sent down for an inspirational weekend in Falmouth. The trip was not the idyll it could have been, however, because it was a bleak, rainy late November and there was nary a nubile teen in sight. Also, having been separated from my perks, it was becoming more and more difficult for me to return to the grim realities of rock and roll and raging hormones.

Finally, around page 50 and unable to bull through a dense writer’s block, I had serious intimations of disaster. I realized that the only sure path to success—a partial lobotomy—was out of my price range. (Ain’t that always the way? You need the money to get the lobotomy, but you need the lobotomy to get the money.) I had to face facts; as far as cheesy teen movies were concerned, I was a wash, a bozo, a loser.

A tinge of hostility began to creep into my scenes—giant roaches devoured frat houses, earthquakes annihilated Homecoming queens; I began to have a recurring dream that I was being dissected by a biology teacher with a pinky ring and fangs. Being an adolescent was no picnic the first time; having to relive it was utter hell. But we writers are nothing if not obsessive and I gutted it through to page 90.

When, red-eyed and trembling, I brought it to the sanctum sanctorum and handed it to Harvey, he scrunched up his face, plastered over his bald spot and sourly pointed out that I had spelled his name wrong on the title page. At that moment, the truth was revealed to me and the entire scenario was stripped down to its essential bleakness. I saw clearly that these people would never make this movie; that this was the PROJECT THAT WOULD NOT DIE. This juggernaut, this writer’s doomsday machine would go on and on, finding and devouring new victims throughout all eternity. Every writer in the world would eventually work on this project, but in a reversal of the old pyramid scheme, only one would get paid!

When the verdict was finally passed down a week later, it was not unexpected: “Steve, I think we were closer to it on the second draft. But Steve,”—this is the unkindest cut of all—”you gave it your best shot.” My best shot? No, that would have been a .38 slug in Harvey’s omniscient puppik.

While a Bronson-like ending would have been the most satisfying for this gothic story, I’m going to have to settle for the milder satisfaction of writing this cautionary tale and, in so doing, helping to raise the paranoia level of aspiring film writers to its proper level. Meanwhile, until the next call comes asking me to sell out, I’m camping out in the balcony of the local Rep House. You can’t miss me; I’m the one rolled up in a fetal ball, leafing through a tattered Rolls-Royce owner’s manual, mentally recasting Caligula.