Adventures of Hollywood Jim Ch. 60byhollywoodjim©
It started out as a private New Years party at the beachside resort Villa Del Sol involving employees of Artists Unlimited as well as big shots from an important client, Pepsi-Cola. But it had morphed into a scandal that involved high ranking members of Congress and the Senate who also happened to be there, but for different reasons. It wasn't the first scandal to hit Hollywood or the corridors of power in Washington. But it turned out to be that rare instance when it involved powerful (and near-powerful) people and institutions on both coasts. Not to mention me.
So it's probably best to start from the beginning.
As I remembered it, we were giddy with excitement at how well our work with Pepsi had gone. They invited us to a New Years bash and also included their newest spokesperson, Sofia Vergara, whom I'd had a rather nice private celebration with once the party had ended. This was one of those rare occasions where I lost count how much I drank. I think she did too. No worries, we weren't driving or anything so the rest of the night was certainly memorable.
I'd gotten rather good at keeping secrets and kept my memories of the party "in the vault" as it were.
But apparently the resort, or someone at the resort, had other ideas. It was when I returned to LA from back east that everything came out and I found myself in the eye of the hurricane.
Chuck Tyler was livid at the thought of his company being dragged into another scandal as a result of me. Our attorney, Michael Baldwin, reassured him that my presence on the resort's security system was of no concern, or so we thought. A high ranking Senator, known for his tenacity on issues unearthed additional footage previously unseen, and tried to put the pressure on me to name names.
With his usual three piece pinstripe suited bravado, Michael Baldwin breezed into his spacious office having returned from another successful morning in court. He dropped his designer briefcase on a chair and settled in behind his desk to check his stock portfolio (or his fantasy football league standings for all I knew) when he saw me sitting across from him.
There was a moment of awkward silence as we stared at one another.
"And good morning to you, too." He said in usual nonchalant manner.
"I just had a rather strange meeting." I said
"Oh, yeah?" he replied "With who, Marvin the Martian?"
"Try Pat Geary, Senator Pat Geary." I said, emphasizing the "Senator" part, like he did.
"HIM?" he said in disbelief "What's he doing out here?"
"I don't know but this Villa Del Sol seems to have grown tentacles since we last met."
"What do you mean?"
"That security tape footage we saw? He's got some better photos that clearly show me."
"How'd he get them?"
"I don't know, maybe he's got some connections at the CIA." I replied "it gets better."
Michael began jotting down notes as we spoke
"He's also got photos from a camera at the bar that clearly shows me with a certain friend of ours."
"Wonderful." He muttered without looking up
"I'll tell you this guy scared the hell outta me. I think he and Marty were old friends too."
Michael had the same reaction I did at the mention of Marty's name.
"What should I do?"
"OK" he said taking a deep breath "Do exactly what you did last time, lay low and shut up. I've gotta make a phone call." He said as he reached for his phone "...to West Virginia."
"Uh, should I leave?"
Michael thought for a moment
"Jim, this is one of those times where the less you know the better. I'll call you in the morning."
I turned around to leave, and then looked back at Michael
"Who told you about Marvin?"
"Like I said, the less you know the better." He replied with a small smile.
Lay low. OK, I guess I can do that.
I went back to the office and returned to the normal, uneventful life I led.
The Villa Del Sol scandal was still on the mind of the news media and Chuck was keeping his PR staff busy trying to deflect whatever new revelations arose; I wisely stayed out of his line of fire in the days that followed.
A new email provided a welcome distraction. While I was attending the Greenwich Concours d'Elegance Car Show back home in Connecticut, I was reunited with an old friend, and agency client, Blake Lively. But at the show, my eyes were taken by a vintage VW Microbus and its owners, a pair of pretty ladies named Kim and Elena. Our meeting was brief but I was intrigued enough by their car and story that I wanted to photograph the car further and get to know them too.
Kim's email provided me with contact info for them and just as I was about to respond my cellphone rang, it was Michael calling.
"Jim, has anyone been following you?"
"Uh, no. Why?"
"I made a few calls to some contacts, Geary has fast-tracked this investigation. He might have some G-Men following you."
"Are you serious?" I was stunned "How can he do that? Is it legal?"
"Right now, I can't be sure" he continued "I'm waiting to hear from a contact in the Justice Department."
"Jesus..." I muttered
"I'm just giving you a heads-up on this so you're not surprised."
"Well, you're wrong there 'cause I AM surprised!"
"OK, take it easy, Jim..."
"Why am I the one being followed?" I said nervously
"I would guess it's because of the mutual friend of ours."
"Well, uh, what should I look for?"
That was a pretty dumb question!
"I can't say, they don't advertise, obviously. For now, I'd just say keep your eyes open."
"OK, I guess that's all I can do, thanks."
I hung up the phone and sat back in my big chair, looked out at the vastness of LA and pondered my next move.
As I drove out of the underground garage and proceeded home I looked in my rearview mirror and saw it. A nondescript Ford Crown Vic sedan in battleship grey was following me. It attempted to blend into traffic but I could still see it. All the way home it trailed me. When I arrived home, I peeked through the curtains and there it sat, two men inside, occasionally looking through binoculars from across the street.
Leaving town for awhile might be good, but looking over my shoulder all the time didn't seem like much fun as the men in the grey car were always around. Back at work I went read Kim's email again. She listed all the info she had about the Microbus and included some recent photos and some from many years ago. It had certainly seen its share of good times. Though grainy I could make out some details about it, the people there really seemed like a fun bunch. Kim had a caption on the photo;
"Richie, Jimmy, Kim, Sophie, Elena and Big Mary at the beach 1971"
I started to look closely at one photo. It showed a bunch of people standing against the VW, the ocean behind them, the girls were topless, the guys all holding beer cans and big laughing grins. One girl had thick brunette hair, another was a redhead, and they looked so much like the pair I saw at the show, their parents, perhaps?
I looked closely at another redhead in the photo. There was something odd about her, she seemed older than the others. Her hair almost seemed like something out of suburbia, circa 1970-something.
Where had I seen her before? I started to think, what redheads had I seen lately? I know, pretty dumb thought process but it seemed so recent. Where had I seen a redheaded girl? An older redheaded girl, where had I seen one?
I began to wander around my office, thinking. I glanced at the TV, the sound was muted but I could see Senator Geary was on CNN, doing some kind of press briefing. Behind him were some Senate colleagues and a...REDHEADED GIRL!
That's it! His assistant from the limo! The one he said was his own "Liz Ray"!
I ran to the computer and forwarded the photo to Michael Baldwin with a note;
"Michael, look at the redhead in the photo, the older one on the end, she's the girl that was in the limo with Geary. He said her name was Mary Delaney. I think this is her from years back. I think there might be something here."
I hit "send" and sat back in my chair.
I still had the Federal boys to deal with as they followed my every move. After three days of this I'd had enough and decided to take action.
One of the lasting legacies of my late partner had been his white Porsche he'd left to me. It was source of never-ending uncertainty for me. I loved the car and it gave me many happy memories of my friend, but I didn't know what to do with it now that he was gone. The tax bill was a yearly reminder that I had to do something about it. For now though, it was stored by our friend Joey Cortez at his garage, safely covered and sitting next to the wreckage of other vehicles.
Calling his number, I got a blast of salsa music and his fast talking wife Estella
"Thank you for calling Pancho's, is this for pickup or delivery?"
"Estella, it's me..."
"Hey! Hollywood" she said before slipping into a sultrier voice "Como esta' baby?"
I couldn't help but chuckle at her greeting
"I'm good, I need to talk to Joey."
"Uno momento...JOEY!!!" I heard her yell, followed by some arguing in Spanish between them
"Hey! Hollywood! What's up amigo?"
"Joey, I need a big favor, how soon can you get the 911 on your truck and deliver it somewhere?"
"Uh, maybe an hour, what's up?"
"Great, here's what I need you to do..."
Arrangements made, I headed out of the garage as usual, the Crown Vic boys tailing me. But this time I drove somewhat faster than before, which forced them to make themselves more visible. Right before the road to my place was a large four way intersection. They were right behind me now. I looked to my left and right and saw three cars and a large truck coming from the left. I took a deep breath and slammed my right foot down hard, the SLK rocketed forward across the intersection, the Crown Vic did the same but all I heard behind me was screeching tires and honking horns. I had bought some time for myself and when I pulled into my garage, I quickly shut the door and grabbed a leather duffle bag and headed out the back door. My plan was to creep through a few backyards until I was far enough away from my condo, then walk to the Sunoco station on the corner.
Just as I planned, when I got to the station, Joey was sitting on the back of his old flatbed car carrier, the white Porsche 911 already unloaded.
"Hey, amigo!" he said as hopped off the truck "you made it!"
I was about to reply when I saw the Crown Vic drive by the station at a fast clip back to my place.
I had foiled them!
"Thanks, pal. " I said "Now you're straight on the plan, right?"
"Right, you'll call me Sunday night, we meet here and I take the car back and the Federales think you've been home all weekend."
"Great, I owe you one for this."
"Just bring it back in one piece amigo." He said as he climbed into the cab of the old truck and the powerful motor roared to life. He loved how he could fool people with the looks of the old truck and how it secretly had a monster of an engine underneath.
I started up the Porsche and took off for LAX.
Some cities produce memories, but the best kind of memories are the ones you don't expect to be there.
Nashville seemed to be that way for me. I'd been there only twice, but each was remarkable. The first was when we participated in a photo spread for Vanity Fair's music issue. That resulted in a classic shot of Carrie Underwood. Next was photographing Gretchen Wilson at a massive outdoor show that wound up being the cover of her live album. Being back there also seemed like the perfect remedy for whatever tensions I'd left behind in LA.
Mike Jensen ran a big booking agency and having seen the kind of success the Triple Threat Tour had been, he wanted to do the same thing with the country artists he represented. As a test, at last year's Fan Fest he put together a huge outdoor show on Nashville's main street that featured Gretchen along with Kellie Pickler and Julianne Hough. This time, he'd repeat the formula with Julianne and Kellie but adding Miranda Lambert in place of Gretchen, who was busy touring with ZZ Top.
Soon after I arrived, Mike called and made sure I got in okay.
"This might be a bigger show than I expected." He said
"Oh, yeah? Why?"
"Well, I got a call about an extra performer who's gonna be here. I can't say who, just make sure you have all your gear ready because it might be a long night."
"Uh, okay" now I was confused "when should I be there?"
"Julianne goes on at 8 sharp."
"For her, I'll be there at 7."
"Yeah, well, just watch yourself, pal."
Ah, yes. The lovely Julianne! I saw her at last years fan fest and then again New Years Eve. But I've learned never get my hopes up too high, I have to remember my motto:
"Discipline, Hollywood. Discipline."
Still, I made sure to dab on some extra cologne, just in case.
Mike was smart enough to put me in the Landmark Hotel in Nashville, it was within walking distance to Main Street, and already I could hear and see the crowds gathering. The Police would shut down all the side streets at 5 so they could limit the crowds, but it looked like an even bigger crowd was in store this year.
Backstage, Mike was in control of everything and seemed unfazed by all the activity.
"Come on, Jim. Time to meet our headliner." He said as I arrived
Mike led me past an armada of tour buses to one in bright green. A knock on the door and we were greeted inside by three ladies singing harmony on a country song.
It was Miranda Lambert joined by her cohorts in the Pistol Annies. I immediately got my camera on and snapped off a few shots of them. When they finished, they all dissolved into laughter.
"Miranda, this is Jim from Artists Unlimited, he's doing your photos tonight."
"Hiya! I'm Miranda!" she said in a perky tone
"Great to meet you, you all sound perfect together." I said as we shook hands
"Aw, that's just us fooling around." She replied as she casually picked her guitar, a beautiful black Gibson acoustic.
Mike's phone buzzed and he stepped aside to answer it.
"Um, are you gonna be playing tonight too?" I asked
"Maybe, we're thinking of doing a secret show down here. But don't tell anyone." She said
"Oh, sure, no problem" I quickly said "Um, could I take some more shots of you playing?"
"Sure!" one of the girls said as she quickly hit a chord on her guitar, sang one line and the others joined in. I did too, but with my camera. I hate to admit, I was focusing on Miranda more than the others. She looked very nice with her hair pulled back in a ponytail and a grey t-shirt with the number "18" in bold green lettering. After they finished and laughed about their playing, Mike stepped in and told me Julianne would be going on very soon. I thanked the girls and said I'd see them soon.
Julianne was making her way to the stage and gave me a big wave as she saw me
"How you doing!" she called to me
I was about to go over to her but then saw she was with Ryan Secrest, so keeping my distance was the best bet.
To loud screams, Julianne ran onto the stage, went into her song "Hello" and had the crowd right where she wanted for every song after. She certainly had me and I had to concentrate on my work and not get wrapped up in the idea I was seeing her again, even from a distance. Kelly Pickler's set went just as well and the stage was set for Miranda Lambert.
Miranda was dressed like her fans would be, wearing cutoff jeans and a white t-shirt that said "CASH" in big letters. I found it hard to believe she could be called fat, because she looked nice! Nice in a "real" kind of way that didn't tell she was any kind of music star. But I knew none of her songs so I was really winging it in terms of knowing which songs could produce the best photos. Based on the crowd reaction alone, it seemed like they loved every song starting from her opener "Fastest Girl in Town".
Miranda also had the crowd where she wanted them and it was a rowdy, but fun, show she put on. I had to look out at the expanse of crowd, it seemed to stretch forever, and was made for a photo. I framed Miranda against the crowd and snapped the shutter just as she turned to me and smiled.
It was a long hot show she put on but she wasn't finished yet. After finishing her main set with "Gunpowder and Lead", she dashed offstage and was given a towel and a bottle of water.
"Hey, what'd you think, man?" she asked breathlessly
"It was awesome!" I said over the cheers of the crowd "I think they want more!"
"Oh, yeah they're gonna get it." She said as she went back for a new t-shirt
I saw Mike huddled with what seemed like members of each acts' management. Then he nodded and they all split up.
"Get yourself on the other side of the stage, she's gonna do an encore then something special." He said in my ear
"Oh yeah, like what?"
Though it was dim, I went over to stage left and checked my cameras. The lights went up and her band returned to the stage, her crew set up for what looked like an acoustic number. Miranda returned to the stage with the same Gibson guitar I'd seen her with earlier and did a beautiful version of "The House That Built Me". I know I got some great shots of her with the soft stage lights around her.
"OK, I'm gonna bring some friends up here." She said to the screaming crowd "Julianne, come on up..." she said and to more screams, Julianne Hough joined her onstage. She looked as gorgeous as usual in her cutoffs and a denim blue t-shirt
"OK...um Kelly Pickler was gonna join us but she had an early flight 'cause she's doin' a USO show overseas...so I hope she has a good trip and gives our soldiers a good show, they deserve it...so another friend is gonna come up here..."
The crowd was sort of hushed wondering who it might be
"Come on up, Taylor...Taylor Swift everybody!"
The screams that erupted sounded like something out of a Beatles show circa 1965. I was snapping photos but couldn't believe what I was seeing. Taylor was casually pretty too in black jeans and red t-shirt, her slightly curled blonde hair long and flowing.
It was quite the supergroup I was seeing; Miranda Lambert, the queen of Texas roadhouses, Julianne, the Utah dancer extraordinaire with the mega-watt smile. And Taylor Swift, the good girl from Pennsylvania who kept getting better and better.
All three girls were giggling to each other, obviously trying not to upstage the other and in disbelief at the reaction they got.
"Alright, we gotta play something now, don't we?" Miranda said making Julianne laugh "this is an old song Linda Ronstadt did that I really love..."
She easily got the crowd into a rhythmic clapping then the band went into a version of Linda's "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" with each girl trading off a verse, they all laughed at Taylor getting the verse about meeting the "boy in Hollywood" and not naming names.
This impromptu trio was really getting into the song and at the end Julianne was doing high kicks with each crash of the cymbals. She could've built a whole dance routine around that song.
And I was preserving it on my camera!
But they weren't done yet. Miranda went into the version of Rod Stewart's "Stay With Me" that she often closed her shows with and it was fun seeing "good girls" like Julianne and Taylor singing lines like "please don't say you love me, 'cause you know I'll only kick you out the door..." and pleading for someone to "stay with them" but they loved it!
The instrumental rave-up at the end sent Miranda's band into high gear, Julianne ran to the drums and started bashing on the cymbals in time with the song before it, and the show, came to a thunderous conclusion.
"Thank you Nashville! Thank you Julianne! Thanks Taylor Swift! I'm Miranda Lambert! See ya next time, bye-bye!!"
And with that, the show ended.