Left on the Cutting Room Floor by Bill Capron
It was Noir Week on Channel 49. The first film was Body Heat, the best plotted noir ever; the next was a bit more obscure, a four year-old mystery, “Portland Blues,” produced in our fair city. I sit through the increasingly disconnected plot and mercifully short denouement to scan the credits for locals I might know. I find one, Lola Martin.
I hadn’t seen Lola Martin in ten years; Lola wasn’t her real name, nor was Martin, but she was an actress. Her real name was Marilyn Monroe, and that wouldn’t do.
A memory of Lola forms complete like the past was yesterday; we dated for a month, forever ago. During a brief assignment in Los Angeles in my pre-investigator days, Lola took on the responsibility of keeping my spirits high; she was good at it. Lola earned a shrine-like niche in my psyche; she is the most truly deep-down good person I’ve ever met; sure, maybe if we’d had the time to scrape off the masks, who knows, but that’s the shrine-ness of it, like unrequited love; untested, unblemished.
I’m not very attentive watching movies, but I don’t think I missed her. Blockbuster doesn’t have the film, so I try the foreign/off-the-beaten-track rental place on Thurman; it is in the tiny made-in-Oregon rack next to the old black and white films; but for me that categorizes the entire store.
I pay attention this time, but Lola is nowhere. My friend, Dennis Doyle, would say they filmed her using special colors invisible to my rods-only vision; such passes for humor to your typical homicide cop.
The credits list her; Lola Martin as Penny Jackson. I watch again, no, I listen for her distinctive alto and its finishing tone of breathlessness. It isn’t there, though one line from the female star goes, “I saw you and Penny together, and I’ll never forgive you!”
I scan the credits and scratch down four names.
Lola would be thirty-two now; she was five-ten, thin with normal boobs which were her own. She was a blond, but it was a pretty gray to me, a shade lighter than her well-spaced transparent eyes, and her full lips opened to straight white teeth. She dressed a bit outrageously for the staid business guy I’d been – the same guy I am now – but she was typical LA.
I met a hundred of her acquaintances in our month together; too many gay guys, too many drugs, too much booze, too many parties, too much sex, too little responsibility. “Too” is the one word that best described the Hollywood lifestyle; I don’t live at the “too” level. Still, I accompanied her through that world, but as a famous liar once said, I didn’t inhale; it was a polluting world, but Lola Martin was untouched by it, a good girl in Gomorrah. I was in awe of her ability to remain above it all.
I left this gem to get on with my life; the recollection saddened me, like I’d taken a wrong turn.
I spend an hour on the internet looking for Lola, but she wasn’t in Los Angeles. I leave a message with an operative I know in the big city.
~ ~ ~
The film’s director, Adam Welton, is in the LA phone book, but he’s in Portland “doing” a deal. We agree on lunch – on my dime – at the Heathman; the waiter directs me to his table. He shakes hands with a firm, practiced grip.
Welton looks like he sounds, polished, good-looking in a Hollywood way, an aging ageless George Hamilton type; his dyed dark hair is off-set with gray streaks. He is five-ten, a fit one-sixty, and his well-spaced features are slightly stretched in a sea of shallow lines on recently tightened skin; the wrinkles on the neck are indicative of his real age, mid-sixties. His dark eyes, deep set beneath thick black eyebrows, are aggressive, almost intrusive.
I know about Adam Welton from the internet and the LA operative. The director is on a string of setbacks, but not yet labeled a loser. The downhill run started with the eagerly anticipated but universally panned “Portland Blues”. He in’t on his uppers, but he’s cashed five million out of his house in Malibu and moved into a luxurious apartment in Santa Monica.
I read the press releases for “Portland Blues”; it received top-of-the-line treatment prior to the film’s release. The script was the first by Welton’s wife, Jacki Montreau, who also starred in the mystery. The movie, despite millions in advance advertising, was in the second-run theaters in three weeks; only Welton and his wife made any money from the fiasco. In the process they alienated their backers, and future good money was hard to come by. This was particularly distressing to Montreau who was getting to that age, thirty in actress years, forty in people years, where ingénue looks no longer compensated for mediocre talent.
There is a reference to Montreau being in a sanitarium drying out, from three years ago. My operative says she’s in a discreet loony bin in Tijuana, and her return is not imminent.
Welton orders a salad; I have a pint of McTarnahan’s. After the chit-chat preliminaries, I say, “As I told you on the phone, I saw ‘Portland Blues’ for the first time the other night.”
He deprecates his film, “Your name can be added to the ten other people who saw it.”
I wait; that wasn’t all I told him
He fills the void, “Yes, Lola Martin, you said you saw her name in the credits, but she wasn’t in the movie.” I watched his eyes darken, and he lied, “I don’t recall the girl myself, but I looked through my notes. She was one of the featured actresses. Are you sure she wasn’t there?”
I say, “Yes.”
“Maybe she was cut in the edit for television?” He makes it a question.
“That was my first thought, but I got the VHS.”
With surprise, “Someone carries it?”
I tell him where I found it; “She wasn’t on that tape either.”
He interlaces his fingers and rests his chin. “Well, I guess we cut her in the final edit.”
I am mildly incredulous, “And left her in the credits?”
“You haven’t worked in the business?” He cocks his head and eyes me.
I shake my head; “Never had the pleasure.”
He uses his hands to create a vision of confusion, “When you’re working on the final cut, decisions are made on the fly for a hundred different scenes. As one of the critics said, we left the good stuff on the cutting room floor.”
“How does that happen?” I ask.
His complexion darkens at the memory of past mistakes; “When you’re running behind schedule, everything gets hectic. We finished filming seven weeks behind schedule, but the producers wouldn’t move back the theater release date. Jacki and I knew the plot cold – I mean, Jesus, we’d worked with it every day for six months. We thought we’d kept the continuity,” he paused before his admission; “but we were too close, we didn’t see the gaping holes. With two more weeks and some test viewing, we’d have gotten it right.”
He puts on a rueful look of coulda, woulda, shoulda; a better actor than his wife, but maybe he wasn’t acting.
“So in the confusion you left Lola’s name in the credits?”
He straightens his back to put distance between us; “In retrospect, that’s probably the least of our mistakes.”
I ask if there was any of the original footage; he didn’t know of any.
~ ~ ~
I scan the credits for the film editor, Jacob K. Klein. He was living in Tucson, Arizona, but had kept his Los Angeles phone number. He picks up on the first ring. Once he starts talking he won’t stop; briefly, it seems he’s lived in Tucson all his life, was retired now one year, dumped his apartment in Beverly Hills, his wife died two years ago, his kids don’t speak to him, and he never threw away a foot of film. We schedule to meet the next day.
Jacob Klein lived in a large adobe house above a new development in the foothills of Sabino Canyon. The home, expanded ten times over the original ell now shared its view with hundreds of structures dotting the hill; Klein owned it all at one time, and it made him a rich man.
Jacob Klein’s face looks sixty-five, but he has the body of a ninety-year-old; he is a short man, probably five-four when he stood straight, but bent by time to four-eight. He tilts his body back until I see his clear, bright, darting eyes. The lines across his forehead continue halfway up his bald head as he arches thick bushy gray eyebrows. In his projection room, he hops up into his chair that puts him eye to eye with me.
He listens intently while I tell him about Lola. “Is she missing?”
I raise my shoulders; “I don’t know yet. I think so.”
What the hell am I doing spending money, chasing down leads? The girl is probably in Montana, married with three kids; except, I don’t believe it. I have no more than intuition to go on, and the lie I saw in Welton’s eyes.
Klein says, “I spent last night arranging the clips and spliced the pertinent scenes.”
He points at the machinery lining one wall; “We can fast forward as required.”
I thank him ahead of time for his efforts.
He fiddles with the player until we find a speed that moves quickly, but not too fast. The tape starts with the very last minute edits and works backwards; Lola is not in those final cuts.
We find her after thirty minutes of tape, a scene from early on in the film, where Lola’s character is seducing the male lead while Jacki Montreau’s character listened from the other room. Lola is prettier than I remembered, but make-up has a way of hiding the flaws. The Lola I knew didn’t care, a very non-star-like quality.
The scene fills a big hole in the film. I state the obvious, “If you guys cut scenes like this, it’s no wonder the viewers got lost.”
Klein held up his hands; “Hey, I’m the technician. They ask me to roll it forward, roll it backward, stop right there, snip this, snip that.”
I read the mocking sound to his voice; “You’ve got no opinions?”
He laughs like I am naïve; “I have a ton of opinions, and most directors ask. Welton and his crazy wife did the whole thing themselves; I was another machine.”
After another hour I say, “That must have been her only scene.”
Klein shakes his head; “No, I remember, there’s a dinner party scene.”
As if on cue, Lola is doing the verbal seducing, dressed in a gray gown, her fluffed gray hair spread to both shoulders, her black lips moving, touching the male lead’s ear. It is another unexplainably deleted plot.
The tape finishes; I ask, “Is that all of it?”
The little man holds up a second tape. “I have out-takes, you know, screwed up scenes, that type of thing. Some were funny, some mistaken shots, most discarded the day they were made.”
I settle back with a beer. “My plane doesn’t leave for,” I look at my watch, “four hours. If it’s okay with you, Mr. Klein, let’s see it all.”
The scenes are ascending by date; a number of cuts include Lola, flubs and the like of her two scenes; three scenes that looked like trial balloon ideas that fell flat. Then it got interesting. The shot opens in an office setting with the male lead and his partner arguing – I recall it from the movie – there is a sudden disruption as Jacki Montreau comes skittering across the floor behind the desk, falling hard and tipping over a potted tree; Lola enters from the right, anger marks her face.
Lola waves a bound manuscript at Montreau; “It’s not going to happen, you bitch. It’s not yours, and you are not going to get away with it.” She throws the manuscript at Jacki and storms off the set.
“What’s Lola got there?” I ask.
Klein is puzzled. “It’s the script, the red one.” He answers the question on my face, “Montreau’s script.”
~ ~ ~
Lola was from Norman, Oklahoma, calling her early years “normal in Norman.” I land there at noon the next day.
There are a hundred Monroes in the phonebook; it takes two calls to find a relative, and one more to talk to her mother. We meet at a coffee shop downtown.
Janet Monroe is sixty and aging well. Her seasoned-citizen gray was cut in a flattering page boy, and she had Lola’s transparent eyes, but the sun had drained them from gray to white; and that direct look, like you had her full attention.
Janet recalled a joyful girl who was seldom unhappy. Marilyn was an only child, a student, cheerleader, softball and soccer player; she had boyfriends, went to her junior and senior proms as the queen, worked in the local grocery store at the checkout, and helped deliver meals to old folks on Sundays after church. She didn’t do bad things; she didn’t have bad thoughts; she was understanding of the weaknesses of others, and she kept any dissenting opinions to herself.
Marilyn went off to Hollywood and had on-and-off success for eight years. She and her husband supported their daughter’s monthly needs, and when Marilyn got ahead, she sent what she could afford. But time wore on and Marilyn was nearing a decision point for her acting career; time to “fish or cut bait.”
Then she stopped writing. The police said these girls sometimes up and leave town, driven out by failure, drugs, men, or whatever; it wasn’t a big deal. Janet and her husband said not our girl, but they didn’t carry any weight; so they hired a private investigator who built up a lot of data, but found nothing. What it came down to, Marilyn returned to her apartment after the flight in from Portland, and then she was gone.
“You said she wrote?”
The woman nods; “Every month for seven years.”
“Did you keep her letters?”
“Yes.” Janet reaches down to a handled cloth grocery bag heavy with the letters; “I read them all again this morning. She had nice words to say about you.”
I keep my emotions to myself.
Marilyn wrote long letters, like a diary she sent every month end. I leafed through her life; love for her parents, love for her career, and despite the odds against her, a good girl. She really did write nice words about me; I hadn’t realized she cared so much. As to acting, the parts were few and far between, but she got by; she told her mother that unless she slept with the men who counted, the odds were against her; but she kept to her path and didn’t appear to regret the missed opportunities.
Five years ago she met a young writer recently moved from Portland, Jeff Jones, and fell in love. She helped him with a screenplay for a mystery, the same plot line as “Portland Blues”. One day he was hit by a truck on a street corner, the driver an illegal alien without insurance, and Jones, a man without a family, was in the hospital, a vegetable. The county wanted to move him to one of a long care facilities; it is called warehousing. Marilyn said she’d found a way to raise the two hundred thousand she needed to put him in a private facility for five years.
Later she received a twenty thousand down payment and Jeff was safe under the care of people she trusted; she visited him every week and read to him. She described a painful unrequited love, though she understood the Jeff she knew was dead. She wrote that once she settled this last debt, she would finish her grieving and get on with her life. The last letter, posted from Portland, said she’d be flying down to LA in a week to say goodbye to Jeff.
That letter mentioned a restaurant she visited in Portland; a diner had a heart attack. I was there, same time, same place, serendipity delayed; coulda, woulda, shoulda; and another piece of my heart broke off to be buried wherever they put poor Marilyn.
The end of this story is clear; Jacki Montreau bought the plot and reneged on the payment; she and Lola fought, first on location, then off. Lola threatened to go public and Montreau killed her, got rid of the body, and flew to LA with her ticket and bags; and given the right makeup, she’d be a reasonable facsimile.
I plumb the bureaucracy to find the long-term lack-of-care facility in which they’d parked Jeff Jones; the man-like lump smelled of misuse; Marilyn’s instincts had been right.
I find the private facility where Marilyn sent him four years earlier, talk to the head of admissions, write a check for six months and start the paperwork to move him.
~ ~ ~
I am in Portland by nine, and then Welton’s home in the West Hills. I ring the bell ten times before the director opened the front door; he’s been drinking.
He focuses on me and accesses the fuzzy stores of his short-term memory. “What are you doing here?”
I stride past him.
He grabs my shoulder.
I spin him. “I’m here to talk to you about Lola Martin, and Jacki Montreau,” I pause; “and murder.”
He nods sadly and leads me to the living room.
He faces the wall as he says, “That was the start of the end for Jacki.”
I say nothing.
The director speaks to the air over my shoulder, “You know, she’s crazy, mad as a hatter since Lola. Not right away, understand. She said Lola attacked her with a knife.”
He shrugs, not with indifference, but at some ponderous inevitability. “She lied. I knew it. She knew I knew it. When Lola died, our lives came apart. Then the great movie we’d filmed died by our own hand.” He turns drunk wet eyes to me. “What was I to do? Turn in my own wife?”
I was in no mood to offer pity. “It might have been better for her.”
He gave me the same shrug. “Yes, twenty-twenty hindsight, but I couldn’t do it. The bouts of drinking became worse and worse, the manic periods longer and longer. Last year I put her in an asylum. The doctor says she will never get out.”
Justice is a strange thing; sometimes it finds its own way through the subterfuge of assailants, but not often enough. This time justice was triumphant.
“Why didn’t Jacki pay Lola what she’d agreed to?”
He holds his hands out, palms up; “Jacki was getting paranoid, the first symptom of her schizophrenia. She starting seeing it as blackmail. There’s no reason for it. I mean, it was a straight financial deal, we could afford what we’d agreed to. But Jacki was convinced she was being blackmailed, and blackmailers never stop. So she stopped Lola.”
I make a rhetorical statement, “Lola was a good girl. She didn’t think that way.”
Welton answers anyway, “It only mattered what Jacki thought.”
I ask Welton if he knew why Lola needed the money.
He said no.
I explain about Jeff Jones; I tell him if he pays to keep Jones in the facility until he dies, and if his wife stays in the asylum, my investigation ends right there. I give him the bill for my work, including the check I wrote for Jones’ care.
I don’t know if Welton heard me when I said he should re-edit “Portland Blues,” that Klein still had the film; and give Lola another chance.
I fly back to Norman and tell Marilyn’s parents the story of her murder by a mad woman; they agreed justice had been done.
A year later I see a review on the newly released director’s cut of “Portland Blues”; it was a smash; and there were complimentary notices on the performance of Lola Martin whose promising career was cut short by her strange disappearance after the movie; and more mysterious was the accrediting of the screenplay to Montreau and an unknown writer, Jeff Jones, a man who miraculously came out of his coma after five years.
Welton sent Marilyn’s residual checks to her parents.