Copyright © 2013 by Larry M. Edwards. All rights reserved. No part of this work excerpt may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
Monday, May 15, 1978
Larry Schiller phoned. I had some idea of who he was. He’d contacted Kerry a few days earlier saying he wanted to produce a movie and publish a book about our parents. Kerry and Aileen were to meet with an attorney to discuss it. But Schiller didn’t bother to introduce himself to me or offer condolences about my parents’ deaths. I asked him to start at the beginning.
“Didn’t your sisters tell you what this is about?” he asked.
“My sisters are overwhelmed,” I said. “They told me they’d been contacted by someone claiming to be a representative of a Hollywood production company, and this person enticed them with the prospect of a boatload of cash. Frankly, it’s moving too fast for my tastes.”
Kerry had told me of the big numbers—hundreds of thousands of dollars—Schiller had tossed around. She and Aileen were living on the dole and visions of conspicuous consumption danced through their heads like Christmas sugarplums.
Schiller sighed and filled me in. Yes, he had ties to
Factor-Newland Productions, which developed made-for-TV movies, including Overboard, the movie being filmed while I was in Papeete. I would receive a contract in a day or two. It called for eighty dollars earnest money, paid at the time of the contract signing, then fifteen hundred dollars at a later date, plus two percent of the net. It sounded like peanuts to me, and Hollywood accounting being legendary, I expected the royalties to be the equivalent of Fred C. Dobbs’ treasure of the Sierra Madre.
The Factor in Factor-Newland turned out to be Alan Factor, somehow related to Hollywood cosmetics pioneer Max Factor. But Schiller remained a mystery. Years later, he went on to fame, if not fortune, as the author of a book about Jon Benet Ramsey, the six-year-old girl found dead in her Colorado home, and I also unearthed descriptions of Schiller as a “carrion bird” and “the journalist who dealt in death.” But at the time his name meant nothing to me.
Nor did I know anything about Barry Farrell, whom Schiller had tapped to write the book. Farrell phoned me from Seattle a few days later. Aileen and Kerry had signed the contract. He wanted to meet with me after he returned to Los Angeles. The process, he said, would require two or three lengthy interviews. I wrote in my journal:
Farrell, like Schiller, sounded as though I ought to not only know him by name, but be glad to speak with him. Never mentioned Mom & Dad, just said something about “the writer” of the “book.” I knew what he meant, but he pissed me off when he wouldn’t come out and say it.
I learned only after Farrell’s death that he had been a
respected journalist, beginning his career with the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer and later writing for Life magazine. He had
dubbed Schiller the “carrion bird,” which raised his esteem a notch in my mind. Had he bothered to tell me this at the outset, I might have been more receptive.
“Have you signed the contract?” he asked.
“I haven’t seen the contract, let alone signed it, and until
I do, and until I’ve consulted with my attorney, and until I’ve spoken with my grandparents about this, I’m not meeting with you or Larry Schiller, whoever the hell he is. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a bunch of money-grubbing ghouls who prey on tragedy and can’t wait to pick the bones of my recently deceased parents.”
“We think this is an important story that deserves to be told.”
“You want to sensationalize their deaths and line your
pockets,” I said. “Besides, until the FBI investigation is complete, you don’t have a story.”
“We expect that to be wrapped up fairly quickly, and we want the backgrounds on your parents and all you children so we’re ready to move when that time comes,” he said.
“Barry, apparently I’m not communicating effectively,” I said. “Until I have—”
“I get your point. I’ll be in touch.”
Two weeks later, at the office, I received a fat manila envelope with a Factor-Newland return address. As I read the contract, the words exploded in my mind like a squall-blown jib: Factor & Newland is granted “exclusive rights” to “any correspondence, diaries or written material” originated by me “during and in my lifetime.”
I tried calling Aileen and Bobbie, but neither of them
answered. Why did that attorney advise them to sign this god-awful contract?
What stopped me cold, however, was the date at the bottom of the last page: March 21. Gary had signed the contract the day before I left Tahiti. But he never said one word about it.
That’s the act of a grief-stricken son?
I flung the packet across the office. When I retrieved it, my boss gave me a quizzical look. “Another house painter claiming to be Michelangelo?” he said.
I pasted on an apologetic smile as I returned to my desk. “Something like that.”
When I finally reached Aileen, she said our aunts and
grandparents were outraged. But not with Gary. Aunt Vivian and Grandma Edwards had accused her, Kerry, and me of commercializing our parents’ deaths. Gary, apparently, had told them that I had signed the contract first, and he had no choice but to go along to protect his interests. I wrote letters to Grandma Edwards and to Grandma and Grandpa Howatson explaining what had happened, and I included a photocopy of the page with the date and Gary’s signature. I also asked them for guidance in the matter. I never received a reply from any of them.
Schiller phoned again and agreed to several changes,
including the removal of the “exclusive rights” clause, but he insisted on a noncompete clause. I could not publish anything about my parents’ deaths as long as the contract was valid. Farrell phoned immediately afterward,
suggesting we meet that weekend.
“I have some tight deadlines, so I doubt I’ll have the
time,” I said.
“I thought we had a deal.”
“I only spoke with your buddy Schiller a few minutes ago, so until I see a revised contract, we have no deal.”
No longer Mr. Nice Guy, huh? You and Schiller can kiss my ass.
Nonetheless, I agreed to meet him on Saturday at five
o’clock. He’d have a copy of the revised contract. But a half-hour before our meeting, I decided not to sign. Too late to call him, so I met him anyway.
“Son of a bitch,” he said. “Now I have to make another
fucking trip to San Diego.”
I shrugged. I had no sympathy for him, what with the
pressure he and Schiller were putting on me. He climbed into his green MGB, slammed the door, started the engine in a defiant roar, and lurched forward, tires squealing. Then he hit the brakes and leaned his head out the window. “How ’bout we go for a drink, just chat a little, off the record?”
I had him follow me to Fleas, a bar near the old ferry
landing where I occasionally played darts. We ordered drinks, and he asked me about the grand jury hearings. I couldn’t tell him much, since the jury
divulged nothing unless it handed down an indictment. Kerry had told me she had testified to the same things she’d said earlier. Gary, still in Tahiti, had yet to testify.
A week later, I flew to Seattle and visited Grandma Edwards and the Howatsons. They pleaded with me to stop the movie deal from going forward. I promised to do what I could, reminding Grandma Edwards that Gary had signed the contract two months before I knew anything about it.
From there I went to the National Old Time Fiddlers Contest in Weiser, Idaho. For a few days I forgot about the movie, my parents’ deaths, work, the future. I lived for the moment, drinking and making music day and night . . . and more drinking.