Shooting for the Stars
THE executive producer of The Prime Time Files had an office filled with pictures of him posing alongside famous people. George Clooney. Barbra Streisand. Bill and Hillary Clinton. Michael Jordan. Katie Couric. Ted Danson. The message was clear: this guy was plugged-in, powerful, a player with the celebrity elite. I wasn’t sure whether to shake his hand or ask for his autograph.
Gary Lang, the executive producer, was telling me now in great detail about all his accomplishments, all the awards he’d won and how much money he’d made in the television and movie business. I’d been listening to him since I walked into his office fifteen minutes earlier. I figured I could last maybe another minute, tops, until my head exploded.
“I’m sure you can understand my concern, Mr. Malloy,” Lang said. “I have a reputation to uphold. Abbie Kincaid is an extremely popular television personality and a highly respected journalist. So before I allow you to interview her, I need to make sure you understand that whatever you write about us has to be very classy.”
“Classy,” I repeated.
“Those are the ground rules we need to agree to before you talk to Abbie. I want to be sure that you or your newspaper won’t indulge in any irresponsible journalism here. Abbie’s image is very
important to me. Whatever you write about her must be done with style and with sophistication. Above all, it must be . . .”
“I can do classy,” I smiled.
Gary Lang was in his midforties. Black curly hair, horn-rimmed glasses, very intense. He was wearing a three-piece pinstriped gray suit, blue shirt, and red tie. The vest and suit jacket were buttoned up and his tie unloosened—even though it was mid-June. Definitely a power suit. Only problem was he had a bit of a paunch that was sticking out between the buttons of the vest and jacket. Hard to impress people when you’re sporting a spare tire around your middle.
Me, I had on a pair of washed-out jeans, a blue linen blazer, and a T-shirt underneath with the name and number of third baseman David Wright—the captain of the New York Mets and my favorite New York City athlete at the moment. I should point out that normally I wear the Mets T-shirt hanging out over my pants. But I tucked it in before going to meet Lang. Gil Malloy is the kind of reporter who goes that extra mile for a big story.
“Do you have any questions, Mr. Malloy?” Lang asked me.
“Yeah, do you actually know all these celebrities?” I said, looking around at the famous people in the pictures all around his office.
“Of course I do.”
“I mean, you’ve met George Clooney?”
“Michael Jordan? Bill and Hillary Clinton? Ted Danson . . . ?”
“I met them all. Why else would I be in the pictures?”
“I don’t know . . . I thought maybe it was trick photography or something . . . like in Forrest Gump when they made it look like Tom Hanks was talking to dead presidents.”
“Actually, I find that easier to believe than you talking to Ted Danson.”
“I happen to know Ted Danson very well,” Lang snapped. “On my last trip to California, I sat in Ted Danson’s living room. I swam in his pool . . .”
“Was he like . . . you know, home at the time?”
“I really don’t care for your smart mouth, Malloy.”
“Yeah, well . . . I get a lot of complaints about it, Mr. Lang. They used to bother me too. I would stay up nights worrying about it. Not so much anymore. So are you going to let me talk to Abbie Kincaid at some point or are you just going to keep trying to dazzle me with your star-studded resume?”
He glared at me. I was beginning to suspect that I had failed his “classy” criteria.
“How much do you know about Abbie?” Lang asked.
“The highlights of her career,” I said. “She started out trying to be an actress, but she only had moderate success. Then, a few years ago, she became the star of a daytime TV talk show called Girl Talk. One of those programs where women tell how they slept with their lesbian sister-in-law or how they spy into their neighbor’s bedroom or how their husband likes to be spanked while wearing diapers. Now she’s gone the serious route. She’s the host of The Prime Time Files. She’s now doing investigative reports, interviews with big names in show business and government, lifestyle features, and headline crime stuff. I remember the show starting off as a midseason replacement and now it’s on the regular schedule. It ranked number thirteen in the ratings last week.”
“Have you ever watched The Prime Time Files?” Lang asked.
“Yeah, I caught it the other night.”
“What was your reaction?”
“I think Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters have done it all before, probably a little better too. But Abbie’s young, she’s cute—she’s got great demographics. That’s what really counts. Hell,” I smiled at him, “I think she’ll be a big star.”
Lang did not smile back.
“I spoke earlier with someone at your newspaper,” he said.
Stacy Albright was the city editor of the New York Daily News, the paper I worked for.
“Yes. Miss Albright seemed very interested when I told her that Abbie was about to break a big exclusive on her TV show and we wanted to do a story promoting Abbie—and this week’s show—in your paper.”
“Stacy thinks it sounds like something that can get us both a lot of good publicity,” I said.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“I think it sounds like a very slow news week. So what’s the exclusive about?”
“Laura Marlowe,” he said.
Laura Marlowe was the hottest young star in the country back in the early ’80s. Her first two movies had been smash hits, and she was dubbed America’s sweetheart by the press—the young Julia Roberts of her time. But it all ended tragically when an obsessed fan shot and killed her right after a party for her last movie. The fan then committed suicide.
“She’s been dead for thirty years,” I said to Lang.
“So what’s your story?”
“What really happened to her.”
“Don’t I already know that?”
“You only think you do.”
The Laura Marlowe murder was not exactly a new topic. Because the killer had committed suicide and the circumstances of her death were shrouded in mystery, it had become popular fodder for sensational TV shows, supermarket tabloids, and even some of the mainstream press over the years. The favorite rumor was that Laura Marlowe—like Jim Morrison or Elvis—was really alive someplace. No one believed it, of course, but it always made for a good story.
“Let me guess,” I said. “Laura Marlowe didn’t really die.”
“No,” Lang said, “she’s dead.”
“Then your big exclusive is that Laura Marlowe is still dead?”
“The bottom line here,” he said, “is there’s always been a lot of questions about what happened the night Laura Marlowe died. How did the killer get so close to her? What was she doing with him? Where did the killer go after he shot her? What was his motive? Why was her body quickly cremated before the coroner could do a full inquest? Until now, no one’s ever been able to provide any of the answers.”
“And you’ve got the answers.”
“Enough of them to do a helluva story.”
“But you won’t tell me exactly what the story is?”
“Because you’re going to break it yourself on your television show.”
“That’s the deal we worked out with your editor.”
I nodded. It didn’t seem like much of a story to me, but then I wasn’t much of a reporter these days. Oh, I’d had my moments over the years. Front page headlines. A handful of awards. I even
got nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the Daily News once. But that all felt like it was in the distant past now.
“Why does anyone even care about Laura Marlowe after all this time?” I asked.
“She was a Hollywood legend.”
“How many movies did she make?”
“Three,” Lang said.
“She was only twenty-two when she died.”
“And she was that big of a star already?”
“Yeah, can you imagine what might have happened if she’d lived?” he said. “How popular she might have become? It was a real tragedy. A reminder to all of us how fleeting life can be.”
Lang looked across the desk at me.
“This is a good story—and Abbie and I are giving you a chance to be a part of it.”
“You could use a good story.”
“What does that mean?”
“From what I hear, it’s been a while since you’ve done much of anything, Malloy. I asked around about you at the Daily News. The people there told me you’re terrific when you latch on to a big exclusive. But the rest of the time they say you mostly just sit around the newsroom daydreaming about God knows what and wasting time.”
“I prefer to think of it as a creative regrouping,” I said.
“Well, just try not to be such a jerk, huh? It would make things a lot easier.”
He was right, of course. I sure needed a story. And this, for better or worse, was a story. I knew I had to do everything I could to stay on it. Even if it meant being nice to a guy like Lang. Besides, maybe he could get me Ted Danson’s autograph.
“So when do I meet Abbie Kincaid?” I said.