We recently experienced one of the exciting things about living in LA: we were invited to a screening of a major motion picture. I haven’t been to many of these, but I’ve noticed that I always like the film in question more when I see it this way, than I probably would in ordinary circumstances. If studios could arrange some way to make every movie theater showing seem like a screening, then every single film would be a hit.

Since this was an “invitation” screening, rather than a crew screening, none of the actors in the film were there. Also, this was not the type of screening where feedback was wanted: No one was handing out questionnaires afterwards, urging us to write down our opinions about how much we liked the film.

That type of “test screening” reminds me of a film I saw in 1987 called Fatal Attraction. Before I actually watched the film, I read an article about it saying that, in the original version, the evil mistress carved up the whole family instead of just the daughter’s pet rabbit, but during a test screening, the audience reported that they were more sympathetic to this woman scorned than the director and writer had expected them to be, so the ending was changed.

Since I saw this film AFTER reading the story, I noticed when she set down a sharp knife in a convenient place in the family’s living room, foreshadowing the dire crime she was going to commit later, in the original version. The camera zoomed in on the knife, making sure that we in the audience didn’t miss its significance, but most people didn’t notice it (and I wouldn’t have either) when it ended up having no significance in the re-cut version of the film. In other words, it was a good “save.”

My favorite story of a good “save” happened with the first film made from one of Whitley’s books, “The Wolfen.” Besides keeping the wolves penned up in Queens and telling everyone they were German shepherds when they woke up the neighbors with their howling, the producers had the extraordinary disaster of having the infrared film they were using to show the world through the Wolfen viewpoint burn up in the lab, destroying their special effects.

It was too late (and probably too expensive) to film the effects over again and the story didn’t make too much sense without them (plus the film was too short), so the producer filled the movie out by doing things like chasing a flock of birds up a flight of stairs so the camera man could catch them all flying off the roof of the building (as if a Wolfen was after them).

That film was a delightful introduction to movie making. One of the leads (I won’t say who) was an alcoholic to the point of being almost catatonic. When Whitley asked the director if it was OK to go up and say hello to him, he said, “Sure, but don’t be surprised at what happens.” Whitley expected to receive a tyrannical tirade from him about being bothered, but what actually happened was…nothing. It was as if the actor hadn’t heard him at all.

Whitley was terribly agitated by this and went back to the director and said, “You have a problem, he’s dead drunk!”

The director said, “Oh, he’s always that way: just watch.” When he called for this man to come onto the set, he suddenly came to life, took his mark, and said his lines perfectly. The scene was completed in one take. Afterwards, the actor went back to his canvas chair and slumped over again, seemingly dead to the world.

All this just goes to show that in Hollywood, nothing is exactly what it seems to be. For instance, gayness is accepted out here, because so many of the people in show business are gay. But it’s also, in a funny way, more in the closet here than almost anyplace else, because many of the biggest, most handsome heart throbs in the movies, who are on the covers of the types of magazines you see when you’re in the checkout line at the grocery store (with breathless blurbs like “Will he ditch Beth for Julie?”) leave the set at the end of the day and say “Honey, I’m home” to another man.

Producers always get a laugh out of the fact that some straights don’t want to play gay men and some gay men don’t want to play straight guys. Strangely enough, two of the largest gay roles in recent films, “Brokeback Mountain” and “Milk,” have been played by heterosexual men. The Academies are awarded by your peers, and the reason Sean Penn won for portraying Harvey Milk was that his fellow actors knew how hard it was for a straight guy to do such a perfect job of portraying a gay man. It would be easy to play an outrageous Queen-type, but this was the more subtle kind of gay man, the kind we all bump elbows with every day.

Whitley and I were curious about what made Penn’s performance so authentic so we asked an expert: Jay, the gay man who cuts our hair. He didn’t hesitate to provide the answer: “It was the gestures.” They’re not flamboyant, but they’re telling, and Penn must have studied his gay friends carefully in order to play the role.

In LA, there is something called “gaydar,” which means intuition about whether a man is gay or not. I experienced this after I lost 100 pounds. Whitley and I take long daily walks (which is one of the reasons I’ve been able to KEEP the weight off). I developed perfect “gaydar” after I lost all that weight because, while I went down in bra size, I did not go down in cup size.

I was actually disappointed about this, because large breasts are more of an annoyance than anything else. For instance, they make it hard to buy clothes, which all seem to be designed for women with the bodies of young boys. Nobody bothers to put darts in clothes anymore.

One thing big boobs ARE good for, however, is locating straight men. They’re the female equivalent of those metal detectors that people use to sweep the beach in search of buried coins.

When I was heavy, I used to resemble that prehistoric statue known as the “Venus of Willendorf,” but now that I’m thin, my breasts are more prominent and as we walk along, I notice the glances I get from guys sitting in the outdoor cafes we pass (and let’s face it, after years of being fat, I APPRECIATE them). I’ll mumble to Whitley, “That man’s straight, there’s another straight one.”

I don’t know how I ended up with these knockers (it may have been breast feeding, even though I didn’t do it for that long), but now at least I’ve found a use for the darn things. Not that I need it, since I’ve been happily married for almost 40 years and I’m not looking for another mate.

NOTE: This Diary entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.

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