Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Shocking True Tale of Hollywood Scandal

I'm exercising my investigative journalism muscle for this all-true tale of a successful Hollywood executive's scandalous past. Please enjoy it, but also let it serve as a warning. Names obviously changed, mostly to protect my standing as a Hollywood insider.

"Yeah, it was a pretty sweet racket we had going," the young man says, leaning back in his seat, sucking languidly on a cigarette. "We could pretty much do whatever the hell we wanted, and nobody even tried to stop us."

The young man, whom I will call "Stuckey", is referring to his former life as a criminal. He and his friends ("posse") had a creative way of covering their crimes so that, even when they were discovered, they were able to elude capture. Their secret? Just bring a camera along, and pretend they were part of the magic of Hollywood.

Stuckey says he was inspired by one of the most bizarre murders in LA history. Two summers ago, four men set up what appeared to be a movie set in the middle of the sidewalk on Gower Street, near Paramount studios. There was a man holding a camera, another with a "boom" microphone, one director, and an actor. The "actor" then attacked a man named Charlton Wenniman, while the "director" shouted instructions. Over 200 people stood round the spectacle and watched for twenty minutes as Wenniman was beaten, stabbed, shot, hanged, and repeatedly run over by a steamroller. Some in the audience even cheered Wenniman's convincing "performance". The four men then got into their vehicle and fled.

After about five minutes, most people had moved on with their lives, but those who had remained to see the convincing "actor" get up off the pavement, became alarmed. At length, one figure stepped out from the crowd, walked to the pasty corpse, nudged it gently with a foot, and said, pathetically, "Daddy? Are you okay?"

The killers have not yet been caught. Ironic, considering the nature of and number of witnesses to the crime. Eyewitnesses even disagreed even as to what kind of vehicle the killers drove. Some described it as a 1973 VW bus; others claimed to have seen a late model Honda Accord. At the time, a police spokesman was quoted as saying, "It doesn't really matter what they drove away in. We won't catch them anyway."

The obvious question at this point becomes, "Stuckey, was you one of the killers of Carlton Wenniman?" To which Stuckey replies, "No, sir, I was not. But those people were definitely an inspiration to me. And I took it to the next level."

"The next level" is, of course, breaking and entering. Stuckey himself claims to have gone on no less than 100 such excursions, and actually estimates he may have done as many as 300. "And I know a few people who between them have probably done 300 more themselves," he says.

The scenario was this: Stuckey, along with his "posse", (I'll call them "Veronica", "Jughead", and "Stuckey #2"), selected a house into which they wanted to break. One of them, usually Jughead (although it doesn't really matter which, since I can't remember which one Jughead is anymore), held the camera. The others then broke into the house.

Their criteria for selecting a house were simple: They chose a house which was big, and had lots of things in it.

While breaking into the house, Jughead filmed. The others then filled bags with whatever they saw of value. Items such as VCR's, TV's, jewelry, cash, and, of course, video cameras, were especially prized. If anyone protested, even the owners of the home, Stuckey simply pointed to the camera and explained that it's all just part of the magic of Hollywood.

"One time," Stuckey says, a wide grin splitting his face, "this guy comes out of the house--we'd just busted his window, right? And he comes out and he says, 'What're you doing?' And I says, 'We're shooting a movie.' And he says, 'Why are you using my house?' And I gave him some bullshit about it matching the house in the script, and then he says, 'Oh,' and then he asks if he can watch us film."

Stuckey says he let him.

Another favorite story of Stuckey's concerns a house he robbed in Anaheim. When the owner of the house caught Stuckey and his posse robbing her home and complained to them about it, they offered the usual excuse that they were shooting a movie. When the woman, unmoved, demanded that they leave immediately, Stuckey offered her a role in the "film" he was shooting. She was still not satisfied and told them to leave, but Stuckey ignored her protests and shouted inane directions at her, such as, "Pretend you don't want us to break into your house," and "Pretend you're angry at us for stealing that silverware."

"She was standing there, going ape shit about her stuff getting stolen, and I was talking to her about motivation!" Stuckey says, chuckling.

The most brazen of Stuckey's jobs had to be the one that turned out to be his last, the one which finally convinced him to retire from using a camera to cover his crimes. While breaking into a home in West Hollywood at about two am one Saturday night, he and his posse woke the slumbering residents inside. Instead of coming out to see what the commotion was, the owners of the home immediately called the police, who arrived in only a few minutes.

"We got sloppy on that one," Stuckey says, his voice betraying only a hint of the trepidation he must have felt at the time. "We'd never had to deal with the cops before."

As it turned out, of course, Stuckey needn't have worried. When the policemen arrived and asked Stuckey and his friends what they were doing, Stuckey calmly and clearly explained to the police officers that they were filming a movie about a group of freedom fighters from the future who go back in time to gather possessions of people who will be famous in the future.

"I think it was a 'Twilight Zone' episode or something," Stuckey says, playfully.

The policemen seemed unconvinced, at first. "Then I offered them parts in my movie. They loved that."

Stuckey cast the two policemen as, well, two policemen, who are attacked by "nerve rays" that discombobulate their brain centers long enough that they are forced against their better judgment to help the thieves of the future carry the loot to their time machine, which is disguised as an early 1970's VW bus.

And, as Jughead filmed, the policemen helped Stuckey and his friends rob the home. When the owners complained that the police should quit stealing their stuff and arrest the "filmmakers," one of the policemen told them, "Shut up. We're trying to make a movie here."

All of which, of course, was captured on tape by Jughead. Stuckey claims to have no knowledge as to how that tape ended up in the hands of reporters at Fox 11 News. The tape not only cost the police officers in question a week's salary, but also served as a wake-up call to residents in the Hollywood area.

Dan Glickman, president of the MPAA, issued a statement which read, in part, "Just because someone has got a video camera, does not give them carte blanche to do whatever the heck they want. And for Gosh sake, no reputable film company is going to allow their crews to break into someone's home without first getting their permission."

Stuckey says it was at this point that he saw the handwriting on the wall, and decided to give up his life of crime, and pursue honest work. "When that tape aired on 11, I figured it was about time to move on to something else. Time to move to something a little more stable, a little more reliable. But I also crave excitement, of course. I think I found the perfect solution."

Stuckey's perfect solution came when executives at a major film production company, after seeing some of his work, offered him a production deal. And it wasn't long before Stuckey found himself running the company, after the people who'd hired him were let go.

Some people may find it ironic that a former criminal would be the president of a film company, however small, but Stuckey simply shrugs and flips through the screenplay of a movie he's just green-lighted. "This one I think has a lot of potential," he says. "I can't tell you exactly what the story is, but it's a clever little sci-fi film with a budget of about $150 million or so. Watch for it next summer."

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