With the start of the 2021 NFL football season I was reminded of my short-lived career in 1985 as a bag man for Jimmy, a bookmaker friend who lived in the Shores apartment complex. His most memorable clientele were Hollywood studio executives and, among other “civilians” Leo, a lovable deli counterman who always seemed to lose. I was an aspiring screenwriter having had four scripts optioned but none ever made. (Ouch!)
So it was Jimmy offered me a one day a week job. (Tuesdays, after Monday Night Football.) The duties included picking up envelopes stuffed with crisp $100 bills and marked with the names and studio addresses in Burbank and Culver City of bettors who won that week. My pay was to be $150 but when I hesitated Jim raised it to $200. (Adjusted for inflation, $495.)
Jimmy assured me I would be safe legally because cops would never bust studio execs for betting. In fact, he confided that he and other bookies paid police to “grease the wheel.” Fifteen years later, however, this “arrangement” backfired, as I will explain shortly.
Jimmy’s only caveat was I could never talk about my scripts with his clients. So the following Tuesday I began my exciting new gig. With my name being left at the studio’s front gate, the guards politely let me in like I was a big shot.
The studio executives were surprisingly courteous. Ironically, when I had been in similar offices pitching my scripts they were never this nice. That said, when one exec was on the phone complaining about “lousy screenplays,” remembering Jimmy’s caveat, I had to bite my tongue.
After making my payouts and collections, on a few occasions I strolled the studio grounds. I never saw a movie star but I did see parking spots designated with a star’s name and the cars were always gorgeous. (I, on the other hand, drove a little Honda.) Once a sound stage door was ajar and I couldn’t resist going in. I was amazed how massive the inside was.
Perhaps the most legendary producer, and one whose house I drove to in the Hollywood hills, was Jerry Weintraub. He produced “Ocean’s 11” among many hit movies and was worth a whopping $325 million at the time of his death in 2015.
Weintraub was on the phone but, like we were old pals, he told me to help myself from the bar. I didn’t drink liquor and I was certainly not going to ask if he stocked apple juice. Instead I perused the framed photos on the living room wall of Weintraub posing with the absolute who’s who of Hollywood, including one featuring Johnny Carson, which was hilarious.
It was of a doubles tennis match with Carson and Weintraub on one team. Evidently Johnny had an “erratic” serve because in the photo Jerry, who was at the net, was jokingly wearing a lounge cushion bungee corded to his body protecting him from his ankles to his neck. I laughed so hard Weintraub rushed in and chuckled when he saw what I was looking. He confided that Johnny, who loved tennis, sadly, wasn’t very good at it.
I can’t forget to mention Leo the lovable deli counterman who frequently lost and was just as frequently short of cash. He often “bribed” me with delicious cold cuts to put in a good word with Jimmy for him, which I always did.
Late in the year the job ended, at least in my mind, at MGM studio in Culver City. My name hadn’t been left at the front gate, so I parked on the street and was about to enter on foot when a city bus dropped off some gang banger types. I had thousands of dollars on me and, seemingly, the gang could smell it.
The group surrounded me and menacingly asked what was my big hurry. Thankfully a studio security guard on a 3-wheel motorcycle came close enough that I signaled him. Fortunately, having had their fun, the gang left. As I sighed in relief, I concluded I would not be renewing my bag man gig.
As for Jimmy, in January 2000 he phoned from jail just as I was watching the Rams in the Super Bowl. (Which they won!) Jimmy had me contact his friend to bail him out. Mysteriously, the charges were eventually dropped.
Five years later, however, Jimmy passed away from a sudden heart attack. Our building manager found $150,000 in cash that, instead of going to the state, went to Jim’s lucky cousin whom I helped locate and who feigned grief but in fact barely knew him.
To fellow football fans, I’m happy the NFL is back. To everybody else, as I reflect back, though it was great fun at first, I’m even happier that I’m no longer a bookie’s bag man.
Jack is at: facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and firstname.lastname@example.org