Merrill » 2009 » August

Lather, Rinse, Repeat: My Hollywood horror story

Posted August 14th, 2009

The L.A.Weekly has a comedy issue out. The theme was Hollywood horror stories and I contributed one. If  you go to L.A.Weekly online, you can read  great ones by my friends Elayne Boosler and Laura Kightlinger.Martian Jimmy Here is mine:

Lather Rinse Repeat. By Merrill Markoe

In 1986 , when Ronald Reagan was  President, Paramount bought a screenplay from me about a girl who worked at a magazine, was about to turn thirty and her talking dog. It was called “Me and My Boy.” I had decided to write a talking dog movie because I was working on The Letterman Show, and noticed that the short movies that I shot from the point of view of a dog seemed to have wide appeal. Also I lived with four dogs and in 1986 the talking dog genre, which I’d always liked, was lying fallow.
Attached as producers were the team of Lynda Obst and Debra Hill.
So I wrote a few drafts that everyone liked .And the movie almost got made. Then it didn’t.
Instead it went in to “turn around.” For a while it was shepherded by Bernie Brillstein who was running a studio that year.  I was attached as director. I even got a shooting schedule.
The chorus of this particular song is well known in Los Angeles but everyone adds their own verse. Almost got made , then it  didn’t. Lather, rinse, repeat.
For a while it moved from place to place. I rewrote it over and over. At some point,  I threw up my hands in despair. If this movie ever got a green light, I promised,  I would rush in and tailor it to the cast. Never happened.
Over the next few years I heard rumors that Lynda and Debra had hired other writers. Some of them contacted me. Lather, rinse and repeat. George HW Bush became President, then Bill Clinton. By now it was hard to find a movie, sit com, animated show or  commercial that didn’t contain at least one talking dog.
I lost track of my script.
In 1999, I met Nora Ephron. “Whatever became of that dog script?” she asked. So  I jumped back on board and we exhumed the original. This time it got all the way to a table read with Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry. Unfortunately it took place moments before the tabloids  reported that Matthew Perry went to rehab. Perhaps that’s why he couldn’t read a line of dialog without having to start over.
I never heard another word from any one .
A friend read that someone else rewrote it. I imagined it in the catacombs beneath the Hollywood sign, buried under dozens of proposals for  sequels for Marley and Me.
In 2005, Debra Hill died an untimely death.
By then George W. Bush was President and I was writing novels and looking for an idea for my next one. I lived with four other dogs and still had a lot to say about the great funny relationships I’ve had with my dogs over the years. I had written dozens of short pieces about talking to dogs, and also made a lot of  videos. But I had never gotten to the heart of my feelings in print. It was time.
So I wrote a book called Walking in Circles Before Lying Down about a woman in her forties ,who worked at a doggy day care center and her ability to talk to all the dogs she tended.
Because I don’t like to repeat myself I went to a lot of trouble to make sure that I had brand new characters, with new occupations and a whole  different set of dogs. It was slated for publication in August of 2006 and  had just gotten good reviews from the publishing trades when I got a call from the legal department at Fox where apparently my script was now interred. No, it was not in development. But someone heard  I had written a book about a woman who talked to dogs and decided to try and stop publication .   This time I went in to shock. I was being accused of plagiarizing myself? Even though I had written a whole new original story and it was a novel, not a screenplay or a movie? If Rupert Murdoch was so covetous of my unique voice why had people been hired to rewrite me? And why, in 20 years, had the movie never been made?
So I had to pay a lawyer a lot of money to explain that writing dog voices was something I’d been doing for decades. And incidentally, I wasn’t the only one who wrote talking dogs. And that  William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth AND Richard III, but everyone agreed they were two different plays even though both were full of blood and talking kings..-
By 2008, to my surprise and delight, my book was selling well enough to get on the best seller list.
In 2009 Barack Obama became president. But don’t expect to see a talking dog movie by me during this or any future administration.

Hospitals develop amazing new name for kleenex.

Posted August 8th, 2009

CB002863There is an interesting article in todays New York Times about a service that now exists to help recovering  patients make their way through all the false charges on their hospital bills. These self titled “medical advocates” charge to help you navigate  the language of the insurance companies and  hopefully spot  instances of double billing and fraud. That’s the premise anyway.  The article offers examples of such charges. For instance:

According to some surveys, as many as 9 out of 10 bills from  medical providers include errors, according to the Medical Billing Advocates of America. Often these errors have to do with billing for services that were not provided. Lin Osborn, a medical advocate in Westchester County, N.Y., says she has seen several cases in which patients were charged a separate fee for closing a surgical incision.”

In other words, one fee for making the incision. Another fee for closing it. Now that is some creative billing. Think of the financial windfalls this approach could provide for the rest of us. Restaurants: One fee for cooking your food, another fee for allowing you to eat it! Prostitutes: One fee for allowing john to enter my body. Another fee for permitting removal of penis! Writers: One fee for writing the work. Another for allowing you to read it. Okay, the flaws are too obvious there. Nothing ever works out well for writers. But my favorite part of the article details the new phrases that the hospitals have invented to help disguise the over charging.

” Then there are the well-publicized overcharges like $11 for a box of tissues, itemized as “a disposable mucus recovery system” or a $15 bag of ice listed as “thermal therapy.”

“Thermal therapy” for ice is very good, I agree. That was some fancy thinking.  But DISPOSABLE MUCUS RECOVERY SYSTEM is brilliant. I am so impressed.

Despite the fact that apparently our current health care set up has evidently been great for creativity in the field of billing, I sure hope congress manages to push through a health care bill. Otherwise I might have no choice but to put my 401K into  mucous recovery  .