Hunter went to Hollywood many times and was first documented doing so in the 1978 BBC documentary Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood, and by me in my film Breakfast with Hunter. Also, a short film I made from my unused scenes for the Criterion Collection called “Hunter Goes To Hollywood” is on their superb DVD of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (along with the BBC doc). Whenever we went to Hollywood, Hunter always preferred to stay at the Chateau Marmont. For a poor boy from Louisville who grew up amongst the rich, to stay at the Chateau on Sunset Blvd cemented his status as a VIP in his own mind, and suitably impressed those who hoped to meet him.
In March, 1997 Hunter went on perhaps his most important Hollywood mission – to do what even F. Scott Fitzgerald could not, control the fate of his own work in Hollywood, in this case by replacing Alex Cox, the director/writer of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas with another director… any director other than Cox.
The following are my notes from that time, with more to follow about that fateful trip in the next episode.
I put the Beast in the Limo with the 23 year old assistant-in-training at 6:15 a.m. Saturday in Johnny Depp’s driveway after an all-nighter at Depp’s mansion above Sunset – an incredible castle set on three acres, once the home of Bela Lugosi.
Last Monday, six long nights previous, Hunter came to Hollywood to kill the soon-to-be former director of Fear and Loathing – the one I shot in Woody Creek when Hunter threw him out of the house. Jennifer [ Erskine, my longtime companion and Associate Producer ] had a limo for him at the airport. The limo first picked up the assistant-in-training – a Brooke Shields type who looked fifteen, but I checked her driver’s license. Had to. He wanted her on the rental contract for the black V-8 Mustang Jennifer also procured. She’s 23. Somebody who wrote him a letter. No help to me at all. Some fucking assistant. But I guess his needs are different than mine.
I didn’t shoot his arrival at LAX per his previous command. He was worried about attracting paparazzi. Too much to do anyway wrangling his arrival. Had cell phone communication with the limo in the space at the curb I had held with the Isuzu until it arrived. And with Jennifer in her VW, circling LAX for a quick pickup of his bags by her so he would not have to wait.
Jennifer seemed a little reluctant when I asked her to pickup his luggage. “Is there anything inside?” she asked. “I don’t know, and its’ better not to think about it. Makes it easier to pass a lie detector test.” She still wasn’t accepting the assignment. “There’s nothing. Okay? Forgettabout it. ” She took the job.
I raced ahead to the Chateau Marmont where I planned to film his arrival. On the cell phone I confirmed that Jennifer had the bags and was not in custody.
Good stuff at the arrival all recorded. Hunter tipped the limo driver a hundred bucks and kissed his hand. The front desk clerk game him a good tour of the suite, and Hunter handed him a hundred bucks. The clerk was so shocked he refused the tip.
When I went back down to the desk later in the evening the clerk seemed edgy, asking about what I was doing with the camera. “It’s just personal right? You know, I have to ask. We have very important people here. And then when he tried to give me all that money, it really made me wonder. It’s just personal, right?”
“Oh yeah. Just personal. I’ve been doing this with Mr. Green ( the name he checked in under ) for years. God only knows what we’ll do with it,” I replied wondering if the hundred buck tip made him think we were trying to entice him into some kind of porno up in Suite 69 – the actual number.
I had suggested using the name “Mr. Green” for this trip.
“Why?” asked Hunter, having used up Ben Franklin and Henry Clay on previous outings.
“Makes you think of money…the environment…and other things dear to your heart,” I replied. Also, good luck for the trip I thought, not even knowing we would arrive ironically on St. Patrick’s Day with green klieg lights on Sunset Boulevard sweeping the Chateau Marmont, the twenties Hollywood knockoff of a French castle in which Orson Welles stagnated and John Belushi died.
The next afternoon I had to have Chateau engineering dismantle the doorway to Mr. Green’s suite in order for me to wake him at four PM for breakfast. I had a key, but the Beast had deadlocked the door so my key wouldn’t work. At first security maintained that there was no way in once it was deadlocked.
“What do you do if someone is dead in there,” I asked, trying to sound facetious but beginning to wonder after all the noise I had made banging and ringing the bell. Sometimes he pulls a trick like mumbling he’s up and then you hear the shower running, but this time not even running water. Security rolled over at the mention of a stiff and called engineering. I got in.
I had to shake him roughly to wake him. The Beast mumbled that he’d been up until ten in the morning. From the looks of the suite he’d ordered a lot of room service, but eaten only little bits of everything. The assistant in training who was with him when I left had vanished.
A multi-colored Tibetan prayer flag crossed the ceiling where I hung it for him the night before. Deborah had packed it in silver Halliburton case with the combination lock for good luck.
Watching him wake up is really a trip. It takes a lot of substances. All at the right temperature. Coffee. Ice. Scotch. Loud television. Dunhills, etc.
Phone rings a lot. I tell everyone he’s in the shower. I’ve forgotten his need for a large bucket of ice at all times and room service is slow. He screams horribly in the background like an insane man with a desperate need for “ICE” as I plead with room service.
After about an hour and a half he comes to life and begins to work, taking calls, sending faxes, doing the Hollywood shuffle, trying to kill the director.
I take a fax down to the desk and there is “the Clerk” from the night before. He takes the fax and then brings up our arrival, saying he’s been thinking about it a lot. In fact, when he went home, he had to write about it. Now I’ve got to humor this guy to get him to sign a release so I ask to see what he’s written. He shows me his handwritten diary. Not bad actually. Like what happens to many of us after an encounter with Hunter. An insatiable urge to write.
That night was consumed by Laila Nabulsi and Benicio del Toro – the actor who is slated to play Oscar aka Dr. Gonzo. I record quite a bit of it. Hunter is consumed by his victory over the Aspen police who stalked him and busted him for drinking and driving on the night before an important local election. A quote Hunter uses from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis referring to “private criminals” intrigues Benicio, who is clearly paying attention despite the hour.
[What you don’t see in my film is that at about 2am, after a lot of drinking Hunter baits Benicio into proposing that he (Benicio) replace Cox as the director of the movie. No sooner does Benicio fall for the trap, than he realizes Hunter is making fun of his ambitions, and we all, including Benicio, laugh at the clever trap Hunter set. Everybody in Hollywood wants to direct. I left it out to not embarrass Benicio]
The Beast never leaves the hotel that night. Nor the next, when the actor Harry Dean Stanton comes for dinner. A wonderful evening. I recorded nothing. It would have queered a marvelous scene and Hunter would have killed me.
Hunter had Harry Dean put on various weird sunglasses that Laila had brought for Hunter to give to visitors. She knows he likes toys and party favors. God only knows what she knew that got her a lock on the rights to Fear and Loathing.
Harry Dean became a different character with each new pair of glasses. He was uncanny. One moment Steven Hawking. The next a deranged killer. Incredible improv in Suite 69 that night.
Then dinner downstairs in the garden, six floors below the balcony of the suite with the view of Sunset. Hunter managed to entice over a blonde Hungarian girl to join us. She claimed to have lived in the Chateau for four months. Now lives in a house on the hill nearby. She gave him her phone number. When she goes to make a call, Hunter wonders if she’s a narc and Harry Dean spills everything we brought down from the suite. We spend the rest of the evening picking it up with our fingertips which we then lick while the blonde tells her story. Somehow there is a crazed sense of irresistible immunity in his presence. But, it’s not always true. Of this I am most aware. He got busted in Aspen. But I wasn’t with him and this blonde’s a bimbo not a cop. And we fucking own this place at $295 a night and hundred dollar tips. So the madness goes on. Too weird to film and that’s why I’m writing this, just to remember.
To Be Continued…
Copyright 2009 by Wayne Ewing