“It’s clear to me that you think that you are the fucking queen bee of the universe.”
When I was twenty-five I had just moved to Los Angeles with an MFA in screenwriting from UT-Austin. One of my professors set up a meeting for me with a man I’m going to call Shane Mango, who was a talented TV writer and a playwright. I was hungry and had no rent money and I went out to Warner Brothers and had lunch with Shane Mango, who was probably ten or fifteen years older than I, but who struck me as “old.” He wore these very hip sneakers that seemed Euro, almost like capsules, little gray capsules with laces. He was very thin and super fit. I remember wearing a leopard print skirt—a knee-length skirt—and red mules that had sharp silver studs on the top, and I thought I looked really hip and great. So we had lunch and I remember the ice tea made me feel very cold.
Shane was so excited because he’d just gotten a sitcom pilot approved at the WB about these disgruntled brothers of movie stars and TV stars. He’d been a TV writer for a stretch, but I don’t know that he’d ever really had a show—even a pilot—given a green light, so this was a big deal for him and he felt like a god to me. I thought it was a very cool show idea and he seemed confident and together and he had such a spring in his step. He looked at my resume and was impressed with my education, which was all I had since I had no real job experience doing anything. And he said on the spot that I could be his writer’s assistant. I said, “Yes! Wonderful!” I think it paid about $700 a month and that seemed like a fortune, so I was just sky-high. They weren’t going to get ready to start shooting for several weeks, but Mr. Mango was so excited he wanted to get his writer’s assistant deal set up.
I was living in Venice at the time and it was quite a long drive to Warner Brothers and now I had to get out there a few days a week. The highway struck me almost like a bowl of spaghetti. It was so overwhelming I was terrified—I would get to the office feeling sweaty and nervous and shy. Then I’d go up and sit and read a script and really see almost nobody. Sometimes I would see Shane Mango, and sometimes I would see a janitor or a producer of sorts. Early on, Shane said, “You have a great English education. I want you to look for any typos or grammatical mistakes in the script. You just go through and find anything that strikes you as wrong, even tonally.” I felt kind of proud to have been given that task and I took it very seriously. As the days were going by, though, everything was moving so slowly and I started to worry about getting paid because nothing had been said about money beyond that first luncheon. So when I saw a producer one day, I just mentioned casually that I thought I should go ahead and get my tax form filed because I needed to start getting paid. She was very nice and nodded and said, “Sure, we’ll get that rolling.”
Then the other staff writers started to show up and one day I was invited to go and listen in. At the end of the meeting Mr. Mango said to me, “Do you have any notes, Betsy? Did you find any typos?”
“You can do this,” I thought; this was my shot, my chance to contribute, and I wanted to make it count. I picked out a couple of spelling things that were nothing and then, meeting Shane’s eyes, I said, “There’s one thing. There’s this line where your character says ‘none are’ and I’m wondering if he would say ‘none is.’ Is he the kind of person who’s a real stickler for old-fashioned grammar? Because I think he’s so educated maybe he would be. But, obviously you’ll know best.” And he said, “Oh! One point for Betsy. That’s a good one!” And I was elated. And again I thought, “This man is God. This show is so smart, so creative. I really hope it makes it—I bet it will.”
Then the meeting ended and Mr. Mango said, “Listen Betsy, I need to talk to you, one on one. Obviously, you’re a good proofreader. But also it’s clear to me that you think that you are the fucking queen bee of the universe. You don’t come in and join us during the meetings. You embarrassed me in front of my writers just now when you said this thing about ‘none.’ I mean, please, could you have said anything MORE about it? And then you went behind my back and talked to my producer about getting a paycheck? When we’re not even ready to start shooting yet!” At this point, I was feeling greasy sweat under my legs on the leather couch. I was ready to start sobbing. But I tried to play it cool because I thought, “Well, this is Shane Mango and he’s got a great show together and obviously I don’t know what I’m doing! I’ll learn!” Still a giant lump waited in my throat.
I got in the car and took the spaghetti highway back home and later I cried to my father long-distance. The next day I talked to my wise old professor at UT-Austin and he said, “Well, Shane is under a lot of pressure. He doesn’t know if the show is going to get picked up and I think he’s been getting some rough notes from the network. He probably doesn’t even have a budget for an assistant yet and that’s something he has to ask for.” That hadn’t even occurred to me, that Mr. Mango was human and radically disorganized. Right then the professor got a call from Shane on the other line. When he clicked back over he said, “Listen, just between the two of us, Shane is so upset I think you should probably just quit.” The understanding was that I was going to get fired. So I called Shane straightaway and said, “You know, I’m going to go ahead and quit because I don’t think this is exactly the right match.” And then I tried to summon this pseudo-grace and confidence that I had seen Shane ooze in our early moments, and I said, “I do hope that someday we can write something together. If that happens what I’ll do is pull up in my red BMW and when you hear the honk, ‘Boop beep boop boop beep!’—that is going to be me, Baby, and you should come on down.” He murmured, “All righty then.” He wasn’t sure if he was meant to be offended or relieved by my sound effect, and neither was I. Then I made another big “beeeep” sound, and realized how burned I felt. How grown-up outraged. We hung up fast.
Then very quickly the show was up and gone, just like that. And I realized that Shane was incredibly insecure, just as insecure as I was, and didn’t really know much more than I did. He was indeed talented and probably deserved to have a show on TV but probably the show at hand was too smart to be on TV. But he saw this pilot as his only shot.
There’s a particular brand of fear in Hollywood because the money is so big and the fame is so tempting, and when you get close to it there is intense pressure. Even more than in other creative fields. It encourages feelings of dissociation. Or it invites a smaller self. There’s little room in Hollywood to be messy and human and talk about what’s really going on below the surface—you’re not supposed to show any sweat, which creates more of it, more fear. You know, I had been so shattered by that exchange when Shane called me a queen bee, but now I sort of feel for him and I hope he’s doing okay. And writing well in another town.