He’ll Always Be Michael To Me

Steven called him Mike.

Of course, he could get away with that but I couldn’t. Steven’s last name was Spielberg, mine wasn’t.  I was somebody smaller swimming around in these show business (shark infested) waters.  I was the little minnow who somehow was now keeping company with some very big fish – just treading water at times, and trying not to sink.

We were at a kickoff luncheon for Disney’s top secret “Project M” – a film that was supposed to be in development based on “Peter Pan.” Steven Spielberg sat to my right in his private dining room at Amblin Entertainment, and directly across from me was somebody I tried (without success) to look at as just another collaborator and human being.  But his dark eyes, beautiful face, his gentle ways, and his illuminating smile made that impossible.

I was in awe of him.  I still am.  And he’ll always be Michael to me.

Today I’m thinking about him – celebrating him as a collaborator, and artist. I don’t want to remember the events of three years ago, so I’m pushing them to the back of my mind.  Burying them away, and trying to forget.  I can do that because I’m just a regular person.  But when you’re a celebrity, it’s a lot more complicated.

When you become a celebrity your life becomes public property.  You try to reclaim it with bodyguards, security systems, handlers, spin makers, and money (lots of it) to help you hide.  But the moment your life hits a sharp curve, and you lose control, the world will know about it, and your life is over.

Think about that.

We all have times in life when we make mistakes (some of them big mistakes) that we’d rather forget.  Usually we do forget.  We push those mistakes to the farthest (and deepest) places in our mind.  We make ourselves forget, and unless we’re in the safety of a therapist’s office, or a priest’s confessional, no will ever know.  But if you’re a celebrity, everyone will know.

Michael never had a chance to be a regular person.  It’s tough enough when you become a celebrity as an adult.  But when it’s thrust upon you when you’re a child, and you really have no power over it, it can end up being destructive and terribly sad.

But that’s not the Michael I want to remember.

I spent this morning listening to Michael’s voice, trying to remember the Michael I once knew – the one I was lucky enough to work with on “Peter Pan.” I listened to the tapes he asked me to record at the story meetings the two of us had. And what I heard on those tapes is the Michael that I once knew:  His excitement.  His sensitivity.  His love for Peter Pan.  His commitment to the creative life.  And his passion.

Also, his giggles. Michael loved to giggle. And that’s what I choose to remember about him today.

Giggling made him sound just like a regular person.

(Michael as Peter Pan artwork by Mikl Olivier)

This Is What Happens When You Procrastinate

I never considered myself a procrastinator.  I do my taxes (eventually).  I change the oil in my car (when the red light comes on). I even balance my checkbook (sort of). I never thought I had a problem with putting off to tomorrow what should have been done yesterday. That’s until I took a recent trip down memory lane and faced the truth.

Memory Boxes and the Surprises They Hold

We all have memories tucked away – old photographs, baby items, awards from school days, or an old valentine or two.  Memory boxes can be beautiful, like this one I found online:

Here’s what mine look like:

I’m partial to Tupperware. I stash them all over the house: under beds, inside closets, out in the garage. Hidden away, they’re out of sight and out of mind. I never remember exactly what’s in them; I just know I don’t want to ever throw them away.

I started going through some of those memory boxes a couple of years ago when I decided to write my book.  I was looking for the journals and notes I kept when I had my meetings with Michael Jackson, when we worked on the Peter Pan film script together.  I found what I was looking for in those Tupperware archaeological digs. I found something else too.  Something I wish I hadn’t.

Some Memories You Just  Want to Forget

The memories were stratified – like layers of soil deposited one section on top of the other, each year buried by more recent times. Underneath the years of screenwriting came the tour guide memorabilia. My Universal Studios name tag, a patch from my uniform, photos of trams, tour guide friends, and a family of four I had almost forgotten about.

This was my view as a tour guide at the front of a Universal Studios tram.  These were the tourists on one particular day, and one specific tour. I had a roll of film I wanted to use up so I brought my camera to work that day and took a few random shots.  It was just a quick snapshot, nothing special really. I didn’t think twice about taking it –  until the family in the front row approached me at the end of the tour.  I don’t remember much about them except I think they lived in the Midwest.  They seemed like nice people, soft-spoken, and polite – out-of-place there at that big Hollywood movie studio.

The father asked me if he could have a copy of the photo. He wrote down their address and handed it to me with a dollar. He didn’t want me to have to pay the postage, he said, holding the dollar bill out to me. That wouldn’t be right, he added.  I felt strange taking that money.  Something inside of me knew there might be a problem – a premonition, perhaps. But I smiled at this family, not wanting to let them down, and I took the dollar anyway. I tucked it into the back of my camera case, along with their address, and I promised I would send them the photo.

That was many years ago.  I eventually left Universal Tours; I started acting, became a screenwriter, a wife, and a mother. We moved and the memory boxes with all their contents moved with us. I had forgotten all about that photo until two years ago when I found it. Obviously, I got the film developed –there was the photo at the bottom of my memory box as evidence: I had never sent it to that family.

It was  a long time ago.  I had long since lost the name and address of that family.  There was nothing I could do it about it, I reasoned with myself.  And yet,  I couldn’t bear to look at the faces in that photo. They were a nice family that trusted me, that gave me a dollar to send them a memory. And I had obviously forgotten, or put off doing it. My life had grown complicated, packed with new responsibilities (as lives often do) and with each year more reasons piled up for why that photo never was mailed. I’d broken a promise, and there was nothing I could do to fix it.  No one likes to be reminded of how they’ve failed.  I threw the photo in the trash two years ago, and tried not to think about it again

And then a few weeks ago I started this blog.

Call Me a Cock-Eyed Optimist

Years ago there wouldn’t have been a way to find these people.  But now we have the Internet, and it gave me an idea:  Why not put the photo on my website for everyone to see it? Maybe somebody might know somebody who knows somebody.  And, maybe six degrees of separation later, we might be able to find this family. Stranger things have happened in this world: runaway dogs travel thousands of miles to get home, and lost wedding rings miraculously get found. I’m somebody who likes to believe in miracles, so I searched around in that memory box, found the negative, and printed a new photo. It’s well over thirty-five years ago so those girls are all grown now, with families of their own probably. Here’s a close up, so take a good look – especially if you live in the Midwest. Iowa, maybe?  Illinois, Indiana, Ohio? I’m thinking it could be Minnesota.

Maybe this family never thought twice about the fact the photo never was delivered, that it didn’t show up in their mailbox, or their tour guide never sent it.  But I look at that father, and his eyes seem to stare directly at me. I screwed up. And I can tell by the way he’s looking at me that he somehow knew it would happen.

This is the best I can do to try to fix it.