Frank likes telling everybody what to order, and he makes a big joke out of whether or not I'm going to eat the antipasti. "Are you sure you want to eat that? I think that came from something with a cloven hoof!"
"Frank, I'm so hungry I don't care if it came from a unicorn, I'm going to eat it."
Sammy sings, "The unicorn / was never born / with more than one protrusion." He grabs a lit candle out of the holder on the table and holds it to his forehead, "It saw a wildebeest one day / And cried, ‘What an illusion!'"
Dean says, "What the fuck is that, Alice in Wonderland?"
"It's a kid's thing I did a few years ago," Sammy explains.
"A kid's thing! When are you gonna grow up, junior?"
"I dunno, daddy, somebody told me this is as big as I get."
It's like we're always on. Everyone always kidding, always topping everybody else. We keep it up until something interrupts.
While we're eating, the maitre d' comes into the private room -- there are a couple of fairly big bouncers at the door, and Frank's factotum Hank is eating with us, on a corner of the table -- and mumbles something in Frank's ear. I see him frown, but he says "Sure."
Enter Maltz, the blacklisted writer, in a five year old brown suit. German, maybe, with a sharp, hungry face. He has the look of a guy who used to be in good shape but has lost weight.
"Hello, Albert," Frank greets him, no longer scowling but being polite. "Sit down, have something to eat."
"Thanks, Frank -- no," he waves a waiter away. "I don't want to intrude."
This is ridiculous since obviously he is already intruding. But fine, the quicker the better. Frank pours him some wine at least. "Your health."
"And to you," Maltz replies.
"How are things?" Frank says politely, as if they're just running into each other at the gas station.
"Frank, you know. The Herald Examiner today said -- did you see it? No? -- they published an editorial about our picture, Private Slovik."
"Nothing direct, of course. They didn't even mention you or me. They just said that when the entertainment world tries to get into politics, a higher standard applies."
Frank sits back, wipes his mouth. "A higher standard!"
"That's a good one," Sammy says.
"A higher payola," Dean says.
"You got it with you? One of you guys," Frank says to the bouncers, "Go get me a Herald Examiner."
"There's more, but that's the gist of it," Maltz says. "Frank, I know you're getting a lot of pressure on this."
Frank shrugs. He doesn't mind if people think he's on the hot seat, but this transparent attempt to butter him up is getting nowhere.
Maltz goes on, "And I think what we should do is make an announcement."
At this Frank turns back to his plate. Just this physical movement, I can see, is something that should tell Maltz to back off, but he doesn't know Frank like I do.
"If you meet the press," Maltz goes on, "hold a news conference, tell them that you won't succumb to pressure -- that this is a worthy story and you're going to make the movie. That's what we need."
Frank has been shoveling food in during this speech and there is a pause while he chews. He puts his fork down, takes a mouthful of wine, and swallows. "Maybe what you need." He lifts his napkin and wipes his mouth again. He doesn't look as enthusiastic about the picture as he did just an hour ago, that's for sure. I break out into a quiet sweat.
"The project needs it," Maltz persists.
"Albert," Frank says, taking on his fatherly voice, a voice which mixes a gentle tone with an aloof, somewhat judicial distance -- "You know who I got a call from this afternoon? After we wrapped? Who called me in my dressing room?"
"I give up, who?"
"Hey, I thought the Cardinals traded him to the Giants," Sammy pipes up.
"The Roman Catholic Cardinal, ya dope," says Dino. "The Archbishop and then some."
"He called me personally," Frank goes on. "And told me how important it was for John Kennedy to get elected."
"Sure," Maltz says, uncertainly.
"He knows I'm backing Kennedy, and he wanted me to do everything in my power to help him. This man is a prince of the church," Frank says reverently.
"A man for all seasons," Dean says in the same tone, though he gives me a merry look.
"A chip off the ol' block," I chime in.
Frank holds up a hand to still us. "I cannot ignore the call of my church."
Maltz looks around the table. "Frank, this is not a religious issue! This is just a movie about some poor shmoe. It's anti capital punishment, for Chri -- for cryin' out loud. It's moral." Frank seems to consider this. For a moment I think the tension will pass.
But Maltz goes too far. "Compared to some of the movies you make -- I mean, that are made -- "
We all wince simultaneously, except Frank, who is jumping to his feet. He reaches down and tugs on Maltz's tie and shirt and, more through force of will than anything else, lifts him out of his chair.
"You two bit pinko," Frank snarls. "What the fuck do you know about morality?"
We all jump up. Hank is the slowest to rise; he does so wiping his mouth.
"I try to pull you up out of the trash heap, and this is what I get? Ungrateful louse!" Frank gives Maltz a shake and propels him toward the door. Hank takes him by the arm, almost charitably, preventing him from hitting the door frame. At this moment a waiter appears with a copy of the Herald Examiner, and seeing the commotion, steps back, wide eyed.
Frank shakes his finger under Maltz' nose. "Do you realize any other respectable person would not get within ten miles of you? That I am the only one, out of respect for the work we've done together, who'll touch you with a ten foot pole? And you try to tell me what's moral? You fucking atheist!"
"Frank, for God's sake," Maltz whines, trying to straighten himself. "It's just a movie. It's not even a movie yet -- it's just a development project."
"There is no more project!" Frank screams. He takes the newspaper from the cringing waiter and whacks Maltz over the head with it. Maltz flings up his hands to protect himself, turns to flee, and receives a kick in the ass. "You can take your commie script, and your fucking army deserter, and go to hell!" Throws the newspaper after the escaping writer.
Dean is already going back to his place and sitting down. His face is cool, ironic. He lifts another bite of lasagna to his mouth. "Let's get some more drinks in here," he proposes. Sammy goes back to the table too but doesn't have a chance to sit.
"Let's blow," Frank orders. "I'm going to the head. I'll see you bastards outside." He exits, followed by Ed, who has managed to grab one last bite before he goes to ask for the car.
I sit down for a second, light Sammy a cigarette and another for me. The three of us sigh.
Then Dean says, in mock scandal, "An atheist."