I’m going to name names today. Primarily because I can’t tell this story any other way. It loses too much if I hide behind pseudonyms.
Fade up on Miami. It was a hot and sticky summer. We were a mere two days away from beginning photography on Bad Boys. Faced with a conga-line of production meltdowns—not to mention a script that was barely half-composed—producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson wanted an urgent powwow.
“Big dinner meeting tonight,” announced executive producer, Lucas Foster. “You, me, Barry J., Don, and Jerry.”
My first thought was that there was somebody conspicuously absent from the invite list. That was director Michael Bay. My second thought was wait a minute.
“Tonight?” I confirmed.
“Yup,” said Lucas.
My stomach twisted. It was around two in the afternoon and any moment now my wife, the beloved War Department, would be wheels down at Miami International Airport. We’d been apart for more than four weeks. My beautiful Karen was coming in for a three-day visit and I wasn’t keen on leaving her alone on her first night.
“Can’t,” I said. “My wife’s coming in tonight.”
“I get it,” said Lucas. “But you’re just gonna have to suck it up and tell her you gotta do this dinner.”
I was aware of the importance. Since Don Simpson had arrived after eight weeks of rehabilitating his mind and body at a Scottsdale health farm, neither he nor his longtime partner Jerry had once asked for this style of private sit-down. There was nothing celebratory about the planned meal. There’s was business to be worked over. It wasn’t Don’s habit to wine and dine the writer on the eve of a movie shoot, especially when there were miles more screenplay for me to vomit. A night off wasn’t in the offering.
“I just can’t,” I repeated. “Any time but tonight. My wife is flying all the way from LA and I’m taking her out. End of argument.”
“You’re not saying no,” insisted Lucas. I understood his job was on the line. His executive producer title was hogtied to his job as development director for the famed Simpson/Bruckheimer Productions. “No” was not in his lexicon. “You’re coming and that’s it.”
“I’m not, pal. Sorry. My wife comes first.”
“Then bring her!” spat Lucas.
“To the dinner meeting?” I asked. “Hell no.”
“You have to,” reasoned Lucas. “You can’t say no. You gotta go. Nobody said anything about you not bringing your wife. So fuck it. Bring her.”
I could see how the plan worked in Lucas’ head. His job was to deliver me to the restaurant for dinner with the bosses. If my wife came, he could still claim he followed through to the letter.
“Please,” he begged.
“Bring my wife,” I repeated, as if needing to verbally sound out the illogic of it. “To a production dinner with Don and Jerry? That’s so romantic.”
Yet I’d already been talked into it. Upon the War Department’s arrival at the hotel I’d informed her of the dinner date. If she was disappointed, she gamely didn’t show it. Being that it was Miami in the summer, I showered for maybe the third time that day before we piled into a loaner car with Lucas and shuttled to a chic Italian restaurant in Coral Gables.
A maitre’d delivered us to a private booth in the back of the joint. Don and Jerry, as well studio VP Barry Josephson, were already parked at a table set up for five. Discovering that the addition of my wife made six, Don was quick to rearrange the seating, squeezing me and my missus into the center of the booth while locating himself directly across from us… Or as I later discovered, across from my wife.
Now Don had just discovered merlot. And the bottles of wine seemed to land and empty at our table like Gatorade at a long distance race. We were all guzzling the red stuff. If there was ever any talk of business, I don’t recall a syllable.
That’s right. I said there was no production talk whatsoever. As a matter of fact, but for Don, I doubt any of us talked other than ordering food or excusing ourselves to the restroom. This is because Don Simpson had somehow decided my lovely young wife deserved entertainment.
So that’s what Don did. He entertained.
For hours Don Simpson regaled the table with story after hilarious story. From the insane to the sublime, most tales were at his own expense, exploiting his own human weaknesses for our collective mirth. There were his youthful years as a boy in Anchorage, Alaska to his days as a go-go young studio exec at Paramount. Don edited nothing about himself if it would get him a laugh. He made hay out of him and John Milius having the balls to pitch a movie title and nothing else to stickler studio owner Charlie Bludhorn. He painstakingly walked us through the delicate art of consuming a glutton’s meal of ten Pink’s hot dogs while navigating a manual transmission Porsche through the Hollywood Hills to his Coldwater Canyon home.
It was four of the most entertaining hours of my life. A performance for the ages.
We said our goodnights and disbanded as if there were no production issues left to resolve. When we returned to the hotel, Karen remarked, “So that was a business dinner?”
The next morning began like so many others. A script meeting with Don on what I’d hope to accomplish on the day, then holing up in the office to write between all the crazy production interruptions that were certain to come.
I forget what time it was, but I recall looking up from my computer screen to see Jerry Bruckheimer leaning against my office doorframe.
“I want to thank you for last night,” said Jerry in his trademark growl.
“Thank me?” I asked.
“For bringing your wife,” said Jerry. Then his voice cracked with a humanity that betrayed his trademark exterior. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my friend have a night like that.”
Not often have I heard so much said with so few words. From those two sentences flowed a lifetime of experience. I was reminded of the Don and Jerry story. Young roommates. One a production dog and the other a go-go junior exec. Together they’d taken on Hollywood and become the most successful producing duo in motion picture history with hit after hit like Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop. But for Don, all that accomplishment came with a price. His battles with drug dependency were legendary. His reputation for being brilliant but a notoriously prickish and narcissistic bastard was how so many in show biz viewed the maverick. Don, still the genius, though rarely sober, had been on a rather steep descent. A trajectory that wasn’t lost on his longtime best friend.
I noted a trace of tears in Jerry’s eyes.
“You’re welcome,” was all I could think to say.
Jerry nodded his appreciation and wandered off. And that was that.
The following couple of years were a helluva time for the duo. They produced the blockbusters Crimson Tide, Dangerous Minds, The Rock, and of course, Bad Boys.
Not long after, Don passed away, finally succumbing to those very same kind of weaknesses that, when told through his wonderful prism, made for one of the best nights ever.