Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Unkindest Cut of all...

[Second in a series about the surgeon, writer, and wife of a Hollywood producer, whose unpublished murder mysteries were allegedly predicated on real life killings she was believed, but never proven, to have committed. Based on interviews, court records, police records, archives and journalistic research that have only partially been made public. All names, and some locations, have been changed for legal reasons.]

She wrote of women who murdered men during
the act of lovemaking. Who killed men for sexual pleasure.
Was she writing about herself?

Book Deal

     Lane Dalquist knew how to use a blade.
     She was about to prove she knew how to use an IBM Selectric.
     Nina, a senior editor at one of the three largest publishing houses in the 1970s, had just read a draft of "Cut to the Kill."
     It was a sexy, murderous and gritty manuscript by Dalquist.
     Between Nina's recollections of the meeting years later, and Lane Dalquist's uncovered diary entries about their talk, a good record of the publishing discussion on the manuscript can be put together.
     "Not at all what I'd expected from you, Lane," Nina recalled telling Dalquist after she had read the manuscript.
     Dalquist, who had approached Nina through a friend, wasn't sure what to make of the comment.
     "Did you think it would be dreck? Or do you think it's dreck?" Dalquist's diary entries stated was her initial response.
     Nina, a scion of the publishing industry with a keen sense of what is good, and what sells in any market, had problems with the unpublished novel. But quality of writing wasn't one of them.
     The editor, attractive in the dry, intellectual way good looking women in the publishing industry often were, thought it was anything but "dreck."
     "Dreck. What a laugh. This is better than most of what we publish in the murder genre."
     "Than, you were surprised I could come up with something of that...caliber?" Lane responded.
     "I see I have to choose my words carefully with you Lane. What I meant was...your work's so real. It's frightening.
     "Good fiction doesn't have to be so believable, so plausible, so real, to be successful. But yours is. Normally, that would be frosting on the cake," Nina said. She let the implication of something askew sink in.
     "'Normally'," Lane repeated, picking up on the implied issue. "So it's not a positive? Am I sensing a problem?"
     Nina remembers cracking what she called a Kate Hepburn smile, pulling the glasses down on her aquiline nose, and looked Lane in the eye.
     "Lane. If you were only a writer, there would be no problem. If that's the word one wishes to use.
     "The fact is, you are a surgeon. Rare not only in that you're renowned, but you're also a woman in that still glass-celing-ed profession."
     Lane probably saw it coming.
     "So I'm a good...okay, excellent, surgeon who happens to be a woman. Does that mean I can't also write?"
     "Let's not play dumb, Lane. If anything, you are not lacking in acumen. You are a top surgeon, writing about a female surgeon who enjoys killing men when she's not saving people on the operating table. Hell, you could have made the protagonist a man, and we could have gotten away with it. But it's an attractive woman. People reading this are going to wonder if this isn't you?
     "If they realize you aren't out on Saturday nights picking up guys to slice, like a Jean the Ripper, they'll wonder if you wish you were."

Dalquist wanted her murderous femme fatale stories
published. Were they too realistic? Too believable, for a woman
like her to dare write?

     Dalquist must have taken an extra breath before answering. Nina was a friend of a friend who was doing Lane a favor. Lane didn't wish to cause problems for that friend. Or blow the connection.
     "Nina, do you think I've a secret desire is to hang out at sports bars on weekends, pick up men to screw, then stick knives into them? I'm flattered, but..."
     Nina remembers cutting Dalquist off.
     "Not in the least. You forget, I'm an editor. I know writers. The psychotica I've seen come out of people's heads on their IBM Selectrics long ago ceased shocking my Radcliffe sensibilities. I understand the creative process. At least to the extent I know that writing about something doesn't mean you want to do it. Most of the time anyway"
     "This is a business Lane. You, whether you're aware of it or not, are also in a business. Colleagues, prospective patients, reading this, or know that you have written it...well, you would see problems in your own field.
     "But in publishing, critics would be the first to snipe. Talentless dipsos wishing they knew how to write something other than a grocery list. They'll tear you apart. If we were Playboy, the controversy would be perfect. But, we're a bit more stately than that. Stodgy, if it makes you feel better," Nina said she took pains to explain.
     "Controversy sells," Lane protested.
     "Sure. If you're Mandy Rice Davies. Or a notorious starlet. But if you're a respected member of society, publishing this type of book would be like throwing your career, your life, in a garbage disposal to sell a novel. It's unseemly. We won't participate in that kind of publishing. And neither should you."
     "I like writing murder mysteries," Lane said, with enough obstinance her own diary makes a note of it.
     "Make it a...a National League baseball coach who kills opposition players. Or ex wives. But not this Lane. It doesn't work. Not for us. And not really for you."
     "What about a surgeon who kills book publishers for not printing her books," Lane said with barely enough humor to avoid offend, Nina chuckled remembering.
     "Cute Lane. Look, I love your writing. It's amazing. But, given who you are, this subject matter just won't fly. Unless you get a pulp publisher interested, you'll find I'm not alone. Everyone will tell you this."

Hollywood Party

     About 10 months after the meet with Nina, Dalquist and her husband were at Perino's.
     Rob, an executive producer, had the cache of a lovely wife who, even in her early 40s, trumped the most beautiful Hollywood trophy wives.
     She not only looked ravishing, but could walk, talk, and trade wit with the most droll Hollywood types. Their marriage was even considered intact. A rarity by Hollywood standards.
     And, basically, it was. Rob, a rakishly handsome salt and pepper-haired player in the town, would dally, but with only the most discretion.
     Aware that his wife "probably strayed once in a blue moon" as well, Rob for the most part thought Lane's extra curricular activities were limited to traveling to different cities for medical conferences. And to get away to write her steamy, unpublished, slasher novels. Which he had never actually read.
     His lack of interest in reading her endeavors didn't prevent him from trying to help her. He had introduced Lane to one industry friend, who knew Nina at the publishing house. Nina who, unfortunately, turned down  Lane's first work.
     But Rob truly loved his stunning, intelligent wife, and was taking another shot at helping her this evening.
     "Stu, you've met my wife, Lane."
     "Right. In passing at the benefit last summer, no?"
     Lane nodded and extended her hand.

In 1981 Lane's sexy, murderous female protagonist was 10 years
ahead of her time. 10 years before 'Basic Instinct', for instance, would be made.

     "Blows my mind I didn't mention it, but, Lane here's been writing for awhile. Novels. A cut above the crap we crank out. But I'm sure something might be scriptable. Nice and bloody. Lotsa sex. Maybe she'll let you see a page or two," Rob promoted. All the while, never having read a word of her stuff himself.
     "Leave her to me," Stu grinned as Rob excused himself to make the rounds.
     Years later Stu would recall candidly, "I thought, okay, he's leaving me with his wife. Cool. She's gorgeous. But a writer? Every jackhole in Lalaland is a writer. I'll humor her while copping a few looks down her dress."
     After a few minutes, though, he was more interested in reading her manuscript than grabbing a look.
     "In Hollywood you decide everything in five seconds. Actors are a dime a dozen. A CD (casting director) can make a decision in seconds without having to waste their day. Same with everyone in the biz.
     "I was expecting Lane to be a slightly more intelligent than bimbo-grade chat. After all, I'd spoken with her before. She knew her own name, so she wasn't your typical idiot. I asked her what she had cookin' on the page. After two sentences I thought, 'Shit, Rob married a few floors above himself with this doll.'
     "It had an edge. Best, she wasn't trying to sell herself. She'd been turned down by Random House because her stuff was too good. Sure, I hear that crap all the time. But, you know, you can tell when someone's jacking you."
     The seasoned scriptwriter had Lane get a copy of what she'd been working on lately over to him the next day, and said he was more than impressed.
     "It was...hate to say it, too good. If I could crank out crap like that I'd never have to do TV again. This was major league.
     "Of course, what can you do with a natural like that? No one's gonna produce a newbie. Someone who hasn't paid dues. And this was a hobby for Rob's wife. But I wanted to see something come of it."
     Stewart said he hoped to get her piece into any project. Just to get her some cred, if nothing else. So she'd be a step up with her next script. If she wanted to go that route.
     "I found a chapter that could be inserted into something being shot around town. Her writing was like a screenplay already. Visual. Nice dialogue. I could format it and shoot it to someone, and bang. She'd have a resume."

A mediocre film, 'Lassiter', was in production at the time.
It was a strange flick to put one of Lane's 'woman snuffs man'
erotic scenes into. But, that's exactly what would happen.

     Asked what the piece was about, the veteran scriptwriter turned red.
     "Ya know, I could tell you without blushing if it had been badly written. But, it was like, you were there. That made it believable. Like I was in the room watching. So...get my drift?"
      What else could make a veteran Hollywood scriptwriter blush? Stewart went into what had been in Lane's chapter.
     "It was, and this freaked me out, about this hot forties-something chic surgeon, who picks up on this guy at the Century Plaza bar. Takes him up the coast to some motel past Malibu. Screws his livin' brains out. Way she wrote it, I was in the room. Fuck. You can't make up stuff like that. I thought, Rob, you are one lucky s.o.b. ."
     But that alone wasn't what embarrassed the journeyman writer.
     "After she does him, they rest. Get their strength back, and have another go. This time, it's 'Basic Instinct.' But this is 10 years before that flick ever came out. She was ahead of the curve by a decade. And, believe me, this was better."
     The second time around in the Malibu bungalow, the reader is made aware the woman has stuck a spike-shaped surgical instrument into the bottom of the mattress where, during sex, she can easily grab it. Stewart tells what's next...

Lauren Hutton plays a Nazi killing a British spy as she made
love to him in 'Lassiter'. Virtually, exactly, out of Dalquist's
unpublished chapter. Was it written from Lane's
own real experience?

     "The kinky thing is, she is hot for the guy. Not just sex. Ya think she's gonna hit this guy with, 'Let's run away together.' But, nahhh.
     "Instead, she reaches down, pulls this thing out of the side, or under, the mattress, and as she's screwin' him from here to eternity, she pulls his head up to her breast. He starts kissing her. She's, like, on the road to nirvana. I'm not talkin' about a Hope and Crosby picture.
     "What does she do? She puts this spike behind his head, and as she's fucking him good, she sticks it into the base of his skull. She's a surgeon, so she knows what she's doing. He's not aware he's been nailed while he's nailing her. But he knows something just happened.
     "The guy looks at her like, 'What was that?' She looks back, into his eyes...I can't describe how she wrote it. Like she's in love with the guy. And she's in love with killing him. The whole thing gets tender. Weird. Super kinky.
     "She caresses him. Lowers his head back down on the pillow while he's dying. They're both lookin' into each other's eyes, and, as he's kicking the bucket, she has her orgasm. He's still barely alive while she's comin', and she kisses the poor schmuck between the eyes as she has her final chills and thrills. And as she's done with the big O, he finally dies. She whispers somethin' sweet to him. And it's all over."
     "What do you do with something like that. After I took a cold shower, I thought of a few projects around town that could use a 'she kills him' scene. Detective. Psycho thriller. Horror.
     "You'll never believe who had a slot for it?"
     Stewart said a Tom Selleck project for the big screen was in production, with Lauren Hutton as a sadistic Nazi spy. "Not a bad flick. Nothing you'd pay to see. And no one did. But, if you watch it, there's one scene in there (that) leaves the rest of it behind."
     Stewart said it was the scene he rewrote from Dalquist, and messengered over to the production office.
     "I didn't know too much about the flick. I just got Lane's pages into script form and to 'em so they could have their boys do something with it that worked. Apparently, it inspired the best couple of minutes of the entire thing."

The theory had arisen that Lane Dalquist had done
the murders she so convincingly wrote about. Men killed
during intercourse with her. For her bizarre, erotic pleasure.

     In the movie, Stewart says, Nazi spy Lauren Hutton is in bed with a British spy. Doing it. With almost no dialogue, the rest of the scene plays out like what Stewart said he'd read from Lane's chapter.
     "I kept my rewrite tight. And whoever shot the piece, probably second unit, took the ball and ran with it. The rest of the movie plays like Magnum P.I. takes a trip to World War II. Hokey.
     "But this piece. Maybe less than a minute, it's hot. Might get you an 'X' rating even today. Plays like a snuff film. Lauren Hutton in her peak offing a guy as she fucks him? As she comes?
     "Whatever Rob's wife wrote, I just passed it on, and it was hot enough they left it alone, and put it into that movie. Don't ask me how she came up with it. (I) still get the chills thinkin' about the first time I read it."

     Asked about later theories that Lane Dalquist had written autobiographical accounts for that chapter, and other novels which were uncovered years later, after her suicide at 55, Stewart defers.
     "I'm a Hollywood writer. I wouldn't know reality if it bit me in the ass. And I still have a lot of friends in this town. The answer to your question, from me anyways, is, that lady sure could write. That's all I'm gonna say."
---Reston Cane

[to be continued...]


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