Over the next few months, everything was fine, her illness in partial remission. Although she refused to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Harriet stopped drinking and began seeing Marvin Berman on a twice-weekly basis. Thanks to her lawyer the charge for resisting arrest was dropped, as long as she agreed to plead guilty to drunk driving, which she did. She received a $350 fine and was put on probation for six months, but her license was not suspended, which meant that her daily activities — grocery shopping, taking Jesse on outings to the park, meeting my mother for lunch, etc. — were not hindered. For much of this period she appeared to be almost happy although sometimes a little ethereal, which I assumed was somehow associated with her medication. There was only a single instance of behavior that I would classify as odd: she spent one 24-hour period doing nothing else but reading John Barth's eight-hundred page allegorical novel, Giles Goat Boy. When she finished — it was in the middle of the night, and when she woke me up her eyes were shining too brightly — she said that it was the best book she'd ever read.
"I’m not kidding, John. The only book that even comes close is Catch-22.”
Not long after this incident, furious with ambition and laboring in earnest, I finished my original screenplay, Marcus Stone Begins!, a dark and symbol-laden comedy whose protagonist, a Los Angeles tax lawyer, abandons his wife and teenage daughter to live in a hippie commune in the mountains of Big Sur.
Harriet asked to read it, and when she was done, she said, "It's good but a little hard to follow."
"Did you laugh?" I asked her.
"Not out loud."
Neil was more enthusiastic, encouraging me to show it to Bruce Geller, the producer who had created Mission Impossible. "Take him up on his offer."
"He'll think it's crap."
"So what? It's worth a shot."
"Let me think about it."
"Just do it."
The first time we met in his office, when I told Bruce that I had previously worked at David Wolper Productions, he regarded me in silence for several seconds, seemingly bewildered. When he asked me how I ended up at CBS in Program Practices, I launched into a lengthy explanation — more like a ceaseless outpouring of complaints and accusations — but, by the end of my rant, I made sure he understood that my ultimate goal was to write original screenplays.
Bruce looked at me with his eyes shrewdly narrowed when I paused to take a calming breath. Then he sat forward in his chair. "If you ever want me to read something," he said, "let me know. If I can help you, I will."
I gave Bruce Marcus Stone Begins! on a Friday, and I was surprised — no, make that startled — when he called me on the following Monday. He told me that he'd read my script from start to finish on Saturday night, after his wife had gone to bed. "I found your characters engaging...read more