The camera focused on the center of the set: two wing back chairs upholstered in a camel-colored leather canted toward each other at forty-five degrees off the parallel with an occasional table between them. The stage facade behind the chairs appeared to be a wall in a luxury home, complete with elegant but unobtrusive paintings. A small, squat lamp with a low-wattage bulb lit the occasional table.
The camera panned in on the two women sitting in the chairs. One was a nationally known television commentator, about sixty, (and) the other an internationally known movie star in her late forties. The commentator was dressed in a navy-blue business suit with matching closed-toed shoes. The star was dressed in a floor-length skirt in muted blues and grays, and an off-white blouse with long, puffed sleeves.
The director's voice could be heard. "Three, two, one, live."
"This is Beverly Walker for Celebrity, American's favorite television news magazine. I'm here this evening with Sandra King, actress, director and now producer, winner of four Academy Awards and other awards too numerous to mention - a star of international renown. Good evening, Sandy."
"Good evening, Beverly."
"I must tell our television audience I was quite surprised when you asked for this interview, and when you didn't want to tell me the subject until we were on the air, my curiosity was definitely piqued. You're known for two things, Sandy, quality work and not granting interviews. What made you decide to talk to me now?"
"I want to talk about David and me."
"Your husband? Good heavens why? You've never talked about him before."
"I know. That was the way we wanted it, but now it's time."
"He died a little over a year ago, didn't he?"
"Yes, on September 18 of last year."
"I know how you must miss him."
"More than I can tell you. I... excuse me." The camera panned away from Miss King's face as she blotted her eyes with tissue. "I'm sorry, Beverly. Please go on."
"No apologies are necessary, Sandy. Your husband was never quoted. He was photographed only when he escorted you. In the few interviews you gave, you've never discussed him at all. Even though you seemed very happy with him, that gave rise to a lot of speculation, as you know."
"A lot of that speculation was very unkind, Beverly," Miss King replied tersely. "That's why I'm doing this interview. I want to set the record straight."
"All right, Sandy. Twenty-five years ago, you were the bright shooting comet on the Hollywood scene. The papers called you the new Mae West, the new Marilyn Monroe. Your escapades were chronicled in the tabloids and they caused frenzied speculation about your personal life."
"You're being kind," Miss King said with a wry smile. "I was the industry wild child, a rapid disciple of the adage 'sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll'. In an industry which sells sex, that was a dubious honor."
"Then you disappeared for six months. As I remember, you made only one public appearance during that time."
"That's right, Beverly. I attended the premiere of a movie I'd made."
"Tell your public what they've wondered for twenty-five years. Tell them what happened when you disappeared for six months to reappear a changed woman."
"Love is what happened. Love. Love from a man like I'd never experienced. Never even imagined. Love like I didn't believe possible."
"Why don't you tell me about it, Sandy."
Sandra King took a deep breath and began.
"I was negotiating to star in a new movie. Honestly, it may have been my last starring opportunity. I had a well-deserved reputation as an unreliable, demanding, egotistical bitch. Oh, I guess I shouldn't use that word on television."
"I don't know that it'll make it past the censors, but don't worry about that. Just tell the story the way you want to tell it," Miss Walker replied.
"The word applied to me. I flew off the handle at the slightest provocation, walked off sets, and blew production schedules. I'd done time at Betty Ford's Rehab Center for drugs and alcohol. So, despite talent and looks, my name was mud in the industry.
"My manager and agent brought me a offer from a small, new production company financed by a man named David Sams. They'd never met him and neither had I. He wasn't from the industry, but that didn't matter. People in the industry weren't making me offers then. They both told me to make the deal work because it might be my only shot at a comeback. I was only twenty-four, much too young to be washed up. I was very frightened and very alone."
"David Sams is the man who became your husband," Miss Walker said.
"Yes, he was. David was fifty-two. He'd made his millions and said he wanted to do something new and different, something to express his creativity. I first met him at a meeting to negotiate my starring in the film. I was on the edge of an explosion, but I always was on the edge in those days.
"He was calm, serene, totally in control of himself, very gentle and polished. Courtly may be the right word. Yes, courtly. I wondered how this man could be a captain of industry and a war hero. In Hollywood, if men don't posture and strut like baboons in mating season, they're ignored.
"It was a good deal for me. I still don't know why I balked, but I did. I demanded another million dollars for my fee, which embarrassed my agent and manager. As the group talked in heated flurries, I started to panic because I felt the deal unraveling.
"David had watched me throughout the meeting. Truthfully, I don't think he looked at anyone else. But the way he looked at me was different than men usually look at me. His expression was caring, gentle, maybe even loving. It was certainly not threatening, but it made me more anxious. Why, I don't know. Quietly, he asked to see me alone.
"That day I'd dressed sexily, a short skirt and tight, open blouse. When he and I met in a small conference room away from the main meeting, I crossed my legs and made sure my skirt rode up my thighs. I mean, these were perfect legs and he was a man, an older and unmarried man. I was ready to do anything to put this deal back together."
"Are you saying that you would've had sex with him to cement the agreement?" Miss Walker asked, trying to act surprised.
"Rumors of casting couches have a foundation in fact, Beverly," Miss King replied with a twinkle in her eye.
"But the industry..." Miss Walker began.
"Doesn't like to talk about it, but it's true. Not always. Sometimes," Miss King interrupted.
"Yes, I suspect it is. Please continue, Sandy," Miss Walker said.
"In the meeting, he'd seemed benign, not sending me any signals. But in that small private room, his signals bombarded me. I really looked at him for the first time. He was taller than I realized and his body was thicker. He'd moved lithely, like a big cat. When he stared at me with a raw sexual power that made me tingle, I wondered how badly I'd misjudged him. Suddenly, the signals stopped and he was benign again.
"Sandy, have you ever heard of 'Fare the Well'?" he asked.
"'No'," I replied.
"'She's the most magnificent thoroughbred filly ever to race, the most beautiful horse ever: powerful, sensual, perfect lines, ideal breeding with the aura of an empress. But she was demanding and arrogant. Very difficult to handle. She took pride in being difficult. She knew she was the best. I guess she felt her surroundings were not equal to her so she relentlessly persecuted her owners and trainers. When I bought her, she had a reputation of not winning because of her temperament.'
"I shifted and readjusted my skirt to draw attention to my legs. I thought I saw a twinkle in his eyes but, if I did, it was quickly gone.
"'Interesting, '" I told him. "'Please, go on, '" I said. What a phony I was and his smile told me he knew and understood.
"'I worked with her. She and I love each other now. Through that love, she learned to focus and to give. Then, on race day, she was always ready, prancing, powerful, eager to enter the gate. She had heart and would win, no matter who was her jockey or who ran against her. She always won her races. Her pride demanded it. Now, she's retired, living at peace with herself and her world.
"'That's really wonderful, David, but what is your point?'" I said sardonically.
"He suddenly leaned right over me, his mouth inches away. His blue eyes were no longer placid, but deep, compelling pools that held me. I felt his hands on my dress hem. I quivered wondering what he was going to do. He tugged my dress, pulling it down demurely.
"'You remind me of her, '" he said quietly. He kissed me on my forehead and walked out of the room.
"I sat there dazed, my heart palpitating. My mind whirled like a child's top gone mad. Then I exploded with anger. Who did he think he was comparing me to a horse? I charged into the meeting to give him a piece of my mind, but he was gone.
"'Where the hell is he?'" I screamed. "'I'll walk away from this deal if he didn't agree to my extra million!'" I saw the glances around the room.
"My manager replied, 'He gave you two million, but with completion conditions.' I stood with my mouth open.
"I didn't see David again until about a week into the filming. From day one, the director and I disagreed over my character and everything else. One day it came to a head. David called a meeting for seven in the morning to iron out the problems. The three lead characters, the director, and several others attended. I was hell on wheels: screaming, cursing, demanding. Acting like I'd always acted. The meeting had degenerated with me being nasty and every one else quiet and non-responsive.
"When David asked me to join him in the business trailer, I stormed in with steam coming out of my ears. He said very gently, 'Sandy, you're correct as to the character. Your work's excellent, your acting sublime, but I need you to help me. We must keep on schedule. And we must allow the others artistic freedom, too. With all your professional powers, your great acting skills and your wonderful natural beauty, you intimidate them. You need to be more gentle with them. Can you help me?'
"'(Bleep) you and them, ' I said."
"I don't think that'll make it past the censors," Miss Walker interrupted with a wry smile.
"Well, I said it. Let them censor it. He grabbed my chin and shook my head. One of his arms went around my waist, trapping my arms beside me. He crushed me against him as he lifted me in the air. His other hand was behind my neck holding my head still so he could whisper in my ear.
"'Sandy, ' he said. 'You're their queen. Don't be the Red Queen, screaming off with their heads. You need to be firm, but loving, with your subjects. You can afford to be lenient. I'll support you in the changes you want, but you must be gracious in your victory.'
"He sat me down and his eyes twinkled as I looked up at him. He stroked my face with a velvet touch. 'And queens do not curse, Sandy. It's unbecoming.'
"Again he kissed my forehead. Confused and unfocused, I let him gently tug me to the meeting. I watched in awe as he quickly drew consensus for his own ideas, always speaking in his quiet, assured voice. When he was through, he had what he wanted and everyone was happy about it.
"From then on, he was in attendance during filming. I always felt he was watching me. I would see him, feel his eyes on me. It wasn't unpleasant. Far from it. I enjoy a man watching me, but this was something different, although I didn't know what.
"The second time I exploded was only a few days later. David stopped filming for the day, even though it was shortly after lunch. Again, we met in the business trailer. His expression was neutral and unreadable as he listened to my incoherent tirade for half an hour. I screamed myself out before plopping in a chair, depleted and physically exhausted by my outburst.
"He looked sad as he squatted to be on my eye level. I felt his hand gentle on my knee, his eyes penetrating me. I felt he was looking into my soul. Softly, he brushed my hair back from my face, his fingers lingering for a moment on my cheek.
"'I was unfair to Fare the Well to compare you to her. She had more focus, more pride and heart. She knew when it was race day, and she was going to win, no matter what.' I sat, unable to move, as if I had been anthesticized. Then he said, 'This is your race, Sandy. You need to win it for yourself if no one else.'
"He smiled gently and leaned towards me, kissing my forehead before he left me with my thoughts.
"Three more times he intervened during shooting. Three times he and I met alone. Each time, he was firm, but gentle, and ended by kissing my forehead.
"That last time, when I had just blown up a little, the director teasingly accused me of intentionally being belligerent just to be with David. It was a revelation to me. First, it revealed how my attitude had softened and changed, allowing the director to feel free to joke with me. No one had ever joked with me on the set before. And it revealed how I was feeling about David. The director was right. My blow-up came directly from my wanting to see him.
"We finished ahead of schedule. By the end of shooting, my nature and my reputation as a malcontent were both ameliorated. I'd never felt better about a project.