What happened to Susie Diamond after she parted company with 'The Fabulous Baker Boys'? In the second part of our series, David Thomson imagines the afterlives of more great movie characters
Sunday 07 January 1996
IT WAS about six months after she gave up on Seattle, when Susie was singing in a bar in the Valley. The job was four nights a week, Thursday through Sunday, two sets a night, $100 a night and her dinners - if you could eat what they served there. Nothing was right about the job. The manager evidently supposed that in hiring her he had rights, including advice on what she should wear. The trio they had there were only kids and didn't know the songs she wanted to sing. So first she had to teach them the songs, because only one of them could read, and they made a lot of kids' fun about the lyrics. Plus, it was a dive, and all of LA then was having hard times. The manager used to do simple sums for her on how many drinks it took to cover $100 a night. And she had to listen, and stop herself from talking back. "Be a sweet kid," he told her. That's all he thought he wanted.
Then one night, after her set, a kid came up to her, a child even. He didn't seem more than 17, and he was as clean and sparkly as Fifties TV.
"Miss Diamond," he said, "that's a terrific act." She had done "Night and Day", "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan" and "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye", and she had felt especially right on the last one.
"Why, thanks," she muttered. She just wanted to get off.
"Here's what I want to suggest," the kid said.
"What you want to suggest?"
"Right. Monday morning I want you to call my boss - Griffin Dunne. Here's his card. Say Stanley told you to call - "
"Stanley?" She never could help herself with the tough attitude.
"Right." Stanley was blushing. She was sure it was all a joke. "What the hell is this?" she asked him.
He was grinning and nodding, as if, yes, he had this a lot. "It's authentic," he said. "Griffin Dunne is CAA - the biggest agency in Hollywood. You have heard of that?"
She didn't say anything. He really couldn't have been more than 20 and he was hardly shaving.
"Just call him. No promises. But I will speak to him and give him my thoughts. I'll tell him you're a hell of a singer and a pain in the ass. Right?" And then the kid just turned and went away, leaving her without a finish.
She waited till the Tuesday to call, and Dunne was in conference then. But he called her back Thursday.
"You didn't call Monday," he said right off, after his secretary placed the call.
"I was busy."
"Yeah? What were you doing?"
"I forget. Maybe I was doing my nails."
"That's neat. So, you want to come in?"
"I guess so."
"No one's forcing you. I don't as a rule have to beg for business."
"That's my job," she said.
"Hey, you're funny. I like that. I'm going to give you to Denise. Make a time with her." Again she was left without an answer line.
It was 11 days before she got her appointment. She had felt challenged by Dunne, so she made a tape one night after work - on a good machine, giving the musicians $20 each to stay late. She did "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" and "More Than You Know", which had been her lucky song since the Baker audition. If you could call it luck.
Dunne wasn't there at first. He was "in with Mike", Denise told her, meaning Michael Ovitz, the legendary boss of CAA. So she waited, and at last he got there. He acted as if he couldn't recollect her name.
"Stanley saw me," she said, clutching at straws.
"Stanley's at Paramount now," he told her.
"Yeah? By the way, how old is he?"
"He looks a lot younger."
"That's his charm. Yours is you look older. How old are you?"
"Thirty-one," she lied.
"You look more like thirty-five." She didn't have to ask whether that had any charm.
"So, I'm outa here?" she said, getting up.
"You're something," he said. "Don't you know where you are?" He waved his hand to indicate not just the room, but the building, the enterprise and vision of CAA.
"I'm talking to an agent who tells me I look old."
"There are people out there who would die, who would kill, to be in here for two minutes to ... show themselves."
"You mean you want to see my tits?"
"I think I can imagine them, Miss Diamond. They are not a lot."
"And they're thirty-five," she added.
"And you," he said, "expect to sell them to America?"
"Why am I here?" she asked.
"Why do you think?"
"I'm a singer. I have a tape. You want to hear it?" She was ready to unpack the recorder from the bag she had bought specially.
"Sure," he said.
She put the recorder on his desk and turned it on. Now she heard only the noise and the amateurishness of it all. He listened to 24 bars and then indicated to her to turn it off.
"You're a terrific singer," he said.
"So, when did you last see a picture where someone sang well?"
Susie thought a while. She hadn't thought about it before, but it was a good question. "Yentl," she said.
"My point exactly." Then he waited.
"So pictures don't sing songs. That's not why you're here. I could get you maybe eight bars singing something torchy in the bar in a Jeff Bridges picture. You don't want that."
"Know what you haven't done since you came in here?"
"You haven't smiled."
"There hasn't been anything to smile at."
"There never is."
"So why smile?"
"To be nice, be pretty, be available."
"Uh-huh," she shrugged. She had heard this before. Baker had always told her she didn't know how to milk applause, make it build. She hadn't made people want her.
"So, I'm out of here," she said. And this time she stood up.
"I'm serious, Miss Diamond. Not smiling is why you're here."
"A novelty act?"
"It's different. That's what Stanley said. He said you are a great singer, that you are terrific looking - "
"That's the point! You look that old because you don't smile. Thirty- seven," he added.
"It might be interesting. There's a part in the new De Palma film. Gangster's wife. You want to go read for it?"
"She doesn't sing?"
"No, and she doesn't smile."
"Go to hell, then," she said and left him there. She got the last line in the end.
When she got back "home" to the room in Culver City, there was Baker on the machine, in LA, at a motel. She called him back.
"What are you doing?" she said.
"I'm drinking again," he said. "And I'm doing piano next week on a commercial."
"I thought you weren't going to drink."
"I knew I wasn't going to drink. What are you doing?"
"I'm practising not smiling. Being a pain in the ass."
"You don't need practice," said Baker. "You're a natural."
"So?" she said.
"Why don't I come over there, wherever it is, and we get smashed together?"
"Why not?" she said, and she saw the grimace on her own face as the golden stuff went down. THE CONTINUING ADVENTURES OF ELLIOTT, FROM 'ET THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL' "I WOULD just like Elliott to be normal again," said his mother.
"Again!" scoffed his sister Gertie, and she chuckled proudly. "He has always been weird." That thought made her feel better.
But the Government, and especially Mr Keys, were very sincere about wanting the best for the boy. So this is how it worked out. Elliott and his family made an undertaking not to talk to anyone about the whole matter. In return, they were paid an amount of money that would take care of the kids' education - and then some, so the mother didn't feel left out.
Of course, a lot of people in Orange County had heard the story. You couldn't stop the rumours. But Keys had this idea that, he said, might "deflect the flow". "I always thought," he told Elliott's mother, "that this was Steven Spielberg stuff."
So a deal was done, three-way, the family, the Government and Universal (which was Spielberg), to make a movie out of the incident. "And you should feel free," Keys told Spielberg, "to do it your way. Build the story as much as you like."
"I feel I've always known the story," said Spielberg.
You don't need to be told about the movie, or what happened with it. Of course, they altered a few things: after all, there was no way a family entertainment could do the real alien, so they created this little guy that everyone loved. They couldn't handle the real creature's drinking, or his foul mouth - and Steven decided that his interest in magic tricks just wouldn't play. "He is magic," said Spielberg. "He shouldn't do tricks."
The picture was so big that Keys was proved right. In a few years, everyone regarded ET as just a story, a modern myth. There were people who would tease Elliott, in a good-natured way, about his having made up the whole thing for the movie. And he knew he wasn't to argue. It was easier, too, because with all the residuals they moved out of Orange County and went up to San Francisco where Elliott's mother bought a mansion in the three- thousands on Pacific. And no one in San Francisco believes anything out of Los Angeles, anyway. So the whole climate shifted. And even Elliott, sometimes, would wonder if it had happened.
There were therapists who wrote in out of the blue to say that Elliott was surely going to need professional care sooner or later. Mr Spielberg and Mr Keys offered to be helpful. But the matter was complicated by the return of Elliott's father from Mexico. He had only been away on a spiritual enquiry, he said; he'd never meant to end his marriage. So Elliott's mother had to move for divorce, and the custody settlement became a complicated thing because of the sums of money floating around.
"The boy needs a father," said Elliott's father. "Making imaginary friends is the proof of that. He just wants his Dad - "
" - who needs the money?" added Elliott's mother.
"But if Elliott gets him back," said Gertie, "don't I, too?"
"Naturally," said Elliott's father. "That too."
Mr Spielberg, of his own volition, offered a cash payment to the father to quit all claims. But the rentals on ET never faltered, and there was the video to come. So the father said the offer was a shocking and cynical mockery of the nature of parenthood.
Elliott went to a lot of different schools. The family moved several times - to Santa Cruz, to Aspen, and back to San Francisco again. There were court battles, and Elliott had seven different therapists over the years - for his mother, his father, for Universal, court-appointed, and so on. His files grew large and he got into the habit of saying less and less, for fear of causing trouble.
By 1989, he, his mother and Gertie were in San Francisco. He had finished high school, but showed no urge to go to college. In fact, he spent most of his time looking after Gertie. She had got into drugs at school, and she spent a lot of time with their father in Las Vegas, where he owned a large video outlet - Elliott Video.
On 5 October 1989, Elliott woke up knowing there was going to be an earthquake. Now, nothing like this had ever happened to him before. He hadn't had "visions" or anything like that. Some of his many teachers had known him long enough to see that he wasn't actually a very imaginative kid - it was as if he'd grown to mistrust his own thoughts. But his dream was very clear. He saw fires in the Marina, he saw the Cypress Freeway collapse, and he saw the section of the Bay Bridge give way.
He didn't know what to do. He didn't believe in dreams. But this had been so direct, so pointed. It was as if someone was warning him. He felt the responsibility. So he told his mother.
"Elliott," she said. "Honey. How would that be?"
"Well," he said, "there are earthquakes in San Francisco."
"That's why you dreamt it. It was in your mind."
So he told Gertie, and she said they should go to Alta Plaza Park so they could have all-around views. "What day is it?" she asked.
"I don't know," he realised.
"You don't know!"
"I know it's a beautiful, still day."
"That's something," she said.
So when 17 October came along, with the World Series at Candlestick Park, and the weather so perfect everyone was talking about it, they went out to Alta Plaza with a picnic. Gertie was high, despite her promises to him. They were bored and sleepy, and they had finished their picnic when at 5.04 pm the earthquake happened. Gertie said, "Elliott, you are a trip!"
Of course, Elliott wasn't surprised. But he was horrified when he heard that people had been killed. It wasn't just live action-cam material. That was when Gertie first got him on marijuana; she said it would help him relax. And before long, she was helping him as much as he was helping her. They became like Hansel and Gretel lost in the dark woods.
In the early Nineties, they decided to move to LA, to get back to their roots. They bought a house together on Westgate in Brentwood. Elliott was not in good shape, and he stayed home a lot. But he didn't like television, and he didn't like sleeping: he was fearful of any experience that was close to dreaming. So, just to fill his time, he got into drugs and health simultaneously.
He was doing a lot of cocaine, and he spent two or three hours a day at the gym. And, in the way of things, he hung around with the young set in Brentwood, working up a sweat and then having arugula salad and watching the cars slip by. It was an aimless life, but there was so much money, and Gertie was with him.
Then one day in the summer of 1994, Elliott came home late at night after jogging. Gertie was watching the tape of ET - she loved it, but she turned it off when Elliott came in.
"Where d'you go?" she asked.
"Did my circuit," he said, and added, "I saw this guy."
"He came running past me. And he was taking off his sweat top as he ran, bundling it up."
"So what's so special about that?"
"I didn't say special." He warmed down. "But it felt bad."
"How was that?"
Elliott paused. "Know what he said? He said, he was saying it under his breath as he ran."
" 'OJ, phone home.' "
The next day, Gertie woke him up.
"Did you dream?" she asked.
"I don't recall anything."
She told him what she'd seen on the TV - about the car-chase, just a few blocks away. She asked him what he was going to do.
"I'm not saying nothing," he told her, and he never has.
! These are edited chapters from the forthcoming sequel to David Thomson's original movie-novel 'Suspects' (Minerva, pounds 6.99).
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