I totally adore Hollywood Unlisted. It’s one of the most interesting books I’ve run into in the past, say, ten years. Kim Fahey must be one of the most self-actualized human beings who ever strode the planet. A psychic once told him that his purpose in life is to see things no one usually sees, and say things no one usually says. And never be afraid of anything (which is good advice for anyone).
Fahey came from what would conventionally be thought of as a disadvantaged background, spending parts of his youth in a juvenile detention facility and a work camp. He learned some incredible non-violent survival skills, and later went on to become a philosopher, gigolo, artist, craftsperson, psychic’s assistant, and mainly, a phoneman.
As a technician he was constantly in the homes, studios, and workplaces of scores of show business luminaries. You know the movie What’s Love Got to Do With It? Part of it was filmed in Tina Turner’s actual house, and he installed some of the phones we see there. How many people do you know who can make that claim? No matter how big the celebrity, he always met them on a level playing field:
I never even thought about asking anyone for an autograph. First of all, it’s rude in someone’s private domain. Second, they’re just people. They’re no better than me. With the things a phoneman has to put up with, they should ask for mine, was the way I looked at it.
John Belushi would not have given an autograph anyway. Fahey’s sighting of him was as a large, sheet-covered corpse being removed from a Chateau Marmont bungalow. When Art Linkletter’s daughter committed suicide by exiting from a 6th-floor window, Fahey happened to be parked in his van catching up on paperwork. The scenes that a phoneman finds himself in the middle of can be mind-boggling, and he sees a lot of things from way up on those poles.
The tales in this book never cease to amaze. I want to say, “As a writer, I’d call him the new millennium’s successor to…” but I can’t think of who. Henry Miller? Or… there was a French guy… Never mind, the point is, you’ve heard of the MacArthur “genius grant”? If the recipients could be nominated, I’d nominate Fahey.
I mean, this guy taught John Cassavettes “how to cheat on Nintendo baseball so he could beat his kid.” He played chess with Orson Welles! Got stoned with such varied artists as Rodney Dangerfield and Little Esther Phillips, the difference being that the blues singer also cooked for him. Played Santa at one of Rock Hudson’s parties. Mae West invited him to come up and see her some time.
Bette Midler, on the other hand, was no kind of sweetheart. She liked to scream at people and fire them. Larry Flynt lived at the top of a long driveway, on which phone trucks were not allowed, so the technicians always had to take a long hot hike. In general, Fahey’s impression was, “The closer you edge towards Beverly Hills, the bigger the creeps you have to deal with.” He discusses the rumor that Beverly Hills was a great place to dump a dead body, because the city was so publicity-shy, the matter would probably be taken care of discreetly.
At least I’m telling the truth. It’s sort of like the book writes itself. I don’t care if I come off less than stellar… Why try and sugar coat it. I just want to relay what I’ve been shown, for good or bad. As one attorney once told me, “It’s libel or slander only if you’re lying!”
The fortune-teller was right. In the course of a hyper-interesting life, the author learned many things hidden from ordinary mortals.
— The amazing fate of Cheetah, who went on from movie stardom to become the world’s oldest living chimpanzee
— The inside scoop on Lucent Technologies
— From his uncle the animal trainer, the lowdown on exactly which animals do well in traveling animal shows, their strengths and weaknesses, needs and problems.
— Raymond Burr’s secret greenhouse with three giant plants, in a hidden room that only a phoneman tracing lines could find.
— How movies about private detectives always got their phone-tapping scenes wrong. In fact, even real investigators don’t rate too high:
I knew lots of street detectives. Most couldn’t find Joe Louis in a bowl of rice. To use a detective is the last straw. If you feel you need the services of a detective to square away some deficiency in your life, wake up and smell the coffee, pal. Save the detective’s fees and use the money for that attorney you didn’t want to call. A good attorney is your real savior. The voice of experience.
As a phoneman working in a gay bar, Fahey learned such skills as how to avoid being hit on without giving offense. He seems to have had a lot of fun at a drag bar called La Cage Aux Folles:
One of the few times I was ever beaten in a chop contest was by a Marie Antoinette look-alike in full regalia. She tore me apart like a pro. Even though I was the butt of all the retorts, I couldn’t stop laughing. My sides hurt for days the guy was so good. No matter how funny I was, he beat me out on his comebacks. Just the best.
Then there was the secret game he played for years with Joan Crawford. No, not what you’re thinking. And the sideline business he ran, thanks to his access to the laundry hampers of the stars. And the very useful relationship that arose from being the phone company’s special liaison to a former police chief turned private detective.
I made sure good ol’ Ed Davis would remember my name if it came up in some late night phone call awakening him. You never knew when your head might be dangled over the rim of some shit filled pit, one toe-hold away from getting a diarrhea bath. Once again, my gut feelings were right. Good ol’ Ed came in handy more than once. I’d say saving my life could be listed under “handy.”
One story amused me because I know a relative of the poet Robert Bly. Fahey was out on the street with his phone van, talking with a homeless man who spied a pile of books in the truck and asked for something to read.
I say sure, then hand him a book called Iron John. I add, “Hey, you might like this one!” He gave it right back. He then says, “No thanks. You were going to throw it away weren’t you? You decided to give it to me to hit two birds with one stone, right?” I admitted he was right. The book was a piece of shit.
Of course, being out on the street at all hours in every neighborhood of a major metropolis, you’re going to meet some people who are not so friendly. The author says,
I’ve been able to fake out the best sick nutcases by pure bullshit… I was usually scared half to death. Having been in the clutches of the sickest examples of the human species and walked away is one of the main reasons I wrote this book. I was never brave or did anything heroic. No way. If someone claims I did they’re lying.
You screw up in real life, with real psychos, you don’t make exciting escapes or knock out anyone in some ridiculous slugfest. You just end up in the hospital, or dead. When you’re someone like me, with your mouth “your only savior,” it’s a good idea to try and keep a size sixteen shoe out of it. Once the talking ends, I’ve had it. Call me a clown, a suck up, an ass kisser, anything you want, just remember to put “But he’s still alive!” after your comments.
As the phoneman grew older and saw more and more of the world, he developed into a social critic, appalled by the horrors of old-folks homes and every manifestation of inequality.
…you start to resent so much wasted lavishness, especially if you just drove to Beverly Hills from a free clinic in Watts – a free clinic packed ten deep with desperate people standing on the front steps, reading the notice taped on the front doors telling them they’re shut down from lack of funds.
One of my favorite parts:
If you gave me a druthers question as to which gang I could tolerate being in, I would have to choose an older Mexican/American gang. First of all, I love the food. Second, they have the most beautiful women…On the downside? Their music sucks and the macho thing is ridiculous.
Another favorite part, when the author was thinking about someone he had meant to help, but didn’t get around to:
For the first time in a long time I felt ashamed of myself. I realized, as a person, I sucked. I sucked big time. Revelations usually pass me by, that kind of crap is for pathetic losers. Realizing I too, was a loser, didn’t sit well. Now, for the first time in my life, I actually thought about how someone else felt. Maybe this sounds weird to you. You probably are a normal, caring sort of person. I’m not. It was hard to swallow.
There is an amazing story of being accosted in a lonely place at night by two crackheads, who obviously planned to jump him, and how he put them mentally off balance by asking if they had any hits for sale, then lit a joint and passed it. The perilous encounter eventually resulted in a very advantageous outcome.
When weird things happened my first thoughts were to get away, not to battle evil. It’s a losing situation. When you battle evil you most likely will become evil. It’s beyond me. All I know is I don’t want to be responsible for causing anyone harm physically. Mentally is a whole different ball game.
NOTE: This is something like a “conflict of interest” statement, which is expected from all conscientious journalists, but actually it’s a “congruence of interest” statement. A couple of years ago, on a very hot day, Kim Fahey pulled off a California highway to help strangers with car trouble. Those strangers were my daughter and her family, and he not only got them back on the road, but gave my daughter a copy of his book. Which is where I got it from. So before I opened the cover of Hollywood Unlisted, I was predisposed to like it. I expected a nice snack and got a banquet.