My Mother Said Your Father Was Shot in the Balls

His words ricocheted across the playground blacktop with deafening clarity. My sixth grade best friend, Andy Stewart, was racing towards me yelling at the top of his lungs: "HEY, LANG... MY MOTHER SAID YOUR FATHER WAS SHOT IN THE BALLS!"
10/17/2014 12:18 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2014

His words ricocheted across the playground blacktop with deafening clarity. My sixth grade best friend, Andy Stewart, was racing towards me yelling at the top of his lungs: "HEY, LANG... MY MOTHER SAID YOUR FATHER WAS SHOT IN THE BALLS!" He yelled again. "HEY, LANG! MY MOTHER SAID YOUR FATHER WAS SHOT IN THE BALLS!"

Then there was silence--the type of silence you remember when you awake in the middle of the night and you are waiting for the monsters to come out. Kids stopped playing, basketballs stopped bouncing, and Mrs. Cohen, the playground monitor, dropped her whistle and locked her disapproving eyes with mine.

I stopped and looked around. I was stunned. Even though the infamous event involving my father was a major Hollywood scandal years before I was born, it was somehow kept away from me. I thought for a second, realizing my vulnerability. I looked around and saw Alena Levy, picking her nose, staring at me (and yes, she ate it). My friend Donna Bojarsky's jaw hit the pavement and the girl I had a major crush on started to cry.

I had to say something, so I yelled back across the playground: "Hey Stewart! That's a lie! I've seen his balls." At least I thought I had. The two-hundred-and-eighteenth day of my sixth grade year was hell. As I sat in Mr. McCutchen's art class doing a self-portrait, my classmates peppered me with whispered questions.

"Did he really get shot in the balls?" "Can he still pee?" "Is his dick still there?"

Questions began circling in my own mind as I worked on my would-be masterpiece. Did I really see his balls? Were there really two of them? Then it came to me, and I stood up. "Hey, if my dad was really shot in the balls, how was I born?"

There was silence. I had answered the unanswerable question. I thought I had them, at least for a second... until Court Slavin, a wisecracking kid, fired a near-fatal shot.

"Maybe the gardener did it with your mom."

The bell rang and it was lunchtime. I chose not to head to the cafeteria, even though it was pudding day, because I was exhausted by the morning's events. Instead, I went to the front office, where I worked for the office secretary for extra credit. To this day, I still remember her perfume and the way she walked. Her name was Desiree, and she was beautiful. She wore some sort of push up bra that made her breasts look like torpedo prototypes. They were perfect.

(Occasionally, Desiree and my old fourth grade teacher, Miss Bennett, would take me into Beverly Hills for lunch. It was our secret and one that I have kept until this writing.)

Desiree had heard what happened to me earlier that day; like just about everyone else in Hollywood, she knew of the scandal. She came into the mimeograph room and saw the look on my face. "Your dad is a great person, there is a lot to be proud of," she said. And then she gave me a doughnut.

Desiree was right. My father was the youngest person ever to pass the bar in New York City. In 1938, he headed west in his Ford Tudor with $40 in his pocket and big Hollywood dreams. Arriving in Los Angeles, he settled with no money and no job in the Silver Lake district, where he mixed horsemeat and hamburger and invited his newly found Hollywood connections to dinner. The horsemeat was great, the conversations were better, and the deals started to fall in place faster than the 1938 Santa Anita Derby winner, Seabiscuit.

Dad opened an office and signed his first client, comedian Hugh Herbert (now what we in the industry call a "Hollywoodwalkafamian")--securing him a multi-picture deal at Universal Studios, where he would appear in comedy shorts and features such as Pitchin' in the Kitchen.
Sam Jaffe, credited for saving Paramount Pictures from financial ruin in the 1920s, was a hell of a guy and had one of the most successful talent agencies in Hollywood. He took a liking to my dad and brought him into his agency in 1940. Dad quickly rose to the title of president, representing Joan Crawford, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Richard Burton, and many other high-profile clients.

The 1940s were a great decade for the agent business, for it was--despite being sandwiched between two wars--a time of some of Hollywood's greatest successes. Movies such as Casablanca, Citizen Kane, It's a Wonderful Life, Suspicion, National Velvet, Men of Boys Town, Fantasia, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Maltese Falcon captivated audiences throughout the country, and there was plenty of work for top talent in all aspects of the industry.
By 1945, one of dad's best friends and prized clients, Joan Crawford, was riding high after her Academy Award-winning performance in Mildred Pierce. She stopped by his office one evening to lament about her romantic issues--many of which had to do with her boyfriend and my father's close pal Greg Bautzer, a Hollywood mega-lawyer.

Bautzer and Crawford had a passionate, combustible relationship rife with explosive outbursts by Joan, and she'd recently had another after Bautzer fell asleep watching Mildred Pierce for the tenth time in her home screening room. She locked the doors, called the police, and had Bautzer arrested for trespassing--yelling at him as he was taken away: "That's the last time you will fall asleep at one of my movies!"

Joan raged to my dad about Greg and how all men were horrible. She rose from the maroon leather chair across from his desk and walked back to the bar concealed behind two mahogany doors. As Joan continued to rant, she pulled out a bottle of whiskey, poured it on her hand, lifted her skirt, slid her hand down into her underwear, and wiped.

Joan locked eyes with my father. "You never know who I might meet tonight," she said. Then she winked and walked out.
Sex, bad guys, good guys, and, yes, naughty gals were as much in the movie business as they were in the news. It was a fast time in Los Angeles, and Hollywood kingpins walked the streets with a swagger. They were idol makers and controllers of the lives of many.

In 1947, the Jaffe Agency was swallowed up by the music-booking and talent agency Music Corporation of America (more commonly known as MCA), and with that merger, Dad moved to the MCA offices at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Crescent Drive in Beverly Hills--bringing his biggest clients with him. Thus began my father's enduring friendship and business association with future movie studio mogul Lew Wasserman, who was promoted to president of the company by MCA co-founder Jules Stein within a year of Dad's arrival.

Enter Jay Kantor.

When Jay left the Navy as a young man, he moved into a one-bedroom apartment on Palm Drive, south of the MCA offices. He had no idea that, in a little over a decade's time, his living quarters would be immortalized in the Billy Wilder movie The Apartment, staring Jack Lemmon.

Jay was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, and night after night he would pass by the MCA offices and see the silhouettes of men in the windows, pacing back and forth. One day he entered the building and asked the lady receptionist, "What is this place?" "Well, it's an agency," the woman replied. Jay didn't know what that meant. Was it a government agency, or maybe a division of the FBI? Whatever it was, it seemed to have a lot of energy. Jay applied for a job, got hired, and was sent to the mailroom.

Dad took a liking to the aspiring agent and began to teach him the ropes. Jay would go on to have a brilliant career as an agent and executive representing the likes of Marlon Brando and Grace Kelly, and being a force behind successful films such as All That Jazz and The Right Stuff. But at this time, he would facilitate another drama involving my father and one of his clients, Joan Bennett.

Joan was a sizzling Hollywood siren. Beautiful and bewitching, she would make over seventy movies and become best known for her film noir femme fatale roles. Her career lasted from the days of silent films through the birth of television, culminating with her turn as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard in the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows.

Joan and my dad were married to other people. Both were miserable. Both were looking for trouble--and found it.

Now, young Jay Kantor was just minding his own business--running scripts around town; delivering checks to clients such as Fred Astaire, Gregory Peck, and Ronald Reagan; answering phones; and generally trying to make his way up the corporate ladder. One day my father called him into his office and made a strange request: Dad asked Jay if he could use his apartment for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Jay agreed.

Jay's apartment served as the lover's lair for Joan and Jennings. Whenever my father needed the apartment, Jay would dutifully get lost. This went on for some time.

Joan was married to a wacky but talented producer, Walter Wanger, who started his career at Paramount and made movies across all genres, including Stagecoach (1939), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), and the disastrous Cleopatra (1963). Neither Joan nor my dad knew just how wild Wacky Walter would become.

On December 13, 1951, there was a television opportunity for Joan and she met with my father, parking her Cadillac convertible in the MCA parking lot. They proceeded to get in Dad's car and drive away. Sitting in his car nearby, Wanger watched. Wanger waited. Wanger fumed. A few hours later, my father arrived back at MCA, parked his car, and walked Joan back to hers. As he was leaning over the Cadillac speaking to her, Wanger quietly approached from behind. My father turned. Wanger aimed downward.

BANG! BANG!

Cut back to me in the sixth grade on that humiliating day. I'm sitting in Mr. Henry Clark's science class, ready to explode. Mr. Clark was a porcupine-haired teacher who spoke deliberately, making each second seem like a decade. The opening voiceover of a popular soap opera my grandmother watched religiously echoed in my brain: "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives."

When will that fucking bell ring?

When it finally did, I raced to the north end of the playground, unlocked my bright-yellow Raleigh Chopper bike, and raced home as fast as I could. Peddling up Mountain Drive, I spun my bike through the back gate, toed down the kickstand, and burst through the kitchen door. Our maid, Mary Adams, who, at 250 pounds, looked like a Maytag dryer with a head, was making fried chicken.

"Hi, hon," she said enthusiastically. "Ya have a good day?"
I blurted: "Was my dad shot in the balls?"
Mary looked at me, letting the grease drip from the chicken thighs, and said nonplussed: "How the hell would I know that? Ya think I've seen your father's balls?"
Annoyed with her answer, I ran through the house to the staircase--avoiding my mother's rat-like Yorkshire terriers, which were perpetually yapping and shitting everywhere. I peeled up the steps and continued down an upstairs hallway to a secret side door that opened directly into the dressing area of my mother's bathroom, which was adorned with a million mirrors.
My mom, Monica Lewis, was my dad's second wife, and she was not around when the alleged de-balling incident happened in MCA's parking lot many years earlier. And at this moment, she was speaking on the phone.

Damn!
She put up her finger, the universal signal of "Don't interrupt me."
I folded my arms.
I tapped my feet.
Mom hung up. Finally. She smiled. She started to speak--
I cut her off.
"Did Dad get shot in the balls?"
For the first time in my life, my mother didn't answer me.
I asked again.
"DID DAD GET SHOT IN THE BALLS?"

She looked at me and calmly said, "That is something you will have to ask your father."
My dad didn't get home until after 7 p.m. So I spent the rest of the afternoon on the phone with Andy Stewart talking about balls and guns and what this all really meant.

When I heard Dad's car come through the back gate, I ran to meet him. I loved when Dad came home, and under normal circumstances, I looked forward to spending much of the evening talking to him and watching a baseball game or throwing a ball around in the backyard. However, today was business. Information needed to be gathered, answers to be given.

Racing from my room down the stairs, I stopped. I suddenly wondered, How am I going to ask my dad if he got shot in the balls? I had to know, but now I was petrified.

I slowly turned the corner and saw Dad enter through the back door. He said hi to Mary and pulled out a jar of herring and sour cream. It was his ritual to snack before dinner. He looked up and saw me.

"Hey, Rock!"

Every night I would hug my father when he came home. He was six foot three, and I came up to just above his stomach--just maybe a foot above where his balls were. Or weren't.
He looked down at me and said, "Come with me."

Dad and I walked up the stairs, passing my parents' incredible art collection of Picassos, Diebenkorns, and Mirós, and went into his home office. Three TVs were lined up vertically so he could track the three networks, as by this time MCA had bought Universal Studios and my father was head of the company's TV division. It was really cool because on the weekends we could watch three sports events at the same time.

"Mom called me this afternoon," he said. "I understand you have a question."
I nodded.

"I'm not going to tell you much about it because it wasn't a very happy time, but I am going to show you something." He stood and undid his belt.

Holy shit, I thought. He's going to show me his non-balls.

Dad dropped his pants. He stood in his tighty-whities and pointed to a small scar on his upper thigh.

"The guy was a lousy shot and hit me in the leg," he said. "But Hollywood is Hollywood, and getting shot in the balls is a better story than getting shot in the leg."
He pulled his pants up and gave me a pat on the head.

"Let's watch the Dodgers."

This story is from Rocky Lang's book - Growing Up Hollywood - Tales from the Son of a Hollywood Mogul / www.rockylang.com