At that time I was still supposed to be writing books, although I was making slow progress. Writing novels -which is to say, making up stories – is an odd thing for a grown adult to want to do, when you think about it. No wonder then that many writers are rather strange people.
When Ned came up with the idea of doing a non-fiction book on the story of this half-forgotten film director from the nineteen sixties I thought it sounded like just the kick up the arse I needed to get working again. He evidently thought, for some reason, that people would still be interested in this story, and indeed in time that did turn out to be the case – although not for reasons we might have predicted.
As I said, Harry Rubik had disappeared behind the gates of his vast estate – the equal of anything seen in his film of the life of the 18th century playboy Tristram Shandy, probably because it had partly been shot on location there.
Born in Russia in the twenties, having gone to America as a child old enough to remember the deprivation of soviet socialism, he had wholeheartedly embraced the capitalist ethic. Aged 8, he got his first camera. Aged 16, he went to work for Time magazine. By 21, he had already secured the funding for his first movie.
The English mistrust success, and with that in mind perhaps it should not be surprising that the man born Harold Rubikowski should have chosen to stay out of public life following the negative reception of his horror thriller The Eye In The Pyramid (1975), a dystopian vision of ultra-violent teen gangs in a future society that seemed to anticipate the punk generation and lead to death threats for its director.
But my colleague Ned Spartacus asserted that the man might have had other, very different reasons for wanting to hide.
At the time of the release of The Eye in The Pyramid it was widely reported that Rubik had received threats from people who were unhappy with the violent content of his film. But according to Ned there were “other things” in that film that were “hidden in plain sight” for those who new where to look, that “certain people” would have preferred to remain secret.
While Rubik was an acknowledged master of suspense and storytelling, what was less widely known was that the other thing he had gained from his brief apprenticeship in the Hollywood of the forties and fifties was the initiation into certain secret societies. Societies who, my friend believed, had made their subliminal presence felt in the business of the movie colony right from the very early years of its inception. Rubik had got in, as Ned told it, through a homosexual relationship with a notorious camera operator and rent boy working in the LA canyons at that time, who must have owed him a favour.
“Sterling old pal, have I got a story for you,” he’d told me that morning, looking out at the gray seafront, probably hoping for a pay off if I made it into a book and ever saw any money out of it.
He then proceeded to reel off the homosexual story, as well as other rumours that are completely unrepeatable in polite conversation.
“Rubik gay?” I asked. “But he was married for years and years. To an actress he met on the set of one of his films, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, The General,” he said, “Nineteen fifty-nine. No doubt that’s the first thing They tell you if you’re one of them… get married, settle down, keep your mouth shut. Make it look as if you have a normal life. Or possibly Rubik was just the sort of pragmatic old bugger who did exactly what he thought he had to do to get on.”
“And who were these people who you refer to as “They”, Sparky? I’m afraid I don’t follow your logic. Rubik was known as a man who said very little…”
“In public yes. But in private he had another side,” said my friend. “In the entertainment industry at that time there were certain things expected of you… people in the public eye tend to shape public opinion, but homosexuality was still considered taboo to many at that time. It’s different now, but they had to work for years and years to change that. In the days when he started out, to admit that one was gay wouldn’t have gone down well at all. Rubik would have found the irony in the fact that his wife was an actress: In fact, it was all a great big act.”
“And where did you get this information?” I asked him.
“Let’s say through a friend.”
The great director had an assistant, one Len Valentino, an actor who played a small part in one or two of his films, who had gone on to become his PA through the rest of his career right up to his death, shortly after the release of his final film in 1999. According to my friend, it seemed that Valentino had been assisting him with more than his tax returns.
Ned Spartacus, it seemed, had heard all this from a personal acquaintence of Len Valentino himself – “I’m looking after his house for him at the moment,” my friend said, amused. “I’ll give you his number.”
I almost choked on my cornflakes when I heard that. “Do you think that this Valentino would grant me an interview?” I asked him, after a moment’s thought. “This could be the making of a new book. Of course I’ll probably have to change all the names or we’ll get into all sorts of legal trouble, but… screw it. Why not?” At present this fiction was going nowhere.
“It couldn’t hurt to ask him,” my old friend told me, “but don’t let on what you want to ask him about before for god’s sake, or he’ll run a mile.” And he added, thinking about it: “And don’t let on I told you.”
“I won’t,” I said. “Have you ever met Valentino?”
“How does he strike you?”
My friend thought about it for a moment.
“Well he can’t be a complete bender, because he had quite a babe on his arm, as I recall.”
“Perfect,” I said. “I’ll get a pen and a paper and you can give me that number to call.”