LAS VEGAS — Started writing and handicapping for the New York Daily News back in 1980.
Sitting at my desk one night, I picked up the phone and this grizzly voice said: “This is Richard Brooks. I’m doing a movie about sports gambling and need some help.” Without hesitating, and with less than two years on the job, I asked him what he needed.
He told me that he was starting a movie called Fever Pitch. Ryan O’Neal was gonna play a sportswriter from the L.A. Herald Examiner and do a series about a compulsive sports gambler called Mr. Green.
Turns out that Mr. Green was O’Neal’s character, and Brooks needed some betting advice, betting vocabulary and an odds tutorial.
Back in the early ’80s, there was no Google, so had to find out a little something somethin’ about Richard Brooks. Turns out that the man was a Hollywood heavyweight.
He wrote and directed In Cold Blood, Elmer Gantry and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. He won an Oscar for the Elmer Gantry screenplay, and Burt Lancaster won the Oscar for Best Actor.
After a few more conversations, Brooks said that he would fly me out to Hollywood for a few days and put me up at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on MGM’s dime. Would I be interested? There was also no FaceTime back in the day, so while I said a very subdued yes, Richard couldn’t see that I was dancing and jumping around my little office like an absolute FOOL!
Brooks picks me up at LAX in a rather pedestrian Toyota, and starts spinning stories about his BEST friend, Humphrey Bogart. Again, for you youngsters, that name might not carry any weight, but he was a GINORMOUS star.
So he drops me at the hotel and I walk to the front desk. “You’re on the fifth floor in the Veranda Suite, Mr. Eckstein.” I looked around to see if my father was behind me, because NO ONE called me Mr. Eckstein.
When they opened the door to the room, the first thing I saw was a staircase, a FREAKING STAIRCASE! In MY ROOM! It didn’t go anywhere, but so what. Any of you ever stay in a room with a staircase? Raise your hands. I’m waiting. Still waiting. No one? Thought so!
Richard picked me up the next morning and took me on to the MGM lot where we were gonna meet up with Ryan O’Neal for some Gambling 101 stuff. Ryan was like 30 minutes late, but when he walked in, Farrah FREAKIN’ Fawcett was on his arm.
For you under-40s, Fawcett was the IT girl back in the ’70s, and her poster (Google it) hung on the wall of like 12 million young guys, including mine. So, what’s my first line? Hey Farrah, had your poster on my wall and loved the red bathing suit? Hey Farrah, you thinking about dumping Ryan and coming to my suite at the Beverly Wilshire for room service? Hey Farrah, LOVED you in Charlie’s Angels?
And I certainly didn’t want to ask her about this quote in her TV Guide interview when she said, “When our show was No. 3, I thought it was our acting. When we got to be No. 1, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.”
Of course, when she reached out to shake my hand, I was PARALYZED, and mumbled something like “Nice to meet you.” Richard told me later that there was a tiny bit of drool on the side of my mouth.
Spent a magical hour sitting RIGHT NEXT to Farrah, and then off to the studio to watch O’Neal dub some lines, but was mostly interested in Farrah. Tried to explain the difference between a parlay and a teaser, but lost her in the middle of explaining that a minus means the team is a favorite and the plus means an underdog.
There’s plenty more to this story, including the SPECTACULAR Dyan Cannon asking if she could butter my corn on the cob at a Beverly Hills dinner party! Stay with me, baabbbeee!!!
Benjamin Eckstein is a nationally syndicated sportswriter/oddsmaker. His column, America’s Line, with the Ecks & Bacon appetizer, has run in the New York Daily News and over 100 other papers since 1988. You can follow him online at www.americasline.com. He is beloved by most, when he picks winners, and detested by others, when he picks the occasional loser. If you wanna piece of Eck, hit his Email...firstname.lastname@example.org.