Film

A few years ago I had the opportunity to write a screenplay for a production company here in New York. The company owned the rights to an essay that had appeared originally in Playboy magazine in 1979, back in the days when it still published, ahem, “serious literature.” I read the essay—entitled I was a Military-Industrial Complex, by the author and journalist Arthur T. Hadley—and was knocked out by its sheer brilliance and wit. Based on the true-life experiences of Hadley and a group of his friends in the 1960s, it tells the story of a joke or scam—it’s really a little of each—that the group undertook against the US Government during the height of the Vietnam War. Short on cash and wanting to stick it to LBJ and his crew, they pretended they owned a tank manufacturing company in NYC, and even went so far as to rent a “company office”—in a lipstick pink fifth floor walk-up apartment the size of a closet that had formerly housed a prostitute next to the Museum of Modern Art. No one could possibly believe them, surely, but as directors of their own company they would at least be eligible for credit cards.

Image: copyright Playboy magazine

Image: copyright Playboy magazine

Never underestimate the stupidity and cupidity of the government, however, for before they knew it Hadley and his bunch of pranksters found themselves trapped in an ever-increasing circle of absurdity. It turned out the government had taken them at their word: the FBI called in person, and finding nothing amiss with a seven-by-eleven-foot lipstick pink tank production office, granted them top secret military clearance. McNamara himself, the Secretary of Defense, sent a love letter praising their spotless production record. The Ford Motor Company, among other industrial behemoths, called sniffing around for tidbits. Hadley was even invited to lecture on tank manufacturing techniques.

Such was the irresistible set-up I was offered, a gift of both character and situation. The resulting screenplay, entitled I was a Military-Industrial Complex (why mess with a perfect title?), was completed about a year ago after two years’ work and dozens of drafts. In my innocence I assumed it would be made into a film immediately, and practiced my acceptance speech to the Academy. The film world, I soon discovered, is more complicated than that, and it is currently still wending its way through the tortuous stages of being sold and green-lighted. Whatever happens, it was an unforgettable experience to work on such a story and meet such tremendous people along the way—my executive producer, Ann Egbert, and Arthur T. Hadley among them. Arthur is now 90, still fit and sharp, and I hope his classic misadventure makes its way onto celluloid in time for him to see it. BG