San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Pleasingly Plump Paula

Paula Kowalski and I go back like forever. Successively we have been classmates, sweethearts, lovers, married and divorced, but now we are just very good friends, and I am content with that. I love the girl dearly, but the trouble is I just can’t stand her for more than three months at a time. In my cups I have raised my hand to her; in my need I have cheated on her and then lied about it, but she has always forgiven me, like a mother forgives her child no matter what the offense. In fact, my shrink claims she is my surrogate for the mother I never knew, and our stormy partings the inevitable result of the shame I feel at my incestuous behavior.

Whatever. But the truth is that there is something about her larger than life, and certainly I am far from the only one to fall under her spell. For instance, I was writing for Metro, and just for kicks I took her along to a story conference. For hours we sat around the table tearing the script to pieces and reassembling it more to our liking until Ross Herschell, the director, said, “Okay men, I think we have a winner. Shall we give it a push?”

Everyone nodded agreement except Paula, who, after remaining silent all day, now said very loudly, “It’s a flop!”

Since as a sit-in she hadn’t even been included in the question, Herschell simply ignored her and initiated the long and outrageously expensive process of making the film.Which turned out to be a resounding flop.

The Hollywood rule is “three flops and you’re out,” so Herschell, to protect all his bases, hired her for his next conference.

Once again Paula remained silent until, even before the final question, she said, “It’s a winner!” And a winner it was, netting Metro more than 3 million smackers.

After that, Herschell had her vet every story, even before conference, and refused to touch anything she turned down. As a result, he had an unbroken string of successes until he got canned for political reasons. But Paula didn’t miss a beat, and promptly became the darling of every director who could get his hands on her.

She had always been on the chubby side, and I believe it was Oliver Stone who dubbed her “Pleasingly Plump Paula.” Between that and a troublesome renal problem, she soon became affectionately known throughout the industry as “PP.”

Then, after a cancer scare, she gave up smoking and compensated by overeating. Inevitably, she put on a lot of weight, and that was when her luck, or perhaps I should say her talent, ran out. She miscalled three flops, and the iron rule was now applied to her. She had been largely responsible for propelling a minor studio into the big time, but bankers don’t deal in sentiment, and she was out on her ear.

Which was fine by me, as I got her all to myself until our next fight. But that is another story altogether.


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