Joel Coles, a twenty-eight-year-old screenwriter, son of a once-successful stage actress, has spent his childhood between New York and London, trying to separate the real from the unreal. For six months he has been in Hollywood writing scenes and sequences for films as a continuity writer. He is invited to a Sunday cocktail party at the home of the Miles Calmans, a mansion in Beverly Hills “built for great emotional moments.” Miles Calman is the most significant director at the studio; his wife is the star Stella Walker, whom Miles has created (“brought that little gamin alive and made her a sort of masterpiece”). Joel sees the invitation as evidence that he is getting somewhere in his career, as well as an opportunity to mix with the important people of the industry.
Though he resolves not to drink at the party—Miles Calman is “audibly tired of rummies”—Joel breaks his vow. As a result, he performs for the crowd a tasteless impersonation of a crass independent producer, Dave Silverstein, burlesquing the man’s cultural limitations. Tempted to show off for the attentive Stella Calman, Joel seizes on this routine, which has been well received at other parties. The result is disastrous: The feeling of the audience is expressed by the booing from an actor, the Great Lover of filmdom. “It was the resentment of the professional toward the amateur, of the community toward the stranger, the thumbs-down of the clan.”
The next day, back at the studio lot, abashed and alarmed, Joel writes an apology to Miles but receives the following day a letter of praise from Stella and an invitation to her sister’s Sunday buffet supper.
At the buffet, Joel learns of the Calmans’ troubles—Miles’s affair with actress Eva Goebel, his jealousy of Stella, his trials with his psychoanalyst, his mother fixation and its linking of sex with dependency. Joel is informed of this by the Calmans themselves, mostly Stella, back at the Calmans’ house....
(The entire section is 809 words.)