Drool-Drool, Phone-Phone, Kiss-Kiss

The first thing television producers do in the morning is read the newspaper for ideas.

They don't drink coffee, use the bathroom, brush their teeth or kiss their significant others before they scan the paper.

They read it not for the kind of news that shakes the world, but for those gems of potential that, God and the networks willing, might translate into a series or a movie of the week.

Finding something, they will immediately hit the telephone to call the writer of the article and/or the subject of whom he or she wrote.

Then, and only then, will they drink coffee, use the bathroom, brush their teeth and kiss whatever mate they might remember having around.

I know this to be true, having dealt with many producers over the years. While the order of their routines may vary, reading and calling always have first priority.

There are only 425 members of the Producers Guild in L.A., but thousands of others are independent producers or think they are. Like shoe salesmen and dog-walkers, they need no special qualifications to claim the title.

Which brings me, however circuitously, to the case of Arlene Friedman. She was the subject of a story by staff writer Michael Lucas recently in our Life & Style section. She is a private eye who lived an adventure almost equaling that of Indiana Jones.

When it appeared, that portion of the population composed of television producers began to salivate. Then, still drooling, they hit the phone.

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I talked about it the other day with Friedman, a tiny, bird-like woman of 50 with a proper hairdo and a flashing sense of humor. On the day we met she was wearing a sweatshirt, on the front of which was "You Don't Know Me," and under that, "Federal Witness Protection Program." At other times she wears one that says, "Proud to be an Undercover CIA Agent."

Her adventure began when, as a legal investigator handling routine cases, she was assigned to work on a lawsuit that involved the theft of a 2,200-pound, solid gold Buddha buried by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II, rediscovered by a local locksmith 25 years ago and stolen by the late president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos.

To cut to the story line, as we say, Friedman (Demi Moore?), who had only flown once before in her life and had done nothing more dangerous than pet an angry dog, spent the next six years on the Trail of the Golden Buddha (the title?) flying thousands of miles, punching her way out of danger, seeing her employer's files ransacked and finding the one man (Tom Cruise?) who could prove the Buddha's existence.

The bottom line: the law firm's client won a $22-million judgment against Marcos' estate and overnight Friedman became Indiana Jones with a hairdo.

So you got your main character, you got your danger, you got your humor, you got your exotic location, you got your greed, you got your triumph. The whole thing is so good it sends a shiver through me timbers.

"It's better than Indiana Jones," Friedman said to me that day in her Beverly Hills apartment. "He never got snags in his panty-hose."

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Since the story appeared, Friedman has received more than 50 calls from producers and studio reps, each one of whom has concluded their choose-me pitch with the phrase, "We're going to make this happen."

Among the producers who called, one was a butcher who had taken a course in screenwriting at a community college and asked her to "download your brain into mine."

"He wanted to link minds with me," Friedman recalls, "but said if movie producing didn't work out, he had an opportunity to go into the dry-cleaning business."

A woman who claimed to be an independent producer, however, is most symbolic of those who jump on newspaper stories before doing any of the normal morning things mentioned earlier.

She thought Friedman's adventure "a story to die for," promised to make her a household name and vowed in cosmic tones that "together we will reach the stars."

"Then she said, 'Little girls are going to grow up wanting to be you,' " Friedman remembered, rolling her eyes upward. "And just before she hung up she said, so help me, 'Kiss-kiss.' "

It's still going on, but Friedman has an attorney representing her now and refers all calls to him, except the ones that say "We're going to make this happen" or end their conversations by saying "Kiss-kiss."

"I wish I'd have been this popular in high school," Friedman says with a mock sigh. "I'd have had a date for the senior prom." Then she sits and, not unhappily, waits for the phone to ring.

Al Martinez can be reached online at al.martinez@latimes.com

For the Record Los Angeles Times Saturday January 11, 1997 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction Marcos estate--A judgment against the estate of the late president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, reported in a Jan. 10 column by Al Martinez, should have been $22 billion, not $22 million. It was awarded in July in Hawaii on the basis of fraud regarding the theft of a solid gold Buddha and was the largest single judgment in history.
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