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Pirate Booty

Paul Mazursky is a writer, director, actor and producer whose credits include "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," "Harry and Tonto," "Tempest," "An Unmarried Woman," and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills." He appears regularly in the HBO comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. What the hell was going on in La La Land? No videos or DVDs for the 5,803 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? Did Jack Valenti think that Johnny Depp would sell his videos to a Caribbean piracy outfit? Didn’t Jack realize that the academy members were distinguished folk? This was the same Jack Valenti I’d played doubles with at the Cannes Film Festival in the ‘70s. Was he flipping out?

I was depressed. The holidays without screener videos? I decided to spend my Christmas in Cambodia and re-read my tattered copy of “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” Anything to get my mind off the Oscars and the screenings.

But just when I was making flight arrangements, Valenti’s decision was overthrown. The videos and DVDs would soon be arriving. I canceled my travel plans and decided instead to drive to the La Quinta resort near Palm Desert. My wife and I would have an Oscar marathon holiday!

But there was a significant caveat. I would have to sign a document that promised that my videos would never leave my possession, under penalty of losing my academy membership and, who knows, a steep fine and a prison sentence. So I informed my family--my wife, my two daughters and my three granddaughters, ages 19, 16 and 5--that under no conditions were they even to whisper requests for the booty I would soon be getting. I knew that my daughters, in particular, were desperate to get their claws on my videos, so I made it clear that they could see anything they wanted, but only on my personal flat plasma screen.

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In a matter of days, the booty came tumbling into my office. When my assistant handed them to me, I thought I detected a glimmer of hope in her eyes. One film, just for the weekend? No way. Then a wave of paranoia came over me. I made a list of all the films that had been delivered and breathed a sigh of relief. They were all there, from “Lost In Translation” to “Cold Mountain” to “The Triplets of Belleville.”

My wife and I packed for our desert holiday. A couple of jogging suits, a bathing suit, a terry cloth robe and my Hugo Boss jeans. Plus one large bag filled with loot, about 40 movies. But just as we pulled out of the driveway, my eldest daughter pulled up.

“Dad, dad!” she shouted. “I’ve got to talk to you. I have a fever and my throat is killing me. I just came from my doctor. I may have the flu. She’s put me on antibiotics.”

I was deeply concerned. “I’m so sorry, honey.”

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My wife leaped out of our car. “Do you want us to stay here in town, sweetheart?” she said.

“No,” coughed my daughter. “No, I just want Dad to loan me a couple of videos to get me through the next few days.” She was weeping by now.

My blood pressure went up 30 points. This was blackmail. “You know I can’t loan any videos. I’ll go to jail.”

“She’s your daughter,” my wife shouted. “She’s your oldest child! What’s wrong with you?”

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Reluctantly I opened the bag and tossed two videos at my feverish child. “Enjoy yourself. But if one of them leaves your house, I’m in San Quentin.”

After a few moments of tearful embraces I started to back out of the driveway again. This time it was my car phone. My other daughter was on the line. Her voice was trembling.

“Dad. I’ve got to talk to you.” She began to sob. “I know . . . I know you’re not supposed to loan any of your videos out . . . I know that . . . but . . . but . . . . “

“But what?” I shouted.

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“But my friend,” and here she mentioned the name of one of her best friends, “my friend just found out she has cancer. And I know she needs something to get her mind off this terrible thing.”

“I’m so sorry, darling,” I said. My wife began to weep. So I cut to the chase. “If you come over right now, I’ll loan you two videos. Pick whatever you want.”

Within minutes, she pulled up. Still weeping, she chose “Monster” and “Something’s Gotta Give.” She embraced me joyfully and promised that no one else would see these videos.

Even so, the drive to La Quinta was depressing. Here was one daughter with the flu and the other one with a best friend suffering from cancer. Worse, four of my precious videos were in danger.

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I spent a gloomy Christmas in the desert, calling every day to see how my daughters were, how the poor friend with cancer was, where my videos were.

They assured me that all was well. The flu was gone and the gal with cancer was already in remission. The videos were safe. I breathed a sigh of relief. We finished the vacation and drove home.

Now comes the sad part. I’m writing this from my cell in a federal prison. Two of the four videos disappeared, turning up later on the Internet. My daughters cannot explain it. No one seems to have an answer. But disappear they did.

Within 48 hours of returning home, I found myself being handcuffed by two burly FBI men. I have the best lawyers in town, and my agents are positive this will quickly pass. But my wife and I are deeply depressed. The only thing that keeps me going is my fellow prisoners.

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Clint Eastwood is a terrific guy, and he swears he’s innocent. But yesterday he told a guard, “Make my day.”

Marlon Brando finds the whole thing a joke. “I just wish they’d serve better food.”

Then there’s Anthony Hopkins. I must admit that he’s looking more and more like Hannibal Lecter. But he’s fun to talk with, and he loves some of my movies.

Sean Penn is another story. He just cries and cries.

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Bill Murray is droll.

And Jack Valenti? He swears he is innocent, and I believe him. I really do.


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