“Hey, be my date for the Film Hall of Fame deal.” This irresistible invitation to Austin’s annual swankorifico salute to Texas filmmaking luminaries such as Renée Zellweger, Richard Linklater, and Dennis Quaid was offered by my buddy and my only movie-star friend, the exceptionally swoon-worthy Brett Cullen. (Yes, one of those Cullens. But the “middle-class” side of the family, he’s always quick to add.) “They’re inducting Meat Loaf for his movie work, and I’m going to introduce him.”
Meat Loaf. I first encountered the Dallas-born actor and singer in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the movie about a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.” It was 1977, and my brother was a co-owner of the first theater outside New York to run the cult favorite as a midnight costume party and yell-along. As Eddie, an Elvis-bewigged, cryogenically frozen biker, Meat Loaf was a baby-faced bolt of plushly upholstered, primal rock energy—and, like everything else in that movie, he electrified me. It’s hard now during this, the fourth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, to convey the sheer thrill we felt at the sexual free zone that Rocky Horror opened up. Sure, David Bowie had been prancing around in a unitard with a streak of lightning painted over his eye, but that was in Manhattan. Not Texas. Rocky Horror took the word “transgressive” out of doctoral theses and made it play in neighborhood cineplexes.
Meat Loaf went on to seduce a nation into “paradise by the dashboard light” with the fifth-biggest-selling album of all time, Bat Out of Hell; to play more than fifty roles in everything from Fight Club to Glee; and, in the past season’s Celebrity Apprentice, to unleash what might have been the most epic meltdown ever witnessed on reality television. Still, the Grammy Award winner was important to me not just because he told off the preternaturally annoying Gary Busey and showed the world that chubby boys in bad wigs could be objects of intense lust but also because he helped me write my sixth novel.
Backstory on How My Life Intersected With Meat Loaf’s: I was the most accidental of screenwriters. Writing exercises led me to this black art. I had lost my way on my second novel, The Boyfriend School, because I didn’t truly know my male protagonist. To understand him better, I decided to rewrite the entire book from his point of view. I was pricing carpal tunnel surgery when I happened to behold, for the first time ever, a screenplay. Here’s what I immediately loved about screenplays: acres and acres of glorious white space. Most of a script is a narrow tube of dialogue tunneling between occasional thin planks of stage direction along the lines of “Jebediah picks up the gun.” The magical part was that I didn’t have to decide what Jebediah was wearing or how his hair was cut. Nor did I have to spend days at the library researching whether the gun he picked up was a musket or an Uzi.
Since the prop, hair, and wardrobe departments would be doing all the heavy lifting, my first screenplay puffed up before my eyes like one of those tiny sponge capsules that transforms into a dinosaur with just a few drops of water. A surprisingly short time later, my exceedingly mediocre screenplay was made into an exceedingly mediocre movie. Released in 1990, it starred deathless thespians Steve Guttenberg and Shelley Long. Inexplicably, an entire decade’s worth of assignments in Hollywood followed. There was much to love: getting paid whether the movie was made or not; the minimal public accountability