One of the biggest things to hit Lincoln, Nebraska — while I was growing up — was the hit movie “Terms of Endearment.” That movie was shot in and around and under Lincoln and the local university, and many of its citizens, were the stars of the show.
Everyone in town wanted to work on the show or be in the show — except me.
I don’t know why, but for some reason I had no interest in the movie.
I was a serious film and theatre kid at the time, and I guess I felt I didn’t want anything to do with a mainstream movie written and directed by James L. Brooks — original producer of “The Simpsons” and creator of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Rhoda” and “Lou Grant” and “Taxi” — and I probably wasn’t interested in “Terms of Endearment” just because everyone else in town was.
Then Governor Bob Kerrey met and began dating, Debra Winger, the star of the movie — and he forever won the hearts of the lovesick and the miserably enchanted and eternally earned the nickname: “The Luv Guv” that sticks to him to this day like old chewing gum on the sole of his shoe.
After “Terms of Endearment” wrapped production, the film would eventually make its debut at the Stuart Theatre in Lincoln. The town was abuzz with the prospect of a limited “world premier.” I was in school and working in radio at the time.
I received a frantic call early one day from the morning man at the local radio station. He’d been looking for me all week. He wanted to know why I wasn’t around or answering my phone.
I told him I had no idea why I was unreachable — this was aeons before cellular phones and email — I had been busy studying and staying with friends.
The morning man told me — all atwitter and aflutter — that he’d scored a big exclusive for me with the “Terms of Endearment” world debut gig.
“Okay…” I wiped the sandman’s crust from the corner of my eye as I woke up and tried to hide my disdain for what was coming next.
“You’re driving Martin Jurow to the premier!” He hollered at me.
“Who is Martin Jurow? Who are you to ask that, my friend? He’s the biggest. He’s a co-producer for ‘Terms’ and ‘The Pink Panther’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’ Heard of him now, have you? He’s a Texan and you’ll be driving him and his wife. I set it up for you. Contacts, buddy, contacts. You’re in with the Jurows! Aren’t you excited?”
“Sure,” I feebly said. “How much does this pay?”
“Pay? You should be paying him for the privilege and the honor! And you should give me a tip for making this happen. Maybe he’ll read your screenplays. Maybe he’ll bring you out to Hollywood. You never know.” He blurted.
“I know. Okay, fine.” I hung up the phone with dread.
Later that day — as I remember it — I parked my silver, 1966 Plymouth Fury II outside the Villager Motor Inn. Today, that car is a classic. Back then, it was a rusted clunker with an elegant “Porsche” logo sticker I’d attached across the front windshield to make myself feel better about the quality of my ride.
I sauntered over to the Jurow’s room and knocked on the door. A tiny Texan answered dressed in a tan Western suit and cowboy boots. His wife had high hair, and a dead fox — biting its own tail — coyly circling her shoulders, and her mouth was a wet, red, slit. Her glimmery flower-print dress was severely clinging to her hard hips. Reading glasses dangled from a bejeweled chain around her neck.
“I’m your driver.” I offered my hand. Martin looked me up and down and barked at his wife to follow him. He didn’t shake my hand, but he did slam the car keys to a rented, massive, blue, Cadillac into my palm. That car was the size of schooner!
I slid into the driver’s side. The Jurows sat together in the back seat.
I fired up the beast. It was a monster of a roaring engine. I hadn’t been driving very many years and that Cadillac was only the second car I’d ever driven.
I carefully backed up and pulled onto “O” Street for the quick, four mile, arrow-straight, ride downtown to the theatre.
Unfortunately, the power brakes on the Caddy were ultra-sensitive, and every time I touched the brake pedal, the entire car would lurch forward and screech to a stop and propel the Jurows forward against the back of the front seat with a thump, and I would bump my head on the windshield. This was long before the days of mandatory seatbelt laws. During one particularly stiff stop, I knocked the reading glasses from Mrs. Jurow’s nose.
I won’t repeat the names I was called as I stifled and stopped our way to the premier — probably because I have regressively blocked out all sounds from that terrible memory — and when I would slow down to try to hit the green lights, Mr. Jurow would yell at me to speed up because we were late.
I would then speed up the Caddy — the car also had an ultra-sensitive gas pedal — and then we’d hit a red light and we’d stop, and the Jurows would almost be tossed over the front seat and into my lap as my nose crushed into the windshield.
I think I knocked the Jurows out of their seats at least ten times during that ten minute drive and I still feel terrible about it today. If I’d had time to, perhaps, practice with the Caddy before I picked them up, I know I would’ve done a much smoother driving job.
I pulled in front of the theatre — and as the Jurows prepared to exit onto the red carpet and into the dancing klieg lights — Martin scowled at me and told me to park the car around the block after I dropped them off and to leave the keys in the visor. He would drive himself back to the hotel.
“Do you know the way?” I stammered.
“One turn, then drive straight.” He barked.
I nodded, and took my punishment, as the Jurows exited the car to a screaming crowd.
I parked the Caddy as instructed and, with the cuff of my sleeve, I wiped my greasy facial impressions from the windshield, and walked back to the theatre to watch the premier from the back of the balcony.
“Terms of Endearment” was an excellent movie and a smashing success in every way — James L. Brooks became one of seven people in the world to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay for a single movie — and the City of Lincoln was done proud in so many ethereal memeings that linger yet today.
After the movie was over, I hopped on a city bus to retrieve my Plymouth Fury II parked at the Villager Motor Inn.
During the long drive back home, I didn’t once bang my head on the windshield.
Too bad they had to be so rude. So often, the things that get presented to people as “you should be paying us for letting you do this” are a sucker’s bet — you see ads online requesting stories in exchange for not payment, nor copies — but the tremendous exposure it will get you.
Yes, the whole day was bizzaro and brutal. There was no expectation of anything on my end — I just hoped to make it through the day — but from the first moment with them, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. There was so much tension before the car even started. I guess that’s the power of money and expectation, and I’m sure they were used to professional drivers, and not someone inexperienced like me.