Back in the 80s, I was a struggling young screenwriter willing to take any gig I could find. My father, a film producer, told me about a woman he’d met who needed help writing a screenplay. She was a Holocaust survivor who’d rebuilt her life in America. He gave me the woman’s number and I called her.
Her name was Anna. She was from Romania and she’d been imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp as a teenager. Both her parents were killed in the camps. She immigrated to the United States in the early 50’s, married another survivor and moved to Los Angeles. She told me she was working on a story inspired by her experiences. “It’s a love story,” she said. “About how love conquers all.”
As a script reader, I’d encountered several concentration camp screenplays. All were heavy and depressing and filled with requisite scenes of suffering, cruelty and depravity. I wasn’t crazy about working on a Holocaust script but the thought of a love-story angle was intriguing. I was also broke and needed work.
I met Anna at her home in Bel-Air. It was a one-story house surrounded by oak and magnolia trees and bordered by a steep hill in back. I parked in a circular driveway behind a battered Mercedes. I knocked on the front door and was greeted by a young Latino man in khakis and a t-shirt.
“I’m here to see Anna,” I said.
“You the writer guy?”
“Come in. I’m Salvador. I live in the guest house in back.”
The house was dark with hardwood floors, oriental carpets and furniture covered in plastic. The place smelled musty like an ancient tomb. Salvador led me through the living room into the great room. He pointed to a leather couch next to a wooden desk with a carved flower motif.
“Have a seat,” he said. “The Mrs. will be down soon.”
The room was large with bookcases and a credenza in the corner. One wall was adorned with fanciful paintings of frogs. There was a frog in a cowboy hat, a frog with angel wings, a frog playing a banjo and a frog dressed in Renaissance clothing.
Anna entered. She was in her 60’s and thin wearing heavy perfume and dark lipstick as if about to go on a date. She wore a blue skirt and blouse, a thick pearl…