Don't believe what you read about Hollywood. From the recent stories in the newspapers and magazines, everbody in show business is into cocaine. It's not true. They're into Mace. For those who don't follow self-defense, Mace is a gas that can paralyze an attacker for as long as three hours.
To hear people out in Los Angeles tell it, southern California is now more dangerous than El Salvador, and no one knows when he or she is going to be assaulted.
On my visit there last week, all the table conversation had to do with burglar alarm systems, private police services, but mostly Mace.
There are hundreds of classes being held all over town in the use of the gas, and you have to go to school for 2 1/2 hours before you can be licensed to carry a Mace can in your handbag or your pants pocket.
I didn't realize how nervous everyone was until I went to visit a producer friend of mine named Alain Bernheim at MGM Studios.
His secretary asked suspiciously, "Do you have an appointment?"
I said, "No," and she took a can out of her desk and gave me two squirts in the face. I hit the floor for an hour and a half. When Bernheim finally revived me, he apologized. "I'm sorry," he said. "She's new on the job. She's supposed to use a karate blow to your neck first."
He took me to lunch in the studio commissary.
The headwaiter asked us if we had a reservation and Bernheim said, "No, I forgot to call."
The headwaiter whistled twice, and two Doberman pinschers leaped out of the kitchen and went for our throats. Fortunately Billy Wilder, the director, speaks German; he called them off and let us sit at his table.
"Things are really tough out here," I said.
"You have to be on your toes," Walter Matthau said. "Last week they let in a guy without a reservation and he mugged two stunt men right in front of the salad bar."
Jack Lemmon came over to the table, and I got up to shake hands with him. Two private security guards jumped me from behind and wrestled me to the floor.
"It's okay, boys, he's a friend," Jack said. "But nice work anyway."
Bernheim excused himself to call his house to find out if everything was safe, and then came back to the table. "Marge Maced the grocery delivery boy by mistake and had to take him to the hospital."
"How many squirts?" Matthau asked.
"We always give our grocery boy three," he said. "Everyone in the neighborhood squirts him when he comes to the back door, and now two shots from the can doesn't even faze him."
After lunch, I decided to go shopping in Beverly Hills. I went to a very fancy store on Rodeo Drive.
"Can I help you?" a salesman asked.
"I'm just looking," I said.
He took out his can of Mace and was about to let me have it.
"Wait," I cried, "I have a credit card."
He took the card and said, "It better be good or you're a dead duck."
I left the store as fast as I could and went back to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. They were holding a Mace class in the ballroom and I signed up for the course. In 2 1/2 hours I had my own Mace can. I went upstairs and waited patiently. At 5 the knock came on the door.
"Who is it?" I said.
"It's me, honey," my wife said.
I put the chain on the door and opened it two inches and went, "Squirt, squirt, squirt."
When she finally woke up and asked me why I did it, I told her, "In L.A., it's every man for himself."