I was brought back to Hollywood to write a TV special for Marlo Thomas. She housed me in the Beverly Hilton Hotel with an IBM Selectric, the greatest of all typewriters. Inspired by the fortune she was paying me, the fact that my crush Lily Tomlin was to be her co-star, and by my own unpleasant experiences with friends since I got famous, I whipped out a playlet about two roommates whose relationship changes when one of them becomes a star. It took me an hour, and would have taken less if the typewriter ribbon hadn’t run out. The hotel was terribly embarrassed that it couldn’t supply one on Sunday. I called Marlo and told her that “the pages” (as they call scripts in TV) wouldn’t be ready until the next day. She said, “Oh, don’t worry. I have several other writers writing things for me in that hotel. They must have ribbons.” She called back and sent me up to a suite occupied by Elaine May, the genius who wrote A NEW LEAF. We two New Yorkers dished the silly Hollywood people for a while, and then she gave me what I needed and we returned to working for their silly money.
Marlo was astonished that I’d turned out the work in a day. She insisted I stay my contracted month for “rewrites.” As it turned out, none were needed, but I spent a lot of time at her Brentwood mansion while she asked her agent, her manager, her chauffeur, and her cook what they thought of the script.
Dave Geffen, at that time her lover and the CEO of Warner Brothers, was camped in her house with a cold. On the day he felt well enough to come downstairs, this movie mogul wore himself out trying to impress a mere ratty writer. “You know how important I am?” he bellowed. “I get to cast the lead role in THE EXORCIST II, the most-coveted lead role of this decade. You don’t believe me?” I quite believed him and only wanted him to quit shouting, but he went on, “I’ll prove it to you! I’m gonna pick up this phone right now and give that role to—to–Jon Voight!” Though clearly he had improvised the choice, he determinedly began to dial. Marlo winked at me and said quietly, “Jon Voight? As a minister?” Geffen broke out in a sweat, slammed the phone down, and asked, “You don’t think so?” Making faces for my benefit, Marlo mused, “Oh, I don’t know. Don’t you think more maybe, oh,…Richard Burton?” Geffen slapped his thigh. “Of course!” he exclaimed, “Richard Burton is the ideal choice.” And in front of me, he called Burton’s agent, and two days later Burton was in Hollywood in a beautiful sweater for a press conference alongside Max Von Sydow. I complimented Marlo for her acuity about the casting. She replied, “Oh, Bob, I don’t care who plays in THE EXORCIST II. Nobody really cares. I just wanted you to see how things get done.”