In early 1986, I made plans to have lunch with my father. I drove to his film production office in Beverly Hills and met his new receptionist, a young Julia Roberts-lookalike with large brown eyes, wavy hair and an effervescent smile.
“You must be Loren,” she said rising from her chair. She stepped forward and gave me a hug. This threw me off guard.
“Uh, yes,” I said. “I’m sorry, who are you?”
“Tracey. Your dad didn’t mention me?”
My father entered the foyer, a nervous smile on his face. I gave him a quizzical look.
“So you’ve met Tracey,” he said. “Isn’t she great?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said unsure what was happening.
“She’s our new associate producer. She’ll be helping on Act of Piracy.”
He was referring to his latest movie scheduled to be filmed that summer in Greece.
“Oh,” I said. “So you’re a filmmaker?”
“It’s in my blood,” she replied winking at my dad and then squeezing his hand. He giggled like a schoolboy. This stirred my hackles. I tried locking eyes with her. She looked away, unable to hold my gaze.
“I invited Tracey to join us for lunch,” my dad said.
“Actually, I have some things I need to talk about in private. Nothing personal, Tracey.”
“No problem,” she said. She scowled then quickly smiled to cover it up. This wouldn’t be the last time I triggered her anger.
My father and I drove to Kate Mantilini’s on Wilshire. He ordered Chablis. I settled for a Coke. “So what do you need to talk about,” he asked.
“Who is she, dad?”
“Are you having an affair?”
He laughed. “Of course, not. What do you think of her?”
“She comes on kind of strong. Where’d you meet her?”
“She said we met me at a holiday party.”
“Is that true?”
“I don’t remember. I meet a lot of people. Guess who her father is.”
“Al Pacino. He doesn’t acknowledge her publicly but he sends her money. You think she looks like him?”
“Not a lick,” I said. “Who’s her mom?”
“An actress from New York. Unknown.”
“Why’d you make her a co-producer?”
“With her connections she could help us get financing. Can you imagine if Pacino backed our film?”
“You said he doesn’t acknowledge her.”
“Not yet. Tracey said it’s only a matter of time.”
Over the next few weeks, Tracey ensconced herself in my father’s life. She accompanied him to lunches, dinners, Academy screenings and meetings with potential backers. When my parents hosted a Passover Seder in April, I arrived to find Tracey helping my mom in the kitchen. My mom showed no traces of jealousy. Like everyone else, she was caught in Tracey’s gravitational pull.
I sat next to Tracey at the table. I asked if this was her first Seder. She said she’d once attended Passover at Harvey Keitel’s home in New York with her father. This surprised me.
“So you and your dad are close?”
“Not really,” she said. “He told everyone I was his girlfriend.”
She laughed, placing her hand on mine like we were old friends. She asked if I had a girlfriend.
“We’re going through some stuff. That’s why she’s not here.”
“If you ever need to talk about it I’m available,” she said. “I know a thing or two about breakups.” She locked eyes with me suggestively though I wasn’t sure what she was suggesting.
During the reciting of the Ten Plagues, Tracey brushed her leg against mine. I pulled it away. My Grandpa Al asked her where she lived. She said she was staying with friends until she found an apartment. “You can live with me,” Al said. “As long as the old battle-axe doesn’t mind.” He pointed to my Grandma Stella. “Albert,” Stella objected. Everyone laughed.
A week later, my father told me Tracey moved into my grandparents’ garage in Hancock Park. Not Al & Stella from the Seder, but my paternal grandparents. They were in their 80s, old-school Europeans who’d lost family in the Holocaust. They rarely left home insulating themselves from the modern world. The idea of them interacting with Tracey made me nervous.
“You can’t have Tracey living with Grandma Miriam and Grandpa Sam.”
“You don’t know anything about her.”
“She needs a place to live and your grandparents could use the company. Don’t be a nebbish.”
I did a little digging. I called CAA in New York, the agency representing Al Pacino. I asked to speak with his agent regarding “a matter of great importance.” They refused to patch me through but took a message. I knew I wouldn’t hear back.
I drove to the Beverly Hills Library and dug up articles on Pacino. He was unmarried and there was no mention of a daughter. While leaving the library, I bumped into an old college friend Maurice who was running his own production company. I told him about my situation and asked for advice. He said he knew everyone at CAA including Pacino’s agent. We traded numbers and he said he’d get back to me if he learned anything.
The following weekend I broke my arm playing basketball. I came home from the hospital with a cast and a bottle of codeine. I popped two pills and fell asleep. A few hours later, the bedroom door opened and I heard footsteps walk across the floor. I felt someone lie down next to me and put an arm around my chest. I opened my eyes, groggy, expecting to see my girlfriend. It was Tracey.
“Hey,” she said. She smiled, her lips painted crimson, her eyes shaded blue. It took me a moment to get my bearings.
“What are you doing here?”
“Your roommate let me in.”
“No, I mean how’d you get my address?”
“Your father. He said you had a little accident.”
I rose from bed, wobbly, in my underwear and a ratty t-shirt. I threw on a pair of sweatpants.
“I brought you matzo ball soup from Canter’s. Jewish penicillin.”
“Thanks,” I said.
We walked to the breakfast nook and ate soup together. She asked why my girlfriend wasn’t with me.
“I haven’t told her yet.”
“She’s not the caregiving type.”
“You deserve better.”
She smiled. I softened. I told her about my relationship problems, screenwriting dreams and insecurities about my future.
“At least you have a father who loves and accepts you,” she said. “My dad doesn’t even admit I exist.”
“That’s rough,” I said. “How about your mom?”
“She’s a mess. All she does is watch TV and drink wine all day. And insult me, of course.”
My heart opened to her. We made popcorn and watched Annie Hall in my bedroom. She said Diane Keaton was the only woman her father ever loved. Halfway through the movie, I fell asleep. When I woke, Tracey was gone. So was my bottle of codeine. She left a note with her phone number and a smiley heart face.
A few days later, I heard from my friend Maurice. He said he’d spoken with CAA and that I should expect a call from them soon. He said they were “familiar” with Tracey.
“What does that mean,” I asked.
“Pacino probably doesn’t want people knowing he has an illegitimate daughter.”
“Or maybe she’s not his daughter,” I said.
“Either way, the optics aren’t great.”
When I next saw Tracey, she had her own office cubicle with her name on the door. She was jubilant. We walked to a cafe down the street.
“Your dad gave me a small role in the movie,” she said.
“That’s great,” I said, hiding my surprise. “I didn’t know you were an actor.”
“Why do you think I came to Hollywood?”
“I thought you wanted to be behind the camera.”
“I want to do it all.”
We entered the cafe and sat near the window. A young blonde and older man sat near us. Tracey gestured toward her.
“You think she’s pretty,” she asked.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Prettier than me?”
“Don’t ask me that, Tracey. I have a girlfriend.”
“Just tell me. You think I’m pretty?”
She leaned forward and kissed my cheek. We ordered cappuccinos. She fidgeted, her eyes darting around the room.
“Have you acted before,” I asked.
“Small roles, nothing memorable.”
“Do you use your father’s last name?”
“I go by Tracey James. That’s his middle name.”
“You have an agent?”
“You should call CAA. Isn’t that your dad’s agency? I have an old friend who works there.”
This was a lie. I wanted to see how she’d react. She remained unruffled, her smile intact.
“I don’t want people saying I made it because of my father. Nepotism sucks. You should know about that.”
This was a brilliant counter punch. If not for my father, I wouldn’t have several film credits under my belt. We returned to the office and my father showed us the latest Variety. He’d placed a blurb announcing her promotion to Associate Producer. He was more vested in her each day.
I visited my paternal grandparents. After the guilt for not having seen them in awhile, I sat for tea with my Grandma Miriam. I asked her about Tracey and how it felt having someone live in their garage.
“She watches television with us. She says she’s going to be a big movie star. Is this true?”
“Maybe,” I said. “Has she asked you for anything?”
“She likes fresh squeezed orange juice.”
“How about money?”
“Has she had visitors?”
“I don’t think so.”
“So you don’t mind her living here?”
“I don’t understand why she’s living here.”
“What did my father say?”
“He said it will only be for a short time, until his movie gets made.”
I said goodbye and asked my grandma to call if anything seemed strange. Before leaving, I walked to the garage. I peered through the window but it was too dirty to see inside. As I was leaving, Tracey strolled up the driveway. She scowled upon seeing me.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m visiting my grandparents.”
“Because they’re my grandparents.”
“Your grandma said you never visit. What are you really doing here?”
“You’re being paranoid, Tracey.”
“Don’t ruin this for me.” She thrust her finger into my chest and disappeared into the garage.
That night, my father called. He was angry. Tracey had phoned him in tears after our encounter. He told me to stop making aspersions about her integrity. She’d become a valuable part of his company and already helped him land a new investor. I said I was merely watching his back, making sure she was legit. He accused me of jealousy and hung up.
The following Friday night, my father called in a panic. My grandma had phoned him to say there was a fire. He asked me to rush over since I lived close. When I arrived, the street was filled with fire engines and onlookers. The house was intact but the garage was a smoking ruin. Firemen doused what remained of the structure with water. My grandparents were in the front yard, in their pajamas, thoroughly confused. I hugged them and asked what happened. They didn’t know. The fire chief said a blaze started in the garage but was extinguished before it reached the main house. He wanted to know how many people lived back there. I told him just one, a woman. I asked if she was okay. He pointed to a nearby ambulance and said she was inside. I hurried over.
Tracey sat on a gurney in the ambulance. She was in her nightgown, an oxygen mask on her face. A paramedic monitored her vitals.
I asked her if she was okay. She stared at me, eyes wide, a deer in the headlights.
“What happened,” I asked.
She was in shock. I reach out my hand. She grabbed it. The paramedic said she’d inhaled smoke and they were taking her to Cedars Sinai Hospital for monitoring. Just before the doors closed, she took off her mask and asked, “Why is this happening to me?”
When we later read the fire report, it concluded the blaze was likely caused by a votive candle igniting a curtain. Tracey was awoken by the flames and ran into the street screaming. A neighbor called 911 and the fire crew arrived in minutes. They entered the main house and carried my grandparents to safety. Both my grandparents were unhurt, though obviously shaken.
In the morning, I called the hospital and asked to check on Tracey James. They had no record of her name. I inquired about the woman who’d been admitted for smoke inhalation from a house fire. One patient fit the description. They wouldn’t tell me the name she was using but said she’d been released.
On Monday, Tracey didn’t come into work. She didn’t show on Tuesday or Wednesday either. We were all worried. On Thursday, I received a call from CAA in New York. An assistant filled me in. “Al Pacino does not have a daughter and he’s never met this woman. We’ve known about her for months. She’s used Mr. Pacino’s name to steal money from several film producers. We’ve filed complaints with the Los Angeles Police Department. We advise you to do the same.”
When I told my father, his face turned ashen and he started shaking. I said we should contact the police. He shook his head no. He wanted to talk to her first, to hear her side of the story.
“There’s nothing to talk about, dad. She’s a con artist.”
“I don’t believe it,” he said.
It took several weeks for him to see the light. He finally removed Tracey’s name from the office door. When people asked about her, he said he’d had to let her go. I was hoping he’d thank me for looking out for him. He was too embarrassed and couldn’t admit he’d been duped.
We never saw or heard from Tracey again.