I mention this because I actually sort of cross paths with Abramoff about 30 years ago. That was when he was producing some movies in Hollywood. In 1989, a friend of mine, Philippa Salisbury (who I wrote about here) had been in contact with him for some inexplicable reason -- but then, that was Philippa who was often in contact with totally-unexpected people for some inexplicable reason. It was about a project, Three Men in Malacca, and she needed a treatment based on a one-page idea Abramoff had. (A treatment is basically a short story version of a movie, before developing the actual screenplay.)
I wrote a 20-page treatment that had to do with old army buddies going back to Malaysia where they'd fought in World War II and got involved with an adventure about a buried treasure. (Oddly, as I think about it, this is somewhat the premise of the new Netflix movie from Spike Lee, Da Five Bloods, which is quite good. I'm not even remotely suggesting any overlap -- the movies are totally different -- just noting the whimsy of similarities as I tell this tale.) I remember the subtext I added to the plot -- making it a bit of an twist of The Wizard of Oz, including that one of the old buddies had been a coward during the war, another was somewhat cold and imperious, and with the passing of years the third had become a bit feeble-minded, as they headed off onto their journey.
I was paid next to nothing for it. (Not hyperbole -- i could say it was three figures, which is true, but that would be giving it visions of grandeur because it had a kinship so close to two figures that if it got drunk and toppled over, there stood a good chance of it landing in that district...) This was on the hope that if it moved forward I'd get to write the screenplay. It was a foolish thought, but it was earlier in my writing career days where such foolish, naive thoughts take residence, though not so early that I should have known better how foolhardy it was. To be clear, it wasn't foolish so much because I was paid so little, but that I didn't own the property, so if nothing happened with the project, I couldn't ever do anything with it. And nothing happened with the project.
And I liked the story a lot. It was really a fun adventure that had other layers to it, along with a family relationship mixed in. So, knowing that the project was pretty much dead, I wrote to the company that developed it and asked -- since the project was going nowhere and was based on a one-paragraph idea -- if I could return what I had been paid and perhaps get or buy the rights to it for a reasonable fee. And the head of that company I wrote to was...Jack Abramoff.
I eventually received a letter back. And he said, no. In fairness to him, it was a very polite correspondence, and he had every right to say no. And certainly, maybe some day he could develop it again. I just didn't think he ever would -- that rarely happens in Hollywood. Projects based on just a one-page idea that die are generally put in the bin and buried, and people move on to something new and fresh. And indeed, in the 30 years that have passed since then, not only has nothing come of the project since that letter, but Abramoff moved from Hollywood into political lobbying. And has been to prison. Twice.
That was my only annoyance at the letter. He had every right to say no, and was polite -- but I was certain the project would die, and I liked it so much and would have loved to pursue it. So be it. In the end, I'm at my desk typing...and he's in prison.
And here below with the signature from Page 2 is the evidence. A word that Jack Abramoff has probably grown to loathe...