Paul harbors some odd theories about life. His favorite is known as “The Big Lie Theory” which boils down to this: The bigger the lie the more likely people are to believe it.
Paul would wax enthusiastic about this concept when discussing potential true stories we could adapt into screenplays. I recall a phony gold rush story – a huge fraud originating in Canada – that he has been wanting to tell for years.
Con artistry is something Paul admires and he’s always been awfully good at it. He would use “the big lie” to play tricks on people. For example, there was a fellow we’ll call Dave, a writer who was instrumental in helping Paul to get his start in Hollywood. Dave comes from an old Hollywood family. He is kind, genial and trusting and I have been proud to call him my friend for over 30 years. He is one of those rare loyal friends whom Paul later exchanged for more influential contacts.
Around 1980, Paul and Dave shared a small office in Studio City. One day, rather than work (writers will do anything to avoid writing) Paul tested his favorite theory on Dave. Dave had an older BMW that he was fond of, and he knew a bit about mechanics having worked on cars in the past, but Paul managed to so thoroughly convince Dave that “all cars have a hidden fifth wheel which only descends once the car is in motion” that, when I arrived to visit them that day, Paul actually had Dave lying on the pavement peering under his BMW searching for this phantom fifth wheel. They worked together for years and this became a game for Paul. He got a kick out of fooling people, and Dave was a favorite target. It made Dave feel stupid. Paul kept at Dave with one of these so-called “practical jokes” for days, even though the subject matter clearly upset Dave. Paul liked to manipulate Dave into going along with business decisions and eroding his confidence in himself may have been helpful in that.
To this day, Dave and I both smile at the memory of the “the fifth wheel” in spite of what we know. And therein lies the insidious ingredient that separates the truly great liar from the garden variety. Paul’s immense talent for humor, his winning, boyish charm, allowed him to get away with bigger and bigger lies – unchallenged – all of his life. And when times were tough and he needed a break, or when he could not get what he wanted any other way, he honed this skill into a weapon. Business associates, family members, wives – anyone who proved inconvenient was discredited with lies so wild that no listener would believe that anyone would distort the truth so infamously. Certainly not someone so eloquent, so apparently humble, with such famous awards on his mantel. Certainly not someone who helped little orphans in Haiti.
I don’t think Paul finds it easy to lie like that and live with himself. What was once a devilishly funny pastime is now a compulsion which, sadly, has robbed him of all charm and humor. Looking at his dark, unhappy face, I see how much what he has become weighs on him and I wish I could lift the weight.
I have watched Paul work so hard over the years to convince himself that his lies are true that he now seems to have descended into a perpetual state of delusion. But that’s another post for another day.