Like a Fox...
Because so many readers have asked, I am presenting the full story behind the creation, production and destruction of Highball. Crank enthusiasts will remember that wonderful little mag. Truth be told, though I was credited as the Assistant Editor and Art Director, I was, in fact, the functioning Editor of that swell little pub. Jeff Fox, the chap listed on the masthead, didn't do shit to produce that magazine; rather, he sat in his parent-funded Los Angeles apartment and faxed his proofreading to the Publisher, a decent-enough guy named Steve Grasse, owner of Gyro, the Philadelphia ad agency which funded the project.
Background: Fox had a little zine called Die Evan Dando, Die. It got lots of press, because of the title. It was controversial, man. Don't be fooled--it had nothing to do with Evan Dando. But Fox tried to pretend that his little one-off was important. Fact is, Die Evan Dando, Die was a piece shit, a novelty act, a one-shot he was unable to sustain because it had no legs.
But he did get a lot of press. And that's how Steve Grasse found him and offered him the chance to develop a new independent magazine. Fox, a Crank fanatic, tracked me down and recruited me for the project. See, Fox was out of ideas and he has little creative instinct. (He's the kind of guy more comfortable as a headline-writer, someone who should be writing clever captions at a local newspaper.) And although I wasn't overly-impressed with his little zine or his writing in general, I did need money. Plus, I thought this job could lead to bigger things, like a full-time job at Gyro. (Which I was, indeed, offered.) So I agreed to work with him.
The original concept behind Highball--a once-and-for-all lampoon of the 1960's stag magazine craze--was mine, conjured in a drunken haze at a West Philadelphia bar near my apartment. See, the Cocktail Nation had reached its underground peak--the mainstream press and fashion were about to exploit it. The days of finding a swank polyester sweater vest at the local Salvation Army were over--they were starting to sell for $20 at the vintage shops. And the zine world had beaten the retro look to death (myself included), so it seemed like the right time and place for Highball.
Steve Grasse loved the idea and asked for an estimate. I came in low--about seven hundred bucks for the job of production manager and eight or so to act as Art Director (a job I inherited when our original choice was too busy.) That's fucking peanuts for the amount of work I expected to do, but I wanted the chance to produce this thing. I wanted to see Highball on the stands, a full-color glossy with my name on it.
Right away, we had problems. Fox is a fucking priss. A big pussy of a man, all "boo-hoo"s and "me-me"s when the publisher and I hit it off. I poured my heart into that publication, spending countless days and nights rewriting Fox's adolescent prose; I wrote photo captions when Fox proved incapable of the simplest editorial duties. I sat with the publisher while he bitched about Fox being such a "fucking weasel." And that's just exactly what he turned out to be: after designing the logo, initial layouts and agreeing to reprint Crank articles free of charge, I found out that Fox had fucked me over. He had negotiated ownership rights to the magazine behind my back.
So I pulled out, taking the logo, art direction and layouts with me. (They were, and remain, my intellectual property.) Naturally, he panicked and called me on the verge of tears, knowing full-well that Highball was dead without me, and agreed to give me a piece of his piece of the action. (Steve Grasse, rightly, refused to dip into his 60% holding.) I took a 17% interest in All Things Highball. That included anything bearing the Highball name and anything resulting from the original magazine. I've got a letter signed by the Publisher to that effect and a handshake agreement with Fox. (The letter is all that matters--Fox was not the majority owner and would have no legal ground to stand on in the event of a court battle.)
So with the ownership debacle behind us, I wrote my ass off. I edited Fox's crap. I picked through bad photos from volunteer photographers. I even wrote a screenplay for Highball: The Movie, which Grasse pitched to MTV and a few independent film companies, all of whom said it was too offensive for their liking (click here). Overall, Highball was a hit. A great magazine which simultaneously satirized and functioned as a stag magazine. As you know, I am quite fond of simultaneous satire and function, which is why Highball has that distinctive "Koyen flavor." Or so I'm told.
But with all the tension and problems, we decided to stop publishing. (Admittedly, the best thing, considering my hatred for Fox and his fear of me.) Fox was unable to secure the distribution he had promised, and Grasse lost too much money. I moved to New York (the ownership letter safely tucked away), and forgot about Highball.
But, two years later, Jeff Fox has tried to fuck me again.
In August, 1996, I came across Hollywood Highball, issue #2. (We had re-named Highball to Hollywood Highball soon after publication because we discovered that Highball was already in use.) It was the same old crap--a remake of the stag magazine. Bad titty pictures, the "Bachelor Girl" centerfold (my title), and some car tips. Basically, it was the magazine equivalent of a cigar bar--a passing trend that will appeal to dimwits and would-be's. Namely, the exact thing we had satirized in the previous issue. It was, basically, a remake of the original Highball, only without the subtlety and humor. It doesn't satirize and function--it has become a victim of its own parody. Fox, as I had known all along, is confirmed to be creatively bankrupt.
I've got news for Jeff Fox. I hope that Hollywood Highball sells a billion fucking copies, because I OWN 17% of his derivative little publication. And FUCK HIM if he thinks, for even a minute, that he will ever ride my coattails by stealing my work.
Click here for some sample scenes from Highball: The Movie. I'm printing them here to assert my ownership and copyright. I never bothered to register it with the Screenwriters' Guild; I just never got around to it. But if I know Steve Grasse, he's got a copy tucked away in a file somewhere with his name on it. I just don't want to see a preview for my movie one day while I'm out catching the latest flick at the cineplex.
For the litigious: Although it currently bears the "Highball" name, this screenplay is still my property and I can do whatever I feel like with it. I still own this screenplay 100%. Not 17%. No. One hundred percent. I never sold it as a Highball product, so it remains the author's property. Namely, me.
If anyone is interested in producing this fine, fine (though possibly dated) movie, please get in touch.
And there's always more where this came from.