And the Award Goes To…
Jack Dempsey was the last of the great actors of 2026. His dashing smile and trademark Kung-Fu made him the action hero other actors wanted to be for more than a decade. His star as an action hero finally lost its luster in the last series of movies he made, Planet Raiders III: The Unforsaken. The movie, while grossing well, barely covered the production costs, and the injuries incurred by Jack’s drinking problem caused his agent and the company Screen Brothers to finally drop his contact.
“We love you, Jack, but we’re gonna have to let you go. There is a new wind blowing and it’s AI-CGI,” his agent Florence Butterman told him over the vidcam. He was sitting in his Malibu home drinking his morning Mai Tai and nursing yesterday’s hangover.
“You are not serious. That stuff they do with computers and factors?” Demsey had a bit of a slur going already. Florence just grimaced and tried to ignore it. “Damn fake actors…”
“They are not fake actors. They are based on real people who used to be actors. Many of the screen tests have been quite favorable and several hundred movies were released straight to the ‘Net from Nollywood and Ballywood. If we want to keep up we have to do our part to stay with the times. Those Nigerians are eating our lunch in southern Africa and they have already expanded into the South American markets. I’m sorry, Jack, the margins are just too tight nowadays for living actors.” Florence looked down at her watch.
“What, you got someplace to be? You too busy for the man who made you rich? Everything you have in that house, I bought you, Florence. How can you be thinking about turning your back on me? What about helping me out? Can you farm me out to one of your friends over at Light Industrial Films? I heard through the ‘vine they are still planning on making movies with real actors.” Jack downed the rest of his drink and nodded to his butler to bring him another one. The butler winced and then moved on reluctantly to bring another. There was, however, no reason to rush.
“Look, Jack, I am not blowing you off. I will be putting in a word for you, but I would not get my hopes up with Light Industrial Films. They are still going to be making movies with actors, but they are going to be working in the mountains of Tibet, telling the stories of the remaining survivors of the Great Purge of Tibet in 2016. That’s going to be done on location with local actors. I might be able to get you a role on the Chinese side as a consultant or as a white who worked as a servant to the Chinese.”
“A slave? That is the best hope you can give me? A slave in a Chinese melodrama? You got to be kidding me. You know what, Florence? I don’t want your goddamn pity. I don’t need you. I’m Jack fucking Dempsey, the best thing to happen to Hollywood since Clint Eastwood. I’ll be all right.” Jack stood up and pointed at the monitor. “When I make my comeback, you remember it was me who told you it would happen.”
Having stood up too quickly after having twelve Mai Tais before breakfast, Jack Dempsey fell to the floor unconscious. Florence Butterman shook her head, watched the butler throw back the Mai Tai and signed off. She did not think about Jack Dempsey again until the Academy Awards mentioned his name seven years later.
“And the nominations for Best Actor in a Science Fiction Film are: Kren Davis in Sundiver’s Six, Kazuo Koke in Inner Space, and Jack Dempsey in Planet Raiders: Neutron Star. No, no, folks, I’m just kidding. You know scifi hasn’t paid an actor in years. The award will go to the company that has created the most awesome representation of these amazing actors in their AI-CGI movies created completely on computer. I mean, can anyone remember the last time anyone saw that drunken bum, Jack Dempsey?”
The theater explodes in laughter, that long mean laughter when you are talking about someone behind his back. The laughter that comes from an uncomfortable position that you know you might find yourself in, akin to being in the bathroom without toilet paper. The doors fly open from the side of the stage and Jack Dempsey staggers onto the stage. A security guard with a swollen eye tries to stop him and is returned back stage with a sound kick.
“How’s that?” was picked up from the mikes all over the stage. “Real enough for you? You might want to put some ice on that. So how is everybody? Go on, open that envelope. No, let me.” Jack snatches the envelope from the comedian who stands shocked and quiet on the stage.
“The Award for Best Actor in a Science Fiction Film goes to… Factor Jack Dempsey. Factor Jack Dempsey can’t be here to get his award, cause he was made on a damn computer, so Jack Dempsey is going to take that award for him.” The young woman who carried out the statuette hands it to Jack and scurries off the stage.
The director continues to move the cameras around and film everything as if this was expected. “Since I am here to take my award from my factor, yes, FAKE ACTOR, I think I should say a few words. All you people sitting out there laughing at me, thinking you are better than me won’t have to worry about this because you can really act. You can kiss my ass.” A collective gasp sweeps the room.
Jack reaches into his jacket and pulls out a flask, takes a hit and continues. “Once upon a time, I was just like you, thought I was something, on the top of my game and nothing could ever touch me. I had a great time, spent my money, partied all day and all night. I made twenty movies in my career and most sucked. I know that, now. I watched them when I was living in the streets, sitting outside of Electronic Huts playing my movies while I panhandled.”
Jack looks down and pauses for a second. “I realized I got paid because it was what people wanted to see, not because I was any good. I got ahead of myself and didn’t pay attention when I needed to. I did not see the world changing around me. I signed contracts without reading them. And all of you did too. Because if you hadn’t, you would not be sitting here today.”
Three security guards came to the edge of the stage and hesitantly began to make their approach. None of them were in a hurry to tackle Jack Dempsey because while he may have been an actor, he did his own martial arts movies, and those were not stunts. Many a stunt double went to the hospital, and the tabloids loved talking about it. He waved at them and made the sign for two minutes, and they retreated to the edge of the stage.
“I just wanted to say to Florence Butterman, I am sorry I didn’t listen to you when you told me to read everything. You told me that the industry would take advantage of my stupidity. You see, I don’t have anyone to blame about Factor Jack Dempsey. In my contracts, I made it possible for him to exist. In my contracts, I signed away my likeness to be used in any kind of AI-CGI based movie for the next twenty years. And they do not have to pay me anything because I did not read the contract well enough.” His voice was bitter and sharp.
“But the best part is that I had time on my hands and more than a few favors. I know that almost none of you read your contracts, either. So when you lose your mind, or piss someone off, or when they get tired of you getting old or weak or crotchety, they will replace you with a factor, too. So, you guys enjoy your awards. One day there won’t be anyone in the theater to accept one, unless they can teach a computer to walk, too. Y’all have a good night. Come on, boys, I haven’t got all night.”
It took twenty security guards before Jack Dempsey was dragged off stage. The Academy Awards had never had higher numbers.
And the Award Goes To… © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved
This story appears in Hayward’s Reach, an anthology of short stories, published in November 2011.
Don “The Dragon” Wilson was not an inspiration for this story directly. I had written the story before I discovered his history and it seemed to be a perfect match for my story. He has a great history as an actor and fighter but most people can’t remember a single movie he appears in, even though those movies themselves are famous.