I finally meet Zack Groove in 1983.
I am eighteen years old.
I have come here from Texas to find Julia, of course, but I find Zack instead.
I find him living in an apartment above the Lyric Theater on 42nd Street, which he now owns. He is a very rich man in New York City, but not because the Julia Starchild series has been successful. No, not at all. In fact, the last one, great as it was, didn’t make much money. It’s was a box office disaster, really. Which is ironic because it’s the best one in the series. In the end, it cost 11 million to make—that’s including all the SENSURROUND shenanigans. It only made nine mil worldwide. I’m not sure why that happened. And at first I don’t understand why Zack Groove is rich enough to own a movie theater, along with five high rise buildings and a mansion in Los Angeles, which he hasn’t had the heart to sell, even though he will never set foot in it (or in California) ever again. I would not have wanted to know why he is so rich now.
When I track him down at the Lyric, he tells me.
He tells me the whole story that I have told you—all of it and more—and I sit and listen to him speak, as if he is some great cosmic god, revealing the secrets behind the creation of an entire universe. I feel like a child again. Maybe I was a child all along.
And here is what he tells me:
. . .
Julia Starr is a troubled and closed-off little girl. She is homely and unloved as a child, beaten by her mother and father, made to feel so inadequate in a poor home filled with the terrible stench of failure and the afterburn of cheap whiskey. That’s in the early 60s. At age 13, Julia wants to be an actress, like the great starlets she admires in all the old movies—Lauren Bacall, Kathleen Hepburn. elegant, storied, beautiful ladies who made their own way in life and forged their own legacies in the stone tablets of Hollywood history. When Julia becomes 17, she realizes how beautiful she actually is. A few years after that—in her junior year of high school—she runs away from home, which is the small town of Providence, California. It turns out LA is only a hitchhike away, just down the interstate, and she lands there and every head turns. She is darkly gorgeous and her body smacks of sex, developed and streamlined and creamy, now that she is 19 and finally a woman. It is 1972. Everything is so modern. Cars are flashier, movies are more sophisticated. She gets invited into clubs which sparkle with all the disco flash of a million gaudy galaxies. She meets many people, all of whom are just as gaudy. She starts hanging out with very rich dudes. Some of them are handsome. They all want to buy her things, treat her right, take care of everything for her. None of this makes her happy. She knows she is only beautiful and that is just a gift given by her mother and father—whom she will never forgive for beating her so ruthlessly. She starts to realize that her mother was jealous of her daughter’s beauty. And that beauty shames Julia now—because it’s the only thing that makes everyone love her. This is the strange curse that all beautiful people must live with. She hardly does. It makes her cry when she is making love. She wants to be a movie star on her own real talent—but she has none, because she’s never worked a day in her life. At anything. She’s only run from place to place, trying to escape bad things. She never even finished high school. But that’s okay because one day at the Playboy mansion, someone snaps some photos of her and she is fast-tracked as a centerfold girl. This blows her mind. This means she has to bear it all. But why not? What does it matter now? Her soul is already compromised. She tries to make art from it. She puts every ounce of her into the photos they take—which appear in the June 1973 issue.
She is living at the mansion still, when Zack calls her.
He is an excited, eager young man, who says he has a plan to save the universe—literally. And he needs her to do it. He is elegant in his description of the film he wants to make. His words are the kind of poetry she wants to make one day. She is intrigued and fascinated. She agrees to do his film. By this time, she has had sex with more than three dozen men, four dozen women, and there are seven marriage proposals on the table. She wants none of it. She has not earned any of it. She feels like a fraud. But maybe—just maybe—this crazy kid’s space movie will make her feel worth something at last.
On the set of Julia Starchild in New York, she is enchanted anew.
Zack Groove is handsome and crazy.
His ideas about love and death and torture and passion are visionary.
That’s what she thinks anyway.
She allows herself to be seduced by him as they make the film—she wants to believe that all the things he’s said are true. She finds out about his heroin habit a week after she discovers she’s pregnant. Zack is a different man after that. He only seems to care about his film. She will not kill the baby like he suggests. He cries and apologizes for even thinking that, but it’s a deal-breaker. Zack is not her Prince Charming. He never will be. After the shoot is done she moves back to Cali and has the baby and the generous souls at Playboy allow her to stay with them until she can get on her feet. The child is gorgeous and special. A baby boy. She will never allow him to be raised by a drug addict and a crazy man. She goes in search of a father.
This torments her like nothing you can imagine.
That she takes Zack’s son and makes him someone else’s son.
She will explain this to Zack years later, when all is said and done.
She will explain it in the suicide note she leaves behind on the night of her death.
But that’s for later, of course.
Right now, Julia accepts the highest bid from her many suitors and becomes the wife of a bulletproof oil billionaire living in LA. It destroys what’s left of her soul to do this—but the man is kind and sweet and treats her very well. He makes things happen for her by throwing his money around. He even makes Zack’s next two movies happen—with her as the star. Her husband is not handsome, but he never raises a hand to her in anger, and their son is raised in luxury. She couldn’t care less about handsome anyway. It’s not any of that stuff that matters at the end of the day. Her unhandsome husband claims the child for his own, which breaks her heart all over because she knows it breaks Zack’s heart all over—but what can you do? She can’t stop any of it. She is only pretty.
When Julia 3 is released—a towering cinematic abortion she is ashamed of being in and which makes her cry to see—her unhandsome husband is brutally murdered in his own office.
She knows who did it.
The police come to her with eyewitness reports. Blood samples from the scene. Expert testimony from the PI who claims he was in the room to see it all. Zack will go to prison for the rest of his life because of this shocking, savage thing has done.
Julia puts on her best poker face and offers the PI six million dollars to alter his testimony and take the fall for the murder. With another six million, she buys off the entire police department and puts the judges in her pocket too. The deal is that the PI will officially do 30 years for manslaughter and get out in three for good behavior—then he will live the rest of his life like a king. He agrees. It’s a small price to pay.
Zack is never so much as questioned.
He vanishes and she thinks she’ll never see him again.
Maybe that’s for the best.
The PI is killed in prison by another inmate and what’s left of Julia’s heart dies. This time she is responsible. This time she has murdered a man by her own actions. It’s almost too much to bear. She spends months and months trying to process what she has done. She wants Zack to come back and tell her she’s not a monster. She wants it all to go away. But of course, things like this never go away.
They stay inside and make us different.
Make us human.
Make us bad.
Somehow, a new Julia Starchild movie happens. She is rich from her inheritance and no longer needs to work—but Zack has miraculously survived the blackest night and come back as a new version of himself. He says he is a Jedi now. Says he feels the Power of the Force. They make the movie and it is an adventure.
He wants to tell her what he did.
She wants to tell him what she did.
It makes her crazy.
And so, finally, she takes her own life.
And leaves him a note, explaining it all.
. . .
What she does not realize is this:
As Julia Starchild, her words and deeds have inspired me beyond anything she could have imagined. I am the one true fan of these films that really exists—the one fan who saw past all the cheesy surface decorations and really knew what they were trying to say. After Battle Beyond the Planet Of Ice blows my mind, I even return to Julia Starchild 3—the bottom-barrel worst of the series—and I find actual poetry in it. I see things I never saw before because I allowed my heart to die as a teenager. These movies are the one thing in the entire world that has kept me sane—after the awful thing I did when I was a child. The thing I did to protect my mother from a monster. The thing that still haunts me, even though it probably shouldn’t. I have never forgotten what I had to do that night. But now it’s like some one else did it. It’s like some distant film loop playing endlessly for a far away audience that has no idea who I really am. I am actor in a passion play, long forgotten by the hard critics of today. And so I steel myself. I move forward. I continue my self-education by reading and writing. I work odd jobs and keep the rent paid and I get a little older each day. I buy a VCR in 1982 and get all the Julia Starchild films and study them, shot by shot, frame by frame. I take in all these amazing lessons and I begin to write my own version of it all. I write my screenplay.
It is called Julia Starchild and the Planet of Lost Love.
It is my loving valentine to Julia and all she has done for me.
And for the universe.
And so, as an eighteen year old man, I set out from the safe haven of mediocrity that is Houston. I get on a bus for New York, where it is rumored that Zack Groove still lives, after retiring from the film business.
I find the Deuce of Times Square and I ask around.
This place is amazing even in it’s dying days—like a galactic carnival running on a half-life battery. During the days, it’s all barren and washed out and lost, like the bones of great beasts scorching in the summer heat. At night the lights come on and the theaters are like gateways to Shangri-La. Amazing. I want to live here forever. But I’m here on a mission. I must find Zack Groove.
It doesn’t take long.
Everyone knows where he is.
And in his apartment that overlooks the Deuce, high above the Lyric Theatre, he sees my eyes and hears my story and tears fall on his cheeks.
He realizes I am the true son of Julia Starchild—that it was my passion for these films that somehow spoke to him, and kept him alive all those years. He really believes that. His eyes are old and wasted, but infused with a brilliant new light. He tells me to sit down because he is going to explain everything to me now. He is going to tell me the absolute total truth—because he feels that I have somehow always been a part of this story.
He starts by telling me Julia is dead.
Then he tells me the rest.
He tells me everything I have told you and more—much more. He tells me about the crazy aftermath that surrounded her passing. How so many vultures closed around the money—but that she’d made it impossible for them to take her son’s birthright. He tells me about how Drydex Starr is the true inheritor of the Rumpelstiltskin estate, but that the kid won’t see a dime until he is 25. Until then, Zack owns it all, and can change the will as he sees fit. She left it all to Zack, really. Their son is now at finishing school in Switzerland, where he is being taught by the best scholars on the planet. One day the child will go to film school, just is Zack didn’t. One day the child will create his own legacy—and hopefully it will have nothing to do with Julia Starchild.
I listen to him tell me this incredible, tragic, awful story.
And I am not defeated by it.
I am armored by it.
Julia Starr may be gone in our world—but don’t you see, Zack? She lives forever on film. And the character you created will live on, even in a new movie. If we only believe. If we don’t allow the horrors of this terrible rotten world to defeat us. I came here from the same place you did. I have death and horror in my past too. But those are only passion plays we’ve long played out. We are not those people, not any longer. We are luminous beings, filled with magic. I never knew until this very moment what it was to truly forgive oneself. I never knew it was even possible. I was just following a star. A promise. An ideal.
But now . . .
NOW, ZACK . . .
We will come back to earth, you and I.
We will be stronger yet.
And the critics?
Well, fuck those guys.
“The seemingly indestructible Julia Starchild film franchise, begun in the mid-70s and still as sexy as ever, returns to a bizarre half-life ten years later in this strange and often brilliantly overwrought fifth sequel. B-movie toppers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus—perhaps the only men on earth who could have possibly seen value in such a venture—have given Julia a new lease on life, employing the original director of the series, who teams up with some new blood and a fresh face in the lead role—as often happens in such enterprises, where youth and beauty are paramount. Fans of the older films need not worry. The new Julia is every bit as bubble-headed and bubble chested as the last lady on display. And even though the movie is just plain bad, one can sense that there may be sincere intentions at the heart of this thing.”
“With the departure of late actress-model Julia Starr, the newest and most belated film in the series is a sexy misfire. It clearly knows how silly it is and tries hard to chase after some sort of wild overarching ideals, but it’s not nearly as classy as the last one.”
“A loving tribute to science fiction’s most storied and notorious leading lady.”
“Not bad. Could be worse.”
“A piece of cosmic shit that should have remained lost in hyperspace. By all reports, this movie took a lot of doing, but they just shouldn’t have done it.”
“Against all odds, it’s a film the both delights and amuses.”
“The story is pretty simple: Julia Starchild is “Reborn from galactic fire” as a new woman with a new face, which appears to be a cheap borrow from the DOCTOR WHO series, to explain away the new “actress” playing the lead. After a surprisingly dazzling opener, which serves as a backdrop to the opening titles, Julia sets out on a journey to reclaim her heart and soul, realizing that it is now 300 years later and every mortal she ever loved is now dead. It’s a sweet sentiment that quickly gets gobbled up by flashy special effects shots (many of which are mostly not-so-flashy), extended torture scenes and generally tasteless sex and violence. This has always been a schizophrenic film saga in terms of tone—but this one is downright ludicrous on all fronts. When Julia finally finds the planet of lost love, she has sex with the head honcho (once again played by Joe S, Marcus in a typically scenery-chewing performance) and somehow “mates with the universe” to bring “love and passion to all those who have none.” It’s spectacularly bad writing and just-passable filmmaking, from a group of creative types who just never seem to know when to call it quits. Still and all, there are a few good scenes and the new Julia is smoldering, though her outrageous French accent is at times unintelligible.”
“I had fun with this. But if such shenanigans persist at the Cannon films factory of Golan and Globus, darker days are almost certainty ahead.”
And old Roger Ebert?
Well, damn, man.
“I have always found this film series to be fascinating and frustrating. The last one was a big budget mess with misguided intentions, the ones before that were zero budget shlockers. This one seems to be the best of the lot. It understands who Julia Starchild is, perhaps for the first time. Which is ironic, seeing as how she’s played by a new actress. That actress is Bianca Starr (presumably a stage name), and her dark chesty beauty is astounding.”
And in case you were wondering, yeah, it was Menahem Golan who made all this happen—that crazy doomed Israeli movie mogul who came to America to make his fortune, set up outrageous shop and eventually flamed out so brightly. Along with partner Yoram Globus, of course. Once again, proof that money can buy anything—even the movie business. But not for long. Yes, I can proudly say that I knew those guys in the years before Cannon went under. I can proudly say that my one contribution to the Cannon mythos was also my greatest contribution to the legacy of Julia Starfire. Menahem was, of course, what he was in those days—a loud raging weirdo who got whatever he wanted by sheer will and lots of cash. And what he wanted from Zack Groove was the Julia rights—he’d been trying to get them for years, long before I showed up at Zack’s apartment with my script in 1983. I listened to him talk for hours that night. I remembered as much as I could so I could write it down here. Then I gave him my screenplay. Zack read what I wrote and looked up at me with tears.
Said just three words.
“Let’s do it.”
The deal with Cannon practically did itself. We made the movie in three months. I was at Zack’s side every day. It was like a blur. I almost can’t remember any of the details now, except that our new Julia was amazing and funny, generous and charming—a total professional who knew her lines and did her work and went home to her husband at the end of each day. (And yeah, it’s a stage name, of course.) There were no bad things. Nobody was on drugs. (I think.) Nobody was fucking anybody else. (Maybe.) It all went really well—or at least as well as any Golan and Globus movie can go. (Rolls eyes. Coughs.) There were problems, of course, but it was all about money and editing. All about that big Golan guy screaming at us to get it fucking right or ELSE! But we were not afraid, Zack and I. And I still think the movie came out fine—even though it’s the one film in the saga that doesn’t have John Barry’s music in it. We had to settle for Tangerine Dream, a bunch of synth programmers from Germany who were popular back then, and who never even spoke a word of English to us during post-production. Some of the music was cool, though. It gives the movie a personality all its own—separate from the other films—which is as it should be. Zack always said during production that the real Julia would be proud—and I always reminded him that Bianca was Julia now. I reminded him that any woman could be Julia—because she is a spirit that will never die. We must suffer for her. We must offer our lives for her. But if we honor what she is, she will make us immortal. Zack would always get misty when I said stuff like that. I never found out of he was still on drugs in those days. I never asked. It probably didn’t matter. He was so proud of our work together that he even used his real name on the film credits for the first time in his career. He said it was like being young again and making the right decisions this time. Somehow being reborn. I guess that means he wasn’t on drugs. I’d like to think that was true anyway. Our film did okay in general release in 1985, but it was not a real success. It came out on video in late 1986 and sold a few tapes. Cannon went under, not long after that.
Zachary Paul Grove died two weeks later.
A heart attack took him while he was watching Julia 1 at the Lyric. He was found with tears of joy on his face. So I did not cry at his funeral. I smiled.
And as I sit here writing these words—in the LA mansion he willed to me, his 19 year old son away at film school, learning how to be a director—I am at peace. This confession will never be read by the general public, except perhaps as some elaborate fiction dressed up with fake names and faces in one of my crazy novels—this epic story that spanned ten years and took so many lives. But I have not written this confession down for the general public. I have done this for Drydex—the son of Julia Starchild, who is brilliant and beautiful, just like her parents were. Who has risen from great heritage and learned what it is to be human, without having to suffer the way we did. Who may one day read these words I am writing. Who may one day return to finish the story. And if he does—when he does—I will still be here. I will still be smiling.
I’m sure this all sounds really silly.
I mean, after all, these are just movies, right?
What’s the big deal?
If that’s what you really think—whoever you are—than you haven’t been paying much attention. Or maybe you just haven’t met Julia yet.
So go find her.
Go experience her.
Be with us, in our special place.
Click the image above for the final chapter.