Speaking about my friend Jim Davidson, Barbara Payton said, "That friend of yours, Jim, is a pretty nice-looking guy, and he’s smart, too, not like some fucking phonies I know."
I said, "I’ll tell you something that should be confidential, but he didn’t say not to tell you, so what the shit . . ." I told her Davidson had said he’d been very attracted to her, and that a couple of her poems had hit him in the gut.
Like Carol Burnett and my old friend Michael Arquette (Patricia's dad), Jim Davidson had graduated Hollywood High with promise, but like Barbara Payton, he’d wound up in a blue funk hole. Along with another mutual friend, kid Golden Gloves champ Sammy Feldman, and a "Mexican" named Carlos Castaneda, the three had sort of stumbled into a dumpy guest house behind some apartments near Los Angeles City College. Samon was sort of suffering a breakdown from imagining he was L.A.’s moonlight killer, "Moon Man," that he’d raped and murdered a campus girl, while Carlos—in love with moonbeams—wrote poems to a female college teacher who said he showed promise. Davidson was studying some kind of useless philosophy, and all three of them were always looking and hoping to get laid. Sammy was the first to hook up, driving off with a big black cleaning lady after trying to hang himself in the shower. He tied the rope to the fixture, but being chunky and thick- boned, he only managed to pull the pipes from the wall.
With no shower, Jim and Carlos moved into a front apartment managed by another friend, Frank, a would-be writer working at the VA crazy house. Sharing the cramped quarters throughout the year, the two had little space for furniture. "Carlos would sit around on these tatami mats," Jim said, "with those big chubby legs crossed, trying to look like a Buddha. We’d hang around a little all-night restaurant up in Hollywood, or go to the Million Dollar Theater downtown on Broadway to see Luis Buñuel films in Spanish, no subtitles. There’d be kids screaming and climbing over the seats.
"Carlos liked to tell tall tales all the time," Davidson said, "personal things, making things up. He was a creative guy with a vivid imagination, but made up these ridiculous stories, and I’d call him on it, but he said it made him feel important. He made up a story about some Indian like Tonto, only this guy was a medicine man. He’d tell a couple of girls we talked to about this Tonto character, like he had this close friend who was weird and important. None of the girls were impressed enough to do anything with Carlos . . .
"This medicine-man Tonto was just like some imaginary playmate you make up when you’re little," Jim recalled. "When we started at UCLA, it was Tonto who was sharing his secrets with Carlos. We’d sit around in this little apartment on Madison while he wrote his thesis about this Indian character. We had another friend with a doctorate in literature who accused Carlos of being a liar and a phony, and found himself in agreement with the anthropology department, which became furious when they found out Carlos’ tale seemed to be nothing more than a piece of fiction.
"One girl really liked Carlos, but she was like a chinless Olive Oyl. He was trying to call her one night when some guy got mad at him for hogging the phone and pulled Carlos off it and slapped him.
"Carlos came back and sat on the tatami mat crying, sitting on pillows without his pants on. His short, bare legs were chubby and brown, and he looked at them, poking at his legs, and said he was a nothing. ‘I’m nothing,’ he said. ‘I’m just a little brown man.’
"After that is when he started talking about Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese poet who wrote under many different names, and that he, Carlos, was descended from that superior man. He said that he was related to Pessoa by some blood connection, and about how he, too, was a superior man in the Portuguese tradition, not just a little brown man that someone could slap in the face.
"'People who told the truth were fools', Carlos said. He believed lying was more creative than telling the truth. There was never any such person as Don Juan," said Jim. Even the name was Carlos’ joke about his inability to get laid. The whole Indian thing was just his imaginative wanderings—like he’d wander at night, never sleeping much. He’d just sit around making up stories to get people to think of him as an intelligent and important person.
"After he got that stuff published, he got some fat checks and moved to Malibu, had a big security system set up, and you couldn’t even see the house. He said, ‘Nobody is going to slap Carlos Castaneda . . .’ He told me he didn’t care that UCLA thought he was a fake, or that anyone thought he was a fake. He was going to keep on lying because a superior man never tells the truth—he tells what he wants to be the truth."
Drugs? Mushrooms? Dope? "Not Carlos," said Jim. "Never touched the stuff. When he got some money, he wore elegant dark suits and kept his shoes perfectly shined. He always kept his shoes shined. Carlos said, ‘When a person gets fame, then he has shiny shoes.’ To have shoes that were very shiny was important to him."
"There was no depth to Carlos," said another friend, a Ph.D. "He wouldn’t go out on lecture circuits because he was afraid of being challenged. His theory of the superior man who lies was okay as an individual position behind a security wall at Malibu Beach, but on the podium he feared those who could dig into his lies. When UCLA found out there was no medicine man, they kicked him out. It was all fake ..."
Excerpt from LAID BARE: A Memoir of Wrecked Lives and the Hollywood Death Trip