The Way We Are

When you love someone, from Roosevelt to me, you go deaf, dumb and blind.

That’s a line from one of the great Hollywood love stories – the 1973 Barbra Streisand-Robert Redford film, The Way We Were.

It is said by the very blonde, flawed and handsome Hollywood screenwriter Hubbell Gardner to his much more passionate and intelligent wife, the unabashedly ethnic Katie Morofsky, as a roundabout admission that he’s cheated on her.

The reveal of his sexual antics was bad enough after years of her unwavering belief in him. But what made it worse was what it represented – the latest of a long string of lies that undeniably proved the person she knew all these years was not a person at all. He was merely a mirage she created for herself.

A mirage… with insanely good hair

The real guy, in fact, was someone much harsher and uglier – someone indifferent to all sorts of immorality in not only others but in himself. Someone she did not really know at all.

In light of that —

Here’s a partial list of recently exposed, accused and extreme sexual predators in the entertainment industry with multiple victims and/or accusers:

Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Brett Ratner, Jeremy Piven, Ed Westwick, Steven Seagal, Louis C.K. and producer-writer Gary Goddard. 

Yes, I’ve limited the group to the most RECENT and the most FAMOUS. Certainly, there are more. A lot more. And a lot more to come.

I need a drink… or 12

Here’s a similar list in politics:

Electoral College POTUS Donald J. Trump, Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore, Fox’s recently deposed Bill O’Reilly and Fox’s recently deceased leader Roger Ailes, journalist and former MSNBC commentator Mark (Game Change) Halperin, famed New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier and former NY Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Note: I’ve also left out former POTUS George H.W. Bush from the list because he’s 93, wheelchair bound and his accusers have so far limited his violations to recent ass-grabbing and sexual innuendo from his wheelchair.

Uh, yeah, this IS where we ARE at the moment.

#SAD

The Way We Were screenwriter Arthur Laurents was writing about Hollywood and the glittery protective wall that shields many of its most lauded inhabitants all those many years ago. This was long before I got here. As did people who came before him like F. Scott Fitzgerald. And so on and as far back as the industry existed.

Yet here I sit, a writer with nowhere near their credits, about to say what they and others described, a lot more directly.

Be careful about whom you admire and be careful before you agree to meet them. If they are in the handful of the top three or five you most admire they can’t help but disappoint you – and sometimes most grandly. Because what any of us admire in a public figure in any field is not about WHO they are but what they’ve ACHIEVED in their individual fields.

Many of us, including myself at times, like to say one’s achievements are a part of them – like kindness, a great sense of humor or looks. Sadly, that’s a lie.

Talent, a mastery of a subject and glaringly high-level success, is a marker of work not personality traits. Most certainly, they are not markers of a great person, a bad person or even, in the end, a mere average person. They are outward achievements that vault an individual into the public eye and provide those old-fashioned values like fame and fortune.

But they say little to NOTHING about who that INDIVIDUAL really is at his or her core – or whether they are even a guy or gal you’d choose to hang out with, much less call a friend, role model or even object of adoration.

What they only are is produce – from that person.

Living in the ruins

Certainly, this is confusing and downright un-American. Not to mention, it’s disheartening as far as popular culture is concerned. This is why I don’t tell my students about the evening I spent in the eighties with one of THE greatest and most famous artists of the 20th century. Or a work experience I had years later with one of THE great music stars of the last five decades. Or the several months in which I was paired with that renowned and supposedly sensitive writer-director-producer some time after that on some other project that will go unmentioned.

Disasters, all of them, and not because I wasn’t trying. Yet each was horribly disappointing (if not horrifying) in their own way and to this day I still can’t understand how three so brilliantly talented individuals whose work I admired that much could be so downright……ugh…well, I’ll let you fill in the blank.

Remember this formula! #keepexpectationslow

Which then left me with a small but personal dilemma I suspect many of us are going through at the moment with the above names and those I left out. How do we look at their work now? Do we boycott them for political and/or personal reasons? What is the line for boycott – accusations, convictions, suspicion, personal opinion or just a general mass zeitgeist feeling?

Well this was a bad idea from the start…

If you eschew one of them do you eschew them all?

How long do they have to be in the doghouse? For life? Maybe so. Especially for the most egregious.

But is there any room for reparations among the lesser crimes? Or can any of these crimes even be lesser? And how much do apologies really mean?

Certain apologies are enough to get you that Iron Man money

Also – Do we get special dispensation for the ONE artist whose work has helped us through hard times or served as a creative guide for our entire professional lives??? Why not? Or…why???

This is easy for me given the present list of all of the newest offenders mentioned above. I can easily live without their work. And for that matter, I still don’t understand why Hollywood has forgiven the sexual abuse and anti-Semitic rantings of Mel Gibson not that many years ago — so much so that they cast him in the current Paramount mainstream comedy Daddy’s Home 2??? Though perhaps that’s punishment in itself.

What she said. #flopflopflop

On the other hand, I still watch Woody Allen movies and have gone to see numerous films Roman Polanski has directed. One of these guys has been accused by his daughter of childhood sexual abuse and the other fled this country in the 1970s for giving drugs and alcohol to a 13 year old and having sex with her.

So yeah, there’s all of that for me to NOT be proud of. In fact, the complicity feels even worse when I write it and read it over. Though I fear if I only watched the work of people in the industry who I knew and morally approved of, it’d either be a very short list or I’d keel over in boredom. Maybe both.

I swear if there is a Tom Hanks scandal I will scream #teamRita

This is not to say there are not all kinds of cool, moral, wonderful and faaaabulously talented artists I’ve both met personally and have yet to meet that are at the top of their games creatively and who never cease to bore you – or me. And plenty enough of the opposite to bypass.

It’s only to admit that we now live in an age where the behavior of artists will be inexorably linked to their art – which will in turn determine how, where and by how many people it will be consumed.

Well, that should be interesting. Or not.

Soft Cell – “Tainted Love”

Not Dead Yet

still got a lot left to burn...

“When you’re dead, lie down,” said an old flame of mine about the performance of an older movie star of the sixties in a film several decades later.  I didn’t think the performance was good but neither was it particularly awful.  However, I did sort of chuckle (or perhaps belly laughed) at the comment because not only was it snide and amusing but it came from the lips of a person who at the time I thought could do no wrong.

Well, now that I’m decades older and much closer in age to the movie star (who it turns out wasn’t that old) – and now that the old flame has flickered out of my life and chronologically is what many of us consider old, or at the very least much OLDER than the sixties movie star (and certainly a lot less rich and famous) – I have to admit that on the subject of “lying down” both of us wiseacres were WRONG – DEAD WRONG.

There is really never a time to stop doing what you love to do simply because your hot streak is over and others think you have overstayed your welcome.  Just as it is never a great idea for the powers-that-be to blanketly ignore people who have mastered their craft solely on the basis of their age (be it young or old) for what is perceived to be the next LIVE thing.

A case in point is Oscar-winning screenwriter Frank Pierson, who turns 86 next month.  Mr. Pierson won his Academy Award for a movie starring Al Pacino that you might know, “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975). In addition, he was also nominated two other times for “Cat Ballou” (1965) and “Cool Hand Luke”(1967).  More recently, Mr. Pierson directed the acclaimed HBO TV movies “Citizen Cohn” (1995), “A Soldier’s Girl” (2001) and “Conspiracy” (2003), served as president of the Writers Guild of America from 1981-1983 and as president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences from 2001-2005.  On a personal note, I can also tell you Mr. Pierson is an extremely smart and gracious man who extends himself to young writers but can also gloriously cut his cowardly peers down to the quick as I once witnessed at a very contentious open Writers Guild meeting in the nineties when he publicly challenged his fellow scribes to “grow a pair” (my words, his were a little more colorful) and stand up to the studios because “no one else will and, damn it, that’s what writers have always done” (again, cleaning it up for blog audiences).

Mr. Pierson tells it how it is.

This past week Mr. Pierson had another career triumph for his writing of the fifth episode of the current season of AMC’s “Mad Men” – a disturbing, gutsy, self-possessed hour entitled, “Signal 30.”  Though all of the episodes this season shine for various reasons, this particular one, penned by an 86 year old, has upped the game and officially made the 2012 version of “Mad Men” the BEST WRITTEN SHOW ON TELEVISION.

for Frank's a jolly good fellow!

Without getting too far into the plot elements for non-watchers, suffice it to say any hour-long episode of TV set in 1966 that dares to feature and pull off all of the following:

  • a real live fist fight between two of a company’s wimpiest executives
  • a thirtysomething married man lusting after a young girl in a driver’s ed class only to loser her to a teenage hunk literally named “Handsome”
  • a news report on the real life murderer of young women in Texas that scares the bejeesus out of most of the girls in NYC
  • a bunch of British soccer players winning the World Cup as watched by a group of bar cheering British expatriates
  • an Upper East Side brothel owner deciding on whether to buy a television set to liven up her place
  • And an account guy who moonlights as a science fiction writer of gem-like short stories about a working man who is a mere cog in the machine of the universe

Well, that’s is okay by me.

a real knockout

Actually, it’s more than okay.  It’s pretty terrific.  And not only because of what that episode says about American culture right before the social revolution of the late 1960s but for what it shows us about American culture five decades later.  More than the obvious fact/fiction of the past, the present day workings of the actual television show “Mad Men” prove to us that rather than being dead or basically put out to pasture, it actually is possible to be relevant as an artist in commercial Hollywood once you get past the age of ________ on a non comic-book, non-sequel, non-high concept, non-sitcom piece of material that isn’t based on the life and times of your children, or even grandchildren.

Matt Weiner, “Mad Men’s” creator and show runner, is responsible for Mr. Pierson’s hire and part of the brilliance of his work on the show is that he boldly takes chances not only on the creative direction of each season but on who he chooses to hire.  Given conventional TV wisdom, there is no reason in the world for Mr. Weiner to employ Mr. Pierson except that Mr. Weiner is smart enough to know

a. Mr. Pierson started his writing career in advertising near the time “Mad Men’s” world is set.

b. Mr. Pierson grew up in Chappaqua, N.Y., which is pretty close to the area where many of the series characters reside, and

c. Mr. Weiner is secure enough in his writing talent and stewardship of his show to not be threatened by the talent and reputation of an old war horse like Mr. Pierson (who, by the way, famously stood up to the then uberpowerful Barbra Streisand and her producer-boyfriend Jon Peters as the writer-director of their 1976 version of “A Star Is Born”)

Oh yes, there is also

d. Mr. Weiner always has the prerogative to rewrite any writer on his show.

the order says it all..

Of course, so do any other show runners on any other show and you don’t often see them digging in and doing much out of the ordinary. In full disclosure, Mr. Weiner did rewrite Mr. Pierson a bit (as he does with almost everyone on the program) and shares writing credit (as he also does with almost everyone).  But in Mr. Pierson’s case it was not more than 40% of the script (and probably less) since Mr. Pierson’s name is listed first before Mr. Weiner as the writer of that particular episode.  How do I know the percentages?  Mr. Weiner publicly announced it in more than one interview.

I’m not saying Matt Weiner deserves yet another award for hiring Mr. Pierson (who was also a consulting producer on “The Good Wife” sans writing credit in 2010), or for not rewriting him entirely.  But he does deserve high praise for keeping a terrific television show afloat by trying to do something different from the norm both onscreen and off.

It would be nice and perhaps even smart if others took note and followed his lead.