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”

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Big Dreams

There’s a great scene in the first act of “A Star Is Born” where the established star, Norman Maine, advises the young talented unknown, Esther Blodgett, about her career.  She admits her big dream is catching a lucky break, getting discovered by a talent scout and having a number one record but also freely admits, “It won’t happen.”  The veteran, a great fan of her work (among other things), counters, “No it might happen very easily.  Only — the dream isn’t big enough.”

He then goes on to tell her, “A career can turn on somebody saying to you,  ‘You’re better than that.  You’re better than you know.’  Don’t settle for the little dream.  Go on to the big one.” (for more go here)

In Esther’s case, having the number one record was not necessarily the wrong dream (she does go on to get a number one record AND a lot more) – just not the right dream at the right time.  In other words, to quote a wise old adage, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

Aside from the fact I’m a sucker for old Judy Garland movies, I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately.  Do you get just one?  Is working hard and profusely wanting something enough to push you towards your goal?  What if it is the WRONG time?  Or, perish the thought, the WRONG dream?   But wouldn’t I know what the right and wrong dream was for me – I mean, it’s my dream!!  Well, not necessarily.  I mean, no one is right 100% of the time except, well, the 8 Ball– and even it has its occasional limitations.

Hold on, let me get my glasses.

Taking that into the realm of high-class problems, what if you’ve already achieved your dream and you’ve still got half or two-thirds of your life left, and don’t plan to die early.  Do you just coast and sit on or in your mountains of money (while you’re spending it and it keeps magically replenishing through endless tax cuts for you and your millionaire/billionaire friends)?  Do you continue to try and top yourself in your own field even though you feel like you’ve “done it” and it no longer holds its mystery because you’ve reached your version of the mountain top?  Or maybe you, perish the thought again, start from ground zero and try something else with the hopes you can reconnect with the passion you had for your original dream and expand that and more to even greater effect and affect.

Only we can provide the answer for ourselves.  Maybe for you it’s one or all of those.  Or maybe it’s none of the above.  Dreams are funny that way.  Ultimately, they’re extremely personal.

But for guidance – why not look to the best.

No one spoke of dreams more eloquently than Dr. Martin Luther King, and being this the 48th anniversary of his historic  “I Have A Dream” speech – a speech delivered at a time when the idea of a Black U.S. president seemed as likely as, well, an openly transgender, ultra-liberal, atheist one might one seem today, (and if anyone under 40 thinks I’m exaggerating, ask anyone OVER 40) – it’s important to be reminded of the ever-enduring necessity and universality of having not only commitment to a dream but a great and unlimited personal imagination.

Inspiration

Dr. King didn’t dwell on what was necessarily rational in the south in the summer of 1963 for Black (then called Negro) Americans, but “dreamed” of what he saw (and hoped) was “possible.”  Does it trivialize the civil rights struggle to use it as a metaphor for the individual dreams each of us may or may not have for ourselves in our creative lives?  Absolutely not.  Dreaming of something that seems impossible is always valid and necessary if you’re human and want to make any kind of impact or difference for whatever reason.  And if you’re going to steal (in Hollywood they call it homage), why not steal from the best?  And – at least I’m publicly giving him credit – unlike what Paramount, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have so far done for James Toback, by not informing him they were going to remake his seminal 1974 screenplay “The Gambler,” prompting him to feel he dreamt a bad dream because he first found out about it last week in Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood news item. (Read it all here).

But I digress.

I’ve written before about dream stomping or dream ignoring or dream ______ (fill in your phrase) being very big these days – particularly in the creative arts.  “You’ll never,” “do you know the odds of,” “You have to be practical,” or the dreaded comment – “you’re such a dreamer.”  As if that’s a bad thing.

I, and all of my happy and/or successful friends (uh, they’re not necessarily the same thing), will testify to you that there is no way to achieve anything for yourself without dreaming it up in some fashion for yourself in today’s world.  Especially in the creative arts.  Oh — Hint:  It’s all made up, anyway!

As for having only ONE dream or MANY dreams or not stopping until you find the RIGHT dream for you, the strategy depends on who you are and how busy you want to be.  I can make the case for employing any of those, or, alternately, all three.  Consider:

  1. A very successful SCREENWRITER friend of mine with more movies made than any of his contemporaries always dreamed of being a screenwriter (some of us think from in utero).
  2. A very successful SCREENWRITER I know was in a punk rock band before he ever thought of writing movies or wrote a word in screenplay form.
  3. A very famous ACTOR friend of mine always wanted to act and never considered anything else.
  4. A very famous ACTOR I once worked on a movie with didn’t start acting until mid-life and spent the first half of his life doing, well, a lot of illegal stuff unrelated to show biz (and often behind bars).
  5. A very famous and successful DIRECTOR friend of mine actually finds it torturous to direct and dreamed of doing lots of other things but became most successful at this.  Now, this person is sort of stuck.
  6. A very talented DIRECTOR friend of mine now writes and produces and doesn’t direct at all (except in the mind) and, I believe, finds it infinitely more satisfying.

Oh, and what’s most interesting to me now is that NONE of these six people today ONLY work on their dream of writing, acting and directing.  One of them always dreamt of being a great parent and spends a great chunk of time with his/her children; another works tirelessly reforming convicts; a third spends enormous amounts of time decorating and remodeling.  All of them are on their third, fifth, eight and twentieth dreams.

There are other individuals I know who never quite “made it” on their original dreams but now are dreaming even bigger and better.  To whit:

  1. A brilliant, aspiring AGENT I know left the business and has become a very successful (and happy) family LAWYER.
  2. A talented, lower level STUDIO EXEC I once knew now writes self-help books (imagine that?).
  3. A former AGENT friend of mine and PRODUCER friend of mine each sell and develop real estate (separately), are very good at it and LOVE it (granted, more when the market is a bit better – another subject.  And perhaps another dream).
  4. Three screen and TV WRITER friends are now full-time therapists, helping other dreamers navigate the tricky waters of ambition, reality and, well, dreams.  A fourth has moved on to producing new and exciting content for the web.  (The latter in some way probably being a new, ingenious and inevitable dream to consider and perhaps approach for more than a few younger (and older?) people reading this blog).

Finally, add to that – at a restaurant this week I ran into two different and EXTREMELY, EXTREMELY successful people in the entertainment business.  I mean, you couldn’t GET more successful and famous (you’d know their names).  One of them has nothing to do with film anymore and uses all the money, cachet and power accrued in said business towards charitable works (i.e. helping others fulfill dreams).  The other still pursues dreams in the business but in a very different way and in very different venues.  This person has gone from being unbelievably difficult and, well, not very nice back in the day (how do I know? I was there), to being a warm, open and generally endearing presence who has clearly found that not being in the red hot spotlight is ultimately a lot more dreamily satisfying than drowning in the poisonous kind of heat that public attention sometimes generate for certain types of individuals.

If this sounds tricky, confusing, confounding and littered with endless detours, U-turns and reinventions, rest assured it is.  But — that’s what really BIG dreams are made of.