Tuesday, February 12, 2008

STRIKE WHILE THE IRONING IS HOT

Discretion has always been, in my humble opinion, the cornerstone of any kind of civilized society.



And goodness knows I pride myself on my civility, so I have refrained from making a public statement regarding the 100 day old strike by the Writer’s Guild of America in the hope that the silence would be taken, perhaps, as my being discreet.



The truth of the matter is that, as a card-carrying member of The Guild, I have been in favor of this uprising all along.



In fact, I have applauded every one of these dear bespectacled introverts as they found their way out of their parents’ basement and bicycled all the way across town to camp out on the front steps of the very studios they had only visited as tourists before.



You see, as long as they continued marching, holding up production on such potential cinematic gems as “Hostel 3”, the thus-enforced vacation from employment for the film industry has allowed me to get some much needed home improvements done around 801.

(By “done” of course, I mean “observed”; who amongst you can deny the entertainment value of muscular laborers carting boulders from one end of the yard to another?)



But now it seems that the magical quills which just last year brought us “Daddy Day Care” and “Bratz-The Movie”-



- are to be stilled no longer. After more than three months of not ripping off classic movies, old television shows or each other, the Writer’s Guild of America has succeeded in its mission to bring the Industry to its knees – that is if the Industry in question was the Dry Cleaning, Catering and Limousine business.

The only other real tangible result from all of this – besides getting a few more dollars in our residual checks should somebody figure out how to put a coin box on the side of every laptop computer on earth – is that the Film and Television audience now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the crap they can download for free from You Tube is just as entertaining as the crap we’ve been making them pay for all along.

One would have hoped that the mass audience, starved as it must have been these past weeks for some form of storytelling, turned to that archaic invention, the “book”, for relief. But that's doubtful. With the current populace’s media-fed pattern of ignoring the people and events in their own lives in favor of their imaginary “celebri-friends”, it can be safely assumed Tolstoy has been languishing



in the libraries of America while even the trashiest tabloids have been all but flying off the supermarket shelves.



Granted this is not a new development; gossip has been a part of the culture since cave paintings, and those of us who mourn the loss of Old Hollywood-



- would do well to remember the careers destroyed by the yellow journalism of “Confidential” and its ilk.



These were hugely popular amongst a lower class desperate for some connection with the Stars they worshiped -



- especially if it meant tearing them down to a size which proved these Gods were no better than Dorothy down at the Laundromat.



I would suggest that the real disease is not the proliferation of trash media itself but rather the ease of its delivery to the large percentage of the population who feast on this drivel with the enthusiasm of a school of piranha at a swimming camp for haemophiliacs.



It’s like the people who show up on those television “human interest” news stories, the ones with the six hundred pound toddler who don’t understand HOW it happened until they open their cupboards to reveal the acres of processed junk food just waiting to be shoveled into the Li’l Princess every time she opens her maw.



I would venture to say that with one generation of mankind after the next subsisting on a steady diet of fake news and crappy gossip, this latest lot has never tasted actual literature other than what they were force fed (and ultimately spat out) while dodging bullets at their public schools.

It’s a form of anti-evolution, I suppose; “devolution” to re-coin a phrase. Survival of the dullest.



But is there a solution?

During a delightful lunch on the sun dappled patio of the Viceroy Hotel, I put this very question to noted biographer and novelist William Mann – he of the 2007 New York Times 100 Most Notable Books list for his brilliant biography of Katherine Hepburn –



- as we exchanged gossip and work out tips (please note the extra 1/8 of an ounce of ear lobe fat on the man – he’s obviously not taking his fitness regime seriously.)



We didn’t come up with the answer, but frankly – given that even television game shows have devolved from the arguable intelligence required by “$200,000.00 Pyramid” to a cash-filled suitcase version of Whack-A-Mole starring a guy whose previous claim to fame was inflating a rubber glove over his head –



- the prognosis for any non-Harry Potter written word products is rather grim.

Still it’s not stopping Mr. Mann from working on his next opus, a remarkably ambitious “Day In The Life” project, the subject of which is legendary actress and Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor.



Granted there has been a considerable amount of ink spilled regarding La Liz, but much of it has been tabloid fodder and most of that lies, neither of which is Bill’s style. It should be a very good book and may uncover some truths that even those very thorough ghouls at Entertainment Tonight have missed over the years.

Speaking of which, it was with some delight that we observed the loosely knit family of “Hollywood celebrity” come together to demand that the media – Entertainment Tonight included - keep their distance from the tragedy of Heath Ledger’s death.



Although they were unable to prevent the Marilyn Monroe-esque “found nude in bed” headlines from cropping up here and there (one expects Elton John is already in rewrite mode) it was admirable to see Young Hollywood beat the vultures away with their bare reputations and equally remarkable that the public at large seemed to applaud them. Is it possible that we’ve reached a “tipping point” in this kind of thing?

Case in point: recently a dear friend, an actress of remarkable talent and considerable note, announced her entry into a clinic to deal with some prescription substance issues and, despite one or two rather tacky comments from some of the bottom feeders of the journalism world – Star Magazine typist Marshall Fine (ha!) had better pray he never meets me with a full drink in my hand – she was treated with very gentle kid gloves from the media at large. And while I am certainly aware that the Nielsens do not necessarily encourage mental health, I would like to think that the fact that the movie we made together was a huge ratings hit reflected a genuine outpouring of love and concern from her millions of fans.



Her performance certainly charmed the household staff here at 801. Even my houseboy Panton, normally not the emotional type, was moved to tears by the climactic reunion of the long lost lovers in the film. Well, it was either that or he was still smarting from his new tattoo – we’ve had to inscribe our street address and phone number on a rather sensitive part of his anatomy at the request of the local police understandably impatient with the complaints from nearby residents startled to discover a strapping, if disoriented, young man standing in their backyard, cleaning their patio furniture as if it were his own.



The fact that he resolutely refuses to learn any English other than the words “minimum wage” and “no sleep outdoors” certainly doesn’t help.

But let me assure you, he’s not the only challenge I face in running a proper household here. There’s also a situation with The Gardener.



While his work is certainly admirable – indeed he has whipped the grounds here at 801 into shape in less time than it would have taken me to figure out which end of the rake to use – we’ve had a few unfortunate situations where he has neglected to announce his arrival and simply barged through the west gate without so much as a “how do you do?” - or whatever the equivalent would be in his native Guatemalan. And I only know a little Guatemalan.



Now in an average household this wouldn’t be a problem – he might interrupt a game of cribbage perhaps or startle the Lady of the House into spilling her iced tea. But mine is hardly what one would call an “average” household.

With our back patio bar fully stocked at all times and a strict “no swimsuits in the pool” policy enforced amongst the more attractive bathers, things are apt to get a tad “exotic” here behind the high fichus.



On more than one occasion Gardener has found himself face to face with houseguests who have availed themselves of the warm climate by perambulating the grounds au naturel. This has led to several red faces, a few shrieks of shock and – in a singularly remarkable instance – a one hundred dollar tip for Gardener from an appreciative overseas visitor.



To his credit, Gardener takes it all in stride and indeed has even been known to leap into the pool himself after a couple of shots of tequila. But one always wants one’s guests to feel comfortable and it can be quite a challenge to calm the anxieties of an out-of-towner whose afternoon of nude sunbathing has been disrupted by a swarthy Latin stranger wielding a leaf blower.



Not wanting to hurt Gardener’s feelings by insinuating that his sudden arrivals are a problem, however, I’ve come up with what I think is an ideal solution.

As far as he’s concerned, it’s a beautiful gift, a handsome pendant lovingly handcrafted in sterling silver to wear around his neck as a token of thanks from a grateful employer.



But to the unsuspecting – and undressed – gathered around the chaise lounges of 801, the gentle tinkling of the approaching bell should serve as an early warning system to either cover up or pour themselves another drink and get ready to shell out a hundred bucks.

Discreetly, of course.

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