Rabbi Avigdor Miller Speaks
Orthodox rabbi Avigdor Miller died a few years ago but he lives on in his tapes. I was listening to one last night, #467. What a different perspective he places on life than Hollywood does.
"When the Jewish people in the last 100 years began defecting from the Torah and began deteriorating, then all over the world set in a parallel deterioration. When evolution raised its head in England almost 150 years, that's when immorality began entering into literature. Until not long ago, most literature was careful to avoid any hint of immorality. And after a while, it began breaking out more and more. If you look at the causes of today's breakdown, you will see that Jews are at the root of most of these things.
"Who was it that gave such a push to the surge of homosexuality in New York City? It was Ed Koch [a gay secular Jew], who suddenly, against the wishes of the City Council, he issued an executive order giving gay rights in public employment. That was a thunderbolt. I'm sorry to say that a number of Jewish councilmen, liberals, backed him. There were Irishmen and Italians who fought against this. The exile [diaspora, keeping Jews away from a Torah state in Israel] is going to continue longer and longer because of that.
"Who is the mayor of that wicked city San Francisco? Diane Feinstein [a liberal convert to Judaism]. Who is the man who was killed, the ideal of the homosexuals in San Francisco? Harvey Milk [a Jew?] The leaders of homosexuality are not all Jews of course... It's a great tragedy that Reform rabbis came out in favor of legitimizing homosexuality."
Nikki Finke Under Fire At LA Weekly
David Poland won't feel so lonely now. S. Holliday from Los Angeles writes the LA Weekly: Re: “Throw the Bums Out” [Deadline Hollywood, August 30–September 5]. With a major Screen Actors Guild election imminent, it would have been nice to find a professionally written, balanced article in the Weekly outlining the differences between the opposing campaign groups. Instead we got Nikki Finke’s rambling, poorly informed, one-sided tirade.
No one seems to remember that the recent strike against the ad industry was the result of the ad-industry reps presenting an ultimatum to the Guild: “No more residuals — take it or leave it.” When SAG insisted on negotiating the matter, the ad people walked out, leaving SAG no alternative but to capitulate or to strike. Yes, the strike took its toll, both financially and emotionally. But, in the end, it not only preserved the actors’ rights to residuals, but strengthened SAG’s support within powerful organized labor entities such as the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO. Oddly, the entertainment press continues to characterize the commercial strike as a disaster, when in fact it was a tremendous accomplishment.
As for Ms. Finke’s smug implications that 1) only agented actors should vote on the agents’ franchise agreement and that 2) only working actors should vote, she has obviously not thought these ideas through. In the acting world, an 18-year-old babe with a nice silicone job has very little trouble getting signed by an agent; a 40-year-old Shakespearean actor with a Ph.D. and 20 years of experience may be out of luck. Besides, if only working actors could vote, the agents and the producers who control which actors work and which actors don’t would be able to guarantee that no actors who opposed their terms would ever work again. They would then have absolute control over the outcomes of all SAG elections.
Finke quotes the usual unnamed “union insider” to bolster her invective against the Guild, and singles out for her derision those who speak out loudly against Guild complacency. Well, I know many of these people whom she refers to as a “gang” and “the Taliban.” To be sure, though some of their rhetoric may become shrill from time to time, it’s clearly because they believe so strongly that actors have a right to fair and honest treatment from their guild.
Susan Savage in Beverly Hills writes: Finke’s article does not even begin to separate the wheat from the chaff, and probably for good reason — she doesn’t seem to know the difference. Take, for example, her allusion to runaway production, and her dismissal of SAG’s policy on runaway production as "do-nothing." I assure you that is not SAG’s current policy. We at the Guild have been fighting to get "tax incentives," both in Sacramento and in Washington, D.C., to encourage production here in the U.S. And at the risk of being labeled as "the Taliban," a few more "bums" in the current boardroom have been trying to implement a plan to investigate Canada’s trade practices. In May 2002, after a long, hard fight in the boardroom, SAG announced that "Global Rule One" had passed, and more important, would be enforced. Such SAG strategies could ultimately help to curtail runaway production, they’re a far cry from "do nothing."
Jeffrey Wells Seeks Salvation In A Name Change
Jeffrey Wells has changed the name of his column from Hollywood Confidential to Hollywood Elsewhere. Does he want to leave town? Jeff writes: "I want to go elsewhere, over the hill. I want release and salvation." Find religion, Jeffrey.
A thinker recently remarked that "anti-Catholicism is the new anti-Semitism." For further evidence, see Jeffrey's column. He writes about Mel Gibson's new movie about Jesus: "Who needs a Jesus flick from a Vietnam War-saluting, right-wing, Roman Catholic, cigarette-smoking Aussie auteur?"
Wells knows that in Hollywood, it's fine to bash Christians but not Jews.
Reader Bill Narducci replies: "And what the hell is wrong with a film made by a Roman Catholic? Why don't you say who needs a film directed by an Islamic? Or a Jew? Of course you wouldn't do that. In my opinion, you are a coward."
Jeff replies: "I was giving Roman Catholics my calloused backhand when I wrote that line. It's only that Gibson's staunch conservatism, which to my eyes has allowed for a certain oblique support of the Vietnam War and, as I recall, certain homophobic sentiments picked up in the press, indicates an odd fit with the story about the last hours of one of the gentlest and most loving men in recorded history."
It's fine in today's political climate to pick on Roman Catholics qua Catholics but not on homosexuals. It's even easier to beat up on conservative Catholics like Gibson who've expressed distaste for the Biblically forbidden practice of homosexuality. You can say anything about such people.
I love it when secularists like Jeffrey wax righteous about religion. If Jeffrey truly took the example of Jesus seriously, he'd be a practicing Bible-believing Christian.
I bet Jeffrey and David Poland and Michael Tolkin think Marty Scorsese's crappy film Last Temptation of Christ was a respectful treatment. Did Poland and Wells think Tolkin's film The Rapture was a respectful and thoughtful treatment of Christianity?
Preoccupied with these questions, I went for a leisurely stroll Wednesday afternoon down to my neighborhood Roman Catholic day school where I handed out tracts to the goyim, letting them know they'd burn in hell if they didn't accept the Torah.
David Poland writes: I thought Tolkin's film was lame for reasons that had little to do with religious respect. I usually admire his work, but I thought that film was grossly over-rated.
And yes, I believe that Scorsese's Last Temptation was an honorable work from a true believer in Christ. I do not think it is blasphemous to question the human nature of a deity. The light of religion shines through a human prism, no matter how orthodox (in whatever faith) one claims to be. If true faith were meant to be free of human nature, then God, under whatever flag, would probably free true believers from the earth-bound demands of eating, excreting, procreating, etc, etc. But a deep religious belief requires that we serve that belief and our simple human needs at the same time. Examining that dichotomy should not be cause for attack, in my opinion.
I have turned my back on organized religion to a great degree... not because I do not believe in God, but because I believe that organizing religion puts distance between each of us and our relationship with God. I believe that not as some guy who was never in that world, but as someone who attended services in Orthodox temples and davined daily for years of my life. I have studied religion. And I believe in faith.
Unlike Wells, I do not attack people based on the symbols they embrace. At least, not when I am self-conscious enough to do the honorable thing. Orthodoxy may not be a part of my journey right now, but I would never mock or condemn you or anyone else for taking that road. I would hope that I could be given the same respect. Unfortunately, my experience with people who know that they have the answer (that one and only answer) is that any other views are not only wrong, they are evil.
Generally, I have found you thoughtful and open, Luke. But every once in a while, one of those "you people" comments slips out. It reminds me of a friend who would not discuss Israel and the Palestinians with me because I am a Jew and therefore, I couldn't possibly be objective. Well, I can be objective and I can be Jewish. I can be mugged and remain liberal. I can disapprove of abortion and still support a woman's right to choose. And I can like The Last Temptation of Christ and not be anti-religion. And if orthodoxy says that I can't... well, I can think of no greater indictment of orthodoxy.
Ironically, I saw Roman Polanski's The Pianist last night and consider it the best Holocaust drama ever for much the same reason I consider Shoah the best Holocaust documentary ever... both films appreciate the strengths and limits of humanity, no matter what side of the horror people were on. When a nurse is caught in a cross-fire in a German hospital just outside the Warsaw ghetto, the audience has a lot of feelings to consider. She is a nurse, but she is helping the Nazis. She is a human, but she is the enemy. She may be kind, but she is a collaborator. How do we feel when she gets a bullet in the head? Me, I felt good about it, but I sure wasn't happy about it. It was a righteous atrocity... or does such a thing exist?
Luke says: Well, I'm embarrassed. Good points. You're right, I find it hard to desist from a juicy opportunity from stereotyping... Underneath my gentle exterior is a misanthrope waiting to jump out.
Chaim Amalek - Liberal Upper West Side Jew in a Hurry and Card-Carrying Member of the ACLU and Socialist Workers Party of Upper Manhattan - writes: "On the East Coast, Hollywood just does not have quite the profile that it seems to think it has, especially now that the democrats don't control the Executive Branch of government and the Jews are a bit less prominent. (And don't we all pine for the days of our very own Esther giving blow jobs in the oval office, soiled dresses, DOW 12,000, Denise Rich, etc?) All this, notwithstanding the efforts of the Streisand-Reiner Democrats to influence policy. Even among liberals and even among secular Jewish liberals here, these people are viewed strictly as entertainers. I have never, ever heard or read about anyone urging a particular course of action and basing their argument even in part on what a Hollywood celebrity had to say about it, unless to denigrate them."
"Hey there, this is Drew McWeeny aka Moriarty," in a perky happy cheerful voice.
I let him know that I had to get rid of the other line and I came back and started into a long conversation of on-the-record and off-the-record subjects. A very frank conversation about the J.J. Abrams Superman script controversy raging on AICN, where he currently is in the writing process and why he's on this project. How did this conversation come to happen? Well first off, to be frank I've known Moriarty for a few years. We never talked a great deal with one another, but he expressed what a fan of the site [www.thehotbutton.com] he was and it was just those casual small talk conversations back and forth.
Now folks... Here's the first thing. The script that Moriarty has and that has escaped the clutches of Warner Brothers was written in 4 weeks. Why was Moriarty's review of it rushed? Why did he. sit at the table and pound it out so quickly? Because of a basic lack of journalistic ethics. You see, the whole reason that Moriarty had come to my site in the first place all those years ago was because of my pure hatred for any journalist who doesn't do a righteous job.
Drew had heard a basic story for the Superman film that seemed to be marginalizing the Superman character in favor of the darker Batman character and he'd heard that hack Akiva Goldsman was brought on board to "fix" Andrew Kevin Walker's screenplay.
OK... That's all well and good. I've talked with Harry Knowles many times about AICN and he didn't set out to totally trash journalistic ethics and hurt filmmakers who want to test screen their films, but he did. Ed Wood loved making a flying saucer aliens attack film, and it wound up being PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE - mislabelled as the worst film of all time, and the first film to play at any BUTT-NUMB-A-THON ever! The point is intentions... versus impact. Moriarty had set out to stop a nightmare, but had he himself created a new nightmare?
END OF SATIRE. Here's what David actually wrote on the Hot Button:
I thought I was going to write about Ain’t It Cool and Superman today… But I’m not.
I want to think about it some more. The simple reality is that there is a fundamental difference between how Drew and Harry see their site and how I see not only their site, but also the entire idea of journalistic integrity and responsibility… and for that matter, personal responsibility.
This is the situation… it doesn’t really matter whether I write about what happened over there today or tomorrow or the day after. It’s not going to change the playing field in a considerable way. Anything written on the subject is now a look back at a historical event. I would rather state a complete vision of the situation than offer fragments of ideas that change each day/hour/minute depending on the latest information. That is my responsibility as a publisher, as a writer, as a journalist and as a human being.
Amazon.com writes: "Don't let the lackluster subtitle of this excellent memoir/investigative report deter you. The New Rabbi is a surprisingly engaging chronicle of Jewish life at the turn of the 21st century, with a spotlight on one of America's most influential synagogues and the delightful characters who inhabit it. The book's most compelling strand is the convergence of two men's spiritual struggles over the deaths of their fathers--the author's and the brilliant rabbi Gerald Wolpe's [father of controversial Los Angeles rabbi David Wolpe at Temple Sinai in Westwood]. Wolpe's richly charismatic voice, as well as his willingness to publicly share his internal battles with God, have made him famous. His imminent retirement, on the other hand, reveals the fissures in American Judaism. Fried proves himself to be ambidextrous in drawing an affecting and humorous story of rabbis and men, while also revealing the behind-the-scenes political, financial, and emotional workings of American synagogue life in a time of generational change. Or, as he puts it, the "drama of the intersection of the divine and the secular, the battles between God and man and American culture, the searches for spiritual awakening and the perfect bar mitzvah caterer." This is fun and enlightening reading for Jews and non-Jews alike."
Library Journal writes: If reading about synagogue politics sounds exciting, this book is for you. Investigative journalist Fried (Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia) here turns to the Har Zion Synagogue in Penn Valley, PA, and its choosing of a new rabbi after the retirement of its spiritual leader, Gerald I. Wolpe. The book is so packed with details of the daily life of Conservative rabbis that only insiders are likely to get much pleasure from it. Fried doesn't even get around to addressing the choice of a new rabbi until Chapter 14. The problem of a shortage of qualified clergy is as evident in Judaism as it is in Protestantism and Catholicism. Money is also an important factor here, because running suburban synagogues is an expensive business and the best seats in the house carry high prices. Fried also goes into detail about the synagogue's flight from urban Philadelphia to the more affluent suburbs. Finally, after a stormy three-year search, the congregation decided to select its own junior rabbi to be its new leader. Fried's book should be required reading at all seminaries; beyond that, it will have limited interest.
FROM THE BOOK DESCRIPTION: The center of this compelling chronicle is Har Zion Temple on Philadelphia’s Main Line, which for the last seventy-five years has been one of the largest and most influential congregations in America. For thirty years Rabbi Gerald Wolpe has been its spiritual leader, a brilliant sermonizer of wide renown--but now he has announced his retirement. It is the start of a remarkable nationwide search process largely unknown to the lay world--and of much more. For at this dramatic moment Wolpe agrees to give extraordinary access to Fried, inviting him--and the reader--into the intense personal and professional life of the clergy and the complex behind-the-scenes life of a major Conservative congregation.
These riveting pages bring us a unique view of Judaism in practice: from Har Zion’s strong-willed leaders and influential families to the young bar and bat mitzvahs just beginning their Jewish lives; from the three-days-a-year synagogue goers to the hard core of devout attendees. We are touched by their times of joy and times of grief, intrigued by congregational politics, moved by the search for faith. We witness the conflicts between generations about issues of belief, observance, and the pressures of secular life. We meet Wolpe’s vigorous-minded ailing wife and his sons, one of whom has become a celebrity rabbi in Los Angeles. And we follow the author’s own moving search for meaning as he reconnects with the religion of his youth.
We also have a front-row seat at the usually clandestine process of choosing a new rabbi, as what was expected to be a simple one-year search for Rabbi Wolpe’s successor extends to two years and then three. Dozens of résumés are rejected, a parade of prospects come to interview, the chosen successor changes his mind at the last minute, and a confrontation erupts between the synagogue and the New York–based Conservative rabbis’ “union” that governs the process. As the time comes for Wolpe to depart, a venerated house of worship is being torn apart. And thrust onto the pulpit is Wolpe’s young assistant, Rabbi Jacob Herber, in his first job out of rabbinical school, facing the nearly impossible situation of taking over despite being technically ineligible for the position--and finding himself on trial with the congregation and at odds with his mentor.
Rich in anecdote and scenes of wonderful immediacy, this is a riveting book about the search for personal faith, about the tension between secular concerns and ancient tradition in affluent America, and about what Wolpe himself has called “the retail business of religion.” Stephen Fried brings all these elements to vivid life with the passion and energy of a superbly gifted storyteller.
Khunrum writes: Rabbi Jacob Herber, in his first job out of rabbinical school, facing the nearly impossible situation of ..............asking Luke Ford to please not show his yarmulke in this temple again.
The Tragic Collapse Of Judaism's Conservative Movement
XXX writes: Most of the following is tragically superflous to an average sympathetic observer. It is, indeed, easy to love the great majority of individual Conservative and Reform Jews, especially upon meeting them face to face. Many people, myself included, know this from their own pleasant experiences. However, the Conservatives are not only intermarrying [with the goyim] in droves, but their rabbis can hardly get them to show up even once a week (even with cholent [bean and meat stew], which by now has become obligatory in Modern Orthodox shuls). If their own "rabbis" are not even sure G-d exists, or deny the Torah, or discard anything inconvenient, why on earth shouldn't their congregants at least go to R-rated movies every Shabbat (as many do)?
Given this, it is seemingly amazing that Conservative rabbis actually have the nerve to defend such a fiasco, let alone show their faces in public. (I know some admirable ones who only do the latter.) What is really incredible, though, is the shamelessness and reckless irresponsibility of many of their top, ambitious leaders in aggressively fighting for the spread of this utter catastrophe in Israel as well. Objectively, this would seem to make about as much sense as forcefully arguing for the spread of Communism or Bundism in Israel.
This dubious fight has, regretfully, sometimes been accompanied by amazing hostility even in response to a friendly outstretched Modern Orthodox hand. In a 1998 debate between the surprisingly unscholarly Ismar Schorsch (head of the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary) and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin at Lincoln Square Synagogue, the former let loose with a venomous, gratuitous attack on a rare prince of humanity, R. Chaim Ozer Grodzensky st"l. As is well-known, he was a paragon of love for all mankind, almost more beloved and revered by all Jews than the sainted Chofetz Chaim zt"l, and a seemingly computer-like scholar. After the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, he exerted himself heroically, while near death, on behalf of Jewish refugees everywhere who fled to him in Vilna, and was widely regarded as "the father and mother of Klal Yisrael."
The irony is that undoubtedly he would have won even Schorsch's friendship within seconds of meeting him. Shamefully, only one person in the crowd finally interrupted the debate to ask if Rabbi Riskin was actually going to tolerate this outrage. The president, after a brief interval, gutlessly apologized to Schorsch, and the tepid Modern Orthodox crowd kept quiet. In subsequent remarks, Rabbi Riskin offered a halfhearted objection, but then decided to flatter Schorsch by saying that R. Chaim Ozer had "erred in this decision" (unless he actually believes that, although he is an ant by comparison, especially in Torah). The letter in question, printed in the back of Igros Chazon Ish #5 reveals the opposite. R. Chaim Ozer spoke lovingly to the unworthy and brazen son of R. Hildesheimer zt"l, and explained logically how his German-style rabbinical seminary would be desired by no one in Israel, even the Sefardim and the irreligious, and would cause grat harm. Everybody, even the son's own board of directors in Germany, was clearly against it, yet he stubbornly refused to listen to anyone. This selfless action helped save the Torah situation in Israel. Today, with the well known deterioration of the Hesder movement [Modern Orthodox movement in Israel where young men study in yeshivas while completing obligatory military service], this is more obvious than ever.
Naturally, "Jewish leaders" who encourage intermarriage could hardly be expected to care much about the survival of the Jewish people, let alone the State of Israel. (We won't go into their record regarding the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust vs. the establishment of the State of Israel, which is by now well known. See "Perfidy" by Ben Hecht, which became available only after Begin was elected in 1977). And indeed about 90% of non-Orthodox Jews have never visited Israel even once, and a frightening 40% of Reform Jews say they would not view the destruction of Israel as a personal tragedy (AJC study, 1997).
However, far more than 40% would indeed fight tooth and nail to keep abortion legal. That is largely because abortion enables them to continue engaging in promiscuity, which is understandably more physically urgent to them than the far-off state of Israel. See Rabbi Daniel Lapin's book "America's Real War" (reviewed by Dennis Prager in the 3/22/99 National Review): "The religion of most American Jews is liberalism, not Judaism. If the deal offered to American Jews were, 'become pro-life in exchange for Israel's survival', the answer would be a resounding 'no way.'"
What will save everybody a lot of time, and cut through the usual excess verbiage, is to realize the main underlying dynamic of this whole situation (which most honest non-Orthodox Jews readily admit): The only ral reason for any interest in Conservative or Reform Judaism, is, quite understandably, to avoid keeping the mitzvohs [divine commandments]. That is also why "there are no Conservative Jews, only Conservative rabbis."
In late 1997, the dean of JTS's rabbinical school, William H. Lebeau, worked up the guts to merely suggest to the so-called "rabbinical students" (jaded, narcissistic Generation X-ers, see David Klinghoffer's book TLWGMI) that they actually refrain from promiscuity (probably with each other). He got more than he bargained for, and was taught a lesson he and his "rabbi" colleagues will never forget. The reaction was full-blown wrath by outraged boys and girls ("freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of...")
Although these reprobates could have merely ignored him and continued to indulge their base desires to their hearts' content, the dean was forced, by pressure of the "rabbinical" inmates runing the asylum, to insist that his suggestion was only "a personal statement, not (G-d forbid!) a matter of seminary policy."
At this point, with all shame gone, one masy ask: How long until incest and bestiality will be aggressively promoted as "egalitarian" and "humane", and the Torah's viewpoint on this derided as "unenlightened"? Twenty years, tops?
LUKE SAYS: I've dated two women who studied at JTS and they both say it was a hotbed of illicit sex.
Orthodox Rabbi Avi Shafran writes in Moment magazine about the Conservative lie:
Proclaiming fealty to Jewish law, Conservative leaders have trampled it.
Sincere and dedicated Conservative Jews need to face an uncomfortable fact: Their movement is a failure.
Ary writes: Luke--- Great comments on the Conservative movement. The movement is splintering apart at the seams. Traditional conservatives do not believe in egalitarianism, other conservatives are completely egalitarian and heading towards Reform. My old synagouge in Brooklyn erupted in civil war over egalitarianism. The synagogue that I attend in Oceanside has rendered me a 3 day a year Jew, with the women wearing pink tallises. I'm not observant enough for Modern Orthodox and a little to the right of the headed for Reform, Conservative movement. Eventually there will only be two movements left (Orthodox and Reform) and I will have to join a Modern Orthodox shul as I believe that Rosh Hashana is 2 days (unlike many Reform).
Joseph writes on soc.culture.jewish: I suspect that current events may limit Jewish support for legalized abortion. Abortion was legalized in the first place because of the supposed damage done by "back-alley butchers." There may be a decreasing amount of sympathy for their alleged victims among Jews. Women who die from illegal abortions are analogous to suicide bombers. We see the same excuses: People who risk put their lives on the line must be treated seriously; they are going to kill anyway so we should make it possible for them to do it without losing their own lives; any opposition is motivated by mere prejudice; etc. We're starting to rethink those ideas. Besides, we don't believe in human sacrifice.
Great Rabbi Calls Luke
My friend Fred phoned. "There's some guy calling from Israel. He wants you to meet his father who's a big Sephardic rabbi visiting LA. He read about you in an Israeli newspaper. Let me threeway you."
Israeli man comes on the line: "My father, Rabbi [Gadol] gets thousands of people to do teshuvah [repentance]. Have you heard of him?"
Luke: "Not sure."
Israeli: "He's very popular in the Jewish world. He'll go speak before one thousand people. He's a very good speaker. He has 25,000 students in Israel. He has many universities and many yeshivas. He is very ruchanim. He has a big heart.
"Yesterday he came to LA. I think it is a very good idea for you to meet him and get a blessing. A lot of people want to come to him. Prime minister, millionaires, everybody. It's very hard to get him. I told him to make an appointment with you, somebody with a very good heart.
"I also study a little bit of Torah. I'm also studying acting in New York for six months. You just tell my father you're in Hollywood. You know a lot of people. You have power and influence to bring people to peace.
"He came to LA to build a building for 5000 people. A lot of people want to give him, $20,000, this, this, that... I don't want money. I want you to see him. You know people like Steven Spielberg, who are Jewish?"
Luke: "Yes, I know some Jews in Hollywood."
Israeli: "If you see my father, if you see his eyes, they are unbelievable. There's a thousand years in there. He is 53 years old. He has big big power. He can tell you everything about yourself. He is very famous in the Jewish world.
"He speaks Hebrew and French good and Moroccan. Believe me, you'll understand him. He speaks every language. He speaks with the heart. He's unbelievable. He's very big.
"Bring him something from the heart because he's been sick. My father wrote a blessing for a friend and now he has everything good.
"I saw something in the newspaper about you and I feel you have a big heart and I want to help.
"I have five companies in Israel. I have a big company in London. Do you know Uri Geller? I'm connected to many people in the world. I like Torah and business."
Seeking 60s- 70s home movie footage of Hollywood gatherings
Researcher looking for 60s- 70s home movie footage of Hollywood gatherings, events, parties, etc. for use in BBC doc. Celebrities, directors, producers, esp. wanted in footage. $$$ possible for right material. firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer Rob Long
I stopped by Rob Long's office at Paramount 9/25/02 and meet his bald earring-wearing assistant of the past nine years, Barry Ajax, a liberal who reads several newspapers a day.
We chat for 15 minutes. I contend that Almost Famous is the most revealing movie about journalism I've seen. The necessity of sucking up to people to get interviews and then betraying them.
I gather that Rob's writing and producing partner Stan Daley is not a conservative and avoids the crush of folks who want to chat with Rob. It seems that every prominent conservative who comes through town wants to meet Rob, who writes for the National Review and Wall Street Journal, as do many fellow Yale graduates who want to learn how to break into Hollywood.
Rob, who does not have a show on the air, wanders in. His first question for Barry is about the overnight ratings.
A loud golf cart clatters by.
Luke: "Are people too lazy to walk?"
Rob: "Yes. This is LA. People who haul stuff deserve a cart. Most of the executives have carts so they can get some place quickly."
Luke: "It makes that much of a difference?"
Rob: "It makes no difference at all. I don't think an executive ever has to be anywhere on the lot quickly. They shouldn't be on the lot at all. They should be in their office. There's almost nothing that happens on movie lots than an executive can contribute to.
"People don't like to walk. You might encounter somebody."
Luke: "I only saw positive reviews on your book, Conversations With My Agent."
Rob: "Depends how you read the reviews. If the review says it's a great book, but this part didn't work so well... And you wrote the book, you think, 'What the hell?' If you're just reading the review, you think it's a great review. I got a bad review from Entertainment Weekly. They gave me a B+."
Luke: "That's a great review."
Rob: "I thought it was a snide snarkey review."
Vanessa I. Friedman writes in the 1/24/97 issue of EW: "The only jarring moment occurs at the end, when the writer and his partner perhaps succeed in selling a new comedy to a nascent network. Suddenly all irony is abandoned in favor of mature assessment and a weird kind of personal-growth statement. One of Long's pet peeves is the tendency of everyone in his business to give him notes on his shows, but the temptation is suddenly irresistible, so here goes: Skip the last page."
Luke: "They're a snide snarkey magazine."
Rob: "Yes. Also, when you write something, you're sensitive about it. That's almost the worst kind of review. It means the person enjoyed the book and wrote a thoughtful response to it that you have to take it seriously."
Luke: "I hear it rated right up there with William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade."
Rob: "I'm always gratified to hear that. Nobody bought the book so I'm always gratified to hear that certain people enjoy it. If everyone who ever enjoyed it, bought it..."
Luke: "I checked it out of the library."
Rob: "Most people picked it up at the bookstore, it's so short, they read it while standing in line. By the time they finally got to the cash register, they'd read it. Put it this way. The book caused me no tax trouble.
"People always say, I want to write a novel. My old agent used to say, 'Look, if you want $800, I'll give you $800.' That's about how much money you'll make off your first novel."
Luke: "Was there any negative fallout from the book?"
Rob: "No. Only the young people take themselves and the industry seriously [enough that they'd be offended by the book]. If you're a vice-president of something, you tend to be naive and stupid. I don't think I've ever met anyone with that title who didn't take themselves and their jobs [overly] seriously. By the time you've been around six or seven years, you realize it's ludicrous.
"Everyone tends to believe that they are the island of sanity. So, when they read about how crazy everybody is, they go, 'Oh boy, are you ever right? I'm surrounded by them.' When in fact part of the book is about that person. People tend not to recognize themselves or they tend to be flattered. Most of the people in my book are composite characters who come off ok."
Luke: "No one who matters is afraid of you?"
Rob: "Unfortunately not. Unfortunately, I inspire zero fear or respect in anyone. I think fear and respect are the same thing. People make little jokes about it. 'Oh, this is going to show up in your next book.' I think they're secretly hoping it does. To work in this industry you have to be unembarrassable. Big producers like it when people talk about how dumb they are. They think it's funny."
Luke: "Have you had any huge feuds?"
Luke: "Do you have any huge enemies?"
Luke: "I saw this interchange in Harpers between two sitcom writers who hated each other."
Rob: "Wasn't that awful? I don't even know what they were arguing about but one guy came off to be a lunatic. There are almost always crazy people but if you just do the job, there should be no trouble. It's [television] a collegial place. There are only a few people who work so everybody's got to get along. You prepare yourself for these awful meetings. You tell yourself, 'I'm really going to blow up.' Then you don't because you figure, what's the point?
"There's a whole cottage industry here on the apology. What gift to send to apologize. Where the meeting will be where you apologize. I'm so conflict averse... Today at 4PM we were going to have a meeting in which I was absolutely, in my shower, just eloquently devastating about the idiotic notes we had to listen to [from network executives]. If the meeting had taken place today in my shower, that would've been a great tantrum."
Luke: "Have you ever had any notes sessions in your shower?"
Rob: "No. That's what keeps me back. That I am embarrassable."
Luke: "Has the Gay Mafia ever done anything to you?"
Rob: "No. That was a weird thing of him [Michael Ovitz] to say. In order for that to work, all of those people would have to get along. That particular community is often riven by feuds. They're certainly emotional people. So I don't think they can even agree on their enemies.
"I shouldn't say this as a heterosexual Episcopalian. But as an observer, the most complicated person is the gay Jewish guy. He's got all kinds of things going on. I heard that when they liberated Kabul in Afghanistan, they found two Jews. And they hated each other. They preferred the Taliban to each other."
Luke: "What's it like being an Episcopalian in this business?"
Rob: "It's good. You learn a new language. The industry is so open. They don't care. This is the most open major industry in the world. I hear people say, 'Oh, it's closed.' There's nothing closed about it. You've just got to write the script. And someone's got to read it. It's going to be hard but it's hard for everybody equally.
"And you have to do something that most people don't do - you have to actively manage your own career. Most people get a job and they go where the company directs.
"There are categories of people and you have to hire the right people to put you in the right category. There are funny writers who write vaguely disgusting comedy over here. Girl writers who write romantic comedies, Nora Ephronish but younger, over here. You want to make sure you are in the columns you want to be in. You don't want anyone else defining you. I got a call once from an agent pitching a writer. 'The thing about her is she's great administratively.' What the hell is that? She's not too great with story or jokes, but administratively she's great?
"But this agent decided that this was how he was going to sell this writer. It bothered him to figure out whether that meant anything or not."
Luke: "Do people ever try to make you feel inferior because you work in television rather than film?"
Rob: "I find that people who are sitting at Starbucks working on their screenplay, who've never sold anything, tend to look down on people who write for television. But people I know who write features don't at all. They all want to get into television. It becomes so exhausting going to meeting after meeting, and the project never goes anywhere, and the money's not so good, and you see your friends who write for television, and they cast it and they hire and fire the director, and put it on TV...
"For TV writers like me, who do it for a while, and you do meeting after meeting and you're just trying to get your show on the air... And you get it on the air and you get a 12 share and they don't promote it... You think you'd rather sit at home and write your features. Each side wants to do the other thing.
"I only encounter the snobbery from people who aren't working."
Luke: "Do you yearn to go into features?"
Rob: "It'd be a great job if you were in semi-retirement. To work for a living writing features is a tough job. You need to be able to walk away. You need to have the power of the alternative. The great semi-retirement job is that you come in for two weeks, punch it up, and you leave. If I was going to go into features, I'd want to go in as the boss. It's hard to go from here, where you're the boss, to features where you are not the boss."
Rob is single and has no kids.
Luke: "Let's talk about race. I was raised in America to believe that race doesn't matter but in casting characters in TV and movies, race matters."
Rob: "When people declare things like that, that race doesn't matter, what they're really saying is that race is the only thing that matters. It's the biggest giantest hugest thing. It's a giant subcurrent in every political or financial conversation. It's like the sub woofer. It goes through everything. You may not be able to see where it is coming from, but it's there. And you are not allowed to talk about it. It's rude."
Luke: "I can just picture you going to a network and pitching a new show and then saying, everyone's black."
Rob: "They wouldn't mind that because then it would be a black show. It's a solid performer. There's a financial category for that. You need them. They're evergreens.
"Everyone is so polite and careful that you are never going to be able to get anyone to have an honest conversation at any point anywhere in America unless the door is locked and they're there with their family and they've got, 'I've got shit I could tell people that you said too.' You have to have some kind of mutually assured destruction to have that kind of conversation honestly.
"If you are trying to construct a series, you're just looking for fertile ground. You're looking for fields that are funny. I don't think that I would ever arbitrarily select race unless I knew that it would be funny.
"We wrote a black character for a Bob Newhart show because it was funny having him play against Bob Newhart. But that's why we picked it. We weren't making a statement. We thought it could be fruitful to see a conservative Catholic uptight white guy with a young black guy."
Luke: "How often does race come up?"
Rob: "It has a financial ramification and a scheduling ramification. People think they can have a psuedo-frank conversation about - is it a black show, a white show or a multiracial show? If it's a black show, we can have two areas on our schedule where we can schedule black shows. If it is a black show that cuts young, that's good because it syndicates well. Make it, put it on the WB, syndicate it in the afternoons and make a lot of money. People talk about that - the nuts and bolts - because it makes sense to them and no one can complain about that. But if you're talking about anything else, it's just uncomfortable."
Luke: "Could you write a cutting-edge black show?"
Rob: "No. It isn't me."
Luke: "What are the financial ramifications of a multiracial show?"
Rob: "It depends on how old the people are, whether it is male driven... A black show has a certain niche for the financial backers. The problem is that multiracial shows don't work. Maybe because they are all so pious. We did a show about young guys last season for the WB with a black lead, and a Cuban-American, but it was mainly a guy show about guys chasing women. It didn't have a racial attitude."
Luke: "On the day President Kennedy was shot, journalist Tom Wolfe visited various ethnic neighborhoods in New York and discovered that each ethnic group was blaming another group for the assassination. He wrote the story and turned it in but it was never published because the American newspaper is too much of a 19th Century Victorian gentleman."
Rob: "You can't write the truth because it doesn't fit your audience. That's trouble. It hurts the very groups you're trying to protect. When the homeless were in, under President Reagen, every homeless person was revealed to be a family of four that has fallen on hard times. He's a skilled carpenter and she's a nurses' assistant and they don't have any money and this is terrible. We live in this terrible Reaganite world. The problem is that the people walking up and down the street, their eyes said the homeless tend to be drug or alcohol abusers or mentally ill.
"The media kept hitting this story of no room at the inn, and Joseph and Mary and their baby, and the truth is it was really something else. It delayed a legitimate conversation about the homeless because it was hyper-politicized by the media who wanted to blame it on Reagen. We didn't really want to deal with the topic. We didn't really want to say that part of the problem is that state mental hospitals were closed because they were terrible places... And we had all these people saying in the early seventies that even if all these people live on the street, they're better off on the street than in a state mental hospital.
"I think the same thing happened with AIDS. It wasn't the choreographer or the photographer's assistant but the guy who just got it from the thing and the girl who was a guy one time and all these people who were statistically insignificant. It socialized the risk. The two things that people heard about AIDS when it broke was one, everyone can get it, and two, don't worry, it's not an epidemic. And people just turned off.
"The tragedy is, the very people you're trying to psuedo-protect by lying about it, end up not helping. So the incidence of HIV infection among young gay men is going up. So how have we helped?
"When Friends came out, it was a cultural phenomenon. It was a show about single young people in New York. People forget that there had been a hit show on Fox for a year before called Living Single - about single young people in New York City. But they were black. When NBC moved Friends to 8PM Thursdays, you had a white and a black version of the same show on at the same time. Nobody mentioned it because it was rude."
Luke: "Do you ever fear that you are in an industry that is fundamentally degrading the country?"
Rob: "I don't believe there is an industry. It's too fragmented. It's a matter of the amount. People watch too much TV. They're always doing studies that show Americans are busier than ever. So busy they don't even eat at home anymore. They pick up food and eat it while they drive. But they still watch three hours of TV a day. I hope people will develop appointment viewing."
Rob: "No. I haven't been to church in years. I don't think there's a church around. There's a Lutheran Church around the corner but I'm scared. It seems too... If I were to pick a church, it would be a church that doesn't require a great deal of faith. Being Episcopalian, faith isn't what it's about."
Luke: "How much do you think the lack of religiosity of people who make TV affects the final product?"
Rob: "They've done studies that show that people who don't go to church have a hard time believing that anyone else goes to church or that there's anything to be found there. Some of the biggest, longest running, hits on TV have been church related - Touched By An Angel, Seventh Heaven. I think the theory is that religion is a private thing and you don't want to turn anybody off. You've got to be nice and generic and broad. You can God up there on a big cloud but you can't get too specific about it because you have too many people out there and you don't want to turn anybody off."
Luke: "Would you be willing to risk your life to do a TV show called The Last Temptation of Mohammed?"
Rob: "If I could do it funny. You don't want to do it just for controversy. I saw The Last Temptation of Christ and it was a bad movie. I couldn't tell if it was irreverent or blasphemous or what. I was just so bored by it. A movie about Mohammed wouldn't have any appeal to them [the makers of Last Temptation of Christ] because it is only fun to offend your neighbor."
Luke: "Do you do things for appearances?"
Rob: "No. A traditional film producer needs to do that. You need to be out and to look like you're busy. When you have a skill, you don't need to do any of that stuff. I live at the beach [in Venice] and I find it really hard to turn around and go back [to Los Angeles proper]. I will do anything after I leave work to avoid going east of Lincoln Blvd."
Luke: "Do you go to many parties that you don't want to go to?"
Rob: "I don't get invited to parties. Every now and then you get invitations to charity benefits. Then you look at it and try to figure out who put you on the list and you try to figure out if you have sent that guy invitations to your charity events. People who have given money to your cause, you give to their cause. That's as political as I get.
"I'm political in that I listen to notes. I'm polite and respectful even if the person is a moron. Making sure that everyone feels they have a stake in the project. Be easy to work with. That always pays off and the opposite always penalizes you."
Luke: "How do morons get to be executives?"
Rob: "That's how they hire them. They're a separate class of person. It's not like the old days when they'd say to someone like me, 'Are you exhausted? Come be vice-president of development.' Instead, they have people whose job is to watch me do my job. It doesn't seem economical.
"It used to be that you had a big boss who expressed his taste. That's how you programmed a network or built a slate of films. This picture needs a pretty girl in it and that picture needs a monster... Now there's nobody like that. I don't know one writer or director who wouldn't want to work for one of those old fashioned moguls, because at least you know where they are coming from. There's one guy left who's kinda like that - Les Moonves [who runs CBS]. He's infuriating and difficult and aggressive and scary but you know where he's coming from. He's expressing his taste as opposed to a guy looking at the numbers and the testing...
"There's no scientific formula. When NBC gets Friends, the first thing they do is to try to put on five other shows like Friends, as if they somehow came up with Friends. What gave them Friends was that they hired three people to write a good script and make a good show. NBC fought them every step of the way. In the process of those three people not listening to the network and not doing what the network told them to do, they got a hit show. The lesson from that the network received was - we know how to create hits. The lesson they should've learned was - we have no idea how to create hits, which would be so liberating. All you'd have to do is find people whose work you liked and then hire them do their work. See if it works. If it doesn't, put on something else."
Luke: "What's the most meaningful part of your work?"
Rob: "I don't know. I like doing my work with the camera and the people performing... I like being on the set and making the show funny. But the minute its over, the studio and the network have ideas... You have to cut the thing..."
Luke: "Are most comedy writers misanthropes?"
Rob: "The good ones are. It's not an attractive trait to have a job where you joke around. When you sit in a room with a bunch of writers and everybody is making jokes and you're trying to top each other... Because it is quasi-social, you can convince yourself that is your group of friends. This is your social life. It's not. It's a collegial job. It's not friendship. It's not the job of your real friends to make you laugh. It's OK not to joke around all the time.
"You should try to be the guy who comes up with the line or the fix that is so great that everybody gets to go home early, that's the person you should aspire to be if you want a career. My career goal is to go home. That story editor is a huge star to me."
Luke: "Do you think about comedy as various degrees of cruelty?"
Rob: "That's probably true. There's something hilarious about cruel humor. People who write great comedy can also write great drama while people who write great drama can't always write great comedy."
Rob: "The awards shows are my favorite if I'm nominated. And if I'm not nominated, they are my least favorite."
Nominated twice, Long has never won an Emmy.
Rob: "The show [Cheers] got an Emmy for a show I wrote with my partner. I didn't get a statute.
"The best thing is the first two months after your product is a certifiable hit. You have a grace period for a couple of months where you can do whatever you want. No one will deign to give you notes.
"Television is a matter of fact place. You don't have to be or do anything so long as you have a skill. If you're a writer, you always want to let other people think they are discovering you because then they will have more of a stake in promoting you. We tend to spec [submit] our ideas rather than pitch them. They come to the desk fully formed and already written and there's an element of surprise to whoever is reading it. It may take an extra month to write the thing, rather than just pitch an idea, but it is much easier in the long run.
"The worst Hollywood ritual is pitching. I hate it. It's stupid. When you go in a room and pitch someone a story, then go write it... For two months, your idea of what you're writing and their idea of what you're writing grow miles apart. You turn in something they don't recognize.
"In January, all the scripts come in. The networks go nuts. They make frantic calls. 'What else do you have?' If you are a writer who wants to get a show on the air, write a spec pilot, put it in your drawer, and send out January 6. Because they will be so disappointed in the stuff that they ordered.
"It's even worse in features. They take 30 pitches a day in tight bits of ideas that eventually have to become long stories. It never works out."
Luke: "Any pop culture profs see great profundity in your work that you never realize existed?"
Rob: "They used to do that with Cheers. Cheers was an officially approved intellectual piece of work, which always made us laugh. One of the guys who used to run the show remarked that the characters on the show are awful to each other. But because the theme song is so friendly, people get the sense that the people love each other.
"Some guy did an interesting piece about what an ancient form Cheers was. These are natural archetypes. You are naturally going to have these characters in your play. They go back to ancient Greece. The sassy barmaid. The bragging know-it-all guy in uniform. The poor schlub who has a wife he can't stand and he has to drink all day. I'm sure it never occurred to the Charles brothers who created the show. They are smart guys but they weren't trying to resurrect some of the famous archetypes of comedy."
Luke: "Do you tell strangers what you do for a living?"
Rob: "No. I say I'm a financial journalist or a merchant banker. Neither one has any follow-up. Before I did that, people would always respond, 'Do I know anything you've done?' Probably not. I've had a couple of shows canceled. And there was that concern that you'd get. Don't worry. Failure is rewarded around here."
Luke: "Do you encounter people who start lecturing you about the immorality of television?"
Rob: "Yeah, when I go to right-wing events. You just say, 'What do you want me to do? I write things that I think are funny.' I don't think TV is instructional. I think TV is the worst place to learn anything. It's pure entertainment."
Luke: "Is there a common thread through your work?"
Rob: "I hope not."
Luke: "Have you ever been in therapy?"
Rob: "No, I don't think I would do well. I'd think, 'How would that guy know? He doesn't know me.' This girl was telling me about behavioral therapists. You go to them with a problem. 'I can't start anything on time. Instead, I have to do it at the last minute.' These guys are really good. They give you tricks and cues and ways to discipline yourself to accomplish a task. Big sports team use them. That might be cool."
Luke: "But you are not interested in why you do what you do?"
Rob: "I couldn't be less interested. I don't believe I could learn that from somebody else."
Luke: "You don't read on psychology?"
Rob: "No. I don't believe in it. It has fun buzz words you can use.
"You pay the guy to ask you questions. I don't know. What are you going to tell me that I don't already know? It would be hard for me to go and tell somebody what actually happened that day without being bored by it. I think I'd make shit up or make it more entertaining. I often do that in life. I think that would be bad for therapy.
"I'm surprised when I see Larry David's show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. If I were his therapist, you'd know the guy is lying. You'd know from watching the show."
Luke: "Have you ever had a chick tell you to go to a therapist?"
Rob: "No. I'm dating a girl who's studying to be one. It's interesting when she talks about personality disorders.
"If I ever met a therapist who I thought was funny, I might be interested, but most of them seem earnest."
Luke: "You don't see yourself replaying relationships you had as a child?"
Rob: "God no. I see myself taking language from people and using it [in scripts]. It's a pastiche. It's more like dreams where the content is not as important as the emotional story. It's all about how you feel.
"I'm currently having a weird dispute with a friend. He says it happened to him and I'm certain it happened to me. I was driving on Wilshire Blvd and some guy pulled up next to me and said in an English accent, 'Hey, use your fucking indicator!' I'm convinced it happened to me and my friend Tim is convinced it happened to him. He says his wife was in the car but I've already had run-ins with his wife's memory, which is really bad."
I walk back to the parking lot. My van is the only dented rusting beat-up vehicle around.