Rabbis Shmuley Boteach, Naomi Levy Don't Show At UJ
All the bile I built up writing my academic story overcame me Sunday night.
I was at a great singles event at the University of Judaism. There were about 400 other people there, including many hotties. But as the evening wore on, the worse I felt.
I got home from academia at 5PM. I munched four handfuls of peanuts and drank ice tea while writing up my report. I was five minutes late for my friend Aaron's pickup at 6:30PM. And he had a beautiful woman in the car with him too, Vanessa.
I drove alone to UJ. I ate grapes and cheese and crackers. A placard announced that Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (Kosher Sex) had cancelled at the last minute along with Rabbi Naomi Levy. I didn't care. I was having fun.
Then as the night wore on, I felt increasingly nauseated and ended up spending most of the evening kneeling before a toilet.
Conservative Judaism is a religion for academics. It is not in good shape. If you want to know why, go to this Conference. It's boring.
2:30 AM, 12/15/02: Loud bang outside my window, a burst of light, a crash. I reach for my gun as I imagine Jeff Wald smashing through my door. But it's nobody.
I relax for a second and then the nightmare repeats. I look outside and see that two power lines are down in the mild drizzle pit-pattering on Southern California. There's no power in my hovel.
I get up at 7:30AM and there's still no power. I wash my face, put on my shiny black undertaker suit, sniff myself and the odor is ripe, and head for the first day of the three-day 34th Annual Conference of the Association for Jewish Studies.
I schlep along my black Museum of Tolerance bag filled with two protein bars, a bottle of peanuts, a tape recorder, camera and two books. I shell out $140 for a pass to the Conference. It appears that 90% of the attendees are working academics in the Jewish Studies field. There are only a handful of hot chicks - they look like grad students.
I find my way to the Olympic Ballroom for "Questions of Identity in Jewish Theatre and Film." I'm the first person in. At 10:20, Dr. Eli Farber joins me. He's a professor of Jewish History at the City University of New York. He published the controversial book Jews, Slaves and the Slave Trade. It was reviewed positively almost everywhere except the Amsterdam News, a black newspaper in New York which damned the book for the sentence that said blacks in Africa contributed to the slave trade, and the New York Times, which did not review it at all.
Dr. Farber speculated that the liberal bent of the New York Times' book section precluded reviewing something that did not portray blacks as simple victims.
Dr. Farber's father Solomon Farber was a big Conservative rabbi who joined with Dr. David Novak, a neo-conservative, in splitting away from the Conservative movement in 1984 (after it decided to ordain women and shifted left) to form the Union for Traditional Judaism, which has about petered out.
Dr. Eli Farber, when he attends shul, davens at an accepting Orthodox shul.
He's in this seminar looking for papers for a journal on American Jewish history that he edits. He doesn't find anything.
Laura S. Levitt from Temple University is the slim charming middle-aged chair of the panel. The first speaker is Paul Reitter, a short stocky guy who looks like a fullback. He reads his paper on "Karl Kraus's Yiddish Theater." He's not an accomplished public speaker (most of the presenters at the conference are not) and he reads in a jerky way, making odd choices when he emphasizes certain words.
Paul twice gets a note from Laura to wind up his presentation but he ploughs on to the end. He looks like he's dying up there. We're certainly dying down here. There are about six people in the audience.
A sheen of sweat develops on Paul's face. He keeps talking about Jewish artists as borrowers in the European anti-semitic perspective. He repeats a fancy academic word - meosis - for imitate.
Next paper-reader is Edward P. Merwin from Dickinson College. He plays an absurd excerpt from a 1925 silent film about a family celebrating a shabbos meal but the actors, sometimes unintentionally, perform most of the rituals wrong. Merwin is more smooth than the first presenter but still uninspiring. Jewish Studies do not appear to be in good hands.
This content about the identity of Jewish goyim (secular Jews) in mediocre forms of entertainment is of interest to almost nobody outside of academics. Merwin makes the obligatory bows to his mates in Jewish academia. "Jews became white by putting on black face in the 1928 film The Jazz Singer notes professor..."
Jewish goyim are headed for the toilet bowl of history. Without Judaism, Jews assimilate.
The room is freezing, which is good because without the arctic gail blowing through, we'd all be asleep.
The third presenter is the most confident and ccomplished - Dr. Eric Goldman from Ergo Media. He discusses "Barry Levinson's Avalon and Liberty Heights: A Cultural Cinematic Examination of the American Jewish Experience."
Dr. Goldman says that Levinson, whom he greatly admires, said that he made Liberty Heights because of the offhand remark of a journalist that the character played by Dustin Hoffman in a Levinson film looked Jewish. This so enraged Levinson, a secular Hollywood Jew, that he made the pointless film Liberty Heighs. Dr. Goldman, of course, sees all kinds of great meanings in the film. As did Nice Jewish Girl when we saw it together December 18, 1999.
From the archives of the Luke Ford Life, a far more worthy topic of academic investigation than most of the topics at this conference:
On the drive back from my talk to skeptics, NJG says: "I've learned more about Luke from his lecture than from knowing him. And he loves me. Last night, he was totally emotionally shut down but today, in front of an audience, he was so gregarious."
Luke: "That's how a lot of men are. I know several rabbis like that. They are open, warm, caring, magnetic in front of a mike, and then cold fish in person."
NJG: "When you go on a date with Luke, he won't talk. You'll try to make a conversation and he emotionally shuts down. And the end of the flick 'Liberty Heights," which I liked because I am a real Jew. And I know how my father was made fun of and beaten up because he was Jewish. Luke felt no connection to Jews in the past or their pain. And at the end of the movie, when they talked about having memories, and my father died in January. I was feeling all choked up. And the audience claps. And Luke turns to me and says, 'Well, that was pointless.' And there were people all around me sniffling. I was sniffling. I was staring at Luke for emotional support. He gave me none. I wound up yelling at him. Then, when you yell at him like something like that, he totally shuts down and disassociates."
Luke: "At least I was really friend to your cousin and grandma."
NJG: "He was completely unfriendly. He just stood in the living room. They said hello. Luke broke out into a sweat and said 'I have to go back to my car.' Luke didn't even sit down. He stood in the middle of the living room and he wouldn't look at anybody, sweating profusely. Freaking out. Having a total panic attack."
Luke: "I was parked illegally."
NJG: "Last time he was at my house picking me up, he sat on my couch and again totally disassociated into the TV screen.
"I learned a lot about Luke from today's lecture. He has great feelings for a group of people. He can completely open up to a group of people. All the drive over, he wouldn't talk to me. 'Look at the traffic, isn't it awful? Good thing I have a radio.' Which he doesn't. And this is a 20 minute ride. Does it upset you that I spent $70 on this skirt?"
Luke: "No, it was worth it. It flatters your newly slender figure."
NJG: "I woke everybody up in the place because they were old. They really stared at me. At the end, me and Lynne conspired against Luke. First we went out to the car. Then I said, 'We have to go back in and introduce ourselves. We have to pull a Courtney Love.' So Lynne and I went back in and I introduced myself. 'I'm Nice Jewish Girl from the website.'"
Luke: "No one had even read my website or heard of NJG."
NJG: "Luke, why can't you open up to me when we've been married all this time, practically, on the web?"
Luke: "Certain times you feel like opening up, such as in front of a group."
NJG: "Are you usually emotionally shut down?"
Luke: "Yeah, because I am a man and that is how men are."
NJG: "Do you want me to kiss you on the cheek?"
NJG: "Are you scared of me?"
NJG gets angry at me for refusing her kiss.
NJG: "You just look so cute, all of a sudden. It must be the fame thing, speaking to seven elderly people turns Luke on."
We get in Lynne's car and drive to the Beverly Center to have a late lunch at the Souplantation.
Lynne: "Luke f---s people over inadvertently then has to adopt a posture that it is just part of his personality. Half the time when he's offensive, he has no clue about what is so offensive about what he's done."
NJG: "Luke, giving money to your temple doesn't make you a good Jew."
I pay yearly dues to my synagogue of $1200, which is typical for membership in a shul. Jews don't take up monetary donations in religious services like Christians.
Lynne: "You [NJG] didn't grow up in a religious straightjacket. The Seventh Day Adventists are an honest to goodness cult. There is no room in their religious framework for questioning or skepticism. That's when his father came a cropper. His father tried to blend his secular knowledge with the tenets of the cult. And you can't do that with cults."
NJG keeps bugging us to stop at a health food store to get stuff for her bladder infection.
NJG: "We get them all the time, particularly after having sex with men."
Lynne: "And it's usually something they got from the last girl they had sex with. That's how you know they're screwing around."
NJG: "While Luke spoke, I could feel his father in the room. Omigod, I do not want to go to dinner with him. I want to stay in my room and not go to dinner with daddy. I'm scared of Luke's daddy."
Lynne: "I'm not afraid of anybody. I could feel his fear of having to live up to his expectations. He knew that dad was special, he was up here, and most people were not. And he needed to achieve beyond daddy. So he had to find something where he could be better than daddy.
"So he's found this thing. Nobody else has chronicled the industry like Luke."
NJG: "I just could feel this humongous father figure. How do you live with a father like that?"
Lynne: "I think you hide under a rock until you can get away."
Lynne L-patin writes: Your impeccable grammar and diction were a tremendous asset to your description of how you overcame your religious stultification to become the ------- horndog you are today.
Subjecting you to Courtney Love punk rock sing-a-long torture with her was so much fun, even when you made us stop because the neighbors might hear it. The stupidest things cause you agonizing embarrassment, whereas you don't care if others are embarrassed over some truly horrible things you say about them. I should spray paint "Luke Ford ------ fat ladies for money" in front of your house. It might cure you of that gleeful callousness people find so distasteful.
Nice Jewish Girl writes: Here's my version of the events surrounding Luke and NJG. Saturday night was pretty much as he said, he was cold and unfeeling at the movies, even though the movie was about Jews in the 50's and what they went through. BTW, Liberty Heights has the gorgeous actor Adrian Brody in it (I'm pretty sure he is Italian or Jewish) and he is soooo cute. He was in Summer of Sam as the punk rock kid and I was in love with him in that flick.
Sunday, Luke picked me up at grandma's house, sat in the car and didn't come to the door! I said Luke, why didn't you come to the door? Luke said, because it was before 10:00? Oh he couldn't ring the doorbell?
Then the "Kiss On The Cheek Incident". Well Luke and I are really talking for a change in the car, we are bonding, and I'm thinking, oh he looks so cute, so sweet, Luke, can I kiss you on the cheek? NO he says. Why? Because he doesn't kiss anyone, because kissing is too intimate. But, I say, a kiss on the cheek? We're friends Luke! Not only that, but you always talk about having sex with me! I do?, he says, playing innocent. Yes, I say, just yesterday you were talking about sticking your -------- into me. Oh, Luke says, sheepishly. So Luke, when you had --- with Kendra, did you kiss her?? No, he says. NO?, I say, incredulous at this revelation, How Could You Do That? Too intimate he says. Kissing is more intimate than having sex, he reveals.
So, as soon as I get home from L.A. today, I call Kendra, my good friend, btw, and I tell her what Luke has said. “What?” she says. “He's a total liar! That is completely untrue!” Ok, I say, I believe you. I say I'm gonna yell at him the next time I talk to him about it.
I'd like to say that I think Lynne takes much better pix of me than Luke does. I liked the pix in general. People are telling me I look cute, very cute, including my friend L. who called me up at grandma's house to tell me that "I saw your wedding pictures and they look beautiful!" LOL, guess Lukey and I are still married on the net.
Luke though, is very cold. I don't think I can break through his blockade, and I'm pretty good at breaking through people's (and men's) walls. I can't do it. Last night when I had a fight with my grandmother and I wanted Luke to pick me up he refused. He's not a person that you can rely on to be there. He's not a very good friend.
AND NOW BACK TO OUR COVERAGE OF THE BORING ACADEMICS
Final speaker is Jan Lewis, a doctoral candidate at UC Santa Barbara in theatre and a teacher at the University of Judaism. She keeps brushing her blonde bangs out of her eyes and talks about yiddish inflections in two plays by Wendy Wasserstein.
Most of these professors just want to give long boring ponderous sermons on their pet topics, which almost nobody gives a damn about. What brings Jewish scholars arond the world to these types of conferences is not the scintillating presentations. It's simply to get together and compare notes and schmooze away from the never-ending readings of pointless papers. These professors seem uncomfortable when they're not talking and not in charge.
I now know why I dropped out of UCLA. Because of pompous blowhards like the types at this conference.
I run into an aging author Daniel Boyarin in front of the lone TV set in the lounge as we watch Miami dispatch Oakland. He's from Berkeley. I read two of his books - Carnal Israel and Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man. Is it just me or is that a really bizarre title and subject for a book? Everyone knows that it was marked out by the will of heaven that Jews be heterosexual.
Boyarin's a putative Orthodox Jew of 35 years yet he has a stud in his left ear. What's up with that? He says more Orthodox men should have earrings.
His friend Sherman, who has bleached purple hair, has tons of earrings.
About one in five of the male attendees at the conference wear yarmulkes, mostly of the knitted variety, indicating affiliation with the most lax form of Orthodox Judaism. I see one man wearing his tzitzit out. None of the women have their hair covered, as married women are required to do by Jewish Law. The crowd's not religious.
There are disturbing presentations on queer studies - Jews who commit all sorts of abominations forbidden by Natural and Torah Law.
I feel like an interloper. I'm not gay and I'm not secular and I'm not a boring blowhard of a leftist professor tickling the bums of my mates. I don't fit in here.
How is this group different from other academic groups? Well, it's better behaved. I don't hear any cursing or bad manners.
The second presentation of the day is spirited - by Dr. Johnathan D. Sarna - at 1:30PM. He just got the Marshall Sklare Award for groovy Jewish sociology.
The late Dr. Sklare is perhaps best known for totally blowing it. He wrote in 1957 that American Orthodx Judaism is "a case study in institutional decay." Not many years passed before Orthodoxy was revealed as triumphant and Reform and Conservative on life support. No mention of Dr. Sklare's blunder is made.
Dr. Sarna looks and talks like Donald Duck. Or does everyone from Boston talk like Donald Duck?
He's about 5'4" but energetic and funny. Unfortunately the room is too warm and some people nod off during his talk.
Dr. Sarna's talk attracts some hot looking female grad students. To stay awake, I picture them performing all sorts of private Jewish rituals like lighting the Sabbath candles.
Dr. Sarna says in the 1960s when he was thinking of studying American Jewish history, a Talmudic scholar told him not to waste his time. "Everything you need to know about American Jewish history I can tell you. Jews came from Europe, dropped their observance of the Torah, and assimilated."
Dr. Sarna, a historian, say the story is not so bleak.
Dr. Sarna says most of the changes in American Jewish sociology have been from the outside in. Meaning that some lay people have started doing things, like feminism and reforming outdated rituals and prayers, the havurah movement (friendship societies), Shlomo Carlebach style singing, demonstrations on behalf of Soviety Jewry, etc, and the putative leaders of the community, the rabbis, have followed.
With the exception of intermarriage (a measure of how well Jews are accepted by the goyim), American Jews were in far worse shape between the World Wars. They studied and observed less Torah and were less likely to belong to synagogues and attend Jewish day schools.
The profs give each other glowing introductions. Recipients of the introductions shake their heads to show how humble they are. Then they stand around and ask each other ponderous questions.
The profs are a smart left-leaning largely-secular priesthood of intellectual elites. They seem normal to me. They don't wear the polyester suits and earnest manners of the evangelical Christian intellectuals I grew up with.
At 3:30PM, I find Dr. Boyarin watching the San Francisco - Green Bay game. I sit beside him. Us Orthodox Jewish men in touch with our feminine side have to stick together. Football is a pleasant and manly goyisha diversion from the life-denying foolishness of much of the conference.
Dr. Boyarin's just finished a new book on Judaism and Christianity between 200-400 CE. He argues that the critical distinctions between the two groups were imposed from the top down by its clergy. If they had only left well enough alone, Jews and Christians would be swimming in the same stream.
This is not the view of author Hayim Maccoby. I mention the name to Dr. Boyarin and his face curls up in disgust.
The final lecture I attend Sunday at the conference is by Haym Soloveitchik, the son of the Rav (J.B. Soleveitchik). The room goes quiet. Haym looks like his revered father. Haym reads in a soothing voice his paper on 12th Century Jewish pietistic sect in Germany. He gets great respect from the audience.
In conclusion, I'd like to ask forgiveness from anyone I've offended in this report. Perhaps I've been too hasty and too critical too often and too much.
I fear that I have a great internal need to mock other people because I feel so unhappy about myself. I will not walk away from this flaw in my character. Instead I intend to keep writing about it ad nauseum until all my readers fall asleep. By the way, I hate you all.
Saluting The Bravery Of Khunrum
Helpful writes: I wish to salute the bravery of our fellow advisory committee member, Khunrum. Despite al-quida's recent bombing of a Bali nightclub favored by westerners he soldiered on to his adopted home of Thailand. Our colleague refused to let the implicit threat of future terroristic acts directed at Americans over seas deter him from his beloved tourism. God bless you, Rum. You are defying Osama and making us all proud.
Khunrum replies: To be recognized for bravery by one's friends is a wonderful feeling....But am I truly a hero?..No, I think not. I am somewhat like the soldier in battle who charges the machine gun nest with the hope bullets will strike his buddies and not him. Whilst I believe a bombing in T-land is remotely possible, statistically speaking it will probably be an "establishment" I am not frequenting at the moment or the bar I left a half hour ago.
Fred writes: Rum, I want you to know that you are one of my great heros--a man I admire, and who stands up for what I believe in. You are also helping out the economy of a third world country, and assisting those less fortunate than yourselves.
Lunch With Cathy Seipp
My appointment is for 12:30 PM in Silverlake 12/11/02. I arrive at noon. Because I have no life, I can't help arriving early for everything.
I read a book until 12:18PM. Then I walk over to the restaurant. An 80-year old man from Lithuania approaches me. He asks for a ride two miles down the road to mail a package. How can I refuse? He insists on paying me $5. I take it.
I'm anxious as I drive back because I'm stealing Cathy's time.
I meet her at 12:40PM. She's gracious about my tardiness and points out the post office next door.
I order a plain pizza and she gets a pasta dish. We drink ice water.
Cathy: "I was born in Winnipeg, Canada and moved to Los Alamitos (where the 605 and 405 freeway meet in California's Orange County] when I was four years old. It's an unglamorous boring area that has a racetrack. My whole family moved to Los Alamitos from Winnipeg because my grandfather's business partner had embezzled all the money. My grandmother got pregnant with my aunt. So they just made a new start and moved down here in the early sixties.
"My grandfather and father got into the house-moving business. When they were building all these big freeways, they would move the houses out of the way of the freeways. They were successful in a modest unglamorous way.
"I went to UCLA when I was 16. In Canada, you don't normally go to 12th grade, or you didn't when my parents grew up there. So my mother thought I should go straight to college. I was glad to get out of Los Alamitos.
"I have one sister, Michele. She's 18-months younger.
"I majored in English at UCLA. They don't have a journalism major because it is too good a school [to have a vocational program]. I worked on the campus newspaper. After four years, I graduated in 1978."
Luke: "Did you always know you were going to be a writer?"
Cathy: "When I was a child, I was a good drawer. I thought I might be an artist. But since I started college, I knew I'd be a writer. I didn't like writing term papers and stuff because no one would read them except the teacher."
Luke: "Did you infuriate people in college with your writing?"
Cathy laughs: "Like I do now? Not really. I always had opionated pieces but nobody seemed to get infuriated with what I wrote. At UCLA there was a tradition, like there is at every campus newspaper across the country, some offended student group will march on the paper. At UCLA, it was because some rape suspect would be [named as] black. For criminal suspects, they would do a sketch and if it was of some politically incorrect race, [there would be trouble]. There was a girl who said she got date-raped at a frat party, and some people tried to say it was different from regular rape. And so a women's group marched on the paper.
"I don't think I started offending people with anything I wrote until I started that Buzz column on the LA Times. That was when I was writing about the media and other media people get really offended. Regular people don't get as easily offended."
Luke: "Were your parents conservative?"
Cathy: "Oh no. We were Jewish so of course they were nice liberal Jewish people in Orange County."
Luke: "When did you become conservative?"
Cathy: "I've always supported the death penalty. When you question things and you have a logical frame of mind [you leave liberalism]. I was never bleeding heart. Growing up in this conservative, hickish, born-again Christian part of Orange County, by definition I was considered liberal because I was not of that cultural type. In 1990, when my husband left, and because I had a little baby, my only form of entertainment was to read tons and tons of newspapers and magazines. The more you read, the more facts you have, it's hard to stay a registered Democrat. I registered Republican just before the 2000 elections so I could vote in the primaries.
"My first vote, at age 18, was for Jimmy Carter in 1976. I voted for all the Democratic candidates for president until 2000. It's hard when you grow up with liberal parents to vote Republican. Most people just don't question their background. Even if you agree with more things on the Republican things, it's hard, particularly if you're Jewish, to [vote Republican]."
Luke: "How were you raised in relationship to Judaism?"
Cathy: "We were raised unobservant [of Jewish Law]. If my sister and I had been boys, we would've been Bar Mitvahed but in the old days, girls didn't do that. My mother's parents were grandchildren of rabbis. Like a lot of Jews leaving Europe, they left that [religious] stuff behind.
"My daughter had a Bat Mitvah [coming of adult age ceremony in the Jewish religion at age 13]. She wanted to go to Sunday school. She's theologically interested. She always asked me questions. She's always wanted to go to Shalhevet [Modern Orthodox coed Jewish day school]."
Luke: "Is she?"
Cathy exclaims: "NO! A. It's $20,000 a year. B. I don't live over there. I'm not going to drive an hour-and-a-half each way. C. The girls have to wear skirts below the knee. I don't even know where you get dorky looking skirts like that. No! She goes to a nice private school here that's half the price though very Gentile. Down that [Orthodox Jewish] path it's too nerdy. I think it's just as well to go to school with people who are different from you. I think that's part of the problem with all these West-side liberal Jews. Everyone around them is exactly alike and they never meet anyone who is different."
Cathy orders a cappuccino and I order a lemon ice.
Cathy: "It makes me grateful for this Okie area I grew up in, even though I hated it then and wanted to get away. It teaches you that not everyone thinks the way you think. It's a good thing to learn as a journalist that most people are not like the cultural elite in the newsroom. It's so easy to shock journalists. If you have a different opinion, they're shocked."
Cathy worked for the AP after college for less than a year. I left because I was frustrated that I wasn't hired as a reporter from a copy clerk. My first job after that was at this hideous thing called The California Apparel News (CAN), the poor man's Women's Wear Daily, a trade paper for fashion. CAN brought in a new boss, Michael Belluomo. We called him Balumbo because he was such a dope. I was so young and stupid at the time that I didn't realize that you couldn't constantly make fun of the new boss. They will fire you. That was a shock. I cried. That was the last time I cried at an office. I was 20.
"I then went to the Los Angeles Daily News for four years, leaving in 1985. They doubled my salary to $400 a week. I was a fashion writer and for a year I wrote a daily column. It was a proto-blog. They had a stupid new features editor come in who I hated - Jane Amari. She's now at the Arizona Daily Star. I see her on Romenesko occasionally. She gets in trouble for doing some moronic thing."
From Jim Romenesko's page 10/28/02: "Several dozen Arizona Star readers let the paper know they weren't happy to see child killer Frank Jarvis Atwood's guest column opposing the death penalty. "I would cancel my subscription if my husband would allow me," says one reader. Star editor and publisher Jane Amari says she regrets publishing the murderer's essay. "Choosing to run the piece was a serious lapse in judgment," she says. "If we felt making that point was so important, I feel sure we could have located an author who is not on death row for a heinous crime." PLUS: The Star also regrets running an editorial cartoon equating the D.C. sniper with the gun lobby."
Cathy: "At that point, I didn't want to work in an office any more and have people tell me what to do. Since then, I've been a freelancer."
Luke: "When did your relationship with the LA Times begin?"
Cathy: "My first published article at age 19 was in the LA Times. I was friendly with a journalism professor named Digby Diehl and he was the Books editor at the LA Times and he gave me an assignment (biography of the real person behind the Three Faces of Eve book) and it was on the front page of the LA Times Book Review. At that time, you had to drive the story downtown because there weren't faxes and email. I didn't know how to drive from Westwood to downtown but I did it. Digby had a mean secretary named Eve who was horrible to me and screamed at me for having the margins wrong.
"When I was four and we moved to this country, I read the Times. Smart people got the Times. Stupid people got the Long Beach Press Telegram or the Orange County Register. When I wrote that thing about Bella Stumbo [LA Times feature writer] when she died, I've been reading her since high school.
"I freelanced for the Times until I started writing about them for Buzz. They would still call me up occasionally and try to assign me freelance articles. After I got into that niche of writing about media, and doing what I wanted to do - opinionated essays - I didn't want to do just some stupid assignment. As Ben Stein once told me, you want to have monopoly money instead of general money. You want to have a niche where you write about stuff that only you can do - so they will pay you more for it. You dilute the franchise if you start doing celebrity interviews."
Luke: "How did the Times react to your Buzz column?"
Cathy: "At first, they didn't know who did it. It took them two years to figure it out. It took the Daily News ten minutes when they wanted to. I'd mentioned the Daily News in some context and they got on the phone and figured it out. I first wrote under the pseudonym Margo Magee because they had a comic strip Apartment 3G and there's a girl in it called Margo Magee. It was my little inside-the-Times joke. They didn't read their own comics so they couldn't figure it out. I kept the pseudonym as a persona like Spy's Celia Brady [Hollywood gossip column written by various people and edited together by Kurt Anderson]. The Times thought for a long time that it was a bunch of people reporting my column and one person would write it. I was insulted. It was all mine. They couldn't get it out of their head that it was a man writing it."
Luke: "Did they ever threaten lawsuits?"
Cathy: "No, because nothing was inaccurate. And for what? Hurting their feelings? The argument was never that I was inaccurate. It was that I was mean-spirited and angry. As you can see, I'm not angry and I don't think that I'm mean-spirited. With American journalism, if you write something blunt, people get shocked. The English have much stricter libel laws but you're allowed to be ruder. In America, everything's got to be psycho-therapized and you have to considerate of people's feelings and you can't ever write about what people are really talking about.
"Robert Scheer was angry [with me]."
Luke: "David Horowitz wrote he was always opening up people's refrigerators looking for stuff to eat."
Cathy: "Well, that sounded like Scheer. He's a masher - an old fashioned term for an older guy who picks up on young women. I'd always refer to him as Robert "Romeo" Scheer and he'd get really mad.
"As a kid, I loved Rolf Harris records [Australian folk singer, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" et al]. It shows you how eccentric we were growing up in Los Alamitos. There was this one song: "I've got hair oil in my ears and me glasses slipping down/ But baby I can see through you." That always reminded me of Robert Scheer and he got mad when I wrote that about him. And the good thing about Buzz is that they never made me explain the reference like a lot of bad editors. If you don't know who Rolf Harris is, you can figure it out."
Luke: "Why did Buzz close in 1998?"
Cathy: "Because Disney decided not to sell Los Angeles Magazine. There wasn't room for two monthly LA magazines. LA Magazine had made money every year except when Buzz started. Buzz was never profitable. If Disney had closed LA Magazine, Buzz would've stayed open. When Buzz became bad the last year or two, when the editor Allan Mayer left and they turned Buzz into this Tiger Beat meets In Style sensibility... I was fired from Buzz because they couldn't afford to pay me any more.
"The only time I got mad when I was fired from some place was Salon because they never bothered to tell me. I only found out when a reader emailed me and said, 'They reorganized the whole look of the site. Are they keeping your column?' I called the sub-editor that I worked with and he said, 'Oh yeah, I was going to call you. We're dropping the column but you can still pitch us with stories.' The editor-in-chief who hired me, David Talbot, never bothered to call me, which is terrible. When I called him and left a message, and emailed him, he never called me back. He'd also promised 10,000 shares of stock, which he never gave. That's a moot point now because it's worth nothing.
"The most lucrative column I ever had was the one for Media Week's online site [trade magazine]. I did it for two years. It started off as a twice-a-week column. I've liked getting into more writing about media instead of what I used to have to do - some schleppy celebrity interview."
Luke: "Which members of the media have taken greatest exception to your writing on them?"
Cathy: "Robert Scheer is still resentful and he refers to me as evil. There was a funny time when I called up Noel Greenwood, an old City editor at the LA Times. I had to ask him if he did have an affair with Carol Stogsdill, the really mean sub-editor that everybody hated and was the then-ranking woman at the Times."
Luke: "That's a horrible question to have to ask."
Cathy agrees. "I was very dutiful. I call him up. 'I'm sorry I have to ask you this but...' He replies, 'Hahaha, that's none of your business.' I say, 'That's fair enough. I just had to ask you.' And I'm about to say goodbye, when he says, 'And I don't respect your work.' Click.
"That's one advantage that calling people has over email. You'd much rather email people that question but if you don't call them, you don't hear their voice. I confirmed that he's pompous and insufferable, which couldn't have been done through email. Noel was angry.
"[LAT's media reporter] David Shaw was nice to me when I called him up to get quote on something but that was before I insulted him.
"Poor Robin Abcarian was real angry with me. She used to have a column [in the LA Times and a radio show]. We worked together at the Daily News and we were friends. I felt bad about having to insult her but the column was insultable, what are you going to do?
"I'd avoided writing about her because we were friendly. But if you're writing about the Times and somebody does something spectacularly stupid, you have to report it. I remember she had seriously libeled somebody's parents. Some woman had been abused by her parents but Robin identified the parents. Until you've been convicted in a trial, you cannot refer to them as rapists and child abusers. An editor should've caught that. So they had to trash something like a 20,000 copy run of the paper. I had to write about that. She got mad. I don't blame her. Then the cat was out of the bag and I made fun of her columns and she was resentful.
"An old friend of mine, Richard Rouillard, stopped talking to me. He was editor of the Advocate [gay magazine]. He stopped talking to me for no fair reason. I didn't insult him it was just some stupid..."
Luke: "Was there ever time when people's anger at you overwhelmed you and inhibited your writing?"
Cathy: "Never. If you are going to care about people getting mad, you should be a social worker, not a journalist. I used to like to go to the Times' cafeteria and I started to feel like I shouldn't go there anymore. If people write something stupid, I'm going to write about it. People forget that I did make friends [through my Buzz column]. Stupid people got upset but smart people liked the column and made friends with me. That's how I know Matt [Welch] and Ken [Layne] because they remembered reading the column."
Luke: "How did you meet your husband?"
Cathy: "That was a blind date. My closest friend, who used to be an editor at the Times, set it up. It was a good date so we got married. He was an editor at one of those airline magazines. He immediately gave me an assignment without having read anything that I wrote. We married in 1986. Our daughter was born in April 1989. . He edited this one-issue magazine, Bugs Bunny Magazine, which was a synergistic thing between Time Inc. and Warner Brothers. I was such a loyal wife that if anybody at the time had made fun of Bugs Bunny Magazine I would've been offended.
"He hired this secretary at Bugs Bunny Magazine. He started dating her. He left me in early 1990. They married and divorced a few years ago. I think he knows he shouldn't get married anymore. Now he does websites for people."
Luke: "Have you written about your dating adventures?"
Cathy gives me a strange look. "I haven't had a lot of dating adventures. I've either been married [just the once] or not. I've never been a big dater, especially not now. My first piece for Buzz was on dating. I'd read something stupid in Esquire about a middle-aged man writing about young girls and my piece was titled 'What Girls Don't Tell Men.' Yes, older guys would like to go out with young girls but here's what the girls are really thinking. The editor, Allan Mayer, liked it. It was Alan's idea to do the Times column. I volunteered for it. I suppose you could make a lot of money writing about that dating stuff."
Luke: "Sex in the City."
Cathy: "Yeah, but remember for a long time I've been a mother."
Luke: "It would creep out your daughter..."
Cathy laughs: "As it would me. When you're a single mother, you don't have much time to date."
Luke: "Have you mainly dated fellow writers?"
Cathy laughs again: "I'm not a big dater. Are you picking up on stuff that I've written about and is not coming through and I'm unaware of?"
Luke: "No, I'm just curious. You write about so many different phases of your life."
Cathy: "Yeah. I'm a little bit solitary. People are always amazed at how much writing I'm doing. A lot of what I write about my life are things that I'm thinking about or observing. I'm not out having these big adventures."
Luke: "How has being a mother effected you as a writer?"
Cathy: "You get in touch with the whole real world. One big quarrel I had with the LA Times was that all their personal columns in the features section are written by middle-aged people with kids who write these columns in the office. So what do they really know? I spent a lot of time with my daughter in the park talking to other people. A lot of these working mothers feel that they have to go to the office and sit there and they're losing out on what the real world is for most people. They don't pick the kids up from school. They're journalists writing about being journalists. I know it seems like I do that a lot myself, but at least I'm out there with real people doing things."
Cathy is working on a piece for Penthouse about why TV sucks.
Luke: "I've always wondered about all those media reports about child care versus stay-at-home moms, the media types writing those stories by definition are working moms."
Cathy: "It bugs me. As a writer, you don't need to go into the office from 9-6 and worry about childcare. That was a big reason I left the Daily News in 1985 and swore to never do that again. I thought, that is not a way to raise children. That's not the way I was raised. They don't know what the hell they are talking about and they are on this big high horse about working mothers. They don't want to admit that it is a helluva lot easier to go to the office and have coffee with your friends than to sit home and raise kids who are sticky and messy and dirty and go on kindergarten field trips where they chew with their mouths open. If you are going to be a mother, do it [stay home and raise your kids]."
Luke: "Why do you think Brill's Content failed?"
Cathy: "That was the world's most boring magazine."
Luke: "It took a fascinating subject and managed to make it boring. A lot of media criticism is boring."
Cathy: "It's especially boring when done in the Steven Brill way. Steve Brill is a lawyer who made his big splash with American Lawyer magazine. Lawyers have to share in discovery information with the other side. As a journalist, he took same thing. 'We will never run a story about somebody without calling them up first. It should never come as a surprise.' That's bullsh--. So you'd read these long boring stories say, about Bonnie Fuller [magazine editor] where she'd say, 'No, I don't think that I am difficult to work with.' That's ridiculous. That's what we used to call at Buzz a lot of worthy stories."
Luke: "It was so hard to work your way through that magazine."
Cathy: "It was a journalism magazine with a lawyer's mentality. Journalists get so obsessed with ethics, and I like to think that I try to be ethical and do the right thing, but it's not like you are going to be disbarred. There are arguments about what you do. Look at the Bob Greene thing. Was he right or was he wrong? I don't know. You can look at from either side. There are certain [rules] - you don't reveal a source when you said you wouldn't. You don't take bribes from people you cover. Other than that, I don't know that you have to call up everybody and allow them to respond.
"The whole concept now [of a monthly magazine about the media] is dated now because blogs have taken fact-checking to a whole new level."
Luke: "Who are your favorite and least favorite journalists writing about the media?"
Cathy: "Most of the ones who write specifically about the media are boring except for the New York Observer. I will say that boring old Tim Rutten is actually a good reporter and has worked himself up into some good columns. David Shaw's even more lame. I don't think they know what to do with him. He's got the Pulitzer. He's there. They've got to give him something to do. I like the bloggers like Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, Matt Welch and Ken Layne. My favorite writers aren't necessarily writing about the media. Mark Steyn does a lot of great things. Who are your favorite writers on the media?"
Luke: "I like Romenesko's blog."
Cathy: "He does it so brilliantly. You can see his background as a copy editor because the headlines are so good. Other people try to do it but they don't do it the same way he does. When I did the Media Week thing it was fun because he mentioned me so often. He likes weird stuff. But now everyone thinks I've died since I'm not on Romenesko."
Luke: "What are the most common mistakes entertainment journalists make?"
Cathy: "Their biggest mistake is that they don't know what they're talking about. People who've gone from entertainment journalism into working in TV and movies will say that. The journalists are spending all day in the newspaper office instead of socializing with the people who do this stuff. Writing on TV and movies when you're not in New York or LA is like covering the auto industry when you're in Beverly Hills. They may be decent writers but they don't know the business. A lot of them are pompous and out of touch with what younger viewers want to see on TV. They don't understand why people would want to watch American Idol. I guess I have an immature streak because I do like a lot of that stuff. I don't know. What do you think are the most common mistakes made by entertainment journalists?"
Luke: "Being dull."
Cathy: "People get shocked that I live in Silverlake. People get nervous. They want to be around people who think exactly like they do. You ought to ask producers about school vouchers. Most of them are probably against it yet they send their kids to private schools. God forbid that some poor middle-class person be able to send their kids to a private school."
We start talking about religion.
Cathy: "Did you ever notice there are no cats in the Bible?"
Cathy has a pet dog and cat and she loves animals.
Cathy: "Do you know why? They didn't really exist yet. They've only been domesticated five thousand years and it was a crime to take them out of Egypt.
"I remember an Orthodox rabbi said dogs are unkosher. But you're not eating them."
It hasn't been part of the Jewish tradition to keep pets or celebrate birthdays. I don't have pets but I would under the right circumstances. I did as a kid.
Cathy: "What's the new idea with Islam? The idea of one God comes from Judaism. The only real new idea is that you are going to force everyone to believe the same thing or you will kill them. I read somewhere that there are all these statements in the Koran about how dirty dogs are. Same stuff in the Old Testament too. But you can go beyond that too. I say don't trust a religion if they haven't gone beyond disliking dogs.
"I've always had cats. The cat is now 15. I rescued her when she was giving birth across the apartment where we used to live. This horrible man took her to the pound just after she gave birth. He'd been feeding her. He was some old gay guy living with a bunch of teenage boys. Once she gave birth - that was too horrible and female breedery for him to deal with, apparently, so I guess he just thought, Let's take her to the pound. I thought was so offensive. I went and got her and I still have to this day.
"I made my husband claim he was a neighbor and it was his cat so we wouldn't have to pay the adopt-an-animal fee. We got her back free because we said he was just reclaiming his lost cat. He didn't argue with me about it, except I wanted to name the cat Phyllis and he said she was far too sexy a cat to be named Phyllis, so he named her Felice. The animal control people knew the story was a bunch of bull but the guy said, 'God bless you for this,' when heput the cat and her kittens into the carrier for us. I found homes for all the kittens and I spayed the cat. A few years later, my husband got mad at me when I wanted to neuter one of the neighbor's tomcats. He yelled, 'My wife is not going to go around castrating the neighborhood animals' So you can see why I'm not married anymore. It's a funny old world."
Cathy has a piece on Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez piece that should run in American Journalism Review in March or April and a piece on why everyone hates Maureen Dowd these days coming out in the January issue of the Washingtonian magazine.
Seipp has never been sued for libel.
A Conversation With Amy Alkon About Cathy Seipp
I first met Cathy Seipp and Amy Alkon (along with Ross Johnson, Jill Stewart, Rick Barrs, the crowd from Reason magazine and former Buzz magazine editor Allan Mayer) in the fall of 2001 at one of their writer-get-togethers at a Beverly Hills pub.
I call Amy Friday afternoon 12/13/ to get some dish on her friend Cathy. Amy operates the website www.advicegoddess.com.
Amy answers: "Bad girl!"
She reproves a barking dog. "Lucy, bad girl!
"Oh, I cannot believe this. As soon as you call, the world starts revolving backwards. I haven't had a moment to breath today. I have ADD today. "
Luke: "How do you know Cathy?"
Amy: "I was writing a column from Los Angeles for the New York Daily News. She was writing a column for the New York Press called "A Letter From LA."
"I'm mean and critical and think very little writing I see is good, but I thought her column was so funny, I wrote her [in 1999] a fan letter. That's how we got to be friends."
Luke: "How did you come to host the writer things with Cathy?"
Amy: "I missed my New York life where I'd go to a bar near my house and always meet some fascinating person to talk to. We held the first one at my house for Ron Rosenbaum's book, The Secret Parts of Fortune, a collection of his New York Observer columns. We put together my friends and her friends and it seemed like everyone had a lot to say. We tried to be coercive to get everyone to buy a book."
Luke: "Does Cathy's personality change when she drinks?"
Amy: "Does Cathy drink? No. I think she'll have a glass of wine. Cathy does not have a Sybil side. What you see is what you get. She's not different around different people. She's always Cathy."
Luke: "She's grounded."
Amy: "Yeah. Pragmatic. Honest. She wrote a column about American Idol. She didn't feel compelled to knock it in that phoney intellectual way so many writers would. She writes the smartest stuff about pop culture, plus there's always something absolutely unexpected and hilarious in her column. I only wish the general populace in LA could read her stuff in the LA Times. You have to get it on the net at upi.com.
"I have a short attention span and little patience and if it's not good writing, I can't read it. I'm the best acid test for good writing because I can't get through more than two paragraphs of most stuff...
"Both of us have written about LA for NY papers because we're both apparently persona non grata [with the LA media aka the LA Times].
"I was having problems meeting men. I work from home. The FedEx guy seems gay. The guy who reads the meters is 5' tall and married to somebody named Consuela. I thought, 'I'm an advice columnist. I have a problem. Why don't I solve it?' So I put an ad for a man in the LA Times. It was a display ad in the front section. I had to blackmail [editors] Michael Parks and Leo Wolinsky to get it in.
"I wanted to write this story about what happened from my ad. I had done one piece for them about my stolen car, which had won an award. The Times wouldn't take my story. I ended up writing a ten-piece series for the NY Daily News which won first place, beating the LA Times, in the California Journalism Awards."
Luke: "Are some people intimidated about meeting her because she is so acerbic in her writing? I know I was intimidated."
Amy: "She doesn't suffer fools gladly. I think people know that. So when fools see her coming, they scurry in the other direction.
"Cathy has a strong sense of justice. When people have bad manners, it makes her angry. When people aren't decent in the common ways... When things are absurd, she's perturbed. When things are unfair..."
Luke: "Have you guys gone on a double date together?"
Amy: "Oh no. No one asks me out. The state of men and women in LA is so awful. That's why I put the ad in."
Luke: "I couldn't get anything from Cathy on her dating life."
Amy: "I couldn't tell you anything. Many of us in LA don't have one.
"Women who are accomplished and aren't looking for a guy with a house in Brentwood and a Mercedes, and they don't need someone to pay for everything and be daddy, it's intimidating to men. Some men feel safer with women who want them for the wrong reasons, like the cash and the car. Men know these women will stick around. If women are only with them because they like them, then the moment the women stop liking them, the women will leave.
"I was the person who passed the news of the Staples scandal [when the LA Times unannounced went into business with the Staples Center on a special issue in its Sunday paper] to Rick Barrs at New Times LA (after asking permission of the person at the Times who told me).
"I keep secrets so people tell me everything. I know which of my friends are cross-dressers [not Cathy].
"I'm a little bit angry that the LA Times hasn't changed that much with the new management.
"I introduced myself to Jon Carroll [LA Times editor] when he came to town as the person who revealed the Staples thing. I approached him again at that thing at the LA Press Club December 3rd. I told him I was disturbed that any editor would be 'content' with what they have [an LA Times editor told Amy not to send her any more pitches]. He responded by email along the lines of, 'Apparently you have sent query letters and pitches a number of times to our editors.'
"Isn't it your job as an editor to field stuff from writers? I told Carroll that I was disturbed that the LA Times did not value persistence.
"I gave Carroll some samples of my stories and copies of Maria Elana Fernandez's piece 'Single in the City' [printed in the LA Times], which is just crap. I wrote to Carol, if you tell me that my work is not better than what you are running, I will never bother you again.
"I critized them for not hiring anyone from New Times LA when it folded, like Jill Stewart or Susan Goldsmith. They don't want writers who are a pain in the ass like me. They want docile writers. I pointed out that the paper sucks. I pointed out that David Shaw wrote about alternative papers [in his weekly column in Sunday's paper on the media] and used Pogo as a reference. Pogo is what Grandpa read as a child. I told Carrolll that anyone who wrote about the alternative press using Pogo as a reference should be put out to pasture with an LA Times cowbell around its neck.
"He sent me this weary reply. "Thanks, Amy. Yes, I know that not all our articles are brilliant. We're working on it. Regards, John."
"If people find Cathy intimidating, they don't know her. She's sweet and nice and generous. I'll talk about some prank I've pulled at one of our writergirl breakfasts and she will say, 'You should write that up. And here's who you should send it to.' When she had lunch with [the deputy managing editor in charge of features] John Montorio [in March at the Times executive dining room, the former Picasso room], she said, 'You should run Amy Alkon.' When she likes people and thinks they're good, she goes out of her way for people.
"Almost nobody does that. For most writers, it's all about them. But she's secure enough, she can do that.
"Marnye Oppenheim wrote the 'Bite Me' column for New Times LA. Cathy liked her work and recommended her for the new Dick Riordan paper."
Cathy Seipp On Amy Alkon's Dating Travails
Catherine Seipp writes for www.mediaweek.com: My favorite current example [about the blindness in LA media] is the aftermath of the small display personal ad Amy "Ask the Advice Goddess" Alkon placed in the Times a couple of months ago advertising (in a tongue-in-cheek way) her "large hooters, I.Q." and headlined "Advice Goddess Wants a Man."
Alkon, whose advice column runs in 70-odd alternative papers, had to fight with Times brass to get them to run the ad at all, and especially with that problematic business about "hooters."
So what happened after the ad ran? If this isn't a story, I don't know what is, but naturally the Times--along with our generally soporific other local media--dropped the ball. For the past six weeks, however, Amy's been serializing her dating adventures in the New York Daily News features section.
Dating troubles are universal, but Amy Alkon lives here. So why, as usual, am I reading an interesting L.A. story in a New York publication?
Anita Busch After Dark
When I'm feeling low, dispirited by Jeff Wald's death threats and Jewish lawyers, I like to gaze upon my photo of the corn-fed mid-Western virtue of Anita Busch. Anita, if you are reading this, please realize that I am your biggest defender. Anita in Elle magazine 11/99. Lovely color photo of Anita in the 5/2/01 Los Angeles Times.
LF.net Launches Two Oscar Campaigns
The world's most widely-watched barometer for Oscar heat, Lukeford.net, today announced it is launching a high-profile campaign for two of the good guys in the business - Barry Diller and Robert Evans.
LF.net recommends that Barry should get this year's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his work in franchising, dumbing down movies, promoting film and TV as junk food, and raising the profile of the Gay Mafia. And why shouldn't Robert Evans get the Irving Thalberg Award for his lifetime of producing?
The Scoop On Catherine Seipp
David Shaw and Robert Scheer did not answer my requests for comment on Cathy.
Allan Mayer writes: "When I started Buzz magazine back in 1990, my goals included (1) showcasing writers with interesting sensibilities and distinctive voices, and (2) finding someone who could subject the L.A. Times to the scrutiny (and skewering) it deserved. Cathy came through brilliantly on both counts. Even though I didn't always agree with her conclusions, her fearlessness. honesty, and wit were (and still are) awesome to behold. There are very few things in my career as an editor of which I am more proud than the extent to which I was able to give this exceptional journalist a platform."
LA Times' TV critic Howard Rosenberg writes: "I'll pass."
LA Times' TV columnist Brian Lowry writes: "I'm at best a casual reader of her work, there must be someone who has a stronger opinion."
LA Times' media writer Tim Rutten writes: "Dear Mr. Ford: I'm afraid I can't be of any help. I've never met her."
Jeffrey Wells writes: "I don't know her at all, really. She's a good egg. She invites me to writer parties that she and Amy Alkon put on."
David Poland says: "Cathy is like the Glenda, The Good Witch Of L.A. Journalism... of course, we also get to see this Glenda when she's had a long day, her feet hurt and she's seen too much in her crystal ball."
James Romenesko writes: "I always liked linking to Cathy because her writing is so honest and passionate. I was saddened when she left Mediaweek because I lost an always-worth-linking weekly columnist. She's a rare one!"
Ross Johnson writes: "I first met Cathy Seipp when I wandered into Buzz magazine in 1995. The stars at Buzz were the columnists; Cathy, Sandra Loh, Jill Stewart, Holly Palance, Steven Gaines, etc. Cathy was the oxymoron, the "L.A. media critic." As Margo McGee, she took shots at the L.A. Times. If Cathy would have done the same thing in NYC to the NY Times, she'd be a household name. But in L.A., it was a job akin to the Maytag repairman, where Cathy had to stand alone and take a lot of heat.
"What people forget about Cathy is that, not only is she a great writer and good person, she's a hell of a reporter. If she takes you on, you're in trouble, because she's no loose cannon. That's why people get so pissed at her. When she writes something snarky about you, it's usually true! And how can you not love a woman who gives you her Zoloft because she's too damn tough to get depressed?"
Emmanuelle Richard writes: "This woman is awesome, she's a role model for me: she is so brilliant and funny, very self-reliant, sexy and feminine. A very good friend too. And she has a healthy self-esteem, in the sense that she's strong, she doesn't let herself be crushed by anything. With her, there's always a solution to everything. Pantry moths in our kitchen, problems to getting health insurrance, wrist pain, you name it: you mention it to Cathy and she knows exactly where you should shop for moth traps, how and where you should apply for health coverage or which type of wrist-rest device you could use to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Not to mention work-related advice, like the ones she gave in her media column for Salon. Like this one about how you need to drop badly paid jobs to start making a living as a freelancer."
Matt Welch writes: I LOVE CATHY SEIPP!!!!
Actually, a key to understanding Cathy is that she grew up in suburban Los Alamitos, along the border between LA & Orange counties, a naval-weapons-station away from Seal Beach. Of course, I exaggerate the importance of that wildly, because *I* grew up not far away from that.
Cathy is one of the most faithful practitioners to journalism's key commandment: Thou Shalt Be Entertaining. I can't remember ever reading something by her that wasn't at least amusing, or provocative, or pleasing to the senses. On the occasions she has written about things of which I have somewhat intimate knowledge -- say, the "blogging community in LA," or whatever -- she has always gotten it right, both factually and in terms of tone. This is no small achievement, as you know yourself, being someone who has been written about a time or two.
For me, one of the best things about moving back to Southern California after eight years away has been getting to know Cathy Seipp. She's real generous with help (for instance, she's always getting on me about improving my health insurance), she's enthusiastic about getting out and meeting people, and she isn't the least bit cynical, which is rare among journalists older than me. She's also perfectly willing and eager to interview people she's criticized in the past, and let them pound on her if that's what they want to do. Many people who write critically are of the hit-and-run school; Cathy's number is listed, and she will evade no one.
Am I kissing her ass too much? Too bad. She's a good pal, and one of the best examples of a top LA journalist who does good work almost exclusively for out-of-state publications. One of the joys about plotting new publications here, is to imagine people like Cathy writing about her hometown, for her hometown.
The Best Of Cathy Seipp
I found this bio of Cathy Seipp on the Salon.com archives: Catherine Seipp who writes the Hollywoodland column every Friday for Media Circus, did not always live a life of semi-glamour. She was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and grew up in Los Alamitos, Calif., where the 605 and the 405 freeways meet. Because her mother did not believe in 12th grade (or so she said!), at age 16 Seipp was sent up the 405 to UCLA, where she worked on the Daily Bruin, wrote book reviews for the Los Angeles Times (still her favorite newspaper, at least west of the Rockies) and graduated with a B.A. in English.
Although you would not think it to look at her, Seipp was once a fashion editor -- for the Daily News of Los Angeles, where she also wrote a popular seven-days-a-week column called Miss Hot Tips in the early '80s. She has freelanced for many magazines for many years and these days is particularly fond of Worth.
Before joining Salon, Seipp contributed perverse media and Hollywood coverage to the old Buzz magazine from 1992 to 1997. Her former monthly column there dissecting the Los Angeles Times means that, sadly, she is still unwelcome at the Times cafeteria, one of her favorite places. But now and then the cranky retired Timesmen known as the Old Farts Society break their no women rule and invite her to lunch.
Cathy Seipp writes 12/11/02 for UPI.com: "And how I wish Grandma were alive again, bringing me a big plate of macaroni and cheese out to the pool while I lazily read magazines in the sun, and that my five-years-older aunt (Grandma's unexpected late-life daughter) was still a snotty teenager refusing to go swimming with me, instead of bossily giving me sponge baths in the hospital like she did last summer, a place that at age 12 I never NEVER thought I'd ever spend much time."
Cathy Seipp writes 11/27/02 for UPI.com: "I tried (and, thank God, failed, but not without a certain amount of humiliation) to get my daughter into a prestigious girls' middle-school here in Los Angeles. Two years ago, I was making more money than I am now and was briefly deluded that my daughter, then 11, should go to Marlborough, an elite girls school in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles."
Cathy Seipp writes 8/7/02: "I find Drudge sometimes annoying, with the manners of a squid, for reasons I might as well admit right now because the bloggers have already noted it. "La tres persistente Cathy Seipp a suer pour obtenir une interview de Drudge pour Penthouse, sans succès," French blogger Emmanuelle Richard wrote on Emmanuelle.net a while ago, after hearing me complain about Drudge at a party -- and believe me, the whole story sounds better in French."
Cathy writes 4/24/02: My 7th-grade daughter is at the age where practically everything her father does seems unbearably dorky and exasperating. So I've gotten used to hearing her complain.
Still, I was taken aback the other day when she asked, "Why'd you marry Daddy anyway -- was it just because he was circumcised?"
"I'd never marry a man who wouldn't get circumcised," my daughter said firmly. "And also, he'd have to promise to eat salmon three times a week, for his arteries."
Cathy Seipp writes for New York Press: Madonna is exactly my age and therefore I’ve watched her closely over the years. My mother used to do the same thing with Angie Dickinson in the 70s, tuning in to Police Woman every week just to keep tabs on Angie’s figure. I was curious to see how my age doppelganger looked in real life.
Some time ago, my father and I were sitting on a bench outside a Los Angeles courtroom. We’d just finished testifying for my ex-husband in his custody trial with his #2 ex-wife.
"She’s a horny broad," my father remarked, about the #2 ex-wife’s lawyer. I could feel a headache coming on. "Why do you say that?"
"Because when she asked me a question I didn’t want to answer, I said, ‘Well, you know, I’m 70 years old, and my memory isn’t quite what it used to be.’
"Then she stared at me and said, ‘Hmm, you look pretty good for 70.’"
I closed my eyes, wishing I had a Tylenol. "Yeah, Dad, she wants your bod," I said. Obviously, she just wasn’t buying his Clintonian answer. But then my eyes snapped open again with a sudden thought. That lawyer looked like she was in her mid-50s. And the man shortage at that age being what it is... Probably, I realized, she did want his bod. And why should he not think so, given how Hollywood encourages this attitude? So far, he’s seen As Good As It Gets three times.
I could see my future, and it wasn’t pretty. I think that’s when I started my eyebag fund.
Why There Are No Gossip Columnists In LA
"Someone told me that when news of Joyce Haber's death reached Morton's people applauded," said MSNBC gossip correspondent Jeannette Walls, who's written a book about the history of her trade called "Dish: The Inside Story On the World of Gossip."
"The main thing to remember is L.A. is essentially a one-industry town, so you'd have to be a complete masochist to be a gossip columnist here," Walls told me during one of her Hollywood visits. "It'd be a very dangerous game in this town. If you're going to go around beating hornets nests, it's fine if you don't live among the hornets."
There's also a deep vein of if-you-can't-say-something-nice attitude running through in Los Angeles journalism. If you doubt this, try saying something not-so-nice here -- something that wouldn't make anyone blink in New York or London -- and see how quickly you get called "mean-spirited."
"Ab-so-LUTE-ly," agreed Walls. "I feel like I'm an evil invader when I come out here. "And journalists are the most sensitive and thin-skinned of anyone. To think that Matt Drudge of all people took offense at how he was portrayed in my book..."
Wild Story About Jeff Wald
Someone was talking to Jeff Wald in his office in the 1970s while Jeff's wife Helen was under Jeff's desk sucking on his appendage. Email Luke great Jeff Wald stories.
Christian Holidays Are The Enemy Of Gossip
I heard that comment this afternoon from a tabloid columnist. Everything slows down this time of year as people fill with Christian charity.