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Wells to Hollywood Journalists

Jeffrey Wells (gruver1@earthlink.net) writes:

Dear Journalist Friends,

I'm jamming on a major piece for Empire, England's coolest, best-read movie magazine, and the topic is Hollywood Now. And I'm looking for journalists to pipe in and, if they want to, be quoted.

The idea isn't exactly to come up with one of those "power" lists, thank goodness. Well, this aspect isn't being totally ignored, although the main idea is to put together a list of Hollywood MVP's -- Most Valuable Players. Who are the Sharpest, Hippest, Craftiest, Most Perceptive, Most Ahead of the Curve?

You could define them as the Hollywood people due the most credit for churning out those relatively few movies that really deserve to be called cool, great, memorable, awesome, etc. I mean, relatively small club...right?

Another way of looking at or defining these people is to ask who in Hollywood do you most admire from a journalistic perspec tive? The most honest, accessible, most consistently straight, most in the know, etc.? (Yes, I realize these are different questions and perspectives, but there's a certain overlap, I believe.)

I'm not asking that you stop what you're doing for my sake, but if you could just forward, say, the names of five people who fit the bill, in your opinion. And a brief explanation as to why you believe they qualify. And that's it. Whatever you feel like sending back, great. If you reply, just tell me if you're attributable or not.

P.S. Uhmm....there's more to this if you're in a productive mood. (Are you?) Here are 10 extra-credit questions. Ready?

1. Who do you feel are the most undervalued players in Hollywood? The most over-valued?

2. What do you think is going to be the among the most signficant directions, attitudes, discoveries and trends of the next ten years? And which people are going to be leading the way?

3. Who among the big or medium-sized players really needs to do take a different tack and basically re-orient him/herself and stop what they're currently doing? Again, try and explain WHY.

4. Whom do you think is most likely among, say, the under 50's to be standing at the Oscar podium 25 or 30 years from now with an Irving Thahlberg award in his/her hand?

5. Who in your opinion are the coolest High Pedigree Elites (Steven Soderbergh, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Chris Nolan...that type of talent)?

6. Name, if you will, one young mongrel currently snapping and snarling at the gates who may well become the hottest new filmmaker in five years time, or less.

7. Who, in your view, are the current up-and-comers of particular note right now? (I mean actors, directors,producers, etc.)

8. Who were the hot up-and-comers five or ten years ago, but are on the outs or on their way down today?

9. Who really, REALLY deserves to be given a second chance and be looked at afresh?

10. Name a recent, highly admired European, Asian or Middle-Eastern film that Hollywood will never remake, no matter what. Please explain WHY you think this. And if you have any pithy observations or wiseacre-isms of your own that you think might fit in with a cheeky sum-up piece of this sort, please send them along.

Topics Of Discussion Over My Sabbath

It's been years since a girl at an Orthodox day school in Los Angeles has gotten pregnant. The overwhelming majority of the kids who graduate Orthodox high schools are still virgins, I hear from kids who attend these schools. So much for the argument that they are going to do it anyway.

When marijuna-laced brownies were found at the most liberal of the Orthodox high schools (Shalhevet, where boys and girls attend class together and have an identical curriculum), the scandal was known throughout the Orthodox world in North America, and the students responsible for the prank were suspended from school, though not kicked out so it wouldn't affect their entry into a good college.

At the most strict Los Angeles Orthodox high schools, Bais Yaakov (for girls) and Yeshivah Gedolah (boys), students are not allowed to date or go to movies.

One unfortunate side effect of strict prohibitions in yeshivas against touching the opposite sex - boy-on-boy and girl-on-girl action.

Rebbetzin Jungreis responds

When the Orthodox law court in Los Angeles was less condemning of Reform and Conservative Judaism, Reform and Conservative rabbis would often send their congregants getting a divorce to the Orthodox law court (that way their divorce would be accepted across th Jewish people). Now that the RCC (Rabbinical Council of California) is harsher towards Reform and Conservative, the RCC gets less cooperation from the non-Orthodox.

At Temple Sinai Friday night, Rabbi David Wolpe spoke about his visit to the White House last week and his dinner with President Bush (celebrating the opening of the Anne Frank exhibit at Washington D.C.'s Holocaust museum). Rabbi Wolpe sat one person away from the president and everyone at the table had the chance to talk with the president.

Rabbi Wolpe says the president called the Jews "the people of God." Rabbi Wolpe says the president was informed, charming and charismatic.

The president indicated it will take a while to educate Iraqis so that they can operate their own country.

Afterwards, a black Muslim cleric, an Imam from Guyana, spoke. This guy was pro-Israel and he used powerful arguments from the Koran about how the Jews had the right to the land of Israel. He teaches at Brandeis University but will soon transfer to San Diego State.

An Israeli woman starts screaming at him for quoting the Koran in a shul. Security is called and they take her away. She's booed by the crowd which is impressed with this Muslim cleric.

Another Jew Convicted For White Collar Crime Wraps Himself In The Torah, Disgraces His Religion

I'm tired of Jews like Dr. Samuel D. Waksal, founder of ImClone Systems, pretending to be all religious when they are convicted of theft. The son of Holocaust survivors quoted the Talmud in a plea to get a lesser sentence.

Remember how Ivan Boesky donated millions to the Jewish Theological Seminary and took a ton of classes there and Michael Milken donated millions to Temple Stephen S. Wise to get their high school named after him?

I'm glad my rabbi today didn't spend his pulpit time ranting about Dr. Waksal but instead admonished us about our petty white collar crimes like cheating on taxes.

From the New York Times: The lawyer's wide-ranging address cited Dr. Waksal's affection for his two daughters, his career as a researcher, his parents' suffering during the Holocaust and his close ties to Jimmy Carter — the ImClone janitor, not the former president — among the reasons for reduced punishment for his crimes.

The actress Lorraine Bracco, who plays a psychiatrist on the television series "The Sopranos," was among more than 100 people who wrote letters on Dr. Waksal's behalf; hers said that he had helped her through a bleak period when her child was sick. "I don't pretend to know about Sam's business, but I do know that without Sam's guidance and support, I wouldn't be here," she wrote.

A six-page letter written to Judge Pauley by Dr. Waksal, dated Monday, included references to "The Stranger" by Albert Camus as well as to the Talmud. It ended with a request for community service "as part of my sentence so I can continue to make amends to society and let me keep giving back."

Jim Romenesko Watch

Andrew Sullivan writes: In the past few weeks, blogger Jim Romenesko, a supporter of the gay left, has won some well-deserved plaudits for his coverage of the New York Times meltdown. Lost in this torrent of praise is the fact that Romenesko is far from an objective or neutral observer. He's a hard-line liberal who routinely refuses to link to any conservative media criticism. Blogger Ombudsgod notices how selective Romenesko can be in covering certain stories: no mention of a widely quoted piece about p.c. editing at the NYT, nor of the fact that the head of al Jazeera turned out to have been in the pay of Saddam, and on and on. Romenesko, ever since I complained about his role in violating my private life a couple of years ago, also refuses to link to any articles of mine anywhere. That's his prerogative. But the notion that he's somehow above the ideological fray is preposterous.

Reader mail: Romenesko’s omissions and Poynter’s biases

From Ombudsgod:

A reader, who requests his or her name be withheld in order to avoid “grief at work,” has some interesting observations in response to my post on Romenesko's odd silence about Al-Jazeera's Saddam connection. The reader observes that:

I don't think any Romenesko "silence" is odd. There's a long history in that column of ignoring inconvenient facts.

A few months ago, before the whole Jayson Blair went down, a British MP contributed an Op-Ed to the NYT. He ended up writing about the process in the Guardian, reporting that the Times had made him change several things in his piece because of political correctness and to fit in more with the Times' slanting. [The item was provided to Romenesko and] never printed.

Last I checked, there wasn't anything up there about Maureen Dowd's tampering with quotes (though it may be up there now, I haven't checked).

Romenesko also ignored an article on NRO by former New York Post reporter Rod Dreher. The article discussed the media's insensitivity to Evangelical Christians.

There are many more examples.

My question is this -- how can anything expect Poynter, an organization that pushes racial preferences with front page centerpieces probably 4 or 5 times a month, to be balanced? I've seen articles on Poynter where reporters have casually referred to the Iraq war as "Bush's war," and another piece recently by Geneva Overholser talking about how a.m. radio is "state-controlled media" because you can hear people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on one station (one station! out of how many?). Besides, Poynter is an institute dedicated to the press and free speech, and they have the nerve to criticize another viewpoint because it is conservative. And don't forget Poynter had listed prominently, at the top of its front page, the "Clergy Abuse Tracker" under "favorites" more than a year after the scandal broke and there was almost no news to "track" on that story anymore.

My point is this -- Poynter holds biases that are in line with the regular media. I don't expect much out of them.

But thank you for pointing out a Romenesko omission - I'm sure you'll notice many, many more.

Kevin Roderick writes ombudsgod.com: "Your correspondent is wrong about Jim Romenseko not posting about the John Carroll memo on L.A. Times bias. Actually he did, which I know because it drove considerable traffic to L.A. Observed, the site that first disclosed the memo. Romenesko gave the proper attribution, which The Ombudsgod, among very few others, did not."

Ombudgod replies: "So noted. And sorry about not crediting your site with disclosing the memo. I located the memo through a link to a post by National Review’s Rod Dreher, and he states he obtained it from an “L.A. journalist friend.”"

I posted much of the above to the Romenesko page. My post was removed. I got this reply from Bill Mitchell of Poynter:

Luke: Your most recent post (Is Romenesko/Poynter Biased?) raised a question we have not previously encountered (and is not addressed in our Feedback Guidelines) -- and that’s the wholesale re-posting from other sites. We don’t see a problem quoting from what others have written, as long as everything falls within our guidelines (www.poynter.org/feedbackguidelines), in the context of your own post. But we do not intend the Feedback area as a place simply to re-post stuff published elsewhere.

In the course of looking into this, I discovered that we dropped the link we had in the Feedback area to the Feedback Guidelines. We’ll restore it shortly.

Also, the material you re-posted from ombudsgod.com contains at least a couple of inaccuracies. As you’ll see below, that blog has already posted a correction re the John Carroll memo. And Jim has linked to a number of articles critical of Maureen Dowd. A technical issue has kept some items that were posted in Romenesko’s left rail from showing up in the archive for the column, but we’re working on a fix for that.

City Beat Party

I stand on Melrose Boulevard outside the party with tall music producer Kim Fowley.

"He's sort of a legend," says journalist Erik Himmelsbach.

Fowley has a legendary scary look (reminiscent of Phil Spector?) and people take to him immediately.

He says LA is an easy place to get laid and to make money. He's got a cynical outlook on life. He lives in different parts of the world. He's brought his own body guard, Jude, who's the first person I talk to inside the party.

Kim worked in Melbourne, Australia, as a disc jockey. He's popular with the ladies throughout the party.

I walk in to The Larchmont at 5657 Melrose Blvd at 6:30 PM to celebrate the arrival of a new free weekly newspaper in Los Angeles - City Beat. The San Fernando Valley version is Valley Beat. They share about 70% of the same content.

Page three of the paper features a picture of Richard Riordan holding up a copy of his LA Examiner prototype. "Take My Picture, Gary Leonard."

Leonard is at the party. He's tall with a beart.

Out of the 50 or so people in the room, I know almost nobody. The music is obnoxiously loud, like most parties. Why make it so difficult to converse?

Cathy Seipp and her 14-year old daughter "Cecile du Bois" arrive at 7PM so they can get easy street parking. Cecile wears a Jim Treacher T-shirt bought for her by Cathy - "War makes me uncomfortable, therefore I don't like it."

Mordy writes: "I'm looking forward to your wedding to Cathy and 'Cecile.'"

Mordy, Cathy, Cecile and I will be getting married in two weeks. Dave Robb and Anita Busch, I bet they are really one person, will be the best man.

After getting complimentary drinks at the bar (I have two waters on the evening), Cathy (soda water), Cecile (Shirley Temple) and I hang out front with City Beat editor Steve Appleford.

Cathy makes Cecile do the dirty work of asking the lanky 6'4" man with long black hair who he is - it's Appleford.

Group Sales Director for Southland Publishing, Charles N. Gerenscer, joins in the conversation. He served as the publisher of New Times Los Angeles for four years.

Cathy's itching to leave. She's surprised to see herself on the masthead of City Beat. She mentions something to Steve about turning in a column Monday.

Appleford remembers Cathy from the Los Angeles Daily News where he served as a copy boy from 1982-84, while Seipp worked as a reporter. She barely remembers him. She barely remembers VH1 employee and freelance scribe Erik Himmelsbach, who comes in at 7:20PM with his 13-month old infant in his arms, and his graphic designer wife Carrie. Erik served as an intern to Cathy in 1982. When he left, she gave him a tie.

Erik was the editor of the LA Reader. Steve served as the news editor.

Cathy Seipp is the mother of true alternative Los Angeles journalism, says Ken Layne. Her Daily News and Buzz magazine columns had much the dynamism of today's blogger movement.

Seipp and Samantha Dunn are listed as contributing writers.

Cecille wears a T-shirt, jeans and long purple lace-up boots Cathy wore when she was 17.

7:30PM: Joe Donnelly, 39-year old assistant editor of LA Weekly, walks in with two women.

Charles Gerenscer, a gregarious redhead, sees racism in the LA Examiner prototype, particularly in the Los Angeles Lakers article. He calls it a "neo-conservative racist publication."

Charles can't stand the new laexaminer.com and says he won't be back.

Cecile du Bois says Matt and Ken are friends of hers and she sticks up for them.

Cathy says Cecile likes Matt and Ken because they link to her site.

Ken Layne writes on LaExaminer.com :

Oh, so drunky dude thinks a romantic L.A. sports essay by ESPN's Eric Neel about a basketball team is racist because the star players are black? Well, Charles won't read this because he says he "won't be back again," so I guess we can say whatever we want about this public figure working for a freely distributed weekly newspaper. Cheers, ad salesman!

Cathy Seipp's daughter, "Cecile," says Gerenscer was all hot and bothered over the January prototype's cover art, by famed newspaper illustrator Roman Genn. I guess Roman didn't make the two most beloved guys in L.A. look white enough to make Charles feel comfortable. Sorry, dude! We'll put Madsen on the cover next ... in your neighborhood's zoned edition, anyway!

Cecile du Bois writes on her blog:

I didn't really stay, but you can read Mom's "blog servant", Luke Ford for the description. There were a lot of LA Weekly people there and Steve Appleford, the editor of LA City Beat used to be a copy [boy] for The Daily News a score ago. The associate publisher, Charles Gerenscer was joking about how racist and cheap the cover page of The Los Angeles Examiner (prototype) was. Roman Genn did the cover, and just because not everyone is interested in The [Lakers], doesn't mean its bad art. And two players were black...so what?

Since the City Beat Party was loud, and thirty minutes ended up into some critical comments on Luke Ford's blog, Mom and I just went back home, did not eat tacos, and ate tortellinni whilst watching Tomorrow the World , a movie about a Nazi youth living with his liberal uncle in the US.

Charles Gerencser (charlesg at sdcitybeat.com) writes:

Luke, saw your blog this morning --- I've got something to say:

1) I was not drunk (that was Red Bull in my glass), however I was tired

2) I do sell ads however, it doesn't stop there...I am actually the Publisher of San Diego CityBeat and the Group Sales Director for Southland Publishing, which is to say I train and direct sales people for our other publications including LA CityBeat and LA ValleyBeat. I also produced that party last night with the booze and the sushi...

3) I am a HUGE Lakers fan...I love those guys and I found the art and the POV racist, others share my view just ask Kevin Uhrich our Editor in Pasadena about it.

4) You forgot to mention that I helped get Dick [Riordan] elected by rallying young Republicans throughout the city to get out the vote, way back when...I am sorry to see that his dreams of newspaper publishing again (you know he used to own the Pasadena Weekly) will not be realized.

Ken Layne writes Charles on LaExaminer.com:

Thanks for the friendly note! We weren't at the party because we weren't invited so we did not have fun. We are, however, very happy to see more newspapers in this town, as we've always said. Of course I don't speak for the rest of the prototype team -- Eric Almendral, Jane Kahn, Tim DeRoche and Matt Welch -- but it is generally Wrong to go around accusing your colleagues of Racism because you didn't like an illustration of Shaq and Kobe, or the "POV" of Eric Neel's essay about the past season's sloppy and unfocused play by the three-time champions.

The Larchmont crawls with publicists. One old publicist, Bob Merlis, wears a bowtie, which seems completely out of place. What is not out of place is his tall beautiful young amazon assistant with a Latin American accent, who is dressed to the nines.

Appleford used to be a freelance writer and is glad for the steady paycheck. The debut issues of Beat sold a lot of ads. They're looking to corner the market for those businesses that can't afford the LA Weekly.

Cecile is forward in her questions and comments to Steve and Charles. Cathy's proud and concerned at Cecile's self-promotion. Cecile is interested in interning at City Beat. The youngest intern at the moment is 19-years old.

This is not Seipp's scene. Cathy and Cecile go home.

Cathy Seipp writes on her blog:

Cecile is happy because her entry on the City Beat party upped her hits. A little lightbulb lit up over her head: reporting generally trumps navel-gazing. Or at least, navel-gazing usually benefits from some actual reporting. But (sigh) she needs to learn how to double-check facts, although she did spell everyone's names right. Obviously, it was a picture of the Lakers, not the Dodgers, that the City Beat publisher thought was racist on the L.A. Examiner prototype cover. So I'll have to figure out some sort of restricted privileges for these mistakes.

On the other hand, I guess my little lecture a few weeks ago about libel sank in, as at least she didn't speculate about people being drunk, like Luke Ford, who I see now has me drinking a martini at that party when he knows perfectly well all I had was soda water, did. Now I'm going to have to figure out some sort of restricted privileges for Luke.

I thought that when you wondered if a journalist was drunk at a place with complimentary drinks it was taken in the trade as a compliment?

Investigative reporter Michael Collins slips in.

Andy Klein, film critic at the late LA Reader, is now on staff at the Beat. Arts Editor Natalie Nichols was also at the Reader. The Beat is a good looking publication.

7:45PM: I run into Hillary Johnson, editor of the Ventura County version of Los Angeles City Beat (circulation about 40,000). She's sorry to miss Cathy. She's never met her LA counterpart Appleford.

A Society columnist for The Los Angeles Times interviews Appleford.

8:40PM: I stand at the top of the stairs with Alex Lambert, author, photographer, documentary filmmaker. She's came to the party with Joe Donnelly and she will soon start work for the LA Weekly.

She's secured foreign distribution for her documentary on prison tattoos in Russia called The Mark of Cain. The book is published under the name, Russian Prison Tattoos. A 30-minute segment of Ted Koppel's Nightline program on ABC ran her footage.

Donnelly is glad to have Laurie Ochoa back as editor. It's been a hectic nine months for him running the show. At the LA Weekly for just a year, Joe served for a year as managing editor of the New Times LA.

Luke: "What's the juiciest nugget you've picked up at tonight's party about City Beat?"

Joe: "They know how to throw a better party than we do."

I ask a freelance writer the same question. He says City Beat doesn't pay much.

Food and drink at tonight's party is free to the attendees, who number at most 300.

An increasing number of people gravitate upstairs to the fresh air and the open smoking. It's a pleasant low key party with no bad vibes.

The average age of the crowd appears to be 30, with an even distribution of men and women. I saw no overt signs of religiosity. Nobody appeared to be having a great time. Rather, I'd describe the atmosphere as pleasant, low key, even dull. I detected no sense of excitement about the new papers though most people I talked to said, in effect, "I hope they make it."

Kevin Roderick writes on LA Observed: "At least one other writer's name had been on the list but since she never agreed to write for them, it was hastily removed this week. I don't know the truth of reports that CityBEAT is being frugal with writers, but this can't be a good sign: the top photo on the contents page was shot by editor in chief Steve Appleford.

"With CityBeat and ValleyBeat, the plot thickens in the local alt-weekly domain. The new papers get to the street ahead of Dick Riordan's L.A. Examiner, and enjoy the business advantage of owning their presses. In fact, Southland printed the LA Weekly until April, when a stormy relationship ended in finger-pointing and a lawsuit (and now, new competition for the LA Weekly). An April story in the LA Weekly by Howard Blume reported the Beats intend to get by on the cheap, and one L.A. Observed correspondent who claims to know e-mails today that the weekly writer budget for each paper will top out at $800. That's a fraction of what the L.A. Weekly pays for a cover story and less than Los Angeles magazine pays writers for a single medium length article. In other words, don't expect to read many top local writers at CityBeat/ValleyBeat."

Ken Layne writes on LaExaminer.com : "Good luck, buddies ... even though you didn't invite us to your open-bar launch."

Exherald writes LA Observed:

At first, I thought 'same old names." Then I realized how much I missed Klein. Silsbee, and a few of the others. No points for imagination, then, but it's one of the better looking first issues I've seen. And the colors on the cover are in register -- something that the Weekly has never been able to pull off.

And hot damn, escort service and sex line ads! (I have it on pretty good authority that the Weekly had two ad cards; the lower rates for those who DIDN'T advertise in New Times. If that's true, I wonder whether the policy will apply here.)

Blackjack writes LA Observed: "Where do you find the thing? Haven't seen it anywhere in my travels. Online version's tiny type on black is no kind of reading material for an old man like me."

Eye Knowit replies: "It's in all the old New Times red boxes on the street and the ever popular ralphs, vons, albertsons, blockbuster and bally's."

AngryPhotog writes LA Observed: "Regarding frugal: Well I know that the Pasadena Weekly has a sliding scale regarding photography; $200 for cover, $100 other assignments and then $40 per photo for a category I can't remember. They have got to get a grip! Most newspaper photogs will not work for less then $200 an assignment!"

Khunrum sends this info about Kim Fowley from www.amg.com:

One of the most colorful characters in the annals of rock and roll, Kim Fowley was, over the course of his decades-long career, a true jack-of-all-trades; a singer, songwriter, producer and manager — as well as a disc jockey and published poet — he was the catalyst behind much of the music to emerge from the Los Angeles area during the 1960s and 1970s, guiding his associates and proteges to fame and fortune while remaining himself a shadowy cult figure well outside the margins of the mainstream. The son of actor Douglas Fowley (Singin' in the Rain), he was born July 27, 1942 in L.A., and made his first recordings with drummer Sandy Nelson during the late 1950s. After working with a number of short-lived groups including the Paradons and the Innocents, Fowley found his first taste of success by producing the Top 20 hit "Cherry Pie" for schoolmates Gary S. Paxton and Skip Battin, who performed under the name Skip and Flip. With Battin, Fowley next created the group the Hollywood Argyles, topping the charts in 1960 with the novelty smash "Alley Oop." The duo subsequently masterminded Paul Revere and the Raiders' first hit "Long Hair," and in 1962 launched the Rivingtons, scoring with the classic "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow." Another novelty hit, B. Bumble and the Stingers' "Nut Rocker," reached number one in the U.K., and in 1964 Fowley even began handling promotion chores for singer P.J. Proby.

Producer Jay Stern

I interviewed Jay Stern at his Rat Entertainment office on Sunset Boulevard September 19, 2002.

Jay is president of Rat Entertainment, where he started in year 2001 as director Brett Ratner’s producing partner.

Jay: "I was a studio exec for 12 years, at Disney and then New Line. I don’t think I’ve really proved myself as a producer yet."

Luke: "That's ok. There are no definitions of the term producer."

Jay: "That's part of the problem. Anyone who passes the book store and says, 'Oh, that looks like an interesting title. I should producer that.' That person becomes a producer.

"Another problem is that there is no training ground for producers. They come out of being agents and studio executives. There's no system for creating good producers."

Luke: "It's the most undefined role in Hollywood."

Jay: "That's why producers get as little respect as they do. Many producers don't deserve respect."

Luke: "Tell me about your upbringing."

Jay: "I grew up in New York City. My father's a dentist. My twin brother is a psychiatrist. My sister has a Ph.D. in Scandinavian folklore and works in computers now. I went to private school in New York- Riverdale in the Bronx. Then I graduated from Yale with a degree in psychology. I was on the nine year plan. I was one of the only guys to graduate Yale in two terms…Nixon's and Carter's. I dropped out a couple of times. Then I was in a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology for about a year and a half. After leaving the program, I moved to Los Angeles for the film business."

Luke: "How did your family feel about your getting into the film industry?"

Jay: "Initially they were dubious. My mother would've preferred me to become a lawyer. It's scarey. I have a six year old boy. It's scarey to think, 'Is he going to make his way in the world? How rough is it going to be for him?' You want your children to avoid pain and have satisfying lives. My parents are happy now about my choice."

Luke: "What essential values did you inherit that allowed you to make your way in Hollywood?"

Jay: "I've been fortunate enough to last in the movie business. One thing that’s helped, I basically like people. I'm asked all the time, how could you go out to lunch with all those agents and managers? Because I enjoy most of those lunches. I actually like a lot of those people. Or let’s say that I find something to like and enjoy about most of them. Aside from that, I try my best to be fair and respectful in every situation, to deal with real integrity. Over time, that’s helped me build relationships, where people know they can trust me. Being completely selfish or singlemindedly opportunistic may help other people do what they do, but it's not how I'm constructed. I don't walk into meetings with complicated strategies. I don't walk into meetings expecting a fight. If you do expect a fight, you'll be more likely to get one. I try to keep an open mind about what’s best for the movie, which always takes precedence over what’s necessarily best for me Jay. Hopefully they coincide more often than not—in my experience they usually do.

"What's fun about working with Brett [Ratner] is that he is so collaborative. He'll ask anybody, 'What do you think?' If someone has a good idea, Brett will use it. He creates his vision partly out of all the smart things said around him. He hunts and sniffs out smart stuff around him like a rabid truffle hog."

Luke: "Is this a polite industry?"

Jay: "No. People are animals. Most people say that if you turn your back and give someone else the advantage, you're dead. I’m usually looking for agreement and resolution right off the bat. Maybe I'm not as successful as I could be because I'd rather resolve things than have a sustained confrontation, but everybody has to work as best as they can with their natures and constitutions.

"I started my career working for producer Michael Peyser. I read hundreds of scripts a year and did more notes than anybody should have to do. Over that time, I honed my tastes and my instincts. I learned how to give notes to a writer. It's different in every situation. You can have the most brilliant notes in the world, but if you are not able to get the writer or director to embrace those notes, you might as well not give them. You can't force a creative person to come up with inspired work if you can't get them to agree with you. Half of the battle is getting them to embrace your direction. Part of what you're fighting all the time is that you don't want to alienate the creative person. It's like being a good coach.

"We [New Line] bought the Rush Hour script for Brett. His film Money Talks had been a sort of dress rehearsal for Rush Hour, although we obviously didn’t know it at the time we were making Money Talks. We had a director walk off Money Talks three weeks before we were to start shooting. Brett came in for 20 minutes and talked about why he had to do the movie, and what it meant for him. We [DeLuca and I] hired Brett.

"After Money Talks came out, Brett said, 'You should come run my company.' I thought he had to be kidding. He was a child. Charming, at least somewhat talented, but a child. By that time, I was a relatively established studio executive. He'd only directed one movie. After Rush Hour came out, I had to take him seriously."

Luke: "How has being a father affected you as a producer?"

Jay: "It's much tougher to get through the pile of scripts on a weekend because you want to spend time with your wife and son [Eli]. It makes you a more compassionate person. I've got to figure out what's the best thing to do. It's not just about you. But what's the best thing for this young developing wonder? Figuring out ways to empower and nurture him isn't all that different from what I try to do with writers and directors. He's also a brutal negotiator, so my negotiating skills have definitely been honed by being a Dad.

"We were on vacation in Bermuda. My wife Vicki had seen the promos for a new show called Samurai Jack. She said we should watch it. We thought it was great. I got back to Los Angeles. Brett's assistant David Steiman had seen it on his vacation to the Caribbean. We thought the show was unbelievable and that we should do it as a live action movie. I tried to get the rights to it. I got Toby Emmerich involved. He got it immediately. We showed the premiere episode to Brett. He called me at 8AM to say he loved it, and he never does that.

"Eli has fantastic taste. David, Brett and I happened to share it."

Luke: "What did you learn about producing from working for Michael De Luca at New Line?"

Jay: "I first had an education from Jeffrey Katzenberg and Ricardo Mestres while I worked for Hollywood Pictures, owned by Disney. Then I saw how Mike did it. They were two completely different approaches. Mike protected creative people and let them do their thing. He almost never tried to influence creative people into doing something they weren't interested in doing.

"Jeffrey and Ricardo had clear ideas of what they wanted and had specific ways of getting it. Jeffrey went from someone who gave a lot of specific notes to somebody who at least sometimes preferred to let creative people do their thing. He went through a whole evolution. Mike was a young, hip, culturally savvy guy. Mike De Luca and Bob Shaye at New Line loved movies and were excited about working in movies. Disney was much more corporate and efficient. Nothing fell through the cracks, whereas at New Line, a sort of creative chaos seemed to be encouraged. By the way, both approaches done right can work, though ultimately, I think it’s best to do whatever you can to really encourage creative inspiration Every movie is something that has to be created out of nothing. So our highest calling as producers isn’t necessarily to keep the budget, schedule etc. in control, though of course that’s important. It’s as muse—to help inspire the best possible work from the talent."

Luke: "How did Mike hitting the headlines and then going down that long road to getting fired affect the working environment at New Line?"

Jay: "I think of it more as a year when the movies didn't work. People get nervous and they start blaming each other. People do show their true colors. Mike and Bob weren't seeing eye to eye. It was harder to get stuff done. I do think, though, that Mike basically comported himself with a lot of dignity to the end. He was also surprisingly forthright about where he had not made the best decisions. And the truth is, he made a lot of the right decisions for years."

Luke: "It's funny to hear the word 'dignified' repeatedly applied to a man who was kicked out of Arnold Rifkin's party for getting oral sex in front of a crowd.

Jay: "Well even he said he didn’t see himself as that guy. And I think Mike as a person does have real dignity and substance."

Luke: "How did you come to make so many black pictures?"

Jay: "I'm only white on the outside...skin deep, baby. The truth is, I went into New Line right after Helena Echegoyen had left. She'd developed a number of black movies. New Line has a tradition of doing urban movies. Love Jones was the first one I did. I do, by the way, have a natural affinity for urban culture. There were a couple of movies lying around that I could jump on and develop. Then Mike started giving me those projects and the community started sending me those scripts. And really what I want to do is A Room With A View, only with black people."

Luke: "Did white people go to see movies like Love & Basketball [about middle class blacks]?"

Jay: "I think it did some crossover. There are [urban] movies that do $35 million box office and almost no crossover [into a white or Asian audience]. I'm guessing that Barbershop had an 80-90% urban audience.

"I think we could've gotten more blacks into Love & Basketball too. I think black males shied away from it because of the love side of it and black females shied away from it because of the basketball side. In the trailer and the commercials, there was a scene where he said, 'What are we playing for?' And she said, 'Your heart.' And I think that young black males stayed away from the movie because of it. I tried to get involved in the marketing. I wasn't able to convince the filmmakers that that was going to have a cooling effect. It was still a good movie, New Line still made money on the movie, but I was a little frustrated it didn’t find a bigger audience. Money Talks did about $40 million box office to an audience that was probably 75% urban. Chris Tucker was not that known a quantity yet in the white world. People weren't rushing to see Charlie Sheen at the time.

"When there's a big urban turnout to a movie, it scares whites away. Ten years ago, when there were some fatalities in theaters, there were black people who hesitated to go to a theater house packed with an urban audience. They think there's going to be trouble. For the same reason they're not going to a street fair with an overwhelmingly urban crowd. They fear there's going to be trouble. And plenty of white people are terrified to go to a movie theater where the audience will be largely black.

"Theater owners love Eddie Murphy and Will Smith but if they don't know the black person in the movie, they're hesitant to pick up the movie. Booking the theater can be the biggest problem for black movies, particularly in white suburbs."

We resume our conversation 9/24/02.

Jay: "What makes producing exciting, aside from working on different projects all the time, is that you have to bring your whole being to the table to do it well. All you have is your character. You have to bring all of it to the picnic - your intelligence, sense of humor, taste, ethics. The people who don't have some charm won't be as good as the people who do. Jeffrey Katzenberg is tough but he would never have gone as far as he did without his sense of humor. Some people are good bullies and that can help in Hollywood."

Luke: "Producer Rob Long just told me that he didn't know what any studio executive had to contribute by going on set."

Jay: "Television tends to be driven by the show-runners (executive producers)."

Jay's mom calls. Jay tells his assistant: "Tell her I will have to call her back. I'm in a meeting."

Jay: "If he was like most producers in Hollywood trying to get features made, I don't think he'd be saying that. There are some smart people out there trying to make the movie better. I think that's another [example of the] 'Creatives vs the suits' attitude. I guess there are brilliant directors who are auteurs. I've heard that [director] Michael Mann is tough and doesn't like to listen to the studio. Most people in this business have to be collaborative to survive.

"To work your way up in the studio system, you have to be willing to eat some shit and smile while you're doing it. Nobody likes someone who is eating shit and actually grimacing.

"It helped my career that I was on the slow track. I got to observe and learn. People often overplay their hand. They get themselves in positions of power where it feels like they can do anything and they can't. You overplay your hand a bit and the people above you tend not to appreciate it."

Luke: "Does the low status of producers in the business bother you?"

Jay: "Yes. We're right there with the writer going after the Polish actress. She might sleep with us. The smart ones go after the director and the studio exec. I had a tough time moving over from studio exec to producer. Respect is built into the job of studio exec because you're a buyer. The tendency on most studio executives' part is to be dismissive of the producer. It's habitual. I don't know if Jerry Bruckheimer or Scott Rudin run into it but I certainly run into it. I run into it at every level - notes, creative and deal.

"When they give me notes, I have to come up with good arguments. I enjoy the autonomy of being an independent producer as opposed to an exec."

Luke: "What's your favorite and least favorite part of your job?"

Jay: "Working creatively on a project. Least favorite - trying to sell something that I know is a tough sell to people who aren't receptive. There are producers who love that challenge."

Luke: "Are there things you have to do for appearances?"

Jay: "I like to go to premiere and to restaurants."

Luke: "Is it necessary to go to parties?"

Jay: "It's not necessary but it is helpful. You run into a lot of people in one place. Rather than sitting here and making 30 phone calls, I go to a party and see 30 people and get a little business done."

Luke: "Do you have to be seen?"

Jay: "If Brett Ratner weren't my partner, you bet I'd have to be seen. It does help to go to The Grill occasionally. You have to schmooze stars."

Luke: "Take them to ballgames or concerts?"

Jay: "I don't think I've ever taken one to a ballgame or movie. I've had meetings with them and begged them to do my movie. You've done well if the agent or manager lets you sit down with the star or director. You're looking for the elements that can get your movie made. It's not going to be the costume designer."

Luke: "Have you had any conversations about switching the race of a protagonist?"

Jay: "Many. Brett was interested in doing a movie called Paycheck. Denzel Washington and Nick Cage were interested in playing the same character. Denzel and Will [Smith] are the names that come up as [blacks] who could come in and replace a white lead. You then ask the question if his love interest can be white or do you have to go black all the way. To be safe, you may want to go black all the way, or at least a person of color. It's easier to go black and latino than black and white because there is a bias in the black community against black men and white women. I don't think you're going to have a black man and a white wife that works [in a sitcom or movie] any time in the next few years.

"We may be making strides in overcoming racism but we're not color blind."

Luke: "How do black leads play overseas?"

Jay: "That's a huge consideration. That's the biggest reason why there aren't more black leads. The traditional conventional wisdom is that they don't sell overseas. The economics dictate this. These days, 60% of a studio movie is paid for by overseas. The exceptions are Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy and Chris Tucker.

"You can make a movie for up to $20 million and turn a profit from just your domestic market but you're not going to make a $40 million movie starring black people unless one of them is Will or Denzel..."

Luke: "Is there a type of movie you make best?"

Jay: "Certainly multi-racial action comedy is what I've done best till now but I swear there's A Room With A View in me with South American pygmies. People do tend to send me action comedies."

Luke: "Have you been recognized by the black community for your contributions to black cinema?"

Jay: "I don't know that I have been but I should be. A friend of mine used to joke that I'm the hottest black executive in town. Occasionally I'll run into a black writer or black producer..."

Luke: "But not civilians?"

Jay: "Again, it's all about Brett [Ratner] and Chris [Tucker] and Jackie [Chan]. They don't know I exist.

"As a producer, you have to put your ego aside. The actors and director will always command more attention."

Luke: "How much would it mean to you to win an Oscar?"

Jay: "It would be really nice."

Luke: "Do you ever dream of receiving a Best Picture Oscar?"

Jay: "I'd be lying if I hadn't told you that I'd fantasized at least a few times about it. It's not like I thought I would ever get up there for Rush Hour 2 and say, 'Ladies and gentlemen of the Academy.' I didn't think it was in the realm of possibility. If all I ever do is movies like Rush Hour, that would be ok. One Room With A View, one statuete, that would be ok too. I'm better suited to making Rush Hours than A Room With A View."

Luke: "Can you imagine Joel Silver winning a Best Picture Oscar?"

Jay: "I think it would be great to see. In the category of what's strange about this picture. For anyone who appreciates irony, Joel Silver addressing the Academy... 'You really like me, you really do.'"

Jay and I collapse with laughter.

Jay: "If he just broke down and started blubbering..."

Luke: "Do you resent that comedies aren't respected by the Academy?"

Jay: "No. Somebody said about iambic pentameter, you do the best job you can within the form you are working in. The action comedy form should be fun and entertaining. It's not meant to be particularly thought provoking. Though, the first time we screened Rush Hour, a number of people in the audience began spontaneously singing kumbieya. We're not just entertaining people. We're helping bring people together. That these guys, the characters of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, are from two different cultures and find a way to get along, it's better than the alternative."

What's So Wonderful About Dean Baquet?

I keep hearing wonderful things about The Los Angeles Times managing editor. I read the LA Times every day and I don't see what's so wonderful. Yet Seth Mnookin at Newsweek proclaims Baquet the leading candidate to be the New York Times editor. I bet much of the hype is simply because Baquet is likeable and because he's black.

Bring Back The Comments

LaExaminer.com has changed format and I miss the old one, particularly the comments. Bring 'em back.

Ken Layne writes: "No way! We're almost rid of those people who ruined our site and made us lose all interest in updating it. And why don't *you* have comments, Mr. Ford?"

LF says: I loved those people who fought in the comments section. It was a great gathering ground. I'm sorry it made you lose interest in it. Kevin Roderick doesn't have the same snarky approach. It will take me a while to adjust to the new format and to comment on Kevin's site, fine as it may be.

I guess I don't have comments because I am in the stone age technologically, and it sounds like a hassle keeping an eye on them for libel/obscenity etc. I'd rather filter them through email.

The Return Of Writer Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

From Media News:

Miami Herald
"The Dirty Girls Social Club" author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez -- she also wrote a 3,400-word Los Angeles Times resignation letter -- tells Lydia Martin that so much inaccurate information has been written about her "that I'm considering defamation of character lawsuits against certain publications." Romenesko is told that Valdes-Rodriguez is upset with the Washington Post's Jennifer Frey for writing that she was "practically a pariah in the industry just two years ago." Ironically, Valdes-Rodriguez once sent Romenesko an essay that she titled "Industry Pariah."


From the Miami Herald 6/10/03: She can't help bad-talk her former lover. She says much of what has been written about her is inaccurate. ``To the point that I'm considering defamation of character lawsuits against certain publications.''

Her big beef is that some newspaper called her unemployable even though at the time she finally got the book deal, she was also finally employed -- as features editor of The Albuquerque Tribune. She says she wasn't dead broke, as some newspapers said, because she was running a public relations business with her husband. And that there were no magical six days at Starbucks.

``I had about 100 pages and then an agent asked me to finish it. So it was more like two weeks from the time she asked me to write it to the time I had a first draft 300 pages long.''

Jennifer Frey writes in the Washington Post 5/30/03:

The way Valdes-Rodriguez sees it, all the buzz surrounding her book has little to do with her ethnic background and everything to do with her past life as a journalist. After all, she is a story unto herself: A former staff writer for the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times, Valdes-Rodriguez famously destroyed her own burgeoning career when she capped her resignation from the Times with a vicious e-mail to superiors that attacked colleagues by name and accused the institution of discrimination and racist attitudes. Much to her fury, the e-mail was posted on the Internet, giving her an industry-wide label of more trouble than she's worth.

Pregnant, out of a job and practically a pariah in the industry just two years ago, she now has the sweetest revenge: a big check, a bestseller and a national book tour. And she's clearly enjoying every minute.

"Journalists find the actions of other journalists fascinating," she tells the audience at Vertigo Books.

Then adds: "In a really bad way."

Let's just be upfront about it: It's not easy being a journalist in the presence of Valdes-Rodriguez, because the contempt she has for her former profession is not something she hides. Mention that to her -- her contempt -- and she'll swear it's not true, even seem a bit shocked.

Then, a few days later, she'll post this on a journalism Web site: "Jayson Blair is not the only one inventing his stories," she wrote. "He's just the one who got caught. There are hundreds just like him, googling and snickering away in their cubicles right now, and many hundreds more people out in the world whose mouths are being stuffed with words they never said in order to help the reporter overcome his/her personal issues. Is it any wonder the public trusts used car salesmen more than they trust reporters?"

Or there's this, from her book, which includes a depiction of a big-city newsroom populated with racially insensitive colleagues and an idiot editor: "I flip through them all, read the made-up quotes that are nothing more than approximations of things I've said, written in ways I would never say them by people too lazy to take thorough notes or use a tape recorder," she writes in the voice of Amber, who has just made it big in the music industry.

Kickin' With Maggie and the Boys

I spent Wednesday May 21 in Canoga Park and Chatsworth.

11AM. I run into a tall blonde girl named Aussie. She's lived in Florida the past five years. She's talking to Duane, a soft-spoken black man, college graduate and former Christian.

Luke to Rob Spallone: "Have you ever communicated with a space alien?"

Rob: "No."

Luke: "Do you believe that Elvis is still alive?"

Rob: "Yes."

Rob says he's buying a house.

Aussie giggles. She appears naive and nervous, as though she's been battered for much of her life.

Rob walks in and points at Aussie: "You! Come with me."

Aussie: "Uh oh."

Ron: "I'm ready to pull the trigger."

Rob: "Give me one minute."

I follow them.

11:35AM. Country, a well-built black man from Mississippi who now lives in South Central, seeks beer.

Country: "I usually drink about a case a day. That's 24 12-ounce brews. I'm trying to slack down. That's when I was younger. I'm a grown man now. I'm 25. I know I look innocent..."

Luke: "Can you still work if you've had a few drinks?"

Country: "Oh yeah, you've never tried?"

Luke: "No."

Luke: "Look at the long fingernails on you."

Country: "That's just to show that I ain't nervous about nothin. I won't get 'em done for nothing. Let my nails grow. I get the dirt out myself.

"Wise is my nigger. He's a young nigger just like me. He only been in the game about four months. I've only been in the game eight months. We're cool. I rolled out with him. We shot basketball and everything and chill. I been with heavy hitters. Devlin. Wesley my cousin. Brian. I don't know why everybody don't like the cat. He do good s---. Domonique, oh yeah, that's my nigger. All them big name niggers man. Mark. Trigger. Sledgehammer. I been with all them cats, man."

11:50AM: Rob and I stop by Joey Buttafucco's body shop in Chatsworth.

I go for a walk.

Jim walks out to smoke a cigarette. He's put on an enormous amount of weight. He refuses to let me take a picture.

Jim's become increasingly paranoid over the year. He warns me that if I write about him, he will take care of me "old school," meaning I will be beat up.

He says he will sue me if I take a picture because he won't sign a model release. I'm a news photographer not a commercial photographer. I don't need releases to take and publish photos in connection with news stories I report.

Jim's been a recluse the past few years. He points out there have been no articles about him in the past few years.

He complains about his enormous workload and how his helpers want to charge him a half-day's pay just to run something over to another company.

As long as I've known him, Jim's been feeling the load of weighty responsibilities.

Jim starts talking about that "nigger" [Jayson Blair] who made up a bunch of stories at the New York Times. Jim says it will destroy the credibility of the "liberal" New York Times for 50 years.

Marty disagrees.

I largely agree with Holliday's assessment though I think 50-years is a bit long.

Jim starts a harangue about how evil I am.

Marty says I am a nice guy.

Jim says I am evil. Jim barrels over Marty who sits back and enjoys his cigarette.

Holliday remembers an argument we had five years ago about interracial. Jim says I argued with him for two hours that the federal government ought to force white girls "to fuck niggers."

Jim uses the word "nigger" a lot but adamently rejects any inferences that he is racist.

Marty says there are white niggers.

I point out that many black males call their fellow blacks "niggers." Country did that to me today.

Jim says that it is racist to make it socially acceptable for blacks to call blacks "niggers" but not allow whites to do the same.

Rob walks out and yells at me: "Don't write about Jim. Now get out of here. I'll take you to lunch."

We go to San Carlo Italian Deli, a reputed hangout for wiseguys. I used to have my picture on the wall here.

We sit with Joey Buttafucco.

Rob gets a call from Jim who tells him not to let me write about him.

Rob: "I will do my best but sometimes he just don't listen to me."

Rob turns to me: "Listen to me. That was Jim. He says that if you print one thing about him, you're going to get the beating of your life."

Ronald Anthony Bolino joins us. A former heavyweight boxer, he used to collect money for John Gotti. He tells me he used to have dinner with John Gotti twice a month.

Ronnie grew up in Bensonhurst, New York. Two months ago, he had open-heart surgery. His cholesterol is 150 while mine is high, 350. Maybe it will kill me before Jim gets to me.

Rob's cell phone goes off about 100 times while I'm with him.

The people behind the counter at the San Carlo Deli are just the nicest folks. They're amused by Rob. It's like it's one big family. They prepare a nice vegetarian pasta dish for me. Everyone else eats meat and cheese.

Rob grabs my taperecorder and threatens to crush it.

After a career collecting for the Mafia, Ronnie went into the construction business, building thousands of homes.

Rob tells Howard: "He [Ronnie] just got me a mortgage. I'm buying a house."

Rob: "Oh, you love to talk to Luke?"

Howard: "Of course. I want to give Luke all the right information."

Howard stares at Ron. "I've met you before. Ron Bolinski."

Joey: "He used to do collections for John Gotti."

Rob: "That's a great thing to say in front of Luke."

Ron: "Don't say anything like that."

Luke: "That's an honorable profession."

Rob: "Someone has to collect the money."
Howard to Ron: "Didn't you used to wear gold gloves around your neck?"

Ron: "Dangle gloves. They're too heavy for me to wear now. I had an operation a couple of months ago."

Rob: "He's a very bad man."

Howard: "I remember. I remember."

Rob: "Joey likes to hang out with little kids because they don't read the tabloids.

"I'm good to some of them."

Ron talks about all the people his godson police officer killed and shot. "In ten years, he never gave anybody a ticket."

Joey: "Not giving them a ticket but he's killing them."

Ron explains to me: "I have a lot of different facets to my family."

Some of them are in organized crime. One lives by John Gotti.

Ron: "My godson used to play with Gotti's kids. I could tell you some stories but I'm not going to..."

Rob: "Me and Ronnie came here the other day, right? We pull up. There were these two black kids sitting here."

Joey: "They didn't get up?"

Rob: "No. We got here a little late. We went inside. When I walked up the street to get cigarettes, the check cashing place over there, there's nine zillion cops. The two niggers got up here, ate, and went over there and robbed the place."

Joey: "Did they get caught?"

Rob: "No.

"What do you not want to call a black guy that begins with an "n" and ends with an "r?"

Ron: "Nigger?"

Rob: "Neighbor."

Joey: "Let's take the kids to wrestling."

Rob: "Listen. I've got four frontrow tickets for Anaheim. I can't go. For the third. I'm going to be on a shoot."

I look at Rob's hand. He's got a fingernail painted white.

Rob: "I crushed my finger in the car and it made it black. So I made it white."

Ronnie: "It's just a sign of a pimp. It means he's been a pimp for more than five years."

Luke: "How did Rob pass your credit check?"

Ron: "He's got excellent credit. Sterling. Top 1%."

Ron and Joey get Expresso. Rob picks up the $40 bill.

Joey: "Rob, please, let me do lunch today."

A big tall black guy who looks like Leon Spinks stops by the table and tries to bum a cigarette.

Rob: "I could. What kind do you smoke?"

Man: "What you're smoking."

Rob: "You got a match?"

Man: "Yeah, I got a light."

Rob: "Give me a light."

Rob lights the man a cigarette and gives it to him. Then he returns the lighter.

Rob: "My kids aren't allowed to go to church no more. Yesterday was their last day. I told my wife no more. I don't believe in that priest shit, touching the kid. My kid made his communion two weeks ago. Yesterday was their last day. No more."

Joey: "What a beautiful sacred event that was."

Joey jumps up.

Rob: "What's going on?"

Joey: "I want to give these two girls the two chairs."

Ron: "They were coming to sit next to us."

Joey moves the chairs over to the table away from us.

Rob: "What do you ladies do for a living?"

The little dark skinny one is cute. The white woman is hefty.

Cute: "Information Technology. I just graduated yesterday."

Rob: "Do you have a job yet?"

We all start booing Rob.

Luke: "Do not offer her work Rob."

Joey: "Do not say it."

Rob: "I didn't say a word."

Joey: "We know exactly what you're thinking."

Rob: "That's not right."

Luke: "She's got a flourishing career ahead of her."

Ron: "I know just what you were going to offer her."

The girls giggle.

Joey: "You want me to tell them what you were going to say?"

Rob: "I was being nice."

Ron: "He was going to offer you a job."

Ronnie knocked out Mighty Joe Young, a 6'4 260-pound black boxer. "He's an up and coming heavyweight. We put the gloves on and went two rounds and I knocked him out."

Rob's father Joe Spallone fought Jake LaMotta.

Rob: "Cops used to come pick my father up and make him fight people in different neighborhoods in the Bronx. They'd get the toughest kids in the neighborhood for him to fight."

Ron: "We had two cops who used to drive us around the neighborhood, beat us with a rubber hose, take us home to our fathers, and knock on the door and say here. Father would go bam."

I tell the girls: "I'm a Christian minister. I'm trying to bring these men to the Lord."

A beautiful woman drives up and asks, "Is my Daddy there?"

Joey: "I'll be your daddy."

Herbie the Dentist: "I am enjoying the Hell out of the whole L-ke F-rd thing. I am just a consumer. I have no time or energy to actually follow people in the industry around or ask questions. The fact that this guy comes out of nowhere and digs up so much stuff (some of it true - some of it not so true) is amazing!

He has really changed my view of people in the business and the way the business runs. Previously, I had the impression that the industry was semi-cohesive and that they had a plan and some degree of control (a lot like organized crime a.k.a The Mob). What I am seeing and hearing is a bunch of barely-competent people trying to hold together a way of life that is ready to blow apart.

Why these people give Luke the time of day is bewildering.

They say some incredibly stupid things in front of him, then complain that he prints it. They invite him onto a live radio broadcast and act like a bunch of kindergarteners. They openly misquote and misrepresent him more than he has ever misrepresented the industry. These are the supposed leaders/movers and shakers? These are the people in driver's seat of a muti-million dollar industry?

I thought that if these people were so powerful and so close to 'The Dark-Side' of the force, they would have dealt with what they term 'the greatest threat to their business' in a much more casual way. Hey Luke, any hitmen show up at your door lately? Don't worry, it doesn't sound like this crew is competent enough to prove any harm to anyone but themselves.

May 21, 2003.


Rob Spallone leaves his keys in his Mercedes and his top down while we eat lunch at the San Carlo Italian Deli.

Rob and I drive while rap music plays in the car.

Luke: "Why are you listening to black music?"

Rob: "I don't. That's my kids. I listen to this."

Rob turns on the CD player to Natalie Cole. The player skips every time we hit a bump. The stereo cost $8000 and it don't work right.

Rob is a crazily aggressive driver. He talks on his cell phone, jiggles with the stereo, zooms in and out of lanes...

We drive up to theis cute young thing, 19-year old Maggie.

Rob introduces Maggie to Wise, a young black man.

Wise: "What's up baby?"

We're in the makeup room.

Cherie: "Luke, you should come shoot pictures of my horseriding competition."

Rob walks in: "Why you scaring the girl for? Two black guys and a retard [Luke] scaring the little white girl."

I leave the room and chat with Ron. He had 80 fights as an amateur and 33 fights as a pro. He had 11 fights at Madison Garden.

Ron: "I was 32-0 until I met Ernie Shavers who split my kidney in six rounds.

"I won the Golden Gloves twice in New York. I lived in New York for 41-years. I used to weigh 226. Now I'm 240.

"Two years ago, I got an offer to fight Gerry Coetzee (the great white hope of 15 years ago). They wanted him to come out of retirement. They offered me $400,000. I told them no. I know Gerry Coetzee. I can hurt Gerry Coetzee on a bad day in June. I didn't think the fight was right just for the money. I declined it."

Luke: "Did you ever throw a fight?"

Ron: "You can get hit for that. I never even considered it."

2PM. Maggie Star smokes a cigarette outside with Matt. It's about 90 degrees.

Maggie Star turns 20 years old in August.

Matt has a Celtic symbol around his neck and an iron cross around his left hand. My friend Jim Goad is also into the iron cross. Matt has long hair and a low key manner. Matt has no tattoos and no jewelry.

Maggie has three tattoos.

Maggie: "I don't think you can take a shot of this one [on her leg]. It's a logo."

Luke: "I can take a shot of anything. I'm reporter. I'm not using it for commercial purposes."

Maggie: "Did you see that MTV show Jackass? It's the Jackass logo.

"I skateboard and I do stuff like that. I'm self-destructive."

Maggie's back is burned from a vacation in Key West, Florida.

Maggie: "I go to Pierce [Junior College] and I've got a semester left and I'm going to CSUN or MI (Music Institute of North Hollywood)."

Luke: "You're going to get a music degree? What do you play, the flute?"

Maggie: "No, I play keyboard, guitar, bass, drums, tamborines."

Country sips a Red Bull. He also has a beer and cognac.

Maggie: "I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. My Mom hung out with the Hells Angels and my Dad was a dirty rodeo cowboy."

Maggie: "I live by myself."

Rob: "Isn't she cute?"

Luke: "Yeah. She should be a secretary."

Ron: "She looks like a music teacher."

Rob to Maggie: "You want to ---- him [Luke]? He'll make you famous."

I blush.

Maggie giggles.

Luke: "Do you have any relatives in organized crime?"

Maggie: "My great grandpa..."

Rob: "Uh huh..."

Maggie: "...used to help Al Capone. Probably back in Italy."

Luke: "Have you ever communicated with an alien?"

Maggie: "Yes."

Luke: "What did they say?"

Maggie: "They said that they are here. They're up there. They weren't like talking to me. They weren't right there.

"I was out in the desert, Trona."

Luke: "Were you smoking anything?"

Maggie: "I was on shrooms. I had a really bad trip because there's a naval base there and they do chemical testing. They used to do rituals like voodoo black magic rituals. I just got a negative feeling and I just started thinking about things I'd never thought of and it just added up that there's something out here.

"I do tarot cards and stuff."

Luke: "Do you believe in the Devil?"

Maggie: "No, because if you believe in the Devil you believe in God. I'm agnostic."

Luke: "What do you think about Jesus?"

Maggie: "I think that Jesus was a real guy and like psychics and everyone else, he knew what was going on and what was going to happen. He tried to make things better. Everyone didn't agree with him and thought he was crazy and they killed. I don't think he was the son of god. I think he was a messenger."

Luke: "A messenger from?"

Maggie: "From God. Or Higher Power or whatever. I'm Catholic. I've read the Bible several times."

Luke: "Do you think the Jews have suffered for killing Jesus?"

Maggie: "I think we've all suffered."

Luke: "Do you have siblings?"

Maggie: "I have one brother who is a professional skateboarder, Brandon McCartney, and I have a younger sister, Ryan, who is 16."

Maggie stands 5'3" and weighs about 100 pounds. Her chest measures 34B.

Maggie says she was afraid to run away from home as a kid because she knew she'd be hunted down by Hells Angels.

Maggie started smoking dope at age 12 and was a major pothead in her teens. "I've started to cut down. It puts you in a major depression if you smoke all the time. And you get lazy."

She now smokes dope once a week.

Wise walks in.

Luke to Wise: "Do you feel like they are stereotyping you?"

Wise: "Hell yes. The black dude always has to be the thug."

Luke: "They're always portraying you as thugs. Why can't you play a CEO? It seems to grind in the most negative stereotypes."

Wise: "They want you to drink beer, talk a lot of slang, call girls bitches, look ho, s--- this di--."

Luke: "And you'd never do that in normal life."

Wise: "I do that every day. I'm kidding. That's not my style. I'm one of the more proper brothers."

Rob Spallone walks in and yells at me: "Leave the girl alone!"

Maggie asks me what I think happened to Jesus.

Luke: "I think the Romans killed him."

Maggie, whose Italian: "You think my people killed him? Is that why we're so evil?"

Xander walks out. I assure him that though it may look like I am in a compromising position...

"Everything's kosher here, Xander..."

Xander laughs: "Oh, ok..."

Luke: "I don't want you be worried. It's just a journalistic technique they taught me at Columbia Journalism School."

Maggie: "I don't know what the hell you are doing to my hair but you're a weirdo."

I lean over and snap photos of Maggie's face close-up.

Maggie: "You took a picture of my big nose."

Luke: "You don't have a big nose. It's just prominent."

Maggie: "Why are you still taking pictures?"

Luke: "I'm making you a star."

Maggie: "I'm a star in my heart. Gosh, you are so crazy. You have to erase these pictures. They are horrible."

Luke: "You've got a Jewish nose."

Maggie: "Everyone thinks that. I'm not Jewish."

Luke: "Would you like to convert to Orthodox Judaism and have ten of my kids?"

Maggie: "No. And I won't eat your gefilte fish either. You can shove it up your butt."

Luke: "Would you eat my baloney?"

Maggie: "I'm eating your baloney right now. It's just flowing out of your mouth."

I take my tape recorder and put it between her legs.

Luke: "Hold my tape recorder right there."

Maggie: "It's right between my legs."

Luke: "What's the last book you read?"

Maggie: "I just reread The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I love it. They have a DVD out it and I watched that after. The sarcasm was great. I like English TV shows. I just got the DVD set of Fawlty Towers."

She smokes a cigarette.

I struggle to tighten the cord attached to my digital camera.

Luke: "Are you really strong?"

Star: "Yes."

Luke: "Could you tighten that for me?"

Star does and makes it much tighter than I could do.

Star: "I work out. I have to play bass so my fingers and arms are tight."

Luke: "Are you sure you don't want to wear a wig on your head when you get married and fast on Yom Kippur? And keep the Sabbath?"

Star: "Are you trying to propose to me and turn me into Jewish?"

Luke: "Yeah. Am I compromising my journalistic values?"

Star: "You can't get too technical with the questions because most girls don't have answers like I do."

Luke: "Some of them have really funny answers like Violet."

Star: "How could you blame just one ethnicity for Jesus dying?"

Our conversation moves to other topics.

Star: "I listen to negative music because it is the truth. The singers put their heart into it and they are saying something true about their lives and their suffering. We relate to that. I love Tool. Maynard puts words out... He's an amazing writer. His philosophy. What bothers him about the world. They sing about truth, not about 'I've got money and bitches and hos.' What we go through every day to live. If I didn't have that, I think I'd be in a mental institution."

I follow Maggie into the make-up room.

She giggles. I walk away.

Two minutes later, I walk into Rob's room. Maggie is kissing a Vietnamese guy.

I feel my heart breaking. I'm appalled. She's not getting paid for this. She's just doing it because she's curious.

The guy put four marbles in himself while serving time in prison. He says women like the sensation.

If Maggie were getting paid for this, I could better understand and come to terms with her wantonness. What a slut.

I feel shocked, angry, sad, depressed. I take my emotions and stuff them deep inside.

Rob asks Wise to make a beer run.

Country smoke weed in the form of cigarette.

Rob: "That's weed? How did you put it in a cigarette like that?"

Country: "All you've got to do is knock the nicotene out of it and put the pot in."

Country says he's had nine beers today. His girlfriend is Pebbles.

Country laughs: "Yeah, that's my bitch. Yeah, that's my bitch."

Silvio shows me his bottle of cognac. He takes a hit.

Josie: "I like Jack Daniels."

Country takes a hit. "This is good s---."

Alexandra says her friend Cameron was getting ripped off buying bad-quality drugs at an exorbitant price so Alex sends her to a better drug dealer.

Alex laughs when I repeat the information into my taperecorder.

Rob: "It's not funny. I don't like it. I don't believe in drugs.

"They're all out.

"I catch anyone at my house using drugs, you're all out of the house. And you are all out of the business. What happens if I call up every [guy] and say, 'If you use this girl, I'm going to break your legs'?"

Luke: "Would you say something like that?"

Rob: "Yeah."

Rob to Alexandra: "I don't want you to feel uncomfortable at the house."

Alex: "I don't feel uncomfortable."

Rob: "Yes you do."

Alex: "For what? For Tony [from Australia]? Or for you breaking people's legs?

"I feel uncomfortable with Tony so last night I slept outside. He wakes up and he swears nonstop."

Silvio says Alexandra is his girlfriend.

Alexandra: "You're not my girlfriend. I'm sorry."

I push Alexandra on to Rob and snap a photo.

Rob pushes her away. "My wife reads this thing."

Luke: "She does. She loves it. It gets her so excited to see that Rob is attractive to other women."

Luke to Alexandra: "It's not right when people get ripped off trying to buy good quality drugs."

Alexandra giggles and agrees with me.

Alex: "He swears like a dog. He's really abusive."

Luke: "Does he ever try to touch you?"

Alex: "Yeah."

Luke: "Inappropriately?"

Alex laughs.

Luke: "Did he ever try to have sex with you?"

Alex: "Of course he did."

Luke: "Did you allow him?"

Alex: "NO."

Alex says she will kill this Tony guy if he threatens her again. "He's on drugs."

Rob: "The guy that she don't like is the guy who brought her there."

Luke to Alex: "Does your family have any Mob connections?"

Alex: "My father knows lots of people. He's a bank manager."

Josie looks at the cognac and says she's more of a bourbon drinker.

Silvio is married to a white Jewish woman. They have no children. They own two homes.

Silvio: "I got a wife, a girlfriend, a mistress and whole bunch of punk bitches that I just f---."

Silvio asks Jose to hang out with him tonight.

She tries to make up her mind while she drinks a Bud Light.

Duane Cummins was just laid off from his day job selling transmission parts.

Wise: "I'm going to go kickin' with Maggie."

Rob: "Why don't you just take her phone number?"

Maggie and Wise leave together.

Duane says he only gets drunk and high on occasion. "I'm a health freak."

Luke: "Do you go to church every Sunday?"

Duane: "That would be an interesting story if I told you my life story. Another time."

Rob: "This is a good kid."

Luke: "Were you a preacher?"

Duane: "I was going to be."

Duane grew up with his family in South Central LA and Crenshaw. His parents divorced when he was a kid. He was baptized and publicly gave his life to Christ.

Then he discovered there was a lot of "bulls---" with his religion and left it. But he still has many of the mannerisms and values of evangelical Christianity.

Rob writes Luke: "I think Dennis Prager would want you to feel joy for the Vietnamese guy instead of pity for yourself."

Secular Emptiness

From moxie.nu:

Luke Ford recently wrote:

"A friend of mine, Felecia, lost her dog. She offered a $1000 reward for it. Other people piled on to raise the number over $2000 and several websites wrote about it. ... Why the hysteria over Felicia's dog that received coverage on many sites? Because many secular people tend to lead lives empty of real meaning and hence are particularly susceptible to getting swept up in hysteria over things that have little ultimate meaning, like pets. [emphasis added]"

Moxie writes: First thing that came to mind is a nun at a local church near my parent's residence. She takes in strays of all kinds and remains very pious and devoted to serving her church. If god's creatures have "little ultimate meaning" remains to be seen. We'll have to wait for an animal lover to die and come back and let us know if being kind to animals doesn't mean a thing to the big man upstairs.

Luke has a certain knack for taking a completely secular topic and making it a religious issue -- it makes me chuckle!

[P]ets are more loving, loyal and kind than many people out there. Also, I've found that pet owners are just more responsible and caring than non pet owners. I just don't see how religion or lack thereof plays into being upset over a lost pet!

Trevor writes Moxie: So, does this mean that if I become a born-again Christian I would love my dog less? If so, I guess that's just another reason that I'll be going to hell...

H writes: His comments about Mexicans in his Moxie interview showed that he places a higher value on cultural and socioeconomic stasis than on empathy and openness. Which is fine, but Christian?