Thursday, March 3, 2005
I walk into Burt's office. He's glued to coverage of another female teacher who had sex with her underage male student story.
We have lunch Tuesday in Culver City. I ordered a vegeburger with fries and Burt (producer of Showtime's My First Time series) got a chicken salad.
Luke: "What is it like to come back to A Current Affair (tabloid TV show relaunching March 21) after you burned a lot of bridges with your book Tabloid Baby?"
Burt: "I did burn a lot of bridges with my book with a lot of people. At the same time, when my book came out, I found out who my friends were."
Burt's cell phone rings with the tune from ACDC's Back in Black. He ignores it.
Burt: "When Peter Brennan met with me and invited me to come back to A Current Affair, I was surprised and humbled."
Burt: "I didn't think I'd ever be doing that again. That book was my farewell to tabloid TV. Although in the ensuing years, I became a standardbearer [at www.tabloidbaby.com] for doing good tabloid. I got a lot of response from the website. People from around the country contributed stories from papers around the world that, if there was a real tabloid TV show out there still, and these would be the stories we'd cover. Again, the stories we got were not coming out of the Globe or The Enquirer or the Weekly World News, but the Guardian, the Independent and The New York Times.
"Coming back to A Current Affair, as we look for stories, we are finding them in small town papers again. We are not getting them from the E! news daily website.
"Peter invited me to come back to New York to work on the show. I have a family now [one wife and two kids]. I have a production company. I'm tied to LA. When I told Peter that, he said I could do whatever I wanted on the West Coast. I'm running the West Coast operation."
Luke: "How did your book affect your life?"
Burt took notes all through his tabloid days and began writing the book in 1996. It was published in 1999.
Burt: "I still have cocktail napkins from 1989 that I had written notes on.
"I had tremendous interest from publishers in New York. I had a hot agent, David Vigliano. My dear late friend Neal Travis [who invented Page Six in the New York Post] helped me get the agent. I started writing it on deadline. I wanted the last chapter to be the birth of my [first] son. I finished writing it in 1996. Vigliano got it out to a bunch of publishers in New York. There was some snobbishness. New York publishers didn't think anybody would be interested in tabloid television. A Current Affair had just been canceled.
"Then, Anthea Disney, who replaced me as managing editor of A Current Affair after Rupert Murdoch took her from newspapers in Britain, became the head of Harper Collins [book publisher owned by Murdoch]. Word went out from New York that this was not a book to publish. Everything went cold. Over the next couple of years, I worked with editor Ed Breslin. We went out and got another agent, Jimmy Vines.
My attorney, Paul Sherman, an old school New York business attorney who secured the book deal for Xaviera Hollander when she did The Happy Hooker, and for Joan Rivers, told me he had a publisher in Nashville, Tennessee -- APG Books. We made a deal. They did religious books and children books and had just started a pop imprint called Celebrity Books. They did a book by Georgia Durante who was married to a mobster in New York. She was his getaway driver. She came to Hollywood and became a stunt driver. The Company She Keeps. My book was the second under that imprint. My book was going to be the one that would blow everything open to tremendous publicity.
"We published it in October 1999. It started hitting the bookstores in December. We did a book launch party at the Bel Age on the Sunset Strip, where a lot of the action took place. The following week, we did a launch party at Elaine's in Manhattan.
"I was booked by my publicist on Good Morning America, NBC Dateline, MSNBC, CNN... The week I got to New York, every booking I had was canceled. The bookers, the young kids who saw the book, thought I'd be a great guest, but when their bosses saw it, they said, we're not putting this guy on television. Look at what he says about Tom Brokaw, Bryant Gumbel.
"I let everything hang out in that book. I wrote it as a screed at first then I rewrote it over three years. At a time when Howard Stern's books were big sellers... I used common language, tabloid language. I didn't pull any punches on my own misdeeds or other people's.
"I wasn't out to get anyone. I just told it like it was.
"I found out that the people who were most offended by it were people who I worked with... People who spent a better part of ten years making other people's lives miserable were so offended that I would write about them.
"I had several purposes for the book. One was my memoir. I was also telling the story of tabloid television, how it changed television and how it fell."
Our food comes but our interview rolls on.
"I was telling the story not through corporate shifts or audience tastes, but like Saving Private Ryan, through one platoon. How the day-to-day story decisions made the genre successful and ultimately made it tawdry and killed it.
"I expected that one of two things would happen: I'd be massively successful and launched into a new life as an author, or no one would notice the book and I'd be known as that little c--- who wrote that book about his friends and would never work again. I never expected the middle, which was that everybody would read the book. It was the most Xeroxed book in the history of television when the galleys came out. Everybody would know about it. But it would sell in New York and LA and a few copies in Chicago because of the media blackout on the book."
Luke: "Didn't you have to sell your Porsche?"
Bert: "I had to sell it in 2000 because work stopped. There were threats made... Paramount tried to stop the book. They put out a cease-and-desist letter that my deal at Hard Copy included a confidentiality clause. I was not allowed to relay my experience. We fought that and won quickly but it cost $10,000 in attorney fees.
"Some people I'd worked with stuck up for me."
Luke: "How much money did the book cost you?"
Bert: "About half a million dollars.
"The book did launch me in a different direction. I worked quietly under the table. I met Brett Hudson and we started a company [Frozen Television] together.
"Henry Schleiff, the president of Court TV, is mentioned [unflatteringly] in my book.
"At my book party at Elaine's in New York, Henry had two producers waiting at the door. They said, Henry has read the part you wrote about him in the book and wants to apologize to you. On an unrelated matter, he would like to hire your wife as the host of this show on Hollywood and Crime.
"I met Henry. He embraced me. We had awkward funny moments. He said, this part was right. This part wasn't. Henry gave my company four hours of documentary work.
"You start feeling humbled. You start realizing you hurt people's feelings.
"John Parsons gave me my first job in television at Channel 5 News in New York in 1980. John became my competitor when I went to A Current Affair and he started up Hard Copy.
"John helped me out.
"I started doing documentaries. We started working with Albert S. Ruddy, who is old friends with my partner Brett Hudson. We interviewed Al for the [Legs McNeil] porn documentary we did for Court TV. Al had dealings with the Perainos and was open and funny about it. Al produced the movie Coonskin (1975) and couldn't get it distributed. Barry Diller refused to distribute it so he went to Butchie Peraino."
One of Burt's assistants stops by the table: "We're going to head out. We weren't able to make contact with the girl. She lives in Orange County. Steve is going to try to talk her into it."
Burt: "Is she in school or what?"
Burt: "Have fun."
The guy leaves. Burt turns to me. "We're doing a story on a student at San Diego State University, Steve York, who directed his own porn film and showed it on television. We went with him yesterday when he went on a job interview to Hustler. Hustler apparently offered him a job."
Burt: "We wrote a treatment with Al for a Hallmark movie based on Jimmy Carter's childhood memoirs. We wrote and produced the movie Cloud Nine with him."
Luke: "What killed tabloid TV?"
Burt: "When tabloid television first raised its head with A Current Affair, it had an entire part of America to itself. The networks covered events on the East Coast and Europe. They came out to LA if a movie star died or there was an earthquake. The rest of America was known as fly-over country.
"Whenever they covered America, what they know refer to as the red states, they show a picture of a thresher going through a field or hot iron ore being poured in a factory, and call it the America story.
"A Current Affair was going out to the middle of the country and taking small town dramas that gave you a picture of what was really going on. You could see America's alternative morality. People were buying homevideo cameras and making sexy movies. People were hiring hitmen. The minister was having an affair with the organist.
"It was showing what was really going on in America. It was covering America in a new way. It was breaking down these barriers of reporters in trenchcoats reporting and having ordinary-seeming people cover stories. It democratized newsgathering. It was a real threat to the networks, who slowly began to coopt it.
"As tabloids became more successful, A Current Affair spawned Hard Copy, Inside Edition, American Journal, Extra and Day & Date. The people who worked on the original show became spread out. Former network people came in such as John Terenzio (formerly of NBC) took over A Current Affair. Tabloid newspaper reporters started running the shows. The story selection got more sleazy. They were going for ratings. One of the stories that killed tabloid was one of the greatest -- Joey Buttafucco [and his mistress] Amy Fisher. It was a miracle story where the girl shot the wife and the wife not only survived but came up swinging and said, I defend my husband. You couldn't feel sorry for the wife was so combative in the face of all facts that her husband had had this affair. There was no one that you could root for.
"Then came O.J. Simpson. That changed everything. When the murder happened, nobody really covered it. Mr. Simpson had not been charged. For a week, we had a latenight show Premiere Story that was going to go up against Nightline. When Nightline covered Bosnia, we'd be covering Madonna.
"We had the O.J. story to ourselves for an entire week. When Ted Koppel first covered it, he apologized. He said some things are not important but there's interest and we have to cover it.
"After that low speed chase, and he was arrested, all the networks jumped on the story. There was live court room coverage during the day. Jay Leno making jokes at night. The tabloid shows were pre-recorded. All they could do was buy witnesses that would spoil the case and do the same stories with alliteration and music. There was no reason for these shows to exist. That killed it. The networks became tabloid covering Columbine, John John Kennedy's death, Princess Diana... The networks weren't covering these stories in the right way. They were still doing it with the network distance and loftiness.
"You watch NBC Dateline and they make fun of people.
"Just recently, there was a story in San Francisco. A bunch of workers for the gorilla foundation, a bunch of women who worked for Coco the Talking Gorilla, have sued because they claim they were forced to show their breasts to the gorilla.
"A Current Affair is back. We got in touch with the lawyer for the women and said, we want to do your story. The lawyer said no. I'm only dealing with mainstream news organizations. I'm not going to deal with something like A Current Affair.
"He appeared on CNN. Jenny Mouze (Making The Mouze of it) did a segment called Monkey Business at the Zoo. It lasted 125 seconds. It was all jokes. They made fun of the lawyer and they made fun of the women.
"I wrote the lawyer an email: If you want to see what mainstream legitimate news does to you, watch the piece. They made fun of you. They made you look like an idiot, like a sharpie trying to make some money.
"He wrote back and said he is re-evaluating everything. We're in a deal now to get the four women who are suing. Another woman every week comes forward...
"The networks will cover the material but they still look down their noses at it. These are people who look at my salad and know the names of the various leaves. They go to their little markets and that's the life they live.
"That's what killed tabloid and that's what's left a great opportunity to bring it back.
"If Entertainment Tonight does a three-minute story, it's a special feature. They're all doing Hollywood. They can't write the long-form stories. A Current Affair is going to do stories that are twelve minutes. That's an eternity in television."
Burt tells me the story behind his site SaintMychal.com. "I'm doing TabloidBaby.com and every year for publicity I put out a press release. Remember Andrea Thompson from NYPD Blue who became a CNN newscaster? I named her newscaster of the year.
"I'm looking for something to publicize. At the end of 2001, there's a little item in Parade magazine (Walter Scott Personality Parade): There is a prayer going around called Michal's prayer.
"Mychal Judge was the fire department chaplain who officially was the first casualty at the World Trade Center. He heard the call and went in with the other firemen. When the second plane hit, Mychal was hit by some debris and died. There's a famous photo of him being carried out on a chair and laid his body to rest in a church next door that was miraculously untouched.
"Then I saw another article on the front page of The Los Angeles Times who have been talking about him. I looked into it. I saw that the gay activists said he was gay. And he was an alcoholic.
"I put together a release saying the Catholic church is going to find itself in a quandary. They're going to be faced with canonizing a gay alcoholic priest. Neal Travis picked it up in his column. People started emailing me.
"My old friend Wayne Darwin said, 'Mate, you ought to make this into a website and sell t-shirts to the gays.'"
Burt's wife Alison Holloway walks up. Burt introduces me as someone with "heavy religious issues."
From this web site:
We talk about Benny Hill getting taken off the tele for making Paki (Pakhistani) jokes and pinching women on the bum.
Allison: "In our house it was all Benny all the time because I had an older brother."
Burt: "My friend Jimmy Sheehan put together this website. We put his story and articles about him. Within two weeks, we started getting emails from around the world. 'I knew Mychal Judge. He cured my baby of cancer.' 'I knew Mychal Judge. He...' 'I have a child with severe deformities. I've named him Mychal. I pray to Mychal every day.'
"From Perth to Germany, from around the world, people started emailing me. 'G-d bless you for doing this.' It's become this responsibility, this movement around the world.
"We get a few articles done.
"I'm on the set of My First Time. Some house in Van Nuys. Shooting the porn. I get a call on my cell from a reporter from The New York Times. He wants to do a story on SaintMychal.com. I start telling him the story. He says, what movement? You're making this up, aren't you?
"I say, I'll get back to you. I went home and got every email and put together this big memo for the guy from The New York Times. A week later, a front page story in The New York Times interviewing all the people I had sent him to.
"People were emailing that we were trying to bring down the church, that we were gay activists. His order, the Franciscans, unfortunately, is known as the gayest order in the Church. They washed their hands of it.
"We've kept the thing going as an ongoing research project. Great Britain did a documentary. Michael Daly at the New York Daily News is writing a book about Mychal Judge.
"It's been a weird sidetrack. My wife doesn't know what the hell is going on. She thinks I have some strange Catholic issues.
"When I was first interviewed, they asked me for my religion. I said I was a lapsed Catholic. I don't go to church. Then I was given advice to never say that. Say that you're a fine Catholic. You don't want people to think that you are someone from the outside trying to tear down the Church."
G.L.A.T. Kosher Jews Take Offense
God Squad Rabbi Called Humorless
It's Deja Jew all over again.
First, it was Louis E. Chimpstein that was intended as a joke, but some conservatives took seriously, so seriously they tried to arrange that the Simean-American provocteur par excellence take the fall for Karl Rove.
Now, it's Rabbi Marc Gellman who went ballistic over a little riff about him and outer space that Hymie-American journalist Evan Gahr made this morning in his 1200th unsolicited email to journalists about anti-Semitism.
Hymie-American journalist Evan Gahr poked gentle fun at Rabbi Marc Gellman because of his frequent cliam to being the best-known rabbi in America. Mr. Gellman, however, didn't get the joke, and told the inciteful scribe to cease and desist from any and all communications:
"You have already slandered me enough. I have no desire for you to quote me as some kind of egomaniac. I have tried to treat you with dignity and respect. You have not returned the kindness. Please do not contact me again. Marc Gellman"
Mr. Gellman-- Like, duh. I was poking gentle fun at you.
"Little steps for little feet." --Eric Breindel
I made a reference to you and the rabbi who heads the shul on Jupiter. I said you call yourself the best known rabbi in America but are humble enough to allow that you're not necessarily the best one in the universe and the rabbi who heads the shul on Jupiter might hold that honor. Irony. Satire. Humor. Most people probably got the joke. You took it seriously, and took offense. Little steps for little feet.
Jupiter is an unexplored planet. Even explored planets, like the Moon, don't have synagogues; this is irony by exageration.
Stop lying, you pompous twit. You betray your own ignorance, and make a mockery of the Jewish values you purport to uphold, which would never countenance your vengeful and spiteful reply. Slander is a legal term, which obtains when materially false assertions are made. I quoted you accurately, and the rest was opinion.
Secondly, the stuff was clear parody--which enjoys complete First Amendment protection (Falwell vs. Hustler.) But if you're so confident that I slandered your say it again "in front" of others so it's legally actionable.
The other alleged slander was when I reported accurately that you were in cahoots with a radical Islamic group. You and other Jewish conservatives need to understand that when YOU start a conversation about my integrity or mental status you should be prepared to finish it.
If you want to talk privately we can do that. Otherwise I would be happy to write you a recommendation for the job as Frank Foer's fact-checker. It's been vacant for some time.
Your reply makes me quite sad because you've played (no sarcasm intended) a very important role in helping me shed the debiliating hatred and bitterness against those perfidious Jews who lied about me and anti-Semitism, and only the other week helped me not be so tormented by the whole thing with Marty and Frank Foer.
Now, I'm so well recovered; I can insult you with a certain aplomb rather than just rant and rave. Good work!
Leslie Bunder writes: "It is not just US Jewish leaders who are full of themselves, even British Jews can make claims above their own stations in the case of Henry Grunwald who seems to be going around calling himself the "elected leader of the British Jewish community" when nobody actually really voted for him..."
How come when I'm talking about Hollywood, my mind doesn't wander off to intricate questions of Torah, yet when I'm praying in synagogue, swaying before the ark, my mind wanders off into areas I can not describe on this family-friendly website?"
Maybe I should start learning with rabbi Menken. He can teach me Torah and I can teach him poems such as this one:
Part of me is still standing there,
I was home alone, taking a bath
I hung up the phone on you and turned off the ringer.
I had no choice.
Later on, I realized it was either leaving or dying, so I left.
Luke says: Some rabbis shouldn't take a direct, hands-on approach. Some rabbis should keep their hands to themselves.
Three Cheers For Anti-Christian Bigotry
Out Of What?
A priest and rabbi see a ten-year-old boy.
"I want to screw him," says the priest.
"Out of what?" asks the rabbi.
Chaim Amalek writes: " I think it is far more rational for Jewish women to mark Yom Ha Shoah [Holocaust remembrance day] by having procreative sex than to attend some gloomy lecture about how the whole world hates us, complete with pictures of piles of corpses. If the Jews had any sense, Yom Hashoah would be "let's ---- like the Nazis are at the door" day."
What Do You Do For A Living?
When the sailors on Jonah's storm-swept ship found him, their first question was: What do you do for a living?
Whether it was 3,000 years ago or today, this question tells you more about a person than any other. (Credit rabbi Dovid Gottlieb, who says this does not apply to Jews because they are G-d's chosen people.)
Ask Anita Busch About Her Overseas Intelligence Contacts
The Israeli government has a big file on her.
She's more than just a pretty face.
We meet at Starbucks March 1, 2005, and talk for an hour.
Six years ago, my first book, for three weeks, was on a Top 40 list of best selling books on entertainment next to Peter's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.
Peter says that he's not reading the gossip columns much anymore.
I ask Peter: If we were to make a movie about your life, what would it look like?
Peter stares at me for a long time without speaking. "It never occurred to me that somebody would make a film of my life. You want some academic? You want some background material?"
I shake my head.
Peter: "My life is boring."
Luke: "If we translated it into film?"
Peter: "It would be like that Andy Warhol film Sleep (1963) where you just watch a guy sleep. Every once in a while, the phone rings. He picks it up and says hi, can I help you?"
Luke: "You don't have fantasies about your life on the big screen?"
Peter: "Never. Never. It never even occurred to me."
Luke: "So when you watch movies, that's not really you up there because I see me up there."
Peter Laughs. "With Million Dollar Baby, I never identify with Hillary Swank or the two male characters. I never identified with Howard Hughes."
Luke: "James Bond?"
Peter: "Maybe when I was younger. Not now. I'm trying to think if there's anything I identify with.
"Not really. The closest I get to identifying is with the actors of my generation such as Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro, but they're not doing anything interesting now. Such great talent thrown away.
"When I was in my 20s, I identified with Marlon Brando. We all did. I remember going to One-Eyed Jacks (1961) more than 50 times."
Luke: "Do you ever feel that you are living a movie?"
Peter: "You have to realize that I live in upstate New York with the cows. Nothing ever happens there."
Luke: "But the book tours?"
Peter: "That's true. From doing these books tours, you get to understand what it is like to be on the other side of the desk. You're interviewed a lot. All the things that your interview subjects complain about -- that they distort what you say, that they're out to get you -- you see what that's like. It gives me more sympathy for the interview subject. I understand why they're so often reluctant to be interviewed because you do get distorted and some people are out to get you.
"The game of writing about the movie business is so humiliating... There are a lot of smart talented journalists who don't get to say what they want to say and write what they want to write because of the constraints of the publications they're writing for or the constraints placed on them by the politics of the business... Publicists can see to it that you never write again for a decent publication. There are a lot of frustrated writers who aren't able to fulfill themselves...and so there's some competitiveness and resentment because you don't have these kind of restraints with books...that I get to say this stuff with impugnity, though obviously I don't do it with impugnity."
Luke: "That you're living the dream?"
Peter: "I think so. I'm not really living the dream... One of the reasons I started writing books was that I had been writing and editing for Premiere magazine for nine years and I had considered myself a journalist and I realized it wasn't really journalism, it was publicity. I got to the point where I thought, is this all there is? Am I going to drop dead over my wordprocessor at Premiere having written 101 sucky profiles? There has to be a way to do real reporting. There are real stories there that you can cover.
"Living the dream is a little romantic for me but I certainly feel more fulfilled professionally than I did before."
Luke: "What were you biggest obstacles to doing this book [Down and Dirty Pictures] and how well did you overcome them?"
Peter: "The main obstacle is the one I said in the Preface -- people are terrified of the Weinsteins [of Miramax]. They were also concerned about [Robert] Redford and Sundance. Redford has a reputation for being more benevolent than the Weinsteins... Sundance has lawyers and they require people to sign the same non-disclosure agreements Miramax would. It was people's fear of retaliation that was the biggest obstacle.
"How well did I overcome them? To a large extent. If you keep trying, so many people went through Miramax's revolving doors that you are bound to find people who will talk to you. There are different kinds of people who work for Miramax. Some were bound by confidentiality agreements. Miramax also does production deals in a way that binds people to Miramax. Then there are the filmmakers...some of whom were more angry... They were an easier group to talk to. As for Miramax employees, there were a lot of people who disregarded agreements or didn't have agreements or were so angry that they didn't care.
"When George Lucas made the first Star Wars, he says he got to put 10% of what he wanted on the screen. I think of it as the top of the iceberg. You never hear the best stuff and I know I didn't, but I succeeded enough that there's a good story. If you get 30-40%, you are doing well."
Luke: "Did you get more with Raging Bulls?"
Peter: "I did get more because it was the first book of that kind that I did. Once you do that, they see you coming the next time. It can work in your favor too. People feel that you will tell the truth if you have a story to tell. Some people also feel fearful for the same reason."
Luke: "What did you think of Sharon Waxman's book [Rebels on the Backlot]?"
Peter: "I thought she did a good job. She did what I didn't do and I did what she didn't do. She went after the filmmakers and did an Easy Riders, Raging Bulls number on them. I did the Miramax side. I thought the books were complementary."
Luke: "Did she critique [Down and Dirty Pictures]?"
Luke: "Very negatively."
Luke: "So why aren't you slamming her?"
Peter laughs: "Because I actually liked her book. When I read it, I thought, I'm going to hate this book, but I didn't. Maybe I'm just a wuss.
"I just feel you have to recognize good work."
Luke: "When I talk to other entertainment journalists about the two books, everyone gives you props for having so much original reporting while her book seems more of a clip job."
Peter: "I don't think that's true. She uses some previously published material, particularly with Quentin [Tarantino], but nobody has really done P.T. Anderson. Sure, she builds on stuff such as with Steven Soderberg and David O. Russell, but there was virtually nothing on David Fincher...
"The only problem with her book is a lack of context and analysis. She threw out the notion of independents. She called them mavericks. When you do that, you throw out all the issues around independent filmmaking.
"Fincher is a great director but he doesn't belong in that book...
"If you work in this business, you are often mistreated by subjects, but you have to rise above it. When I was at Premiere, I went to interview [Martin] Scorsese for Cape Fear. Even though everything had been arranged by the publicists [studio publicists, personal publicists], he claimed he didn't know I was coming and he refused to talk to me. So I sat on the ground next to his trailor for three days while the publicists hashed it out. Believe me, I was pissed off, but you can't let that color the piece.
"When Scorsese finally agreed to see me, and then became my best friend for the rest of the week, I accepted that at face value. I didn't hold it against him that he had acted like a primadonna.
"I have a friend who this happened to with Scorsese a couple of years later. He just left."
Luke: "How well do you think you told the story of Sundance's importance to the industry?"
Peter: "I thought I told it well. It hasn't been told before. Redford has enjoyed this career-long immunity from [bad] press. People don't want to hear bad news about Sundance because they have good reason to like it.
"I could've written the book better if I had had more space to tell it all. It's true as some critics have said that Harvey pushed out some other material."
Luke: "I had a friend complain that you told stories about Redford but didn't tell the story about Sundance."
Peter: "There is some truth to that but Redford is Sundance... Redford blocked me with important people at Sundance."
Luke: "How would you explain the importance of Sundance?"
Peter: "This year's Oscar nominations for Best Picture were either independent or independent in spirit. Those are the kind of films Sundance nurtures both in the lab and in the festival. There is no other organization that nurtures independent films. Other festivals show independent films but none of them are as devoted as Sundance."
Luke: "I was struck in reading your book by the preponderance of anecdotes over analysis?"
Peter: "I didn't analyze the films..."
Luke: "No, not the films. The film business."
Peter: "It's always a push-and-pull. I did go to a great deal of trouble to analyze the changes that Pulp Fiction (1994) originated and how Miramax evolved from a real independent to a studio division to a quasi-mini-major competing with the studios. I think there was a lot of analysis.
"I was an academic. I do feel that you need to analyze the material. It's not just enough to present the anecdotes.
"I wish that I could've talked more about the films and the context of the era of the 1990s."
Luke: Why didn't you talk about other important figures in the independent film movement such as Mark Damon?
Peter: "There were a lot of commercial independent producers working on the fringes of Hollywood in the '70s and '80s. I was trying to focus on the group that worked outside the system....and fed into Miramax and Sundance."
Luke: "What are the principal obstacles to doing good journalism on Hollywood?"
Peter: "You're in the business of celebrity journalism, which is journalism/PR. There are a lot of reasons why it is difficult to report accurately on the subject. Even Chris Rock got criticized for slagging Jude Law. There's an etiquette in the industry about saying bad things about your peers, except for those on the way down, such as Michael Ovitz. There's a free-fire zone. You can say anything about Ovitz.
"When John Connolly wrote that article about Schwarzenegger, it did raise a lot of hackles, but he sort of got away with it because Schwarzenegger had had a downslide. You could say bad things about Sylvester Stallone. Nobody would give a s---. But there were periods when you couldn't do that.
"If you're an editor, you are always looking for people who are on the skids, so you can be tougher. But generally you have to be careful. No one is going to talk to you if they know you are snarky.
"People say that Rex Reed, who was snarky when he started out, couldn't get any access and became a critic."
Luke: "How did you handle access vs honesty?"
Peter: "In my magazine work, I definitely played ball. In my book, I tried to be more honest and do real reporting, though I need the access like anybody else. I can't afford to burn every bridge. It's always a fine line."
We talk about the hard time Connolly would have getting access to Hollywood after writing tough pieces on Arnold and on New Line.
Peter: "If you are going to write stuff like that, I think you have to have a good reason. I got flak in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, for getting into people's personal lives, but I feel like I had a legitimate reason, which is that my subject was a decade of personal filmmaking and that you couldn't understand why many of these careers went bust unless you understood the drug culture.
"If someone is boorish in their behavior, there's an argument that they should be focused on. If there were murders, we focused on it. The trick with those magazines [such as Premiere] is that you have to publish so much bland stuff, you struggle to keep the magazine interesting. When you can find a way to do a more hard-hitting story, you do it. Sometimes you do have to risk alienating people. Usually they come back. At Premiere we lost studio advertising on a regular basis but they always came back because (a) you have ways of making it up to them, and (b), they need you..."
Luke: "Why not just run all hard-hitting stuff?"
Peter: "Because nobody will talk to you. You can run a column like that.
"Spy did [a hard-hitting magazine] but it wasn't just about the film business. There have been attempts to do that -- Film Threat, the old Hollywood Confidential... You'd need financing and good lawyers. It's an amusing idea. I don't know that I would want to publish such a magazine but I wouldn't mind reading it.
"I love movies too much. I respect a lot of those people."
Luke: "What do you think of Premiere and what it has become?"
Peter: "I got myself in trouble. I had a collection of essays come out. I wrote an introduction and got into trouble for being dismissive of Premiere."
Peter: "What Premiere had going for it was the ability to write in depth but the movies weren't good enough to sustain that kind of attention.
"I'd like to see Premiere with a little more edge to it. It's hard to be a single-subject magazine because you always live in a symbiotic relationship with the subject you're covering.
"Rolling Stone ran a lot of investigative reporting about politics and other stuff outside of music."
In the mid '80s, Biskind suggested to a publishing house a book on gay Hollywood. He says it has yet to be written. Peter doesn't believe he could write such a book because he isn't gay. "I think the gay Hollywood subculture is fascinating."
An Interview I Would Have Dodged
Virginia Postrel writes: "In a truly bizarre interview, Nick Gillespie demonstrates that he's unflappable and the charming (in person) but morally disturbed and disturbing (in print) Luke Ford demonstrates that for all his Jewish posturing, he needs to brush up on the concept of l'shon hara."
I love how people who do not observe Judaism, and show their ignorance of it by defining mitzvah as good deed when it means divine obligation (even after this mistake was politely pointed out to her) feel no compunction about lecturing others on "the concept of l'shon hara."
Lashon hara (evil speech) must be the most invoked ethical rule of Judaism by those who are not personally concerned with Judaism's requirements for their lives but want to use the concept to stifle others. I find this obnoxious. If Virginia wants to observe the Torah, then fine. Go ahead and tell other what to do Jewishly. You've sacrificed. You've earned more of a right than one who has not.
As Virginia leads a life that ignores the Torah, I wish she would skip giving me and other Judaic lectures.
Oblivious To The Obvious
I never suggested there was a genetic or ethnic cause for crime. I asked questions of Nick Gillespie about race because the existential reality (as reflected by the statistics I linked to) shows that race remains a major factor in American life.
Before Sunset With Lynn May
What if you had a second chance with the one that got away?
It's nine years after Luke and Lynn first met; now, they encounter one another on the French leg of Luke's book tour.
They were in love nine years ago (briefly in person, just long enough for Luke to slip her card, then they spent much of a week over the phone before it all fell apart when Luke asked her to Friday night services at Stephen S. Wise temple). Now they're together again, this time at Barney's Beanery at 8500 Holloway. There's a lot to remember and to tell each other.
At first they behave just like friends, realize very soon what they really need from each other and later regret they couldn't get in touch all that time. In the end we're almost sure they'll make love at least...
If you want to believe they've really been dreaming of each other all these years, believe love's the strongest thing, you have the opportunity here. End it using your own discretion. This story has little humor but it gives good mood. You must read this. Even if you're not in love yet, you'll want to be. Highly recommended!
Austrian Model Crystal Klein On Howard Stern
"Austria is pretty boring," said Klein. "There's no hot guys, either."
"Hitler's from Austria - he was hot," said Artie Lange.
Stern asked Klein if she hated the Jews. "Of course not," she said.
"In Austria they hate the Jews," said Stern. "There's no Jews left. Austrians hate Jews. They're some of the top Jew haters in the world."
Stern suggested that they play Nazi and Jew, that she'd love that. "Hunt me down."
Howard told Crystal that if she did certain things, he would tell her where the rest of the Jews were hiding.
Fear And Loathing In Friday Night Live
Which publication should I pitch this to?
Email Rob Eshman (robe at jewishjournal.com). This is right down his alley.
Doing What I Like
At times, I need to go to places in Los Angeles where I know there will be no Orthodox Jews, such as a non-required class in the Humanities, and do what I like.
Today I had a shock. I saw an Orthodox rabbi I know and I immediately snapped back to my higher self.
I act like a brat much of the time, but when I'm called on it by someone I respect, I always snap back.
Girlie Vs. Slutty
Chana writes: "the guys i work with could use some advice as to how to be more manly. they are so faggy. when it's cold out and they have to wear hats, they keep them on the entire day because their hair is flattened! gosh, they are GUYS. their hair is supposed to be flat. except that they usually pomade it to great heights. one of them has a bagfull of pomades that he tested before finally settling on the perfect one: not too wet looking, not too stiff, etc."
Lukeford.net Outsourcing To India
Dave Deutsch writes: