Thursday, March 3, 2005

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Tabloid Baby Burt Kearns

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."

Rupert Murdoch has little patience. First, he wanted to create a TV newsmagazine that resembled the tabloid energy of News Corp. newspapers. Then he wanted to debut it in four weeks. To make that happen, he tapped Peter Brennan, one of his favorite producers. The Sydney native had started a hit morning show for News Corp.

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?"

Assistant: "No."

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."

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor."

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:

Alison Holloway, co-presenter of HTV News in Bristol during the 1980's. Alison was chosen to co-present ITV's Olympic 1988 coverage with Nick Owen. Alison was quickly snapped up by Sky at the launch of Sky News in 1989. She then helped launch the South East edition of Meridian Tonight in 1993.

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

Luke, while we here at the Gay, Lesbian and Transgender alliance of Jews were glad that you would take time from your schedule to speak to us, we found much of the content of your talk to be extremely heteronormative, making many GLAT members feel uncomfortable.

God Squad Rabbi Called Humorless

Faces possible charges of first-degree pomposity


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?

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?"

Learn With The Vulnerable

Rabbi Yaakov Menken writes:

Rabbi [...] called upon everyone to take a direct, hands-on approach, spending one hour a week learning with someone with less background.

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,
naked in front of the mirror
frozen in shame and fear
on that cold winter night.

I was home alone, taking a bath
and you wanted me to walk in naked in front of a window.
"This is an opportunity," you said, "no one is home."

I hung up the phone on you and turned off the ringer.
Later, you were angry that I hadn't taken your calls and done your bidding
what happened next, I cannot write but the event is seared on my heart (or whatever is left of it).

I had no choice.
I needed to mollify you because you were my everything
I thought of running away but I had too much to lose.

Later on, I realized it was either leaving or dying, so I left.
But part of me is still standing there,
naked in front of the mirror
frozen in shame and fear on that cold winter night.

Luke says: Some rabbis shouldn't take a direct, hands-on approach. Some rabbis should keep their hands to themselves.

In Praise Of Hardcore

Rob Brydon plays the critic and impresario Kenneth Tynan in this funny and touching drama set in 1960s London. As well as being one of the most influential theatre critics of the time, Tynan worked with Laurence Olivier at the newly founded National Theatre and waged a battle against censorship that famously led to him being the first person to say f*** on television. We spoke to the writer and director Chris Durlacher about the drama.

Three Cheers For Anti-Christian Bigotry

Evan Gahr writes:

Dear Journalism pals, Professional Jews and Rabbi [Marc] Gellman, who modestly describes himself as the best-known rabbi in American but is humble enough not to call himself the best known rabbi in the universe, leaving open the possibility that the guy who heads the Jupiter shul might be better known.

This facile piece is a reminder that I need to write an essay how secullar conservatives label anything about Christianity not written as they would dictate as "anti-Chrisitan bigotry"--much like black leaders used to accuse anybody who wrote about the underclass as racist. And did so with criticism from conservatives.

With my usual touch for subtlety and scholarly nuance, I would title the piece, Three Cheers for Anti-Christian Bigotry. Meaning given the Church's monstorous crimes, a little skepticism--which conservatives call anti-Christian bigotry---is not such a bad thing.

The author, editor of Human Events last time I checked, complains that Christianity is treated critically at the new Smithsonian museum for Scalper-Americans (my term) but the American Indian religions are extolled.

He is also a Princeton grad, which should call into question the prevalent belief that the school has no affirmative action program for white males. Little steps for little feet: there is good reason to treat Christianity more critically than American Indian religion.

The reason is that Christianity deserves to be criticized because it spewed far more hatred and was responsible for far more crimes than American Indian religion. When conservatives ignore this basic fact they are guilty of the very polticization of history which they usually impute to others, includiing feminists and other political opponents. And it's simply a cover-up for their Christian allies on the right.

It's also remarkably patronizing just the way white liberals once refused to criticize blacks. And perversely funny: The Church starting with Vatican 2 has acknowledged it's ugly past and tried to change. The Pope John responsible for Vatican2, according to one account, did so because he was horrified to discover through reading at least one scholarly book that Christian teaching of Jews as Christ Killers was responsible for all kinds of mayhem and murder. Was he an anti-Catholic bigot also?

Incredibly, Incredibly Close: Deborah Solomon on novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, New York Times Magazine, Feb. 27:

[Our correspondence] came to include, in scarcely more than a month, some 150 e-mail messages from Foer, many of them wickedly hilarious, others gravely literary, and running to thousands of words….

No. 627: I told you that I wished I could talk like a black person. It’s more than that, really: I wish, in the give and take between us, that I could give myself to you as a strong black man. You could receive my thoughts as if I were making strong love to you on satin sheets with the music of Barry White or Marvin Gaye playing—making love to you with my large penis, which would not be an offensive racial stereotype yet would be a penis of unmistakable substance. Instead I feel as if I’m humping away in a rabbity fashion on a futon, after a dinner of takeout Italian, with Dido on the stereo, and I’m hoping to make up for my shortcomings with earnest cunnilingus in a little while. This is all just a figure of speech!

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.)


Cathy Seipp writes:

Eugene Volokh uses names of friends in hypothetical problems for his law students to work out, and I'm going to be in this one from the second edition of his First Amendment textbook:

Problem: "Mafiosi in Love." An Ohio statute says "The distribution, purchase, and rental of any material that's obscene under the standards of Miller v. California is prohibited." Martin Scorsese's new movie, "Mafiosi in Love," has four extremely arousing sexual scenes that are more explicit than anything seen in Hollywood studio productions to date. When Cathy Seipp rents a video of "Mafiosi," both she and the video store owner (Mitch Gunzler) are prosecuted. Will their Free Speech Clause defenses succeed?

Beats me. But I think this situation raises some other issues:

1. If "Mafiosi In Love," like most Martin Scorsese films, runs about 20 minutes too long, can Cathy Seipp sue the distributor, or Scorsese, or the video store owner, for 20 minutes wasted of her extremely valuable time? If so, how should she figure her billable hours?

2. If Cathy Seipp, like most reasonable movie fans, expects not "extremely arousing sexual scenes" from a Scorsese gangster film but instead scenes like Don Rickles beating a guy to death with a telephone, and "Mafiosi In Love" unfortunately does not include this, can she sue for disappointment? If so, for how much?

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.

Peter 'Raging Bulls' Biskind Interview

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: "No."

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]?"

Peter: "Yes."

Luke: "Very negatively."

Peter: "Right."

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."

Gossip, not in the sense of rumor -- true or false -- but people acting badly when they think no one's looking, was important, especially in reporting on the industry, where the players believed they had license to kill. I realized that it is impossible to draw a firm line between the public and the private because so much of the former is driven by ego, by pettines, by vanity and venality, a truth brought home again and again by the best books on the film business from the eighties and nineties -- David McClintick's Indecent Exposure, Steven Bach's Final Cut, William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade, and Julia Philipps's You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, all of which are rich in personal detail.

Then came Entertainment Weekly, which changed the rules of the game. EW solved Premiere's problem by being more newsy and more gossipy. It didn't care about film art or inflate its subject with windy claims. As a weekly, instead of a monthly, EW's lead time was dramatically shorter than ours, while its stories were briefer and pithier. Whereas we had indulged ourselves with six-, seven-, occasionally eight- or even ten-thousand word articles, their's rarely exceeded six hundred words, and were often less. Under pressure from EW, our's were pared down dramatically, but we still couldn't break news, and thereby gave up our only asset -- in-depth reporting. It was the worst of both worlds. The magazine downsized as if it had been shrunk in the washer. Circulation flat-lined at around 500,000. No longer an exciting start-up, Premiere had become a dowdy senior in the blink of an eye.

It was high time for me to leave Premiere. I had never considered myself a celebrity journalist, but there was no denying that I was writing almost exclusively about celebrities...

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

Steve Sailer writes:

Luke Ford interviews Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie and tries to get the libertarian honcho to say something, anything, politically incorrect about race, while Nick ducks and weaves, trying to stay as smug and boring as possible...

What exactly is the point of being a libertarian if it means you don't feel free to speak the truth you see with your own two eyes?

Nick Gillespie writes on Reason.com:

At the risk of prolonging your probing of me, let me suggest a couple of corrections to your characterizations of my comments. First and foremost, I pointed out that violent crime rates have been declining for a decade or more now--after being relatively stable since the early '70s, when the first truly national stats became available. Here's a chart that shows that (and note that the surveys of actual victims show the decline while those dictated by police show a different trend, one that I would argue are misleading and self-interested by law enforcement). If illegitimacy per se is the issue, it's hard to see why crime would decline if illegitimacy rates either increase or stay steady.

Furthermore, I didn't say that crime isn't in many cases concentrated in inner-city areas with large minority--especially black--populations. I did point out that a huge part of that had to do with government polices such as the war on drugs that work to amp up violence and contain it in economically marginal areas.

I do reject categorically your various implications that there is some sort of genetic or ethnic determinism at work regarding criminal behavior. As someone of Italian and Irish descent--two "races" that were identified as criminal orders a century ago by your beloved "Anglo-Saxons"--I'm not interested in perpetuating or even entertaining pseudo-scientific, socially divisive explanations of human behavior that participate in a long and baleful discourse about such matters in America.

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.

Chaim writes:

There is one genetic marker that absolutely correlates with crime: having a Y chromosome. People with Y chromosomes commit vastly more crime than those without, and those who have two such chromosomes (XYY) commit more still.

As for crime, what have Johannesburg, the District of Columbia, and Detroit in common? Aside from violent crime?

OK, for FNL, this is what you do. Take a page from race traitor Heidi Klum and arrange for a couple to show up - a very hot Jewish celebrity (but be honest, no such woman will show up to one of those things) and a huge, powerfully build black man. As a couple. And the black man keeps insulting the Jews. Or maybe a lesbian couple. A hot lesbian couple.

Actually, these ideas all stink. You will not find a Jewish female celeb who is also hot who is also willing to attend a Jewish singles event, and that is that.

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?

FNL used to attract about 1500-2000 hot single Jews. Then sometime in the past two years, it jumped the shark. I've been to every FNL in eight years (except for when I'm traveling)...

I envision an article opposite in tone and composition to this pious well-meaning cover story in the Jewish Journal about LA lonely hearts.

I propose scene-by-scene construction, liberal use of realistic dialogue, emphasis on the dark humor created by the enormous numbers of Hollywood beautiful people around us who we never get to hook up with. Scenes from the prowl at FNL, and those who go to Trader Vics bar afterwards...

Perhaps supplement my story with ten dates for $100 in my serial killer van...and back to the hovel for a Wallaby Squash, a vegemite sandwich and a look at my press clippings.

Or, I could take a beautiful young single Jewish celebrity to FNL and chronicle how people react to her... Are people intimidated by her fame, gushing, using corny lines, making smooth moves or are they like me and more interested in connecting to G-d?

Mark writes:

Luke, I have a serious question and I would appreciate a respectful answer. I want to do a sociological study of the differences between Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism in Los Angeles. I propose that I will go to a representative synagogue of each movement and, in the middle of the 18 Benedictions, drop trow. Then I'd compare and contrast the reactions I receive.

Which publication would be most interested in this story?

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

Evan Gahr writes:

I plan to make this a sidebar to "manly or faggy" just so I can ask girls lots of questions. They are much more fun to talk with than guys, and potentially much better stuff can come from the interviews. (Jackie Kennedy met JFK because she interviewed him; many other stories like that.)

Any suggestions? The obvious is red boots: girlie or f--- me boots? Red lipstick: girlie or slutty. The other issue I want to pursue and it has obvious scholarly appeal is that exactly constitutes a "f----me" skirt. The pre-requisite is that it is fluffy and looks like it can be pulled up easily. But is there a maximum or minimum length required.

I've actually had fun (no sarcasm intended) talking about the above debate to girls I've been friends with--the word friend had very different meanings for each girl. Maybe that's another one to pursue: Can you be just friends. Time honored question.

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:

Dear Lukeford.net readers:

We at Lukeford.net ("The Caring People") strive to give you the best in Jewish blogging possible. However, recent increases in our cost structure have complicated this mission. Due to rising fuel prices, the ever expanding cost of vegetarian burritos, and increasingly outrageous bills for dubious hair restoration and virility treatments, we have made the difficult decision to create a new paradigm with Luke Ford. While Luke will still be a contributor to Lukeford.net, we will gradually begin outsourcing much of our writing to Bombay-based writer Lakish Farrad. We are confident that this new paradigm will be better for everyone involved, and we are confident that you, the reader, will benefit most of all.

Your Guru Speaks

Today I met my friend, Indira Pandarwal, for lunch. As we take our seats, discussing the latest Indian political developments, she chides me for continuing to use "Bombay" in my writings. I blithely inform her that when people start referring to the "Mollywood" film industry, I'll gladly follow suit, and that consistency is my only master.

As our dark-skinned waiter brings our water, I instinctively flinch from the hand of one who is clearly untouchable. Indira raises her eyebrow.

"My father, the Brahman," I inform her, "Would have immediately stormed from the restaurant at such a clear violation of caste rules, and only come back at the head of an enforcement party."

"But Lakish, I thought that when you adopted the Jain dharma, you were supposed to reject the caste system."

"I am your guru," I remind her. "And the only dharma I need to follow is my own."

Who's Sari Now?

My father, the Brahman, used to preach in the temple about the evils that came with immodesty. Of course, in the "modern" India of the Nehru cartel, such deference to tradition was seen as hopelessly passé. A new study shows, however, that while the number of women wearing modest clothing has gone down, incidents of rape and sexual assault has gone up. Perhaps the BJP is right about our need for some old time religion.

Carrots Disgust Me

It's funny, but even as a boy, the sight of someone eating a carrot nauseated me. I always thought that it was just the dirt. But in my high-caste family, ahimsa, the practice of doing no harm to any living thing, did not extend to insects. But as a man, while I studied the Jain dharma in preparation for its adoption, I became aware of how many souls are harmed by the uprooting of a single carrot. Funny how the same Hindu who wouldn't think of harming a monkey feels no compunction about destroying thousands of ants.