Feb. 6, 2008
His latest book came out in October: Five Easy Decades: How Jack Nicholson Became the Biggest Movie Star in Modern Times.
Luke: "What are your thoughts on Sam Zell taking over the Los Angeles Times and the Tribune company?"
Dennis wrote the best book on the L.A. Times: Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty.
Dennis: "My knee-jerk reaction was, 'Here's another Chicago carpetbagger. Do we really need that?' The Tribune company came in like gangbusters, installed a couple of people who did a stellar job, encouraging the staff and winning a stack of Pulitzers. Then the profit motive took over. It was adios John Carroll... It was a march towards disaster. No one since Otis Chandler has understood what a newspaper is all about."
"I think Sam Zell is going to be more of the same. We have another round of cuts. The prevailing notion is that you get rid of the expensive 'deadwood,' i.e. the people who have been around 20 or 30 or 40 years and are dinosaurs and fossils but have institutional memory and know what is correct and what is worth covering, and you replace those people with hungry kids fresh out of journalism school and want to make their nut and a grand ol' institution such as the Los Angeles Times becomes as dependable as the Pennysaver."
Luke: "If you were appointed Editor and Publisher of the Los Angeles Times with the task that you need to maintain at least an industry average level of profit, what would you do?"
Dennis: "I got into journalism because it was the one place where an individual could have an impact on the culture. It was one of the last places where rugged individualism still meant something in terms of earning your daily bread. That's all been washed away by corporate journalism. There are precious few rugged individualists. Everything is done by committee and focus groups. I don't know that I'd be successful. I'm an old dog. I don't learn new tricks well. The first time a terrific expose came along that would upset the apple cart and send the mighty to jail where they belong, I would probably say to hell with the profit margin and send people out to the streets to gather information."
Luke: "Why did you write the Jack Nicholson book?"
Dennis: "Because somebody asked me to. I pitched a book several years ago about Edgar Bronfman Jr. and the collapse of the Bronfman clan. That struck me as terribly instructive and a great morality tale for our greedy times. As Sam Bronfman once said in the 1930s, a dynasty usually goes from shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations. That caption was posted under Grandpa Sam's portrait which was posted over Edgar Jr.'s desk at Bronfman headquarters in New York. Of course Edgar fulfilled that notion to the tee. He took the Seagrams empire that Sam built from nothing right back down again to nothing.
"I pitched it all over New York and there was scant interest except from John Wiley and Sons. Even they passed on it. The editor who wanted to do the book came back to me and asked me if I'd be interested in doing something else. He gave me several ideas, none of which I cared for much, including a biography of Jack Nicholson.
"I said, 'I don't do star biographies. I find them tedious, self-serving and deceitful human beings. I don't know if they contribute much. I'm not interested in perpetuating their myths. He said, 'Well, we want to do it different and you seem like the right person to do it. It's less a biography of Nicholson than a look at the industry. The craft and business of movies using his career as a vehicle for telling that story. He has rolled with the punches for almost half a century and always come up smelling like a rose.'
"I said, 'That's an interesting idea. That's the second chapter of the story I started to tell with The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood. If you track Wasserman's life, you can see how the motion picture industry evolved over half a century. Maybe you can pick up the story with Jack Nicholson and bring it to the present.
"That was the original premise of the book."
"Who knew that I was going to find out that Jack Nicholson was half-Jewish?"
Luke: "Tom Wolfe said that when he started out writing books, he thought the ingredients for a good book were 60% writing and 40% material and that now he thinks it's 90% material and 10% writing."
Luke: "Where does your book break new ground?"
Dennis: "In two or three key places. His paternity."
"It breaks new ground on his oddly mercurial and contradictory personality. He's comparable to his lifelong hero Frank Sinatra... He's generous to a fault. If someone he's known for years comes to him for help, Jack has an open wallet and an open heart. But he keeps track of every dime. Like any godfather, he suggests there will always be a quid pro quo. When anyone crosses him, or he feels slighted, he becomes a petulant five-year-old again and acts out and wreaks havoc on those who have offended him. I'm thinking in particular of Susan Anspach. He has bad blood with her going back many years."
According to Wikipedia: "He has one son, Caleb Goddard (born 1970), with actress Susan Anspach, his Five Easy Pieces co-star."
Dennis: "There was a story in the '90s about Anspach losing her house because Jack was foreclosing on her. He could be remarkably generous seeing to the needs of his illegitimate child and the mother but the second she crossed him and went public and said, 'Jack fathered my son,' he's sending out his lawyers and business manager to sell her house."
Luke: "Did Jack try to thwart your book?"
Dennis: "I think so. It's predictable. I knew the job was dangerous when I took it, to quote Professor Peabody. Jack has never cooperated with any biographers ever. He doesn't do television or radio interviews except to promote a project. He doesn't do anything that he can't control. My book by definition was a portrayal of him he could not control... Once it came out, he was going to do everything he could to limit its impact. Though I have no hard proof of it, I think that's precisely what he did. Throughout the spate of interviews he did to promote The Bucket List, not once did he mention Five Easy Decades.
"There were several magazine pieces scheduled to appear [on Five Easy Decades]. Men's Journal was going to do a cover piece. The New York Times Sunday magazine. Entertainment Weekly. Good Morning America and the Today show were interested in promoting the book and interviewing me. But all those things disappeared."
Since Nicholson's longtime publicist Paul Wasserman was sent to jail about a decade ago, Jack has been represented by Pat Kingsley ("one of the original silent killers," says Dennis) and most recently by The Dart Group.
Dennis: "I could not get to him. Even in my role as a New York Times reporter, they wouldn't let me talk to him."
"When the book came out, I think he called in whatever chits he had so that nobody would know it was coming out."
"I heard from my publisher last week and apparently the book is selling well in spite of all of Jack's efforts."
McDougal's book got rave reviews in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and said it was the definitive Nicholson biography as did Library Journal. "All of that is for naught if you can't get Barnes & Noble and Borders to stock it and you can't get enough buzz going among the mainstream media."
Luke: "Have there been any news articles about the book? I can't find any."
Dennis: "There were some advance pieces on TMZ and in the New York Post last summer. After the publication, I don't think anybody did anything."
Luke: "Nobody wrote a news article about how the book breaks ground and how Nicholson and his people reacted. This is a great story crying out to be told."
Dennis: "And by God, you're telling it!"
"I have an old time publicist pal of mine who works in the Valley. He said, 'I don't understand why the Jewish press hasn't jumped on it. The Forward or the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. Jack Nicholson is half Jewish. I don't think anybody knows that. That's an astonishing note.'
"I said, 'You know how the game is played. If somebody with the power of Jack Nicholson doesn't want something known, it doesn't get known. That's a no-brainer.'"
Luke: "This reminds me of your Lew Wasserman book. Didn't it encounter a similar news embargo?"
Dennis: "Pretty much. I seem to have that problem. I seem to pick subjects and write books that the subjects of the books don't want people to know about."
Luke: "A few years after you, Connie Bruck published a book on Lew Wasserman that didn't break any new ground, yet her book was hailed in the media and excerpted in The New Yorker."
Dennis: "Yeah, but it didn't sell many copies."
"She's a staff writer for The New Yorker."
Luke: "But it didn't advance the story. So why was that heralded and yours ignored?"
Dennis: "I was labeled early on 'A West Coast Writer'. And if you are a West Coast Writer, you are not taken seriously by the Eastern establishment. Connie Bruck got her start as Steve Brill's girlfriend when he ran American Lawyer. She was anointed by the East Coast media machine. She paid her dues. She was an East Coast journalist. She came out with Predator's Ball, which gave her a patina of serious journalism. It gave her the credentials to move on to other subjects and to become a staff writer at The New Yorker. Once you're a staff writer at The New Yorker, you can do anything.
"That wasn't my career path. I've never lived in New York. Wouldn't want to live in New York. I've always considered myself a West Coast journalist. My highest aspiration was to be a staff writer of the Los Angeles Times. I still consider that to be the apex of my daily journalism career. From 1980-86, I considered the L.A. Times on par with and day-to-day better than the New York Times and the greatest newspaper in America.
"The Los Angeles Times began going to hell in a hand basket the day Shelby Coffey was named Editor."
"Within weeks of the publication of 'The Last Mogul,' Bert Fields called my publisher and threatened a lawsuit unless the book was withdrawn. The publisher asked him if he had any factual corrections. He didn't. The publisher told Bert Fields to pound sand and the book became a best seller despite the news blackout at the Los Angeles Times.
"To this day, Wasserman's former son-in-law [Jack Myers] maintains that my book killed him."
Luke: "How do the tabloids treat Jack Nicholson?"
Dennis: "They treat him with a certain respect that is not accorded most Hollywood actors. There's a certain respectful tone in even the most tawdry reporting. If Jack is reported to have had a threesome with young women some place in London, it's always well, Bad Boy Jack is at it again, hahaha. Not, 'Why is this 70-year-old adolescent trying to get his jollies at the expense of women a third his age? What sort of damage might he be inflicting? Even though the women maintain its just a lark.'
"Nobody asks the deeper tougher questions with regard to Jack. He manages to maintain the notion that he's Peck's Bad Boy all grown up. So he gets a pass."
Luke: "You know there's going to be a biography of Jack Nicholson coming out in the next five years that's going to be heralded akin to Connie Bruck's book on Lew Wasserman."
Dennis laughs. "Right. And I'll be left in the dust again. What do I do about that? Do I sit around and weep and moan?"
Luke: "It's just interesting. I'm fascinated."
Dennis: "It all comes out in the wash. Enough time has passed so that you can look at Connie Bruck's effort and compare it to mine and you can see. The proof is in the pudding."
Luke: "It's fascinating that one book is hailed and one book is ignored irrespective of the merits of either. It's just like elementary school. There are the cool kids..."
Dennis: "I get that. I agree with that. I'm not the cool kid. I never have been and with any luck I never will be."
"Maybe Connie is pouring over my book as we speak, picking out the best parts and claiming them as her own and we'll see her take on Jack Nicholson some time in 2010 in The New Yorker."
Luke: "Did Jack's people leave any fingerprints in their efforts to squelch your book?"
"My editor at Wiley would tell me from time to time, 'I don't understand this. It was a lock. They told us they had it scheduled. And now it has fallen out.' I was going, 'I understand, dude.'"
Luke: "Did you have a conversation with your own newspaper about why they lost interest in your Sunday Magazine piece?"
Dennis: "No. The New York Times is a bizarre, byzantine place. David Cay Johnston is a good friend of mine. He just came out with a book. He's on staff and writes about the IRS. The book is now on their best-seller list. David had several conversations with me about how his own newspaper, his own editors, have looked upon his book as...second-rate."
Luke: "It got a bad review in the New York Times."
Dennis: "Yeah. His own newspaper raked him over the coals. He says that's a direct result of the back-biting jealousy in a major newspaper or magazine. You can never over-estimate that kind of attitude. It is not enough to succeed. You have to see your friends fail."
Luke: "In researching your book, did you encounter people who told you, 'I've been told not to talk to you'?"
Dennis: "Sure. I encountered that a lot, especially the closer you got to the inner circle. There were a number of off-the-record interviews because people did not want to upset Jack."
"I made no secret with Jack who I was and what I was going to do."
"Far too often, journalists these days don't [make reporting the truth to their readers their priority]. That's one of the reasons we have the president we have."
Luke: "You said that you knew writing this book would be dangerous. Dangerous to you how?"
Dennis: "That I wouldn't have Jack's cooperation..."
"When I was working on 'The Last Mogul,' I was speaking with a good friend of mine, a screenwriter, shortly after I set out to do the book. When I told him what the subject was and what I was trying to do, he said, 'My God, aren't you afraid that you'll never write in this town again?'
"I said, 'I'm just going to forget what kind of cliche passed your lips... I never wrote in this f---ing town in the first place. I don't care if I write in this town again because I don't do what you do. I am beholden to no one. That's the only reason I am recognized on the other coast as the kind of journalist that book editors want to get into bed with. Because I can't be bought and sold.'
"I ran into variations on that scene throughout my research on the Nicholson book."
"I think it's a myth that you're not going to find an outlet for your work if you step on too many toes."
Luke: "Was this book harder or easier than your one on Lew Wasserman?"
Dennis: "It was easier. No one had dared to write about Lew Wasserman. That's the reason I did the book.
"I was covering the writer's strike for the L.A. Times in 1989. This name kept cropping up. People kept saying, 'When Lew Wasserman weighs in on this, the whole thing will be over in about five minutes.'
"I had been covering Hollywood for about ten years. I said, 'Wasserman? You mean the guy over at Universal?' Yeah! OK. So what? Some studio head has control over the Writer's Guild?
"I started getting an education in how Hollywood really works. I went to the L.A. Times library and looked up Wasserman and there was one envelope of clips. Only a half dozen articles were more than a few inches long. I went, 'That's weird. How could this guy have so much power and the paper of record in Los Angeles have written almost nothing about him?'
"I started asking around and I found out that Lew Wasserman was powerful because he worked in the shadows."
Luke: "Why do you think Jack has lasted in Hollywood when so many have self-destructed?"
Dennis: "Because Jack is calculating. Because Jack learns from his mistakes. Because Jack knows how far he can go without going too far. I suspect he's going to run out the clock. Jack rarely makes mistakes. Jack is a master at indulging his private fantasies without making waves. Jack knows how to use drugs. Jack knows how to get a hooker to service him and to never have to pay the bill. Jack has procurers out there.
"One young woman told me about how she wound up in Jack's bed a few years ago as a direct result of having met a real estate man at a party. He said, 'I know exactly the guy for you.'
"A week later, she gets a call from Nicholson inviting her to come up to his roost. They had a fling that lasted for a few weeks and parted friends. To this day, she felt like could call on him in a pinch and he'd come through for her. She never once felt that she was being used or that the real estate guy at the party might have been pimping for Jack. Yet any outside observer hearing the facts of the case would know exactly what was going on. Jack has been doing that for decades. And he does it with impunity."
Luke: "Sounds like Warren Beatty."
Dennis: "Same thing."
Luke: "Do you think Jack read your book?"
Luke: "When you watch a movie, is that you on the screen or are you just sitting back watching others act?"
Dennis: "Both. If it is a really good movie and I can identify with it, then certainly I identify with the protagonists. That's what Hollywood wants me to do. When I watch Five Easy Pieces, one of my favorite movies, I identify with it a lot."
Luke: "Which Jack Nicholson character do you most identify with?"
Dennis: "Most days, Jake Giddes [Chinatown]. I fancy myself a Chandleresque literary gumshoe but by the end of the picture, I usually come to recognize that I don't know half the s--- I thought I did."
Luke: "There's my headline."
"Would you like to be friends with Jack Nicholson?"
Dennis: "We could be. Yeah. I share a lot of his tastes, in art..."
Luke: "Young women?"
Dennis: "I prefer the young women he knew as they are now. For instance, Michelle Phillips is a stone-cold babe in 2008. Back when he was messing around with her, I'm not so sure. I share his tastes in literature and movies. I certainly share his politics. There's that side of Jack that people know little about but I agree with his views on the future, on the importance of renewable energy sources..."
Feb. 11, 2008
I interviewed Dennis McDougal last week. He mentioned that Jack Nicholson's father was Jewish.
Khunrum emails: "Reminds me of that story when Groucho Marx's daughter was not allowed to use the Beverly Hills Tennis Club pool. Groucho phoned up and asked why. The mgt. said, 'Because she's Jewish' to which Groucho replied, 'She's only half Jewish, can she go in up to her waist?'"
Dennis responds Feb. 11, 2008 to my inquiry: "Luke – As you will see in this exchange, I overstepped myself in our conversation – I'm still awaiting the concrete proof and being as much a stickler for truth as you and your readers are, I have to admit to only strong circumstantial and anecdotal assertions at the moment. I renewed my FOIA request over the weekend. I'll keep you posted. I'm sorry if I caused you any trouble."
Dennis responds Feb. 8 to an inquiry by a Jewish journalist (not the Yisroel bloke a few graphs below) who read our interview:
Seeing as how you've asked…
Yisroel emails (starting Feb. 8 and runing through Feb. 10):
I spoke by phone October 2, 2002, with author Dennis McDougal about his new book (written with Mary Murphy of TV Guide) on the Bonny Lee Bakley murder "Blood Cold: Fame, Sex, and Murder in Hollywood."
I had no interest in the Robert Blake case but I bought the book last week because I like McDougal's work. I zipped through it in under three hours, finding myself most interested in the Robert Blake sections and least interested in the story of grifter Bonny Bakley. From my years writing on the sex industry, I've met too many women like Bonny.
Luke: "How are you doing?"
Dennis: "I'm ok except my shoulder hurts. It's like God saying, 'Stop tying so much.'"
Luke: "Does that mean you won't be pitching in the World Series this year?"
Dennis: "Yes but I might be pitching at ICM."
Luke: "How did you get into the genre of true-crime books?"
Dennis: "Before I started reporting on the business side of entertainment for the LA Times, I was a general assignment reporter. I sedued into covering the courts and the blood and guts of nightside city desk. I got intrigued by some of these murder cases that went through the courts in Long Beach in particular. They struck me as unique and nobody seemed to care too much. The coverage was pedestrian and it struck me as demanding more attention as to why people commit crimes. Then I won this fellowship in 1981 and went up to Stanford. I got to do whatever I wanted to for a year, so I specialized in psychology and law, with an eye towards abnormal psychology.
"When I came back from Stanford, I went to work for the LA Times covering the entertainment industry. By the time I got bored with that, the trial of this serial killer Randy Kraft was underway. I'd covered the case when I was at the Press-Telegram in Long Beach. I thought it was worth a book [eventually Angel of Darkness] on the psychology of the serial killer. Until that time, it hadn't really been done. I contacted an agent and she quickly sold the book and that became my first book. I've always had a fascination with what makes people commit crime. I segued from there into several other true crime books."
Luke: "How did you come to write the Robert Blake book?"
Dennis: "I keep trying to swear off true crime and it keeps coming back and landing on my plate. That's been true of my last two books. I did a book on the Yosemite murders about four years ago. I did that because the publishing house called me and asked me to do the book. I was strapped for the cash and said yes.
"In the case of Blake, the murder was committed. There was a flurry of coverage by the tabloids. Then after a couple of months passed, the phone rang one day and it was the West Coast bureau chief of TV Guide, a publication for which I write on occasion, and they asked if I would team up with one of their writers, Mary Murphy, and try to get to the bottom of the Robert Blake case. I said, well, so long as you are footing the bill, why not? They paid me a princely sum and gave me an unlimited expense account and said go find out.
"I spent the next six months flying around the country to Memphis, New Orleans, New Jersey, New York, gathering information, interviewing people and writing a long piece for TV Guide. They cut the piece to about 1/5th of what I sent in but it was still one of the longest pieces TV Guide has published in the past ten years. But there was so much more left unsaid.
"Three weeks after the piece was published, Blake was arrested [April 18, 2002]. I called my agent and said there's a book here. She got me a deal. I spent the next ten weeks sitting in front of the computer, probably hastening my current repetitive stress syndrome malady, to finish the book by July 1."
Dennis: "You read it in one day? So I take it that it was an easy read?"
Dennis: "That makes me feel good. That's what you always worry about, especially when you work under extraordinary time constraints... Whether or not it's going to have continuity. Whether or not the story arc's going to work. Whether your whole game plan is going to translate into readability."
Luke: "I found myself more interested in the Robert Blake character."
Dennis: "Mary Murphy is good friends with [author] Richard Reeves. He read it and came away with the same reaction. He'd forgotten how intriguing a character Robert Blake really was. Until he read the book, he'd bought the media line that he was a broken down old TV actor."
Luke: "I read your book so I could what techniques of book-length journalistic narrative I could steal for my own work. How happy are you with the book?"
Dennis: "I'm happy with it. I'd wish I'd had more time."
Luke: "Any reviews come in on it?"
Dennis: "Somebody told me the Globe [weekly tabloid] gave it a glowing review. My agent said to me the other day, 'You go from the ridiculous to the sublime. You win national awards and get reviewed in the Economist, New Yorker and New York Times for one book, and then the next book gets reviewed in the Globe. You run the gambit.' I pride myself on that because I don't like being pigeonholed. I am a serious biographer and historian but at the same time, I think good true crime is well worth the effort. Not only does it tell a story and have a genre following, but a good true crime story gets into the fundamentals of human behavior and is something of a morality play.
"True crime over the past ten years has fallen on hard times because of the cheapening of the genre. Certain individuals in New York [Charlie Spicer at St. Martinís] hire Fleet Streeters [street in London where most of Britain's most-read newspapers were published] to whip out instant books that are basically nothing more than clip jobs [patching together previous articles]."
Luke: "If you like true crime so much, why are you trying to swear off it?"
Dennis: "My whole career has been based on mastering one thing and moving on to the next. I'm 99.99% sure that I will never work for another newspaper again. I worked for a small newspaper and then a medium-sized newspaper and then I worked for the biggest newspaper west of the Mississippi, and arguably at the time, the best newspaper in the United States (it was vying with the New York Times during the 1980s before it fell on hard times in the 1990s and fell beneath the radar). The Los Angeles Times was the pinnacle of my newspaper career. Do you stay with something till the day you die or do you move on? I have always tried to move on.
"The same thing is true of my book career. I started out with true crime. I had people come to me with ideas because I had a reputation with true crime. After doing five true crime books, I felt like I'd mastered it. The test of that is the Blake book. Had I attempted to do the Blake book 12 years ago when I first started writing books, I don't think I could've written it in ten weeks. It's a process of trial and error. The first true crime book I did took me a year to write. Once you master something, you can do it with ease.
"I do not want to become the James Michener of true crime or historial biography. James Michener wrote two or three really good books early in his career and he just changed the setting and some of the basic characters and did the same thing over and over again for the rest of his life. He always made the best-seller list and he always had a following, but somehow that strikes me as not fulfilling."
Luke: "Were you able to include everything you wanted to in your Blake book?"
Dennis: "I did have an argument with my editor over style. I purposefully tried to establish Bonny's voice, showing her outrageous and oft times comic behavior of a remarkably amoral woman. I took liberties in speaking in her voice. The editor came in and excised most of it and I raised hell with him and he put most of it back. Although I was petulant for a week, I'm happy with the book. It's been optioned for a movie."
According to Variety 5/21/02, "Producers Mark Sennet, Alan Jacobs and Mark Hayman are developing a project about the Bonny Lee Bakley murder based on Dennis McDougal's upcoming book [Blood Cold]."
This is the second book to come out on the Blake murder. Gary C. King published Murder in Hollywood a couple of months after the murder.
Dennis: "I know the homocide investigators have not let up for a moment since the arrest. I know that they have already turned up further evidence and witnesses. I'm sure there are suprises ahead. That said, I think the substance of the book is solid, and if or when we update it for a future edition, I think it will be easy to do."
Luke: "You had some lurid details about the relationship between Blake and his daughter Delinah that never made the book."
Dennis: "It was all rumor and it was all filtered through Bonny and her sister and her friend Judy Howell. There was no way of verifying anything beyond what we had. There are certainly strong implications that there was a strong and unique relationship. There's a weasel word [relationship] for you. But the nature of that relationship remains a mystery. The homocide investigators from LAPD have pursued that and it's a matter of public record that they wanted to know the nature of the communications between Blake and his grown daughter Delinah during that period he essentially kidnapped his child away from Bonny through subterfuge and turned the child over to Delinah. To borrow a phrase from Watergate, what did she know and when did she know it? That comes through clearly in the search warrants that were issued with the arrest and the investigation that preceded it."
Luke: "How did you reconstruct the dialogue in the book? You have direct quotes from the private phone calls between Blake and Bonny."
Dennis: "There were tapes. In their paranoid fashion, both Blake and Bonny taped each other for months, both before and after the marriage. Those tapes fell into the hands of the LAPD. Some of them have been made public. A lot of them haven't. That's one of the reasons Harland Braun [Blake's criminal defense attorney] asked for more time. You may recall a couple of months ago when Harland saw to it that a taped conversation between Bonny and Christian Brando was released. That's the kind of thing that runs rampant through this case. The dialogue is easy. You can feel confident that you got it accurate because it comes directly from transcripts of taped conversations."
Luke: "Did you listen to actual tapes?"
Dennis: "Yeah. Not all of them. That was helpful to me from a writing standpoint. Hearing her actual voice and Blake's reply gave you a taste for the flavor and the intonation of their conversation. There's something more personal hearing the actual voices than just reading the words."
Luke: "Didn't you have an interaction with Blake's lawyer Harland Braun where you suspected that Robert Blake was secretly in another room listening in?"
Dennis: "Yes. I'm convinced now that he was. I did take down the license plate number of what I thought was his Chevy SUV and it was Blake's car. It was that same SUV that, on the day of his arrest (4/18/02), he drove from his house to the gate and then saw the assembled press. So he turned around and drove back to the house. It was in fact Robert Blake who came down the elevator from Braun's office. This is after Mary and I conducted an hour long interview with Braun and Braun's chief investigator."
Luke: "Is that a normal tactic for a defense attorney? To have his client hide and listen in on an interview."
Dennis: "I don't think so. I've known a few defense attorneys in my time and I've never heard of it happening before. On the other hand, it's not illegal. It does strike me as deceitful."
Luke: "Did Mr. Braun want to know what you knew?"
Dennis: "He didn't put it in that way but his line of questioning led me to believe that both he and his investigator Scott Ross were at least as interested in what we knew as they were about being forthcoming about their case."
Luke: "You saw Blake go down the elevator?"
Dennis: "No. We left first. Mary got her car and left. I went back to the gift shop [at the building in Century City where Braun keeps his offices] to get some gum, coffee and the LA Times. I made a phone call. By the time I got down to the underground garage, went to the valet and picked up my car, and was pulling out, that's when I saw Blake, holding his [infant] daughter [Rosie], with two women. One of the women appeared to be the girl's nanny and the other one was not Delinah, but may have been his niece who lived with the Blakes in the mid eighties, after Robert's sister died.
"I saw them emerge from the elevator and go to the valet desk to pick up the keys to their car. That's when I said, 'Wait a second. Who's that?' They hustled into their SUV and I waited at the top of the ramp for them. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. They came up and were right next to me as the light turned green. I looked over and sure enough it was Robert Blake sitting in the driver's seat. As the car took off, I hung back and wrote down the license plate number and later on verified that it was him.
"It struck me as odd that he would be there on a Monday morning, some 50 miles from his home. Maybe he just showed up because he liked that particular building in Century City. I doubt it."
Luke: "Thanks for your time."
Dennis: "You are welcome. How's your book coming along?"
Luke: "I'm struggling to find a narrative."
Dennis: "As you know, there was a time when producers were far more important [in Hollywood] than directors. Then the Alfred Hitchcock revolution made directors auteurs [authors of their own films] and put producers into the background. In reality, when it comes down to dollars, are far more important to the studios - bankers. Directors are regarded the same way as stars. They're bankable based on their track record, but does that mean they turn a movie in on time and under budget? No. Only the producers do that."
Luke: "But I hear from my interviews that most producers believe that once a movie begins production, and there's a conflict between the director and the producer, the directors always wins with the studio."
Dennis: "That's the legacy of Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut. I think the director always wins because the director is regarded as the star. The director carries the same weight as the Tom Cruise or Eddie Murphy or Julia Roberts, whereas the producer has fallen into the hierarchy of the writer - a necessary evil. You go back to that wonderful movie, The Player, and there's that great line about, 'If we could just get rid of the writer, we'd have something here.' If we could just get ourselves a box office star and director, and get rid of writers and producers, wouldn't that be a wonderful world?"
New Times LA journalist Jill Stewart (a friend of Dennis who introduced me to him) wrote (12/10/98) a great piece about how the Los Angeles Times and Claudia Eller suck up to Hollywood and the city's rich and powerful while ignoring how many of these powerful achieved their wealth and power through thuggery. For instance, when Lew Wasserman died (in 2002), the LA Times wrote laudatory things about this man who rose to power through dirty dealing and organized crime connections.
Jill wrote: ...[T]he Times has made no mention of The Last Mogul [Dennis McDougal's scathing unauthorized biography of Lew Wasserman] since its release a month ago, even as the East Coast media gives wide play to the book, including a gushing review in the New York Observer.
"Ignoring a book this big!" New York Post gossip columnist Richard Johnson cried out to me before I could even ask what he thought of the L.A. Times initial blackout on the Lew Wasserman biography.
"The arrogance of that paper is beyond belief!" Johnson boomed. "They are toadies to the industry! They are a shameless embarrassment to journalism!"
New York media consultant Wayne Rosso, who monitors coverage of Hollywood, lays the blame largely on former Times editor Shelby Coffey III, a suck-up to Hollywood who in the late 1980s ordered investigative reporter Bill Knoedelseder to stop digging into MCA's Mob ties. Knoedelseder quit soon after and published some of his findings in his book, Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, the Music Business and the Mafia.
"Lew and the boys called Shelby and put the kibosh on all the Times coverage of MCA and the mob," Rosso maintains, "and even though Shelby Coffey is gone now, all his people are still in place. That paper is a sell-out to Hollywood, period."
True to its nature, the Times last Friday published a pro-Wasserman front-page story about the troubles facing Universal Studios in the era since Lew and his successor, Sidney Sheinberg, sold the company to the Japanese, who then sold it to Edgar Bronfman Jr./Seagram's.
Times writers Eller and James Bates wrote a lengthy story about Bronfman's many missteps, allowing the deposed Sidney Sheinberg to bemoan how Bronfman "destroyed our company" as well as the "culture that Jules Stein started, Lew Wasserman built, and I worked on."
Had the writers bothered to read McDougal, they could have written that when Sheinberg and Wasserman were bought out, MCA was aging badly--because of Sheinberg and Wasserman's stinginess and inability to change with the times. Sheinberg and Wasserman pushed the unpopular videodisc technology, fought the onset of VCRs, and dismissed the importance of cable.