"If you cover television at Variety," says a journalist who did, "Peter doesn't care about you. He only cares about movies. I never had any of the problems that other people have said they had with him. Peter reminds me of Monty Burns, Homer's boss on The Simpsons."
Peter Benton Bart was born in 1932 and raised on Manhattan's Upper West side by two public school teachers who immigrated from Austria to the United States.
Bart doesn't like to admit that he's Jewish but the September 2001 issue of Los Angeles magazine revealed that his mother's maiden name was Clara Ginsberg. She came through Ellis Island in 1914 and her passenger record reads: "Ethnicity: Austria (Hebrew)."
"I don't want to talk about it," Bart says of his religious heritage, to LA magazine. "I resent people's militancy on these issues. Everyone wants to peg everyone else because everyone is predictable. And I'm not."
Bart told LA mag he's never dated a Jewish girl, never attended a seder, and only attended synagogue once, for the bar mitzvah of then-agent Michael Ovitz's son. ("I wanted to see what one was like.") "Listen, I got berated by the vice president in charge of business affairs at Paramount," he says, "because I did not take off Jewish holidays. And I was affronted. I basically told him to mind his own damned business."
Bart compared himself to his longtime assistant, a light-skinned black woman: "She struggles with this, too. She feels she's a black person. But she's about as black as Felix [Bart's Siamese cat]. I feel she is a bit victimized by, again, that need to identify with some subculture that will help you.
"You talk to a lot of the better-educated, wealthy black people. You know, they're not very black. The big distinction is between the people they call 'niggers'--who are the ghetto blacks, who can't even speak, can't get a job, and bury themselves in black-itude--and those people who are better looking, better educated, smarter, and who own the world: the black middle class," he says. "A lot of people in Hollywood--let's say if they happen to be Jewish people who come from Brooklyn--they are most comfortable with those people. Which is fine. It just doesn't happen to describe me." (LA magazine 9/01)
A few minutes later he asks LA magazine's Amy Wallace, "Can you and I make a deal about this whole thing about religion? I would love it if we could dodge it in some way that you don't think is dishonest." He will repeat this request to Wallace several times.
From 1990-2001, Bart was the most influential writer on Hollywood (and described as "the most hated man in Hollywood"). Though he's largely unknown by those outside of the entertainment industry, Bart dominated TV and movie journalism by virtue of his bully pulpit at Variety where he served as editor and chief columnist of Daily Variety and Weekly Variety. Variety is the most read and most influential trade magazine of the entertainment industry (its one competitor is the Hollywood Reporter).
Trade journalism is not really journalism, as trade papers inevitably serve their constituencies more than cover them. More than 90% of advertising in trade papers like Variety come from the industry they purport to cover.
Peter also wrote bimonthly pieces for GQ. In an industry filled with lies and flattery, Bart's writing is unusually frank. He's willing to diss the big boys like Barry Diller, Paul Newman and Warren Beatty.
Bart's lived in Los Angeles since the 1960s, serving as a reporter for the New York Times, an executive at three movie studios, an author of novels and nonfiction as well as an independent film producer and screenwriter.
In her devastating September 2001 profile of Bart, Los Angeles magazine's reporter Amy Wallace notes there are "two keys to success in Hollywood: relationships and information. Bart traffics in both. He lunches almost every day with a studio chief, a marketing executive, a top manager or talent agency head, an entertainment lawyer or lobbyist."
Los Angeles magazine's cover story on Bart had the industry talking when it became public Friday, August 17th. Wallace's story noted:
* Bart claimed he fired reporter Anita Busch and Dave Robb from Variety. In fact, Variety's personnel department confirmed they both quit.
* Bart said on the TV show "Politically Incorrect" in May, 2001 that "I'm the only Republican here." Bart's been a registered Democrat since 1994.
* Bart can speak disparagingly about many groups: the French, Germans, blacks, Jews, lawyers, agents, actors, publicists, feminists, fat people. He uses terms like "fags, bitches, cunts, Nips" in staff meetings.
* Bart's non-existent note taking which doesn't prevent him from quoting his with Hollywood figures. Bart dictates these quotes off the top of his head and inserts them into reporters' stories. They often sound like they've been invented by Peter.
* In a letter to the LA Times, Bart claimed, "I have covered . . . wars." He hasn't.
* A publicist recalls Bart yelling at her, "I ran three studios and I will not be dictated to by a fucking flack!" Bart has run no studios.
* Colleagues told LA magazine that Bart makes things up. "His relationship to the truth is very plastic. I'd go on interviews with him and he'd write something and I'd think, 'Were we in the same room?' He's just a storyteller. The narrative needs are more immediate to his imagination than what actually happened."
* In the pages of Variety, Bart praises friends, associates, and even his own movies without acknowledging his involvement. The way Bart practices journalism would get him fired from any legitimate journalistic publication.
* Amy Wallace caught Bart in numerous consequential lies. When Variety reviewer Joe McBride ripped Paramount's movie Patriots Games, Bart wrote the studio's then CEO Martin S. Davis: "I know that you and Stanley [Jaffe] feel that Variety has developed an anti-Paramount tilt in its coverage. This distresses me--we go back together many years and I personally feel a keen sense of camaraderie. Clearly you feel, however, that the 'old comrades' aren't taking care of each other. If that's your feeling, you and Stanley deserve better and I intend to take personal charge of this situation to set it right." Bart told Wallace he'd written no such note.
* Wallace established that Peter Bart sold scripts on the side to persons he purportedly covers. Wallace caught Bart in numerous lies over this. In 1998, Michelle Manning at Paramount bought the purported Bart novel Power Play, which only runs 86 pages and looks like it was put together from Peter Bart's script of the same story - Crossroaders.
Bart succeeded Victor Navasky, now the publisher of The Nation, as editor of the college newspaper at Swarthmore. After majoring in politics, Bart briefly worked as a copyboy at The New York Times, and then had a fellowship at the London School of Economics. In 1956, the Wall Street Journal hired him. Around 1960, he went back to the New York Times to cover advertising and the media. He married publicist Dorothy Callman in 1961. They had their first daughter, Colby, in 1962.
In 1964 Bart became a national correspondent in Los Angeles. In 1966 his second daughter, Dilys, was born. Around the same time, he wrote a flattering profile of producer Robert Evans. Charles Bluhdorn, the new owner of Paramount, read the article and hired Evans, before he ever made one movie, as vice-president.
In 1967, Evans became Paramount's youngest-ever production chief. He hired Bart as his number two. Together they decided what movies would get made, writes Wallace in LA magazine. During their reign, Paramount produced such hits as Harold and Maude, Rosemary's Baby; Goodbye, Columbus; Love Story; The Godfather; Don't Look Now; Chinatown; The Godfather II; The Conversation.
When Barry Diller came in as Paramount's new studio chief in 1974, he forced Bart out, according to speculation. Bart has jabbed at Diller eversince, repeatedly claiming that Bluhdorn tried to marry off Diller so nobody would believe the persistent rumor that he was gay. Evans and Diller deny the veracity of the story.
Many people in Hollywood would agree with the following comment about Diller by Bart, but few persons would have the courage to say it: "He treats everyone like shit."
According to Amy Wallace, Variety paid Bart about $500,000 a year including bonuses, a green BMW convertible and a lavish expense account.
Peter took over Weekly Variety out of New York in 1989. At the time it was losing $3 million a year and circulation had dropped from 52,000 in 1980 to less than 29,000. Bart turned the ship around, upgraded from newsprint to glossy paper, and assembled a new staff. In 1991, he took over Daily Variety, merged the staffs and returned to Los Angeles.
Bart has a hard time with those parts of reality he doesn't like. For instance, he won't admit that he's Jewish. And he won't admit that Variety is a trade paper. Trade publications aren't regarded as serious journalism by serious journalists and those who crave serious journalism.
"Bart has made Variety more global, more sophisticated, more fun to read," writes Wallace. "Staffers praise him for hating all the right things: lawyers, committees, focus groups--anything that obstructs Variety's (and his own) ability to act quickly, on instinct."
Wallace writes that "Taking care of each other" is Bart's defining editorial principle vis-a-vis the Hollywood oligopoly. "He may be editor-in-chief of Variety, but he is still one of them."
Bart routinely calls his favorite sources--Guber, Ovitz, Weinstein, Evans, producer Arnon Milchan--to vet stories and make adjustments.
At a gala tribute to Bart at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in 1997, Guber began the roast with this joke: "Will everyone here who owes Peter a favor for having killed a negative story please remain seated?" The room--filled with Hollywood's heaviest hitters--erupted in laughter. Everybody stayed in their seats. (LA magazine 9/01)
Veritas Jones comments: "When Peter began these interviews, he was anticipating a lovefest designed to get him back into a studio. But forgetting that one should never trust a media hack, he ends up getting a 'Tina Brown' and the fact that Amy Wallace began this with him threatening to sue her confirms my suspicion."
It's interesting to note how the media seized on Bart's alleged slurs as his reason for suspension from Variety following the Los Angeles magazine piece.
From the 8/18/01 LA Times: "Peter Bart, long one of the most powerful and controversial figures in Hollywood, was suspended Friday from his job as editor in chief of Variety, the dominant trade paper in the entertainment industry, pending an investigation of charges that he has behaved unethically and frequently used racist, sexist and anti-gay language."
Bernard Weinraub writes in the 8/18/01 New York Times: "HOLLYWOOD, Aug. 17 — Peter Bart, the editor in chief of Variety and one of the most powerful journalists in Hollywood, was suspended today because of derogatory comments about blacks, Jews and gays that were attributed to him in a magazine article.
"The article, in the September issue of Los Angeles Magazine, said that, according to more than a half-dozen people, Mr. Bart uses derogatory terms about other minorities, gays and women at meetings. It also quotes him using disparaging language about some blacks."
From the New York Post's Page Six: EMBATTLED Variety editor Peter Bart's ex-wife says he isn't a racist homophobe - he's just emotionally scarred from a troubled childhood. Dorothy Callman wrote to Los Angeles Magazine about its infamous recent cover story about Bart, who was suspended and then reinstated following bigoted comments he allegedly made. Callman took issue with one of Bart's remarks in particular - that he has "never once dated a Jewish girl." "I am Jewish," Callman notes. "We dated for three years, were married for close to 20." Callman, who's a psychologist, continues, "I am addressing here that Peter is considered anti-Semitic, anti-blacks, anti-homosexuals, a bigot in many respects. I wish only to add my belief that this is a simplistic judgment based on insufficient knowledge . . . His behavior, in my view, is based not on bigotry or anti-Semitism but on his inability to transcend the wounds of his childhood, a deep inner need to feel a sense of power, and that he is in control of his world." The Tinseltown chronicler was slapped with a 21-day suspension from work when his alleged comments caused a firestorm in August.
James Taranto writes for the WSJ: Peter Bart, editor of the Hollywood trade publication Daily Variety, found himself in a bit of trouble earlier this month, when he was quoted as making some "insensitive" statements about minorities and homosexuals in a profile for Los Angeles magazine. Variety launched an "investigation" and has now announced the results.
Bart will be suspended without pay for 21 days. (Why do journalists get "suspended"? What are we, high-school students?) Perhaps inevitably, he will go through "diversity training," whatever that is. Most appalling, he issued the following statement:
"I was quoted making several statements to a Los Angeles Magazine reporter that do not reflect my personal beliefs and values or the way that I run the newsroom. Nevertheless, I am deeply sorry and regret that they offended anyone. It will not happen again."
Does anyone really believe the statements "do not reflect my personal beliefs and values"? What are we supposed to think, that he insincerely made the statements in question because he thought they would make him look good? We don't defend anything Bart said, but there's a dignified way to apologize; he could have simply said: I was wrong to say the things I said, and I'm sorry. Bart and his bosses at Variety ought to be ashamed of themselves for going through this charade that resembles nothing more than a phony confession at a Stalinist show trial.
CATHERINE SEIPP writes 10/3/97 on Salon.com about Anita Busch's resignation from Variety: ...[S]he's actually seen more examples of unethical behavior at Variety. There was run-of-the-mill stuff, like when Peter Bart was trying to get a book deal with Miramax a couple of years ago; Variety reporters who wanted to write about stalled Miramax projects were told to back off. Then Bart appeared in "You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again," the film version of the Heidi Fleiss girls' opus, which was bad enough. Having his name edited out of the Variety review was even worse.
But two incidents after the Mike Marcus episode were especially galling. Last summer, there was the situation with Janet Shphintz, a Variety legal correspondent married to Adam Platnick, the president of Peter Guber's production company. Shphintz was allowed to keep writing about entertainment attorneys Bert Field and Lew Meisinger, even though both men were involved in a lawsuit (representing opposite sides) between John Travolta and Platnick's employer.
Then, a couple of weeks before Anita quit, came the business with producer Arnon Milchan, an old friend of Peter Bart's who was negotiating to leave Warner Brothers for Fox. Anita found out that Warner Brothers had offered Milchan $100 million to stay; when she saw her story in the paper, however, the figure had been upped to $130 million. It seems that Bart wanted to help his friend get a better deal (Milchan eventually went to Fox for $230 million).
DAVID POLAND writes on www.thehotbutton.com 4/1/99 about reading Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: "I knew that Bart was once a studio bigwig, but I had no idea how powerful he really was. Or how far he's fallen. (No further than many of those around him from those heady days.) No wonder his columns are snide, pissed off and filled with animus more personal than professional. He was a player and now he just crushes players. I don't know that I have actually reached sympathy of any kind for Bart (God knows he wouldn't want any from me), mostly because he still has one of the biggest bully pulpits at his disposal and I think he should use it more effectively. But it is a hoot to hear him ripping people in a context that is all about abuse of relationships -- everything from their drug abuse to their sexual appetites to their love of pajamas."
Luke says: I find Peter Bart an absorbing read. He's about the only trade journalist who has the strength to smack industry players. His column is a must-read and his book The Gross is absorbing, filled with telling detail.
Alex Kuczynski writes for the New York Times: "Later, he [Peter Bart] called Jim Wiatt, chief executive of the William Morris Agency, "the grouchiest agent in Hollywood" and on his way to lunch in his executive editor's Cadillac Catera he referred to a movie producer as "the most nakedly ambitious man in Hollywood" and various other executives as "vile," "toadying," and "scum.""
David Poland writes 2/15/01: "Bart is well known to hate Inside.com, and the web in general, because so many of his reporters have been cherry picked by stock-option-waving dot-coms in the last two years. Two of his best, Andrew Hindes and Chris Petrikin, are now at Inside. This has a lot to do with his attitude about new media by the account of everyone who works for him."
David Poland writes 3/13/01: "It turns out that Daily Variety’s Editor Peter Bart and one of its reporters, Charles Lyons, attended what was supposed to be a confidential WGA meeting. The meeting made for a good column for Bart. Oops. That brought up the question of why Bart was allowed into the meeting at all. Well, he had joined the WGA, according to his column, "many years ago." In turn, WGA West president John Wells took the position that, as Guild members, Bart and Lyons had the right to access and there was nothing he could do. That prompted The Hollywood Reporter to point out that to maintain status as a "current active member" requires that the writer work for a signatory company during the past four years. THR then cheerfully added that if Bart really is a "current active member" that he had to work for a signatory as a screenwriter well into his tenure as Editor of Daily Variety. Can you say "conflict of interest?""
Dorothy Bart writes the October 2001 issue of Los Angeles magazine: "I WISH TO ADDRESS A LINE IN YOUR article about Peter Bart ["Hollywood's Information Man," September]: "Over several months he will volunteer that he never once dated a Jewish girl...." My name is Dorothy Callman. I am Jewish. Peter and I dated for three years, were married for close to 20. I am addressing here the perception that Peter is anti-Semitic, anti-blacks, anti-homosexuals--a bigot in many respects. I wish to add my belief that this is a simplistic judgment based on insufficient knowledge. I am a similar kind of Jew as Peter, though dissimilar in personality. Our parents were areligious--never entered a synagogue, never observed a Jewish holiday. In my case, my parents, being German refugees, were more German than Jewish. Peter and I, like many others, experienced a childhood of radical exclusion. I, like Peter, associated being Jewish with being an outsider, with weakness, with feeling powerless. I, too, looked for other ideologies to help me feel accepted. Quakerism (although I am not a formal member) appealed to me as well as it did Peter because it represents peace, togetherness--honest, simple values. This is not to excuse Peter's behavior. Not at all. His behavior is entirely inexcusable to my way of thinking. But it needs to be understood for what it is and not be attributed, as he himself states, to easy, predictable labels. His behavior, in my view, is based not on bigotry or anti-Semitism, but on his inability to transcend the wounds of his childhood: a deep inner need to be acknowledged, to feel a sense of power and that he is in control of his world. Amy Wallace, you're a brilliant journalist. I held my breath as I read your article about Peter."
An entertainment journalist: "I thought the Peter Bart story was interesting [by Amy Wallace in the September 2001 issue of Los Angeles magazine]. Before that story came out, the biggest rap against Peter Bart was that he could dish it out but not take it. After that article came out, looking into the abyss, Peter Bart sat back and essentially said, 'Look, it is what it is.' He apologized. He said it wouldn't happen again. It was the classic public relations gambit. He handled it correctly after the story came out. He showed that he could dish it out and he could take it.
"The bottom line is that everyone came out ahead. Kit Rachlis [Los Angeles magazine editor] saw that he needed an 'oh sh--' story. He saw that everyone in Hollywood doesn't talk anymore. There are no more Don Simpsons. There was one guy who was willing to shoot from the hip - Peter Bart. Kit devoted a tremendous amount of resources to the story. Amy was on it for months. He saw that it was his opportunity to sell a lot of magazines. And that's his job.
"It ups the value of Bart's autobiography by 300%. Before, there was no real controversy. Now, when he sits down to write his autobiography, he has something to put in the front of the book. Kit Rachlis stood behind Amy Wallace and nominated her for a national magazine award."