Democrats in Hollywood
Does the town love Hillary or Obama?
Fight Club: As usual, there's some heavy jousting among Democratic hopefuls for bragging rights and access to Hollywood dough. The fact that the powerful triumvirate of Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg are hosting an upcoming fund-raiser for Barack Obama has generated a ton of ink for the candidate. Much of it was in the vein of, "Is Hollywood turning its liberal back on Hillary?"It was and is well-known in Hollywood that while Geffen and Katzenberg have committed to Obama, Spielberg has not yet promised himself to anyone. It was and is also well-known that Spielberg will host a fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton this spring, in addition to the Obama event this month. So, it seemed odd to read in a Robert Novak column over the weekend that Spielberg, "previously listed as a probable supporter" of Obama, would now host a Clinton fund-raiser. This was presented as news, though Novak didn't make it clear who had "listed" Spielberg as an Obama supporter. Without quite saying so, Novak conveyed the idea that now only Geffen and Katzenberg are hosting the Obama fund-raiser, and that Bill Clinton had prevailed upon Spielberg to back away from Obama and toward Hillary. The Novak column is too silly to merit discussion—except, perhaps, about how it illuminates the real state of affairs in deep-pocketed Hollywood. If Spielberg had abandoned the upcoming Obama event, that would be news. But he hasn't. Many expect him to commit to Hillary in the future. But one veteran Hollywood Democratic operative said skeptically, "There is no one on earth that would know that from Steven who would talk to Bob Novak."The suspicion among some in the Obama faction is that this story came from the Clinton camp, eager to put a stop to the "Hillary Hemorrhages Hollywood Support" stories. In a recent visit to town, Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe conveyed the notion that folks should pick sides now. Most aren't. In fact, McAuliffe's admonishment prompted Norman Lear, who, like many, is contributing to multiple candidates, to ask a Los Angeles Times reporter, "What's Hillary going to do? Jail me?"We'll never know if McAuliffe was behind the column; we know that Novak is loath to reveal sources. But he really needs some better ones. He offered a couple of ludicrous explanations for liberal Hollywood's supposed defection from Hillary. One: that "the gay community"—read: David Geffen—"is seeking revenge against President Clinton's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy restricting open homosexuality in military service." That's funny, considering Geffen's continued support for Clinton long after that policy was adopted a few minutes after his inauguration. The gossip passed around by those who follow Hollywood and politics holds that Geffen fell out with Bill Clinton much later over the then-president's refusal to pardon Leonard Peltier and over Clinton's subsequent allusion to Geffen's thwarted lobbying effort to demonstrate that he didn't dole out pardons as favors to certain friends. Novak mentions another theory behind Hillary's supposed weakness with liberals—and bear in mind that she's so weak that Ron Burkle, Haim Saban, Steve Bing, and, of course, Spielberg are backing her. The entertainment industry, he wrote, "still harbors resentment about Clinton-Gore administration criticism of the material that is presented to children." In a community that is concerned first and foremost about the Iraq war, that is too laughable to address. Having raised these ideas, Novak dismisses them and reveals the real reason for Hillary's faltering popularity: She's too conservative. To coin a phrase: Duh. "The whispered worry is that Clinton as the presidential nominee would be a loser in a year when all the stars seem aligned for a Republican defeat," says Novak. That was whispered by David Geffen a couple of years ago in New York. Here's what he said about Hillary in a room full of people: "She can't win, and she's an incredibly polarizing figure." Subtle, huh? With code-cracking skills like that, it's no wonder Novak was the very first one to identify Valerie Plame in print. (link)
Monday, Feb. 12, 2007
Please stop: Maybe we're too sensitive, but New Line is getting on our nerves with its efforts to draw attention to The Number 23, which opens on Feb. 23 (of course). That's the one with the poster featuring Jim Carrey looking like Charles Manson after a rough night with a Sharpie.
Every day, New Line is firing off e-mails to folks like us about real-life incidents that involve the mystical number 23. Some of them are as dumb as the 23 enigma itself. "Virginia Man Climbs 63 Tibetan Peaks in 23 Days." (Sixty-three peaks? Are they setting up the sequel here?)
Others are in more questionable taste. "Man Convicted After Girlfriend's Fatal 23-Story Fall." If you were a relative of Rachel Kozlusky, an attractive Pennsylvania woman who, fortunately for New Line, was just 23 years old when she fell just the right number of stories (a tragedy clearly freighted with cosmic meaning), would it not offend you to see this event exploited to market a creepy movie?
How about this one from Monday: "23 Pilgrims Killed in Saudi Arabia." If you bother to look, the report in question reads that "at least" 23 were killed. Another stroke of luck for New Line! If the story had confirmed just one more dead, that would have ruined everything. (link)
Friday, Feb. 9, 2007
The Los Angeles Times gives voice Thursday to murmurs that the giant, tacky billboards for Norbit may not be helping Eddie Murphy's Oscar chances. The ads—which show a scrawny Eddie beneath Eddie as a fat woman—have also upset some black activists who have issues with the tired fat-black-lady stereotype, particularly during Black History Month. But the picture is apparently tracking well. And Stacey Snider—now running DreamWorks—says academy voters can differentiate between Murphy in this—pardon us—broad comedy and his turn in Dreamgirls.
Murphy hasn't run much of an Oscar campaign. He doesn't want to do a lot with the press (hoping to avoid any queries about the tranny hooker). He's such a pain that he's even balking at singing his nominated song at the Oscar ceremony. But in our brief, unscientific survey, no academy voter said that the Norbit ads would have an effect. The Times found only one unidentified consultant who hedged on the question. (An on-the-record voter said the campaign was "irrelevant.") So, it's hard to make a case that the billboards are doing any harm.
To us, the Norbit kerfuffle is indeed irrelevant. In our minds, he already won for Bowfinger.
There have been a couple of reports that GE may be pondering a sale of NBC Universal. We caught up with some Universal brass at a lovely party Wednesday night for the Oscar-nominated Mexican amigos—writer-directors Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu, and Guillermo del Toro. (A few notes on that: Cuarón was sick in London, so only two amigos were there. Babel director Iñárritu made up for it by serenading the crowd lustily. And isn't it nice that these friends could get three different film companies to team up and throw a bash? Now, that's creative control!)
One Universal executive at the soirée said he believes the potential for a sale is real despite the fact that GE chairman Jeffrey Immelt has a genuine affection for the entertainment business. Another top dog at Universal says he sees no signs that such plans are afoot, but conceded, "I don't know, really, why they keep us."
GE would hardly be the first big corporation to find that a foray into Hollywood is a costly proposition. There was Transamerica, Coca-Cola, and even Sony, who had to write down more than $2 billion before the rest of its business went so much to hell that the entertainment assets started to look good. Most of these companies came to the same conclusion: Entertainment has been a business of vagaries even without the prospect of a terrifying digital revolution. And the industry attracts a ludicrous amount of attention, and attention means headaches. Years ago, a Hollywood player explained Coca-Cola's exit from the business by saying, "When you make the margins they do selling sugar and water, the entertainment business isn't worth it."
Kim Masters is an NPR correspondent and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else.
Photograph of Steven Spielberg by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.