Whopper of the Week: Variety Editor Peter Bart

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Aug. 23 2001 11:58 AM

Whopper of the Week: Variety Editor Peter Bart

"Variety has a policy that prevents its reporters from being seduced byHollywoodwhile they are covering it. As Bart explained it to me, 'You cannot shop a script while you're writing for us. Obviously it's different if you write a book or a novel and it sells to a movie studio. I have no problem with that, except I'm not going to write the script. I don't think the line is that blurry.'

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"[...] In 1998 Variety reported that Michelle Manning atParamountPictures had acquired the rights to a novel written by Bart. The novel was called Power Play, and the plan was for [producer Robert] Evans to develop it. It was set inLas Vegasand focused on a power struggle between established casino owners and Indian tribes. Bart had used a pseudonym, the article said, 'to avoid any potential conflict of interest.'

"I'd read all of Bart's novels but had never heard of Power Play. When I first asked Bart about it, he said, 'It's not a novel. It's a novella. It needs work. I never finished it.' When I asked to read it, he told me he had no idea where it was. 'I did it to try to help Bob out. And Bob never did anything with it,' he said, referring to Evans.

"So no script was ever written? 'Not to my knowledge,' he said. 'In the old days I'd have swung into action, gotten a director assigned, gotten it off the ground. But I don't do that for a living anymore. And it's not what I should do.'"

-- "Hollywood's Information Man," by Amy Wallace, in the September issue of Los Angeles Magazine.

"Then the script arrived. It was called Crossroaders, but it was the same story as Power Play. Its title page read: 'By Leslie Cox'--the maiden name of Bart's current wife--'Based on the novel by Peter Bart. September, 1996.'

"[...] I tell Bart I have a copy of the 1996 script he wrote. 'The script I wrote,' he repeats, neither confirming nor denying. I look into the face of the man with the incredible memory. It is blank. But one knee starts jiggling, and he fiddles idly with the band of his watch.

"'Boy, you got me. Did I write a script? Now I'm facing memory loss,' he says, as I pull a copy of Crossroaders out of my bag. He looks it over. 'Let's just say this is a script that has Leslie's name on it. What does that indicate? Therefore--therefore, what?'

"I repeat that I know he wrote it. 'I may have written this,' he says. But, I counter, you said you hate writing scripts. 'I do. Maybe this taught me never to do it again. I'd love to read this. Is it any good?'

"Persuasive Peter, Argumentative Peter, Smooth Peter--they're all here, and they're taking turns. 'You know something? In all honesty, I do not remember writing this,' he says. 'I guess it was written to work out the novel. That would be my answer.'

"Bart summons his assistant to look for the novella--the one he told me he couldn't locate. She beelines for a cabinet behind his chair and retrieves a slim bound volume with a navy blue cover. She hands it to him. The search takes less than 20 seconds.

"'This is an 86-page novel,' he says. 'This was what was bought. It was the only thing that was ever submitted toParamount.' He admits that he probably spent a weekend transforming the Crossroaders script into the wisp of a novel he holds in his hand. I look at the novel's cover page, which displays not the pseudonym the Variety article had promised but the words 'By Peter Bart.' When I tell him the whole thing looks like an elaborate way of circumventing the rules, effectively selling a script by ginning up a novel, he objects.

"'I don't think it looks that way,' he says. 'If you're saying therefore that I wrote and marketed the script, you can say it, but I would deny it. I contend to you that a novel was written of this, and that's what Bob bought. There's no rule that says you can't write a script that no one sees.'

"Except, of course, that Evans--the man developing the project--did see the script. 'I'm sure Bob has,' he says, 'but I'll tell you about Bob.' He laughs. 'Bob having it is like the crypt.'

"As the interview winds up, Bart is almost playful. He jokes that I'm a 'troublemaker' and 'mean.' 'It's really scary,' he says, 'when you start remembering things about me that I don't remember.'

"The next morning Litigious Peter picks up the phone. He's still at home. His voice is tight and angry. He accuses me of using material stolen from his files. He feels betrayed that I gave him no warning. The details of why he wrote a screenplay as a warm-up for a novella are coming back to him, he says, though 'vaguely.' 'I'm glad I did it that way,' he says. 'The book sure is lean.'

" 'One thing I'm not is self-destructive,' he says. 'To break my own rules is just stupid. I was trying to get Bob's career going.' He pauses. 'I would appreciate it if you could tell me how you're going to handle this, so I can send to the magazine this legal document that will say I will sue you.'

"A week later Conflicted Peter calls.

"'I haven't heard from my nemesis for a while. Have you given up on this project, I hope?' he says, his voice almost warm. 'I must say, I'm still a little nettled.'

"Despite his better judgment, he has more to say. 'It's always a favor that kills you. No one ever did see that fucking script. In retrospect, I shouldn't have done it. I will guarantee you that I will never do it again.'"

-- "Hollywood's Information Man," by Amy Wallace, in the September issue of Los Angeles Magazine.After the piece came out, Bart was placed on indefinite suspension.

Got a whopper? Send it to chatterbox@slate.com. To be considered, an entry must be an unambiguously false statement paired with an unambiguous refutation, and both must be derived from some appropriately reliable public source. Preference will be given to newspapers and other documents that Chatterbox can link to online.

Whopper Archive:

Aug. 17, 2001: Tom Daschle

Aug 10, 2001: Robert Mueller

Aug. 3, 2001: Barbara Olson

July 27, 2001: Jeffrey Archer

July 20, 2001: George W. Bush

July 13, 2001: George W. Bush

July 6, 2001: Sumner Redstone

June 29, 2001: David Brock

June 22, 2001: Edmund Morris

June 15, 2001: George W. Bush

June 8, 2001: Nepali Prince Regent (subsequently, King) Gyanendra

June 1, 2001: Mary McGrory

May 25, 2001: Ari Fleischer

May 18, 2001: York, Pa., Mayor Charles Robertson

May 11, 2001: Ted Olson

May 4, 2001: Rear Admiral Craig Quigley

April 27, 2001: Ben Affleck

April 20, 2001: South Carolina state legislator Chip Limehouse

April 13, 2001: Gray Davis

April 6, 2001: Sumner Redstone

March 30, 2001: Spencer Abraham

March 23, 2001: George W. Bush, Rep. Jennifer Dunn, and/or the Treasury Department

March 16, 2001: George W. Bush

March 9, 2001: Russ Freyman, spokesman, National Association of Manufacturers

March 2, 2001: Paul O'Neill

Feb. 23, 2001: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton

Feb. 16, 2001: Oscar spokesman John Pavlik

Feb. 9, 2001: Lynne Cheney

Feb. 2, 2001: Bobby Thomson

Jan. 26, 2001: Denise Rich

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