Just the Funny Parts – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Just the Funny Parts… And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club” by Nell Scovell, published in 2018.

Born in Boston, MA in November 1960, Scovell was the third of five siblings. She became a comedy writer, producer and director in Hollywood.

Scovell wrote of the many issues female writers face in the writers’ room, and in higher-level positions, if they achieve the great feat of actually getting hired in the entertainment industry. For, gender discrimination still persists. Females are still conditioned by society to feel as though the employers are doing them a favor for giving them a job, rather than feeling they deserve it on the merits.

Scovell– by writing an article that prompted truly important discussions on daytime talk shows– made Americans more aware of the fact that for decades, the late-night talk shows had been hiring practically all male writers. She herself had written for Late Show with David Letterman and felt “awkward, confused and demorazlied” due to the male-dominated work environment. She quit of her own accord after a short time.

Scovell said, “But in the real world, awareness more often leads to defensiveness which leads to excuses… you must also be aware that your knee-jerk defensiveness is part of the problem.” Simply saying, “Some of my best friends are female” doesn’t get them equal treatment in the workplace. Which should spark a discussion of gender-related issues of the impeachment brouhaha presently plaguing the U.S. government and the U.S. propaganda community. Which sometimes are the same thing.

First of all, Nancy Pelosi, a female, is the point person for the House of Representatives in connection with the impeachment vote. The way she is portrayed in the media and social media is crucially important to how the public views the whole story, and public opinion can have a tremendous influence on Congress’ activities.

A male Speaker would set a completely different tone– not necessarily intentionally, but simply due to subconscious conditioning by American society. Psychological research has shown that both females and males perceive females in a negative light, but perceive males in a positive light– when asked to comment on a hypothetical someone in a leadership position, having been told the leader’s gender.

As is well known, in 1998, former president Bill Clinton had an impeachment proceeding launched against him for lying under oath about his salacious activities in the Oval Office. That was a male-on-male attack borne of political vengeance. If females had been in the mix (in a major way, leadership-wise), there would have been a different dynamic.

Interestingly, Trump has nicknamed Pelosi, “Nervous Nancy” for a reason. He is trying to razz her to put her at a psychological disadvantage. One of Scovell’s male coworkers said something like that to Scovell when she worked for Letterman, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On another topic, perhaps there is an algorithm for the bad behavior of U.S. presidents. Clinton copied his hero, JFK, who was rumored to have had similar liaisons about thirty-seven years earlier. Trump copied his hero, Ronald Reagan, who was engaged in non-standard foreign policy activities, about thirty-seven years ago.

There must have been some Congress members in Clinton’s administration who fondly remembered JFK. There must be some Congress members in Trump’s administration who fondly remember Reagan. However, the two presidents’ legal situations are a generation apart– have different political, cultural and social backdrops, and have very different sets of facts.

Comparing the troubles of the current American leader with other past leaders isn’t exactly on-point, either. The older generation has seen political turmoil before, so “Have you no decency left” and “I am not a crook” are cliches.

If one is considering emotionally troubling historical events on a continuum pursuant to preventable deaths on one end, and celebrity dramas on the other, the present doesn’t seem so bad.

Younger Americans have no understanding of the Vietnam Era or the genocidal episodes of the 1940’s and 1990’s (!), but they are bombarded with world-shaking “news.” OMG: Elton John was allegedly a witness to Royal-Family child abuse, and Taylor Swift’s appearance on Saturday Night Live was challenging for her.

Right now the political climate is kind of like before the third act of an old-school Broadway play– the audience needs a breather. It is sick of the whole thing. It needs a period of quiet to regroup and assess the situation.

Nevertheless, when the media claims that Pelosi is actually going to resolve the situation, females in the media ought to remind females in Congress not to be intimidated by the males who have conditioned them to be so, and give Trump a nickname.

Anyway, read the book to learn of Scovell’s career ups and downs.

Leading Lady

The Book of the Week is “Leading Lady, Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker” by Stephen Galloway, published in 2017.

The subject of this movie-studio-executive biography was born in July 1944 in Chicago. She had a younger sister. Her biological father died of a heart condition when she was almost nine years old. That childhood trauma made her driven to succeed in life. But she took her stepfather’s last name, Lansing.

After graduating from Northwestern University, she and her medical-student husband moved to Los Angeles so she could pursue her dream of becoming an actress. To earn a living, she became a substitute teacher.

She suffered through three years of cattle calls and other indignities, which allegedly did not include sexual favors for career advancement. Arguably, in retrospect, there were mitigating factors to the culpability of men who displayed behavior on the continuum of sexual harassment of women in the entertainment industry.

In Lansing’s generation, both females and males accepted the continually reinforced gender-stereotypes in American culture, especially in that line of work. The vast majority of women never thought to question their enforced inferiority. The tiny number who did, were left silently seething.

Any woman who dared to enter the entertainment industry knew that that was the status quo, or quickly found that out. Institutionalized gender discrimination was a fact of life. Nowadays, of course, men’s offensive behavior is considered by everyone to be inexcusable, but accusations are still very hard to prove, absent reliable witnesses or physical evidence.

Anyhow, Lansing finally got a few roles, the most exciting of which was a bit-part on the TV show Laugh-In. However, the phoniness of acting wasn’t for her; she found she needed to be true to herself and the world.

Lansing, then 26, had cultivated valuable Hollywood contacts, one of whom, a producer, gave her work as a script-reader. Again, in the 1960’s, movie-making was still a male-dominated field, in which few women were able to tolerate the old-boy-network’s frat-boy behavior if they were trying to climb the corporate ladder. Lansing had a calm, peace-inducing temperament and engaging personality. She was able to keep her mouth shut and endure her hostile work environment until such time as she wielded the power to work with men as an equal.

That time came in November 1992, when Lansing became chair and CEO of Paramount Pictures’ movie division. Nevertheless, her work involved a boatload of stress and worries. She was the ultimate decisionmaker on whether a movie got made, but there were frequent problems with, and fierce arguments over hiring crews, financing, casting, shooting, screening, promoting, etc.

By the 1990’s, studios were forced to jointly pay production costs because filmmaking had become so expensive with high-tech special effects and for other reasons. So the relocating of the shooting of Braveheart from Scotland to Ireland due to foul weather, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Irish government provided 1,700 extras on the set, free of charge. Despite the astronomical costs of Titanic, the movie reached its break-even point prior to the revenue streams of cable TV, home entertainment and ancillary markets. Eventually it raked in revenues of $2.19 billion.

But after ten years at the top, Lansing was becoming disenchanted with the trends of the industry. For, “…the quality of pictures no longer seemed essential… clever sales strategies could redeem all but the most abysmal of movies.” In other words, execrable movies that never should have been made were profitable, anyway– the marketers had become more important than the producers, casts and crews. Curiously, the same thing happened in publishing– the people managing the creative side of the business got greedy when cultural changes caused costs to rise.

Besides, Lansing asked, “How did the Oscars become the monstrosity where people [movie studios] are spending zillions and having parties and slipping things here and there? What happened to the camaraderie?” It should not have come as a surprise that by early 2003, Wal-Mart had become one of the largest distributors of DVD’s in the nation.

Read the book to learn more about Lansing’s career trials, tribulations and successes, her personal life, and the activities she found more fulfilling after she left Paramount.

I Should Be Dead By Now

The Book of the Week is “I Should Be Dead By Now, The Wild Life and Crazy Times of the NBA’s Greatest Rebounder of Modern Times” by Dennis Rodman With Jack Isenhour, originally published in 2005. Despite its sensationalist title, this slim volume somewhat repetitively, but in detail, gave good reasons for why the subject should be dead, in the form of an expletive-laden, extended reality-show monologue.

Rodman, a former professional basketball player, told a series of anecdotes about himself– the world’s biggest attention whore– that involved his professional and personal antics, love life, and his handlers– the people who tried to keep him safe.

Starting in the 1980’s, Rodman got the media’s attention with his dyed hair (various colors), cross-dressing, tattoos, piercings, makeup, etc. By the new millennium, thanks to his high-paying: athletic career, promotional gigs and celebrity appearances (notwithstanding his expensive on-off relationships), he owned a luxury apartment in Newport Beach, California. “Meanwhile, the parties grew bigger and bigger and the neighbors got madder and madder” about the noise.

In early 2003, Rodman did a reality show called “Rodman on the Rebound” on ESPN, but he wasn’t ready to return to the NBA. The show should have been called, “Rodman on the Rehab.” One reason why occurred in the autumn of 2003 shortly before the start of basketball season, when the Denver Nuggets had agreed to hire him after every team in the National Basketball Association had been scorning him for about three years.

One late night, as he did every night, at a strip club, Rodman consumed a vast quantity of alcohol; even for his six-foot, eight-inch frame. The members of his entourage had to pick their battles with him, as his risky behavior was constant but not always extreme or predictable. On a whim, in the wee hours of the morning, Rodman decided to fly to Las Vegas.

Once there, in the parking lot of another strip club, a stranger allowed Rodman, sans helmet, to ride a new motorcycle. Rodman attempted to do a wheelie. To his credit, he did not gloze over the unpleasant consequences. At the hospital, he claimed that he refused “Novocain.” Also, he hadn’t been wearing underwear, and his torn-up legs needed 70 stitches. There went his NBA-comeback opportunity. The media had initially given him his celebrity status, and had a field day highlighting his stupidity.

Rodman claimed that “… there are many things stats just don’t measure: … how well you can get in another guy’s head, and the number of Redheaded Sluts you can drink and still get it up– all categories in which Dennis Rodman excelled.”

Read the book to learn much more about guess who?

Inside the Olympics – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Inside the Olympics” by Dick Pound, published in 2004. This volume described the trials and tribulations of a Canadian who served in various Olympic capacities, including athlete and governance leader.

As might be recalled, various scandals (relating to the selection of future host countries, illegal doping among athletes, and judging of sports events) plagued the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the turn of the 21st century.

Pound wordily and repetitively discussed his role in helping participating nations agree on rules banning performance-enhancing drugs, and in helping to establish the complicated financial arrangements needed to be made by broadcast networks and sponsors. For, bureaucracy galore abounded. Each nation has a committee. Nations that don’t fund athletes and their attendant expenses depend on revenues derived from event coverage and advertisers, paid to the IOC and redistributed to those committees. Thus, the IOC tended to be the scapegoat for whatever went wrong with all things Olympic-related.

Olympic hosts are saddled with numerous expenses stemming from having to provide modern athletic facilities and accommodations for about 25,000 people.

Read the book to learn how national pride has miraculously kept the modern Olympic games alive since 1896, despite the bad behavior of power politics that has resulted in injustice, financial losses, ill-gotten gains, and deaths.

Billy Martin

The Book of the Week is “Billy Martin, Baseball’s Flawed Genius” by Bill Pennington, published in 2015. This biography documented not only Martin’s life, but how the culture of American baseball has changed through the decades.

Born in May 1928, Martin grew up in West Berkeley, California. His lower middle-class family consisted of a mother of Italian extraction, a stepfather of Irish extraction, and four siblings. He was passionate about playing baseball from the time he was a young child.

In his teen years, Martin was an amateur boxer at the local community center, and played on his high school basketball team. But he was mentored by minor-league and professional baseball players at his local baseball field, in James Kenney Park. He learned all the tricks, including the unethical ones.

At eighteen years old, the hot-tempered Martin was hired as a member of a minor league team in Idaho Falls, Idaho, thanks to mentor Casey Stengel– a baseball great– who spotted his doggedness and obvious talent. Most of the time, though, rather than play, he was assigned to loudly trash-talk the opposing teams in front of his team’s dugout. This was a valued activity in baseball in the 1940’s and 1950’s, practiced by teenagers all the way up to professionals.

Martin’s dream to play for the New York Yankees came true, starting in 1950. “There was free booze in every clubhouse in the country, and every stadium had a press room lounge where the drinks were complimentary… Players, coaches, reporters and managers” were no stranger to the clubby atmosphere.

Martin was a drinker with his buddies, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. However, Martin developed a reputation for getting into not only barroom brawls, but also fights with umpires– often kicking dirt on them– and getting thrown out of games. Through the years, he had trouble staying employed for more than three seasons at a time, as a player, scout, coach or manager on various teams. As a manager, his expertise lay in turning around losing teams.

In 1972, fans braved subfreezing cold weather overnight outside the stadium, standing in line to buy tickets to the final regular-season game of the Detroit Tigers, who of course made the playoffs, under Martin’s intense, win-at-all-costs management.

Martin taught his players how to steal opposing teams’ signals, and steal bases– even three at a time when the bases were loaded– plus how to bunt.

One edgy trick Martin got away with was executed by his Yankees in the last game of the 1976 World Series. The half-inning ended with a bad call, as a Yankees baseman “… caught the ball in stride [but too late] and then quickly ran off the field before the call was made.” In on the ruse, the team followed. The umpire wrongly called the safe runner out.

Later, the Bronx fans threw things onto the field, at the Kansas City Royals players. That was normal fan behavior into the 1970’s. Ejections by security were few and far between.

Furthermore, just as the last 1977 playoffs game was ending, fans who had run onto the field obstructed the last base runner from scoring until a group of ten police officers surrounded the runner to allow him to get to home plate. Exciting for its time: that player’s game-winning home run was videotaped in color from multiple camera angles.

Yet another bygone aspect of baseball included gratuitous violence. In the 1977 playoffs, “[George] Brett slid hard at third base… propelling him into [Graig] Nettles, whom he also shoved with a forearm to the chest. Nettles responded by kicking Brett in the ribs as he lay on the ground. Brett jumped up and threw a right hand punch that grazed the top of Nettles’ head and knocked off his cap… [unsurprisingly] the benches emptied…”

During the 1980 season, Martin taught his Oakland A’s pitchers how to get away with an illicit spitball. He told them to rub an excessive amount of soap on the inner thigh of their uniform. This would mix with their sweat. Rubbing the ball on it before pitching would give them an edge in striking out batters. At the time, a suspicious umpire would inspect body parts other than the thigh, so the pitcher wouldn’t get caught.

By the end of 1988, George Steinbrenner had owned the Yankees for fifteen years. During that period, he had changed managers fifteen times, five of which involved Billy Martin.

Read the book to learn of numerous episodes of Martin’s shenanigans on and off the field.

Hold On, Mr. President – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Hold On, Mr. President” by Sam Donaldson, published in 1987. This is the career memoir of an aggressive TV journalist who covered politics.

Donaldson was born in 1934. By his mid-thirties, he had an all-consuming career, working seven days a week for about a year at ABC-TV in Washington D.C. He covered the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, Vietnam on-location for three months in 1971, the Watergate scandal, and, glutton for punishment that he was– president Jimmy Carter in 1976. He asked hard questions of presidents, especially president Ronald Reagan, on whom he spent a lot of time reporting.

Donaldson felt that Reagan’s unwavering stance on all issues was a liability because it resulted in “thoughtless and false certainty… Deciphering Reagan-speak is a constant in the White House press room… But give Reagan a TelePromTer (sic)… and he can communicate without ambiguity and, in the process, sell you a defense budget that will reduce you to rags or a Nicaragua policy that will curl more than your hair.” Countless erroneous facts and figures emanated from Reagan’s mouth, of which Donaldson provided numerous examples.

In the late 1980’s, Reagan held political rallies whose attendees “… had to apply for tickets from local Republican organizations, and people who were not already true believers, didn’t get them.” Some things never change.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Donaldson and his generation of TV journalism in Washington, D.C.

The Gambler – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Gambler, How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History” by William C. Rempel, published in 2018.

Born in Fresno, CA in June 1917, Kerkorian was the youngest of four children of Armenian extraction. In the first half of the twentieth century, he pursued his passions of amateur boxing and piloting planes. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to go into the chartered airplane business. He began associating with unsavory characters when he bet on sports in 1961. His FBI dossier related this factoid that was learned via wiretapping.

Kerkorian dreamed big and took the outrageous risks required to fulfill them. Thanks to his cultivating friends in high places, in the early 1960’s, he managed to borrow a steep $5 million to purchase a DC-8 (jetliner) to expand his transcontinental shuttle service for the U.S. military and other lucrative clients.

In 1963, Kerkorian got into the casino business. He launched an IPO for his holding company in 1965. Then he became aggressive in acquiring companies against their will. Like Western Air Lines. He also opened the biggest hotel/casino in the world in July 1969. He got international celebrities to provide entertainment on opening night just to rub it in the faces of the competition, such as Howard Hughes.

However, one casino Kerkorian took over had been run by the Mob. In late 1969, the IRS forced him to sell a yacht and a plane to pay back-taxes. In 1972, a German bank was dunning him for an amount of money he couldn’t possibly pay. He didn’t worry. He simply ordered that his financially struggling company, MGM, issue a ginormous dividend to himself, and all other holders of the company’s stock. This way, he could pay off his personal bank debt; never mind that MGM risked going bankrupt. Of course some shareholders sued.

Read the book to learn of Kerkorian’s many other adventures in business and pleasure.

Indecent Exposure

The Book of the Week is “Indecent Exposure, A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street” by David McClintick, published in 1982. This volume with the provocative but misleading title had nothing to do with sex. It actually consisted of a suspenseful, albeit long story seen mostly through the eyes of Alan J. Hirschfield, the CEO and officer at Columbia, the movie company. It was about how a lack of honesty, the power of propaganda, and clashing egos basically resulted in the redistribution of wealth among the wealthy. This sort of thing happens all the time.

In February 1977, then-famous actor Cliff Robertson received a document saying he owed taxes in connection with a check he never received. He later found out that the check had been forged and cashed in his name, by David Begelman, a high-level executive at the aforesaid Columbia.

It was common practice for Hollywood studios to send movie actors checks for thousands of dollars (usually unreported to the IRS) that defrayed a small portion of their promotion expenses for a new picture. The IRS had just then begun cracking down on that taxable income. Robertson’s reaction set in motion a series of consequences that affected thousands of people; mostly financially.

Columbia was a public company, and the bad publicity resulting from news of a serious crime committed by one of its executives was a serious public relations problem. Hirschfield, who was on the board of directors, was told by an attorney that he had a duty to inform the executive committee, corporate counsel and the SEC after an internal investigation had been conducted.

As has been the case since the discovery of journalism/tabloidism, (supposedly said by Mark Twain), “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Begelman’s friends in the Hollywood community (of which the check forger had many) rushed to his defense, having heard only vague rumors that described his transgressions in euphemisms. They really had no clue that he had actually committed several felonies, it turned out. They didn’t want to know.

The friends planted tabloidy messages in the media making the excuse “Everybody Does It” because they took unethical liberties with their own expense accounts, and made Hirschfield the villain, saying he was a power-hungry, vindictive executive, as he technically did compete for power with Begelman in the company hierarchy. Hollywood’s and the public’s gullibility in automatically believing in Begelman’s innocence and Hirschfield’s treachery is human nature.

At the board meeting that initiated the long, heated discussion that would determine whether Begelman was fired, Begelman acted like a prisoner on death row who had suddenly found religion. He implied he might kill himself if removed from his primary job. But actually, anyone who knows this kind of person knows that he would be too arrogant to kill himself.

A preliminary inquiry into Begelman’s history yielded more than one serious crime during his Columbia tenure, and previous lying and other worse misdeeds. Hirschfield argued for termination, saying Begelman was unlikely to change his spots, as dishonesty was a lifelong habit with him. Over the next few years, the Hollywood community and the public, however, still having heard only distorted soundbites that minimized Begelman’s sins, fooled itself into believing they weren’t that bad, and continued to defend him.

Interesting sidenote: In 1982, in a joking context, Hirschfield exclaimed to a female friend who was high on the corporate ladder, in front of some colleagues: “Female executives suck!” She laughed. Clearly, if that was uttered in 2018, hilarity would NOT ensue.

Read the book to learn of the consequences of the stupid actions taken by most of the main characters of this entertaining saga.

Genius in Disguise

The Book of the Week is “Genius in Disguise” by Thomas Kunkel, published in 1995. This book describes the life of Harold Ross, who came up with the concept of, and co-founded, The New Yorker magazine.

Born in 1892 in Aspen, Colorado, Ross was bitten by the journalism bug as a teenager. He quit high school to start his career as a news gatherer. He was restless, however, and traveled to various states to ply his trade. Regarding the media, there is nothing new under the sun:  While in New Orleans in 1912, “… he demonstrated the agile reporters’ trick for manufacturing news where none exists.”

Ross worked for the army publication Stars and Stripes during WWI. After the war, he moved to New York City, where his social group consisted of the Algonquin Round Table members and other literati such as his fiancee Jane Grant. She worked for the New York Times, and he served as publisher for a weekly magazine for veterans.

In February 1925, Ross decided to break out on his own by starting The New Yorker. He wanted to sell a weekly magazine that resonated with New Yorkers of his generation. The recent introduction of technological advancements in publishing, the early days of radio, and special postal rates made the time ripe for Ross’ brainchild. Besides, at that time, magazine advertising was the way to gain national reach for products and services.

The New Yorker‘s goal was to entertain wealthy readers. So it avoided reporting on politics and economics. Ross was a difficult managing editor because he was a panicky perfectionist.  In fact, a “… New Yorker piece might be scoured fifteen or twenty times by six or eight different people, all in the name of perfection” for editing, fact-checking and proofreading. Ross became an indispensable, fearless leader. The other party crucial to the publication was its major initial investor, an heir to the Fleischmann yeast fortune.

Read the book to learn how, ironically, the animosity between Ross and Fleischmann maximized The New Yorker‘s profitability; about the one-article issue of August 1946; the difference between Wolcott Gibbs and Aleck Woollcott; and how the publication changed through the decades. A bygone era in magazine publishing.

My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin

The Book of the Week is “My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin” published in 1964.

Born in 1889 in London, Chaplin had a traumatic childhood. Both his parents were vaudevillians, but his father had trouble with alcohol; and his mother, with her voice. Thus, they found themselves unemployed. Their relationship suffered, and they separated. Chaplin and his older brother lived with their mother in a hovel. Unsurprisingly, his father failed to pay alimony and child support. Chaplin was pushed by his mother onstage beginning when he was five years old.

A commune known as a “workhouse” took in the family. The mother crocheted lace cuffs and the kids attended school. After two weeks, they were transferred to a suburban workhouse. Boys at age eleven were conscripted. So Chaplin’s brother entered the Navy. His mother, however, suffered from mental illness, and was institutionalized. Chaplin went to live with his father in a London slum.

At nine years old, Chaplin showed a true talent and passion for performing. His father got him into a clog-dancing troupe. Later, he lied about his age to get hired by an acting troupe. He had natural ability to play comic characters.

In autumn 1911, Chaplin by chance got into the then-silent motion picture business (only musical sound tracks– no talking), replacing another actor in Hollywood. It was then he created his Tramp character. He was allowed to try his hand at directing and writing, although the bosses of that period were still clinging to their tired “Keystone Kops” scenarios of slapstick chases. His fresh approach that evoked an emotional response became wildly popular among American audiences. He immediately became a legend. Once he came into his own, his brother became his business manager.

“Fulfilling the Mutual [film company] contract I suppose, was the happiest period of my career. I was light and unencumbered, 27 years old, with fabulous prospects, and a friendly, glamorous world before me.” Chaplin and his friends Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford found out that the movie production companies were going to merge, lower the outrageous pay of actors, and take control away from them. So Chaplin et al formed their own production company, United Artists.

During a trip on W.R. Hearst’s yacht, the Hollywood director who had taken over Hearst’s film production company, had a heart attack. Chaplin wrote, “I was not present on that trip but Elinor Glyn, who was aboard…” told Chaplin about the episode. The ridiculous rumors regarding the director’s murder were false. “Hearst, Marion [Davies] and I went to see Ince [the director] at his home two weeks before he died.”

Read the book to learn a wealth of other details of Chaplin’s life, and why he moved to Switzerland with his family; get the explanation– straight from “the horse’s mouth.”