Posted by Danielle Berrin
In August, when Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein gave his first on-the-record interview addressing the widespread speculation that his company was failing to a New York Times reporter who had written little about Hollywood, Sharon Waxman was, well, pissed.
Waxman is one of Hollywood’s leading entertainment journalists; she is the founder and CEO of The Wrap, an entertainment news Web site that went live in January. She also has been a longtime newspaper reporter covering Hollywood for The New York Times, and before that, the Washington Post for over a decade. So when she saw the Weinstein interview, Waxman gave vent to her grievances online.
“Leave it to The New York Times to take 5,000 words to give us a small amount of new information about the ailing Weinstein Company, which David Segal (um, who?) does in Sunday’s business section…” Waxman wrote on her Wrap blog, Waxword. “And leave it to the ever-crafty Harvey Weinstein to tell his tale of woe to a reporter who has never written a word about him or his company, or his previous companies….”
If Waxman sounded personally offended, it was not only because she wasn’t the one to get the coveted interview. Her relentless inner journalist also was insulted that the article failed to dig deep enough. “There should have been some hard-headed reporting in there,” Waxman said in an interview a few weeks later.
Aided by her newspaper pedigree and a belief that Hollywood is long overdue for what she calls “more sophisticated coverage,” Waxman launched The Wrap as an alternative to major newspapers and the trades, as well as the glut of celebrity coverage on blogs. She promises an “intelligent, critical and forward-looking” take on the industry, including both hard-news reporting and opinion. With Waxman at the helm, The Wrap attempts to strike a balance between old-school style and new-media relevance. Along the way, Waxman has managed to brand herself as an authoritative voice on the business and psychology of Hollywood, inserting herself — as an editor — into the rough-and-tumble world of industry journalism.
“We’re not here to make a quick killing in news,” Waxman said in a conversation from her home office in Santa Monica. “We’re here to help reinvent viable journalism in the age of the Internet.”
In the nine months since The Wrap hit the Web, it has created competition not only for Variety and The Hollywood Reporter — the dominant sources for industry news over the last century — but also for blogger Nikki Finke, the widely feared and well-read specter behind Deadline Hollywood Daily, a must-click site for Hollywood insiders salivating for business news and scandal.
The Wrap is finding its niche somewhere in between the publicist-primed tips in the trades and the vitriolic tone of Deadline Hollywood. On any given day, The Wrap’s headlines run the gamut from hard-hitting (“Comcast About to Buy Universal”) to human interest (“George Clooney: Oscar Contender or Just Another Schmuck?”) to somewhat puffy (“Twitter: 50 TV Insiders to Follow Right Now”). Last month, The Wrap signed a content-sharing agreement with MSN.com, though Waxman will not disclose the terms.
Patrick Goldstein, Los Angeles Times columnist and author of The Big Picture blog, said The Wrap is fast becoming a must-read in the industry. “What Sharon is doing at The Wrap is the unofficial Hollywood newsletter. The trades are the authorized version, and [The Wrap] is the unauthorized version. You’re getting stronger opinion and analysis.”
Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman, who works closely with many major media outlets and says he “can’t afford to discriminate” in his news appetite, said he reads The Wrap several times daily. “Sharon is a true journalist, and she has great sources and often breaks interesting news that’s important,” he said. Waxman is well known among executives in the industry, Bragman added, and “nobody underestimates Sharon.”
She has a reputation for being tough, smart and aggressive, and she isn’t one for soft-peddling facts. When it comes to Hollywood, she is also fiercely critical: During our in-person interview, she admitted feeling bad about the scathing tone she’d taken towards the writer of the Weinstein piece (only after blasting the reporter did she realize he had been a colleague of hers at the Washington Post), but even as she spoke, she didn’t refrain from further lashing out.
Waxman’s aggressiveness may be a necessary evil for anyone working in Hollywood. As in Washington, Hollywood is a closed society that doesn’t welcome prying eyes, and, often, wresting information from insiders, especially when the stakes are high, requires a certain amount of chutzpah. This comes naturally to Waxman, who says she doesn’t idolize Hollywood. “Because I have no interest in selling a project, all I ever want to do is tell the truth.”
Waxman grew up Modern Orthodox in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended Hebrew school from kindergarten through 12th grade. She spent a year studying in Israel before attending Barnard College, and continued her studies at Oxford University, where she received her master’s degree in Middle East studies. She is fluent in French, Hebrew and Arabic, which helped her snag her first journalism job with Reuters in Jerusalem, where she covered the first and second Palestinian intifadas. Waxman later moved to Paris, where she continued writing about international politics, the economy and culture, before taking up the Hollywood beat for the Washington Post.
Although she is no longer as religiously observant as she was during her childhood, Waxman said this wasn’t the result of anything specific; she and her husband, Claude Memmi, a French Jewish businessman, have educated their three children (two teenagers and a pre-teen) at Jewish day schools (Sinai Akiba and Milken), and Waxman said her family is committed to some aspects of the tradition, like celebrating holidays. When asked about the predominance of Jewish people in Hollywood, she said, “It’s a culturally Jewish industry. If you have that cultural background, you have an advantage without knowing why or without being able to name it specifically — it may not be fair, but I think that it’s true.”
Now that Waxman is in charge of her own site, she’s also under added scrutiny.
A few weeks ago, The Wrap broke the story that Comcast was in talks with General Electric to acquire NBC Universal for $35 billion. Moments later, an updated post that portrayed the deal as finished set off an Internet firestorm, with Finke calling the report “bull——” and The Huffington Post leading with a full-page rebuff under the headline, “Tide Turns Against Waxman Report.” Later that night, Comcast, the nation’s biggest cable provider, issued a denial to The New York Times Dealbook blog. Waxman stuck to her guns, though details in the story were fuzzy, and (like many reporters on the Web) she later updated — some say backtracked — her story. (Comcast and GE are currently “in talks.”)
Waxman’s launch of The Wrap comes at an uncertain moment in journalism, when news organizations around the country are trying to adapt to an increasingly digital age. Out in the wild, wild Web, citizen reporters with no journalistic credentials are commanding broad attention on blogs and YouTube, and outmoded newspapers are scrambling to establish online presences.
But journalism’s move from print to Web brings with it another set of challenges. Die-hard reporting standards like accuracy and fact checking, let alone ethics, are often compromised in the rush to get news up fast. Waxman admits the pressure can be overwhelming.
“You have to be first, and you have to be right,” she said. “Because if you’re wrong, you’re eroding the credibility of whomever you’re working for.”
At times, Waxman’s own error count has called her reporting into question. In 2003, during her first year at The New York Times, Waxman’s high productivity (she published 356 stories in five years) and her penchant for breaking news, led to some mistakes, mostly in misspelling names and job titles, she said. Addressing the lingering rumors about her journalistic reliability (a recent profile of competitor Finke in the New Yorker said Waxman’s “reporting has occasioned a number of corrections”), Waxman admits to her early errors, but defends her current record: “If there are people who make issue of our credibility or take issue about being treated fairly and accurately, you would see that in people deciding not to work with us.
“If my reputation was anything but strong, we wouldn’t attract the talent we’ve been attracting,” she said, referring to members of her staff, like Lew Harris, former editor-in-chief of Los Angeles magazine and a founding editor of E! Online, and Josef Adalian, a former TV editor from Variety.
“If people thought I was not trustworthy, how in the world would we be breaking news?” she said.
One of Waxman’s challengers is the audacious Finke, who is one of the most well-connected journalists in Hollywood. At one time, the women were close friends (Waxman threw Finke a 50th birthday party; Finke has taken Waxman’s daughter shopping), but their relationship has since dissolved. Finke told the New Yorker that their falling out occurred when Waxman started The Wrap, telling Finke it was going to cover politics. Waxman denies this and attributes their rift to a turf war. “From my perspective, it comes from the fact that Nikki is not happy that there is a competitor in a space she considers to be her private backyard.”
The two writers have made a habit of hashing out their dispute online, where they often rebut one another’s sources and stories. But while Waxman’s column has literally screamed Nikki’s name, Finke has avoided identifying Waxman or The Wrap by name, referring instead to either “the blogger” or “the blog.” Finke denies this so-called feud and sees her part as correcting what she believes are journalistic inaccuracies.
“The sniping has been all on her side,” Finke said in a phone interview. “She has gone after me personally, which is unforgivable; she has reported inaccurately about my business, which is despicable. And she has done this without so much as calling me ahead of time for comment. She is a very poor excuse for a journalist; her traffic is tiny, her writers and editors keep walking out the door, and she has made little impact in the entertainment community.”
“She has sharp elbows,” Waxman said of Finke, “but the news flash is, I can have sharp elbows too. When she takes shots at me, I’m not going to be quiet. She is a big bully, and bullies have to be pushed back.”
“I think it’s a pretty one-sided rivalry,” said the L.A. Times’ Goldstein, who is also on the outs with Finke. “Nikki is very threatened by the fact that The Wrap is seeming to make a dent in everybody’s daily dose of Hollywood reading, and anything that Nikki sees as a threat, she will go out of her way to trash.”
Whether or not The Wrap is an actual threat to Deadline Hollywood is hard to say. According to Finke, her Web site had 831,000 unique views last month — more than twice that of The Wrap — though Finke has been around longer. In July, Finke made a piece of blogger history with the sale of Deadline Hollywood to Mail.com. The sale’s price has not been disclosed, but rumors run from $400,000 to $14 million.
Bernard Weinraub, a former New York Times Hollywood correspondent said of Finke: “I think she stepped into a vacuum in terms of reporting in Hollywood. She’s a very, very good reporter, very dogged, very professional and very tough, but she gets news.”
Finke’s sale was significant, coming at a time when online media sites are only guessing at how to turn a profit. Waxman raised $500,000 in seed funding for her site, though she said she’s raised more since then, from Maveron, a venture capital firm based in Seattle and co-founded by Dan Levitan and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. But even as Waxman has seen growing readership and increased Web traffic — she claims The Wrap received 400,000 unique views last month — she cannot claim a profit.
“No start-up companies are profitable in their first year; it just doesn’t happen,” Waxman said.
But if there is one topic that draws visitors to a site, it’s the entertainment business. And while there was a moment when Waxman thought she might abandon Hollywood and return to covering international culture and politics, that didn’t stick. “What pulled me back in was the opportunity to be part of this transformational time in media, because the movies and television are going through the exact same transition as newspapers, in a different way.”
Waxman said she isn’t interested in the glamour of Hollywood, but believes in its economic power and influence on culture.
“I care about what this industry creates,” she said. “I do believe that entertainment matters. I’ve been a foreign correspondent and I’ve seen firsthand the impact that popular culture created by Hollywood has across the globe. It’s not inconsequential.”
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October 14, 2009 | 5:07 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
By Gail Zimmerman
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Detroit Jewish News
“There are thousands of women of a certain age out there who are just one Adam Lambert Google search away from crashing their computers,” Newsweek’s Joan Raymond wrote in a June blog titled Why Cougars Crave Idol Runner-Up Adam Lambert. “The good news is that people who know about these things think that our little Lambert love-fest is downright mentally healthy.”
Raymond goes on to quote sex therapist Laura Berman, director of the Berman Center in Chicago, who says, “I think more women would be happier if they channeled their inner 14-year-old girls once in a while.”
Lambert, Berman believes, somehow manages to be “hardcore, crazy, humble, adorable, charismatic, sweet and mind-blowingly talented,” all in one package. “He’s a study in contrasts, and the gay thing doesn’t matter,” she says. “Anyone who can get women to talk, giggle and get their mojo back is fine by me.”
So you can imagine my excitement when I received an e-mail from the “American Idols Live 2009” press people saying that interviews were available to promote the Idols’ Aug. 26 appearance at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
“Can I get an interview with Adam? He’s the only Jewish Idol in the bunch,” I write. “Sorry, but his schedule is just too hectic.”
The consolation prize? “You can come to the press hour before the concert if you like.” The catch? There’s a 50/50 chance Adam will be there. Only five of the 10 Idols do press before each concert, and there is no way to say in advance who they’ll be.
I decide to take my chances. I come to the Palace on the day of the concert and hope for the best. About six or seven other press outlets are represented, including some local TV and radio stations. We are escorted into a dimly lit room.
A press officer from the AI machine comes in and announces that the Idols will be coming out shortly — not necessarily all at one time — and they would include Adam (thank you, God!). Absolutely no autographs or photos, she says.
She explains that the Idols will rotate around and that the journalists will have to speak with whomever ends up at their table — although we might not get a chance to speak with all of them. “You’ll get about 3½ minutes with each Idol,” she says. “You can ask whatever you want, but I suggest you don’t ask about Paula Abdul. Everyone has been asking about her, and they don’t know anything more about it.”
I go up to her and explain “the Jewish connection” and my desire to speak with Adam. She can’t make any promises.
The Idols trickle out (I don’t see Adam). She brings one over to me and introduces me as “Esther” from the Jewish News. I correct her on my name, and she apologizes. The Idol quickly figures out he isn’t going to get much press from me.
I see a tall figure with asymmetrically cut black hair — wearing jeans and a T-shirt — enter the room. Adam is smiling. Without his stage makeup, he looks younger than his 27 years. I concur with what Adam’s mom, Leila Lambert, said during an interview on ABC’s 20/20: “I always said he was like sunshine. He just walks into a room and he, he just glows.”
I’m talking with another Idol when I see Adam approaching with the publicist. (She must feel badly about calling me Esther.) I wish the Idol well, and he moves on.
The publicist introduces me to Adam. (Like Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, I’d like to say, “Hello, Gorgeous.” But I am trying to maintain some sense of professionalism.)
Adam sits down next to me at the table and shakes my hand. We are face-to-face, sitting about two feet apart. He immediately makes an intense kind of eye contact, which he maintains throughout the interview, making me feel like I’m the only person in the room.
I abandon my notes and, hoping my tape recorder is working, decide to ask my prepared questions from memory. I don’t want to look away; I am having an out-of-body experience.
Adam laughs often and totally engages in the conversation. He is warm, polite, candid, good-natured and quick-witted, with a great sense of humor.
Listen in on our conversation:
Jewish News: Hi Adam, nice to meet you.
Adam Lambert: How are you?
JN: How are you?
AL: I’m very good. Thank you.
JN: Well, Adam, welcome to “the Jewish mom” interview.
AL: Yaaayyy! My people. (Laughing and opening his arms wide.)
JN: Speaking of your people, there are some things your Jewish fans are curious about. Are both of your parents Jewish?
AL: No, my mom is.
JN: The Rolling Stone article said you dropped out of Hebrew school at age 5.
AL: I think I was a little bit older than 5. Probably like 9.
JN: How were you able to sing those songs in Hebrew that everyone’s listened to over the Internet?
AL: Oh. All phonetic. I don’t speak Hebrew. I wasn’t bar mitzvahed, unfortunately.
JN: So did your family celebrate the holidays?
AL: We did celebrate Chanukah as opposed to Christmas. So we stayed true to our roots that way. And we celebrated Passover occasionally. I mean I hate to say it, but we were kind of Jewish by form. Lightly Jewish. Diet Jews. More of a heritage thing.
(True to his heritage, and to the spirit of tikkun olam, Adam has requested that his fans donate to charity rather than buying him gifts. For more on his campaign to help support arts and music in high-need public schools, go to DonorsChoose.org/Adam Lambert.)
JN: I loved the version of Muse’s “Starlight” you sang on Good Morning America and can’t wait to hear you perform it at tonight’s concert.
AL: Thank you.
JN: The song’s lyric, “Black holes and revelations.”
AL: Isn’t that beautiful?
JN: What’s the biggest black hole you’re afraid of falling into?
AL: Obscurity. That would be a shame. That would be a real shame. If I have anything to say about it, it won’t happen no matter what goes on with my career.
JN: What’s the biggest revelation you’ve had?
AL: You know, at the risk of sounding a little bit cliché, that anything’s possible. I really think that, to a point, if you dream something and really visualize it, I think that it can come true. I really do believe that now.
(The AI publicist has her back to me. I surreptitiously ask Adam if he can autograph my copy of “Rolling Stone” with him on the cover. “Ye-ah,” he laughs, as he signs it with the Sharpie pen I’ve brought for the occasion. Don’t be looking for it on e-Bay!)
JN: I know your mom’s going to be working for you.
AL: She’s going to be helping me with administrative stuff. Yeah.
JN: What’s the best piece of unsolicited advice she’s given you lately?
AL: You know, it’s funny [but] my mom doesn’t give me a lot of advice these days. I think it’s kind of in the vein of an unspoken kind of advice. It’s more of a support thing. My dad’s really Mr. Advice.
JN: There’s always one parent who’s like that.
AL: Yeah, yeah yeah. My dad’s my teacher. Teacher-parent.
JN: You have fans that range from age 8 to 80. Do you have grandparents who are alive to see everything that’s happening to you?
AL: Unfortunately, both of my mom’s parents have passed away. My dad’s parents are both alive, and they’ve been blown away by everything that’s been going on. I saw my grandma at one of the California shows. I think she came to the second L.A. show, and she was so sweet. She really enjoyed that.
JN: How is your family dealing with all the peripheral fame that comes along with all of this?
AL: I think they’re doing a pretty good job. Obviously, it’s a big adjustment because there are people trying to get to me through them sometimes, and it’s not something that anybody’s ever prepared to deal with, I don’t think. It’s interesting (laughs) … pretty interesting.
JN: November should be an exciting month for you. Your album is due to be released, and you’ve recorded a song for the film 2012 that will be in theaters about the same time.
AL: Yes, and it’s a really beautiful song. Very inspirational, and the production is gorgeous, very like a great classic rock ballad — very unlike the material that’s going to be on the album actually. The album’s going to be more modern electronic rock-pop, and [the 2012 track] is a more traditional, old school, heartfelt ballad, a little bit more like some of the stuff I did on Idol. The album is going to take what I did on Idol as a reference, and I’m going to launch it into today.
JN: With your album coming out, you’ll have to promote it. Would you like to host Saturday Night Live?
AL: Oh, my God. That would be amazing. That would be so much fun. That would be great. It would be very, very cool.
JN: When you go on the road in support of the album, would you like to tour to Israel?
AL: Yeah. I would love to. I want to go everywhere!
(The publicist puts her finger up for one last question, and I start to play a sort of “Jewish geography.” I ask Adam if he knows a certain family in San Diego, where he grew up.)
AL: Yeah (he says, with a look of surprise). How do you know them?
JN: I don’t. My next-door neighbor asked me to mention it. Her best friend in San Diego has a best friend in San Diego, who is the mom in the family.
AL: Well, her daughter Danielle is my best friend. And [Danielle] was sitting in the audience with my family during the [AI] shows. She’s my best friend in the world!
JN: Six degrees of separation.
AL: There you go! Nice meeting you! A pleasure. Have a good one. Have fun tonight!
Adam Lambert’s debut solo album will be released on November 24.
October 13, 2009 | 1:51 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Jon Gosselin, the embattled reality star of “Jon & Kate Plus 8” has not only fallen in love with another woman; he’s fallen for Judaism.
For several months now, Gosselin has been dating Hailey Glassman, the 22-year-old daughter of his soon-to-be ex-wife’s tummy-tuck surgeon.
“Hailey is Jewish,” he tells parentdish.com about his new girlfriend. “Everyone in my life is Jewish now, my attorney. I love it. I’m now half Jewish and half Korean. The family values are great.”
And we should definitely trust the philandering father of eight to decide family values.
Gosselin and his wife Kate are currently undergoing contemptuous divorce proceedings. After they separated, Gosselin took up residence with Glassman’s parents and soon began cavorting around town with their daughter. By now, it appears Gosselin and Glassman spent the Jewish high holidays together.
I just went through Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur and learned about the new year and every Friday is the Shabbat dinner. I love challah bread. I’m learning about Jewish food, going to Zabar’s. I love that place. I’m learning about kosher and when not to order a bacon, egg and cheese and make an ass of myself. Hailey makes fun of me. My mom came to the city on Yom Kippur and asked where all the traffic was. I got from the West Side to Midtown in five minutes. She wants to come to the city every year on Yom Kippur.
Unfortunately, Gosselin will soon learn that there is never really a good time for bacon, eggs and cheese, although props for respecting Zabar’s. He also mentions to parentdish.com that he has been in touch with rabbi-to-the-stars Shmuley Boteach. Asked if he plans to convert to Judaism, Gosselin said:
I talked to Rabbi Shmuley a couple of times. He has nine kids. I was really nervous dating a Jewish girl. She’s like the best girl ever. All my friends are like ‘I’m so jealous’ and I’m like, ‘Stay away, she’s mine.’
What Gosselin doesn’t realize is that his friends are jealous not because his girlfriend is Jewish, but because her father is a plastic surgeon.
Later this year, Gosselin says he plans to celebrate Chanukah. Bacon latke, anyone?
October 12, 2009 | 5:50 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Dan Glickman, the chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America and an 18-year veteran Democratic congressman from Kansas, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that liberal Jews are losing their edge in Hollywood.
There are “more and more conservative Jewish people in the business,” he told JTA. “Ninety-nine percent of Hollywood is not out defending Roman Polanski. They’re normal people who do their job, work hard and want to help their families as best they can.”
Presumably at JTA’s prodding, Glickman debunks some of our favorite Hollywood-Jewish myths.
For example, “Do Jews-run-Hollywood?” To which Glickman points out that most modern day movie studios are owned by giant corporations that are “not Jewish controlled at all.”
As for a predominance of Jews in entertainment, Glickman reminds us that the bulk of the movie business is oiled by a wide spectrum of ethnic anomalies, from camera operators to delivery truck drivers.
These days, there are few who would argue with the notion that Jewish power in Hollywood just ain’t what it used to be, but that hasn’t stopped a tiny elite from monopolizing the creative executive positions along the upper ranks of the industry.
Glickman, who is 64, was raised in a small Jewish community of 1,000 in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas. He admits he doesn’t get to synagogue often; in terms of observance, he’s a high holiday Jew, though he told JTA he credits Judaism for giving him “a value system of treating people well” and teaching him to “follow the golden rule.”
How sweet. It’s delightful to hear that someone with a mixed Washington-Hollywood pedigree is concerned with virtuousness, but just imagine how BORING Hollywood would be if more people were nice, like Glickman.
“Everyone likes Dan Glickman,” his friend, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Washington director of the American Friends of Lubavitch, told JTA.
Not so, says Nikki Finke, who wrote on her blog in March 2009 that many studio toppers were unimpressed with Glickman.
“The unhappiness focuses on the fact he’s a bad and boring speaker who has not repped the movie business well in Washington,” Finke wrote, quoting one of her many anonymous (and therefore, unverifiable) sources.
“The moguls in particular blame him for not being able to keep those $246M in tax breaks for studios and filmmakers intact within the stimulus package. The thinking is that Glickman, a Democrat like Jack Valenti (although that’s where the comparison ends), got outmaneuvered by Republican lawmakers,” Finke qualified.
To his credit, Glickman told JTA that being Jewish never hurt his career as much as being a Democrat. In 2004, when he took over the MPAA position, he was contending with a Republican president and Republican control of congress, who aren’t exactly adoring fans of Hollywood (Just ask Sarah Palin).
Finke added that she “wouldn’t be surprised if the MPAA looks for a GOP lobbyist” and speculated that Glickman may not hold his post much longer. (During the most recent negotiation, rumor has it Glickman’s contract was extended 18 months.)
To be fair, being well liked in Hollywood is almost as stunning an accomplishment as winning an Oscar. Which is why we’ll have to reserve judgment on Glickman until we speak to him ourselves.
Read more about Glickman from JTA:
October 8, 2009 | 9:18 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
So you’re the next Meryl Streep—but how do you get an agent? Or you’re a writer with a hot, new pilot and no money. Or maybe you’re in film school, and you have no idea what’s next; all you know is that you could be BIG—if only you had the right connections.
Whether you’re trying to break into the business or you’re a passionate cinephile who wants to debunk Hollywood myths (“Do Jews really run Hollywood?” “And how Jewish are they anyway?” “Does Ari Emanuel really have a Biblical ego?”), consider your problems solved.
Jewishjournal.com’s ASK A HOLLYWOOD JEW is going to get all your burning questions answered by Hollywood’s elite. You send us your questions, and we pass them on for answers to the movers, shakers and dealmakers. All you have to do is submit your question to email@example.com and we’ll get the right person in the business to respond. Then we’ll post your question with an answer on our new blog ASK A HOLLYWOOD JEW.
Remember, you don’t have to be Jewish to ASK A HOLLYWOOD JEW….
October 8, 2009 | 2:20 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Much attention is being paid to Rich Ross, the recently crowned Disney studio chief, for snagging one of the most prestigious titles in Hollywood. There has been less news, however, regarding his status as the first openly gay exec to serve in that position.
As Patrick Goldstein notes on The Big Picture blog, Disney is considered one of the most gay friendly studios in Hollywood. It’s theme park branding of the frivolous with fantasy has long been an attraction for gay parades and celebrations. But a gay studio chief at the helm of entertainment’s most family friendly American brand?
“It’s about time!” actor/producer Howard Rosenman told Goldstein. “After all these years, what finally matters is—show me the money! It doesn’t matter what you do with your [penis], just what you do with your job. It’s a new era in Hollywood.”
Rosenman may be right that at the end of the day, only money matters—especially in this economy, where the hunger for bigger box office has trumped a whole lot more than old fashioned cultural prejudice.
And Ross knows how to bring in the green. According to an L.A. Times biography: When Ross joined Disney Channel in 1996, the network reached 14 million households. It is now available in 98 million homes in the U.S. and in 163 countries. Under his tenure, the network fielded such breakout hits as “Lizzie McGuire,” “That’s So Raven,” “Hannah Montana,” “Wizards of Waverly Place” and “Sonny With a Chance.” Disney Channel’s series and made-for-TV movies “High School Musical” and “Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie” have built lucrative franchises, generating $3.6 billion last year in sales of related toys, games, apparel, books and other merchandise.
Still, Goldstein writes, “Disney hasn’t exactly been playing up that Ross is gay,” which he answers with two possibilities. Either “Disney is hoping no one makes a fuss” or “it’s also possible that after all these years, the sexual orientation of a major entertainment executive isn’t big news anymore.”
It’s definitely not big news that Ross is Jewish—that’s a minority status that, at least in Hollywood, enjoys a myth of majority status (in reality, it’s more likely to be an advantage in business and creative power). Like Goldstein says, being gay just isn’t as riveting as it used to be, but let’s not forget it was less than one year ago when California—one of the most liberal states in the country—voted against legalizing gay marriage. (That hasn’t stopped Ross, who lives with his partner of more than 20 years, Adam Sanderson, in the Hollywood Hills.)
If Ross being gay isn’t news in Hollywood, it certainly would be elsewhere in the country. Which leads me to think that Disney wants to be provocative. After all, Dick Cook, its former chief, was largely thought dismissed in order to make way for a Disney image makeover. And with the company’s recent $4 billion acquisition of Marvel Entertainment, a company full of edgy, dangerous comic book characters, Ross may seem the perfect choice to integrate the new brand.
Positioning Ross to makeover Disney’s soft image is a bit ironic, since he hails from the anodyne Disney Channel. Of course its image of wholesomeness is daily subverted by its tween stars, who, off the set, are desperate to claim adulthood. In 2007, “High School Musical” star Vanessa Hudgens, then a tender 19, was caught with nude photos on the Internet. A few months ago, Miley Cyrus, 17, the sweet-singing star of “Hannah Montana” did a pole dance at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards. Disney did little, if anything, to comment or cover up the sexual exploits of its stars, probably because it made them look cool to an older crowd; a child star with sex appeal has a better shot of transitioning into the real Hollywood.
Just like Rich Ross did.
October 7, 2009 | 3:19 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Last week, The Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam released the only known film footage of the young diarist who perished in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, igniting a viral response on the Internet.
The 20 second film was reportedly shot on July 22, 1941, to record the wedding of the Franks’ next door neighbors. About nine seconds into the film, Anne Frank is seen leaning from a window in order to glimpse the bride and groom. Her time on screen is brief but powerful: According to the New York Times, the footage has been viewed on a new YouTube channel more than 1.6 million times in only five days.
You might call that a built in audience for an Anne Frank film. But is Hollywood listening?
The internet firestorm comes at an odd time for Hollywood—or rather, the Walt Disney Company, who recently changed their plans regarding a new film version of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
In August 2009, Variety reporter Mike Fleming announced that Disney had acquired the rights to the film and that Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet would pen the script. But Mamet, who tends to take on controversial politics in his work, transformed the story into a modern tale of anti-Semitism and the script was deemed “too dark” by the family oriented studio.
Two days after the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana, The Wrap published a report illuminating the problem: “The screenplay is not a retelling of the famous Holocaust drama taken from the diaries of Frank, but about a contemporary Jewish girl who goes to Israel and learns about the traumas of suicide bombing.”
In this light, the project does seem an ill fit for Disney, but after the Internet craze that resulted from Frank’s video debut, they might want to reconsider.
Watch the video below:
October 6, 2009 | 5:46 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Rich Ross, the former head of The Disney Channel and newly appointed movie chief for the Walt Disney Company recently spoke to Israel’s Channel 10 about the September 2009 launch of The Disney Channel in Israel. For the report, an Israeli news crew visited the set of Disney’s hit show “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” before meeting with Ross, the executive responsible for the cable channel’s hugely successful franchises, “High School Musical” and “Hannah Montana.”
In his new post as head of worldwide production, distribution and marketing for Disney, Ross becomes movie chief for Disney’s many film labels, including Walt Disney, Touchstone, Miramax and Disney/Pixar.