Posted by Danielle Berrin
That’s what a New York magazine profile of Russian-Jewish actor Anton Yelchin suggests. But thus far, Yelchin is best known for supporting performances in J.J. Abrams’s “Star Trek” and 2009’s “Terminator Salvation”. His next film may change that, since he plays the romantic lead in Drake Doremus’s long-distance love story “Like Crazy” which won the Grand Jury Prize at least year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film is intimate and intense, with scenes that finely detail the nuances of young love, but it fails to boil the blood. While Yelchin plays a lovelorn American separated by immigration law from his British gal-without-a-green-card, he actually seems far more interesting in person, with a penchant for profanity.
“Indie symbolizes that you are not a dominant order? Bullshit!” Yelchin says. The worst, he adds, are “those fashion stores in L.A. that have a music section and a DVD section—everything a cool person should know. Some Godard because he’s French and that’s cool. But not Fellini’s films. Why?”
Throughout the piece, Yelchin rails against capitalism and details an experimental film he’s making about “the clash between commodification and identity”. He states (somewhat ironically) that images are “the most important commodity in our culture.” Acting, he likes, though he is not fond of celebrity or photographs, because they feed into the commodification of images which he distrusts. Observing a scene of college girls sitting in the grass, playing with their iphones, Yelchin posits some dark under-web of disorder brewing beneath the benevolent surface. Logan Hill writes:
He stops talking for just a few seconds, looks around this beautiful day, the college kids lolling in the grass, reading books, reordering playlists on their iPhones. “I mean, you see all those young, pretty girls,” he says. “At least one of them has some crazy, deep-dark weird shit that’s being contained by this capitalist façade. If you just crack through it, it becomes a sea of complete and utter darkness and just chaos. Which is what we are as people, I think.”
On screen, Yelchin comes off with a kind of naive innocence, an almost feminine frailty that is tender and sweet, but lacks the swagger that makes women swoon. Is this leading man material?
The story sets him up that way, because apparently there’s a shortage of those in today’s Hollywood (the same thing is often said about Ryan Gosling who much more aptly fits the bill in my opinion) but Yelchin does not give off that cool, hard masculinity romantic leads require. He’d be better cast as some slightly bizarre computer genius who’s part of an underground anti-government rebellion. He obviously resents power structures.
But even though he speaks about capitalism as if it were a dark, sadistic force, he is clear on his appreciation for what his Russian-Jewish immigrant parents sacrificed so that he could reap the benefits of the American Dream:
“I’m fascinated by how ethnic communities have assimilated into massive capitalist environments,” says Yelchin, reflecting on our walk through junk-filled dollar stores in Toronto’s Chinatown and comparing it to Blade Runner. When Yelchin was 6 months old, his Russian-Jewish parents, Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin, stars of the Leningrad Ice Ballet, moved to California. “There’s no one I respect as much or love as much,” he says. “What they went through? Standing at the edge of an abyss: You don’t know the language, the country; you don’t know if you’re going to get a job because you have this weird profession. You’re an ice-skater! And they just did it, because they didn’t want me having a shitty life.”
The guilt factor was huge. His parents wanted him to be a lawyer or doctor—“that standard Russian-Jewish thing”—and Yelchin says that he became an actor so young in part because he wanted to pay his own bills. “Now part of my guilt is already taken care of.” He loves acting and loves the independence, but he’s troubled by celebrity. “I don’t hang out at trendy Hollywood bars,” he says.
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October 21, 2011 | 3:17 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Hundreds of protesters overtook the sidewalks outside 20th Century Fox Studios on Pico Boulevard and Motor Avenue to protest what they consider objectionable practices being carried out by Rupert Murdoch and his media empire, News Corp. “Occupy Fox Studios” was timed to coincide with the company’s annual shareholder meeting, which was taking place inside, and where, reportedly, some shareholders had planned to introduce a motion against the reappointment of Rupert Murdoch and his sons.
Amid chants of “This is what democracy looks like” and signs that read, “News Corp. is not above the law” a cohort of watchdog groups and media advocacy organizations voiced their grievances with News Corp. over the phone hacking scandal and what they perceive as the company’s outsized political influence.
“Get big media out of politics,” chanted one protestor.
Dave Saldana, communications director for the media reform group Free Press, based in Washington D.C. said, “It is a real danger to democracy when politicians curry favor with news organizations and vice versa, creating a vicious cycle of money, media and politics that leaves the public out of the picture.”
Citing the first amendment, Saldana spoke out against media and government collusion, insisting that the purpose of media is to hold governments accountable. But, he said, it is not News Corp. alone that is to blame. “About five major organizations control all of cable, news, television, internet, radio and film media in this country, and these organizations are not responsible to the public, they’re responsible to shareholders and their interests.”
Saldana said he would like to see shareholders “vote with their conscience and not with their pocketbooks.”
As chants about corporate tyranny and media destruction of democracy continued, Murdoch endured a grilling at the shareholders meeting. According to The Guardian, Tom Watson, the Labour member of British Parliament who led the charge into investigating the News of the World phone-hacking scandal flew to LA promising to hold Murdoch’s feet to the fire. “I want to leave investors in no doubt that News Corporation is not through the worst of this yet and there are more questions for the Murdochs to answer,” he told The Guardian.
At the meeting, Murdoch reportedly said there is “no excuse” for the events that led to the hacking scandal and he promised to continue “confronting” the issue.
“If we hold others to account, then we must hold ourselves to account… which is why we have devoted so many resources to get to the heart of this matter… and why I am personally determined to right whatever wrong has been committed and to ensure that it does not happen again anywhere in our company,” Murdoch said, according to reporters from TheWrap.com who attended the meeting.
On the street, in front of wall-to-wall advertisements for the Fox shows “Glee” and “New Girl” protesters unequivocally called for Murdoch’s resignation.
Brianna Cayo-Cotter, 30, an organizer with the citizen-led web movement Avaaz.org, which coordinates global campaigns concerning myriad issues, said Murdoch and his shareholders have a moral obligation to listen to the voice of the public. “Media is a public good,” Cayo-Cotter said. “[Murdoch] may dismiss this protest, but it would be grossly arrogant for Murdoch to ignore some of his top shareholders.”
Cayo-Cotter said it is an affront to democracy when media organizations are permitted to buy political influence. “News Corp. is without a doubt the largest, most powerful and most dangerous news organization in the world,” she said. “And it is acting in a criminal and deeply irresponsible fashion. No one should own 70 percent of a country’s newspapers.”
Also at the protest, Hollywood Jew ran into rabbis Dara Frimmer and Joel Nickerson from Temple Isaiah, a reform congregation located several blocks from the Fox lot, who had come to check out the commotion.
“There is a deep Jewish tradition to identify people who are marginalized or made invisible and to recognize them,” Frimmer said of the Occupy movement. It is a Jewish imperative, she said, to “bring them back into the center where they can fully participate in our shared community.”
October 19, 2011 | 4:33 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
They call themselves “East Side Jews,” this group of young (and young-ish) artists, writers and self-proclaimed hipsters who crave Jewish community and culture; maybe the occasional, spiced-up Jewish ritual; but not necessarily a Torah service — or a rabbi.
On the Shabbat after Rosh Hashanah, about 100 East Side Jews gathered alongside the Los Angeles river for a mod, urban, earnest version of tashlich.
The event began with meditation. In the Elysian Valley’s Marsh Park, a lawn full of picnicking Jews sat on blankets, in lotus pose, still as stones in the breeze. “Are we here? Are we really here?” a voice whispered into a microphone. “Are your phones in your cars, like they’re supposed to be?” It was Shabbat, after all, so if the concept of halachah didn’t hold much sway in this crowd, scare tactics were a good bet.
“Your phones are drug delivery systems,” the voice continued. “We all have ways of administering amounts of serotonin, but tonight you’ll have to take part in a longer-acting, more-subtle drug — and that is community.”
While the bit felt a little touchy-feely, more new-agey than ancient tradition, the strangest part about this Judaized Buddhist ritual was that everybody was doing it. Even Jay Sanderson, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, went all Zen-like with his eyes closed. After two full days of shul for some, and no shul at all for others, here was a group of Jews searching for their slice of Heschel’s cathedral in time.
Dubbed “Down by the River,” the event roughly marked the East Side Jews’ first anniversary. Created by a cohort of Reboot graduates, many of them members of IKAR, the founders sought a more localized, experimental way of celebrating their Judaism and connecting to community. Jill Soloway, a television writer and producer of the shows “Six Feet Under” and “United States of Tara,” has led the charge, using her penchant for partying and her background in theater to produce events that the screenwriter Micah Fitzerman-Blue calls a “freaky, experimental, post-denominational, re-exploration of ritual form.”
Here’s a smattering of what that means: They held a Havdalah event called “Sacred/Profane” at Spice Station Silverlake, where they dunked homemade french fries in turmeric and curry, drank beer and listened to the Jewish adult-film actress Nina Hartley lecture on “Sacred Sensuality” (even though, technically, that was the profane part). Another time, they celebrated Rosh Hodesh on the rooftop of the Wi Spa, calling it “Once in a Jew Moon,” during which men and women made their way through an Asian-style mikveh and, afterward, gathered under the open sky for Torah study with Rabbi Sharon Brous.
“Stupid Questions” was a midsummer gathering at the Cowboys & Turbans restaurant, where between ethnic food and alcohol, they talked topical issues with stand-up comedian Moshe Kasher, Rabbi Mordecai Finley and Najeeba-Syeed Miller, a Muslim scholar from the Claremont School of Theology.
“We want to see ourselves as the new hub of a resurgent Jewish community on the East Side,” Fitzerman-Blue, 29 and the son of a conservative rabbi from Tulsa, Okla., said. Before East Side Jews, “there really wasn’t anything happening on the East Side that combined the cultural experience that I wanted with the religious affiliation; there wasn’t anything fun to do for a young person without kids who wanted to go be Jewish. And I sure as s—- didn’t want to start a synagogue.”
At least once each month, East Side Jews designs an event around a Jewish holiday, ritual or just plain social activity, giving the gathering an irreverent, artsy and enterprising spin. At last year’s “Down to the River” event, they invited Amichai Lau-Lavie, creator of “Storahtelling,” to entertain them with his theatrical interpretations of Judaic literature. This year, for their spiritual meat, they opted for “flash-mob rabbi,” whereby six people were pre-selected to share stories, poetry and personalized prayers. Fitzerman-Blue wrote a variation on Vidui, the Jewish confessional prayer that is recited aloud on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and, traditionally, just before a person dies. His “Los Angeles Vidui” channeled the humor of a modern, urban crowd (“We cut off that woman in the Trader Joe’s parking lot and flipped off her Ivanhoe honors students in the back seat”), as well as the solemnity of the High Holy Days (“We are so afraid of a moment of sincerity or genuine feeling that we swaddle ourselves in sarcasm”).
East Side Jews like their Judaism — just not too much of it.
“We’re play-acting our own D-I-Y version of a synagogue,” Soloway said. “But without walls; without that wall where everybody, like, donates money and then they have their name up in gold. You know that feeling in a synagogue where people walk in and they feel like, ‘I don’t belong; I don’t have enough money, I don’t know what page we’re on in the prayerbook, I don’t know if I should be sitting or standing …’? There is that feeling in temple, and I think it keeps a lot of people away. And this is something else.”
Though East Side Jews doesn’t keep strict tabs on things like numbers, demographics or even a budget (“We don’t really need any money — most events break even”) Soloway estimates that its core constituency is between ages 18 and 45, and that anywhere from 50 to 150 people show up at each event. While some East Side Jews are affiliated with congregations, particularly IKAR and Temple Israel of Hollywood, many others were previously disaffected from Jewish life entirely. In fact, Soloway opined, the kind of people attracted to East Side Jews are more likely to rebel against things like tradition and religion then partake of them.
Vince Beiser, a journalist who has written for Wired, The Atlantic and The New Republic, counts himself in this group. “I’m not a very synagogue-y Jew, I’m not a Federation-y Jew, I don’t have a lot of money, I’m not plugged into that whole world of machers and group trips to Israel, but I have a very strong Jewish identity,” he said.
Such self-definition is common among this mix. “These are people who have a strong Jewish identity and want to feel connected with Judaism in a way that doesn’t feel overtly traditional or overtly religious,” Soloway said. “It has to feel spiritual instead of religious, cultural instead of traditional.”
Innovative, edgy, artsy, progressive, even a bit weird.
These contemporary buzzwords are music to the ears of some Jewish leaders who desperately want to bring unaffiliated Jews back into the fold.
“We have a major communal issue,” Federation chief Sanderson said during a phone interview. “Which is that most young Jews are not connecting to traditional Jewish institutions — they’re opting out of Jewish life. So one of our top priorities is to figure out a way to engage young people in that age range, and what East Side Jews is doing is pretty cutting-edge.”
So far, Federation has provided East Side Jews with a small grant, funneled to the organization through one of its unofficial partners, the Silverlake Independent JCC, because East Side Jews does not have nonprofit status. Soloway and Sanderson have been talking about ways to grow the organization and move it forward, with Sanderson promising to do “significant things with significant resources.”
The cultural, creative and artistic vibe is so appealing that, in some ways, it could be seen as a threat to certain aspects of Jewish tradition. Who needs synagogue worship when you can meditate in a park? But, on the other hand, what happens when these Jews reconnect with their Judaism and then desire something deeper and more meaningful than French fries and a porn star? Will flash-mob rabbi still satisfy sophisticated intellects that might do well with a piece of Talmud?
“This isn’t going to speak to everybody,” Brous said of some of the community’s offbeat choices. “What they’re doing is providing some good Jewish content to people who didn’t necessarily know they were looking for it, in a way that is not only palatable, but really exciting and interesting. Whether that can sustain itself over a lifetime, I have no idea.”
Put another way, “The downside of East Side Jews and a lot of modern, half-secular takes on Judaism is that they run the risk of being, like, a bunch of Jews getting together and doing whatever they feel like doing, and calling it Judaism,” Beiser said.
The big question — or perhaps the big hope — is that at some point the Jewish learning handed down secondhand will create a longing for the real thing.
“The best thing that can happen, from my standpoint, is that more and more Jews get involved in a way that feels authentic and interesting to them, and then they’re driven to ask questions about a deeper Jewish engagement,” Brous said.
“I think, if anything, it’s going to drive more people to counter-institutional places like IKAR, because once people start to wake up Jewishly, they start to say, ‘Well, where do I go for more?’”
October 19, 2011 | 1:06 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I was so disappointed after I saw this movie because I really liked it (a Cinerama Dome viewing helped), and had wanted to write about it, but the only Jewish angle I could come up with was, ‘Ryan Gosling is gorgeous.’ So that wouldn’t work. But now, thanks to “Drive” producer Marc Platt, the force behind the “Legally Blonde” movies and the theater production of “Wicked”, the film has a solid Jewish angle elucidated in Hebrew script.
It also happens to be good old fashioned entertainment—there’s a little love, a guy who gets his head smashed in, and Albert Brooks looking like he’s had a very tight facelift which makes him even scarier when he wantonly stabs people—so go see it. Not that Hollywood Jew is in the business of movie promotion—not at all.
October 18, 2011 | 6:56 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Last weekend, at the Hamptons Film Festival in Sag Harbor, the actress Susan Sarandon referred to Pope Benedict XVI as a ‘Nazi’.
During an onstage interview with actor Bob Balaban, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Sarandon mentioned she had sent the Pope a copy of “Dead Man Walking”—the empathetic story of a man on death row, which was made into a film starring Sarandon and Sean Penn. Asked to clarify which Pope she sent it to, Sarandon said, “The last one, not this Nazi one we have now.”
The comment prompted the usual outrage from the usual folks, because it was a stupid thing to say. While it is true that the German-born pope, Joseph Ratzinger, was conscripted into the Hitler Youth at age 14—“along with every other young German boy,” as Catholic League of America president William Donohue pointed out—but he was apparently, as his Wikipedia entry puts it, an “unenthusiastic member”.
According to a 2005 profile in USA Today, Ratzinger and his family secretly listened to Allied radio broadcasts during the war. “It was a small and risky act of defiance in this conservative Bavarian village deep inside Adolf Hitler’s Germany,” the article noted, adding, “people who knew the Ratzingers said they were never willingly part of the Nazi machine.” Phew. The young Joseph Ratzinger was apparently so preoccupied with seminary studies, he didn’t have the time to attend Nazi-grooming meetings. “He was very certainly not for Hitler,” someone from his village was quoted as saying. “You could try to avoid [being conscripted] but it was very, very difficult,” said another. According to the article, Pope Benedict addressed his involvement in his autobiography, “Salt of the Earth” by reassuring readers he deliberately skipped meetings.
Pope Benedict is not a Nazi. But does Susan Sarandon have any idea of what a Nazi is? Because if she did, she might not make such a stupid and wildly hyperbolic comparison. Whether this suggests profound historical ignorance on her part or savage hatred of the Pope, it is alarming either way. Since when does disagreeing with papal policy warrant insult of this scale?
And yet, the impulse to cry Nazi at anyone who is perceived as objectionable or unlikable is common in our culture. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has even taken to chronicling all the various instances in which seemingly sane and well adjusted people start calling other seemingly sane and well adjusted people Nazis. On his blog, Goldberg keeps a running list—“Nazis Everywhere”—of the myriad mindless (mis)uses of the term. It is, he writes, “a way of proving the obvious point, which is that people reaching for insults should find something better than Nazi.”
A Nazi is a cruel, cold-hearted, mass-murderer. A Nazi forces 6 million Jews into burning ovens, suffocating showers and mass graves. A Nazi acts out brutality and violence of the most savage kind, making no distinction between man, woman, child, elder or infirm - humane or inhumane.
If you don’t like someone, call them an a—hole.
October 18, 2011 | 5:05 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The superwoman, superagent Sue Mengers, a Hollywood legend not just in her own time but for all time, died last weekend at around age 80. As Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who broke the news of Mengers’s death, noted: no one knew how old she really was.
“Wikipedia has her age at 81. She claimed 78—and to the end she was sticking by her story. (In an email after Sue’s death, one friend imagined Sue coming back; just to correct the record of her age.),” Carter wrote. “She was a girlish 70-plus, who never looked her age—and with an ever-present joint in her hand, she didn’t act it either.”
Evinced by the obituaries that recalled her life, Mengers was that storied female trailblazer in a male-dominated industry. She was a bonafide female icon; but not because she exemplified the possibilities for female success—because she was so good at what she did, she blazed past men who weren’t half as ingenious or driven. In her heyday, Mengers not only inhabited a room of her own, she was queen of the castle.
But of the many glamorous obituaries that marked her death, few were honest enough to admit the extraordinary sacrifices she made for her throne. Most depicted her unparalleled career, her singular-style, her superstar friends. As Hollywood is known to do, substance is traded for sheen. And some of her staunchest fans – Carter and Nikki Finke among them—may have falsely glorified a life that was grand, yes, but also gloomy.
Mengers had scores of famous clients, but no kids. She was a showstopper in the 1970s but became reclusive and ill by the mid-90s. The final days of her career, which played out at the former William Morris Agency, were marred by failed attempts and excessive pot-smoking. She died not at all disgraced, but diminished.
Writing on the New Yorker blog, Richard Brody drew attention to a darker, more lonesome side to Mengers’s life. Susan Orlean, another New Yorker writer, wrote on her blog that, “interviewing Sue Mengers was one of the saddest experiences of my professional life.” Brody unearthed Orlean’s 1994 profile of Mengers and agreed that it was indeed, heartbreaking.
Back then, Mengers told Orlean: “I couldn’t imagine more to life than getting a good part for Nick Nolte…. I never had children…. I didn’t think I could be both a great agent to Barbra Streisand and be a mother to a kid. I chose Streisand. I wouldn’t choose Streisand if I could do it again.”
Brody also clipped her remarks (or rather, qualms) about signing a then-unknown client named Dustin Hoffman, describing “the cynical way she went about the work for which she sacrificed too much”:
“I had no interest in unknowns,” Mengers told Orlean in the 94 profile. “Anyone can sign an unknown. Only a big agent can sign a big star. I was sent Dustin Hoffman when he was starting out. My attitude was: What do I want with this short, inarticulate, mumbling actor? I sent a sarcastic note to that effect. I was only interested in superstars.”
Mengers had come a long way for the holy dreamdust of Hollywood. Born in Hamburg, Germany at the dawn of World War II, Mengers was, in the words of Graydon Carter, “a Holocaust baby.” She and her family fled to the United States, settling in New York. “Nobody in her family spoke English, and like so many immigrants, she set her sights on a career in show business,” Carter wrote. “By the early 70s, she was not only the most powerful female agent in Hollywood; she was the town’s most powerful agent, period.”
Over the course of her nearly 40-year career, she represented the creme de la creme of the entertainment industry. Her client list included Barbra Streisand, Candice Bergen, Michael Caine, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Cher, Joan Collins, Burt Reynolds, Nick Nolte and superstar directors like Mike Nichols, Peter Bogdanovich, Brian De Palma, Bob Fosse, and Sidney Lumet. She liked to call movie stars “sparklies”.
Joan Hyler, a talent manager and former agent, counts herself among Mengers’s proteges. The two women met in New York in the 1970s when Hyler was working as an agent’s assistant at ICM, and Mengers was the agency’s crown jewel. “She was a great influence on me,” Hyler said. “She was probably the most powerful agent in the business when I first began, a kind of queen-of-the-west. She was like a character out of a Western: head of the ranch.”
Hyler said she and Mengers would dine together when Mengers was visiting New York. Two years Hyler’s senior, Mengers introduced her “to some important people.” Though she could be fierce when she needed to be, Hyler remembers her fondly: “She had humor and she had a dirty mouth,” Hyler said. Professionally, she was “unstoppable”; personally, “romantic”; she could “play like the boys”, act like a “trickster” and “would do anything to get her clients a job.”
But rather than compete with other women, Hyler said Mengers was confident enough and successful enough to played the role of mentor. “In an age when women were supposed to be ladylike, she came screaming out of the ‘Mad Men’ era,” Hyler said. “She made it permissible for a woman to be not just successful, but aggressive and smart. She was very generous to other women. Except there was only one Queen Bee and that was her.”
Stories of Mengers’ tough wit and ballsy brazenness are legion.
In her obituary of Mengers, Nikki Finke recalled some of the leading lore:
There was the story about the time Mengers dropped her card in a star’s soup at Sardis. Or pulled up at a stoplight next to Burt Lancaster, rolled down her window, and offered to represent him. And then there was the day Mengers dropped by director Otto Preminger’s New York office and declared, “I’m the only agent who actually gives head if you hire the client.”
As a woman in a man’s world, Mengers had to be creative, edgy and unabashed to get attention. In 1963, after she left her job as a fledgling agent at William Morris Agency, deciding to strike out on her own, she employed some pretty wild gestures to get noticed, according to Nikki Finke: Once, she rented a mink coat in order to approach a producer at dinner; another time, she called Sidney Lumet – at midnight—to pitch him a client (“If you’re this pushy,” Lumet reportedly told her. “I want you to be my agent.”); if people wouldn’t return her calls, she’d send “funny telegrams.”
She told Finke: “No one knew who I was, and nobody cared. And, in order to make an impact, I guess I became outrageous.”
“There are really two kinds of agents in this business,” Hyler said. “Those that love power and those that love their clients—and she was both.”
Finke observed, “Her enemies dismissed her as loud, overbearing and vulgar. But to the stellar list of above-the-title clients in her heyday, Mengers was therapist, confessor, Jewish mother, best friend and unflagging chief advocate.” Even Finke appears to have felt something of a kinship with Mengers, having traded in her signature snark to write a lengthy and heartfelt obituary that revealed just as much about the writer as about her subject. Finke, like Mengers, is famously reclusive and reportedly suffers from seemingly chronic ailments. But she took a rare break from her self-imposed isolation to visit with Mengers at her home. Did she see some of herself in the beleaguered star? “It didn’t take pop psychology to see how much of Mengers’ ballsiness was simply a cover for the scared and insecure little girl inside,” Finke wrote.
As Mengers succumbed to illness and isolation, her star shone less and less. If you wanted to see her, Graydon Carter remarked, “You had to go to her.” From the 80s on, Mengers hosted star-studded and super-exclusive Hollywood salons that brought together actors, directors, writers, journalists and intellectuals. “Dinner at Sue’s was like stepping into a Hollywood you imagined, but almost never experienced,” Carter wrote. “Her house was a John Woolf jewel, with great California Regency doors, and a living room that looked over a largely unused, egg-shaped pool. Everyone came to Sue’s.
“For visiting friends from the East, like Fran Lebowitz, Frank Rich, Alex Witchel, Lorne Michaels, Maureen Dowd, and Alessandra Stanley, she rolled out the single-name stars: Warren, Jack, Barbra, Elton, Ali, Anjelica, Bette, Sting, and Trudy, along with friends with last names like Geffen, Diller, Poitier, Lansing, Friedkin, Semel, Lourd, and Zanuck,” Carter wrote.
Mengers was an illustrious industry figure who fit—and helped define—Hollywood mythos about glamour, power and character. But the portraits of exaltation mask the fact that Mengers, like everyone else, had deep, unrealized yearnings. And even though she was widely respected and praised, Hyler said her peers never adequately recognized her.
“She gave a big legacy to other women, and yet she never got her due,” Hyler said with a touch of melancholy. “When I ran Women in Film in the 80s, I wanted to give her an award and she refused; she was very rueful about it. She said, ‘It’s too little, too late.’”
Although Mengers legend endured within the industry, she never achieved the kind of status that might have made her a household name. She shattered the glass ceiling, but some part of her got lost in its refracted light.
October 17, 2011 | 11:04 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
“I’d like to put you all at ease,” said Rabbi Uri D. Herscher, founder of the Skirball Cultural Center in the opening moments of a memorial tribute to the late Edie Wasserman, who died last August at age 95. “I’ll not be repeating my high holiday sermon today.”
One week after Yom Kippur, Herscher called upon the 400-plus crowd gathered at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Oct. 14 to “celebrate the immortality of memory” and pay tribute to a woman oft referred to as Hollywood’s “first lady,” the wife of legendary movie mogul Lew Wasserman, who died in 2002. Among those in attendance were Bill and Hillary Clinton, House Minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), former California governor Gray Davis and numerous Hollywood heads-of-state, including Michael Eisner, the former chief of the Walt Disney Company, Frank Mancuso, former chairman of Paramount Pictures, CBS chief Les Moonves and Universal Studios topper Ron Meyer.
Though she realized her own power through marriage, Edie Wasserman was no ordinary wife.
Remembered as forceful, feisty, witty and wise, a larger-than-life personality with magnetic appeal, Wasserman was portrayed by those who knew her as the consummate philanthropist and a champion of Democratic politics. Speaking to the ethos of his grandparents’ lifelong commitment to causes, Casey Wasserman, 50, quoted the former UCLA Basketball coach John Wooden, who said, “’You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who can never repay you’—that was Poppie and that was Edie,” he said.
But while Lew had the high-profile position of prestige as studio chief of MCA (now Universal), Edie was often referred to behind-the-scenes as “The General.” According to those who eulogized her – among them the actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who was the Wasserman’s goddaughter, Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, Pelosi and the Clintons—it was Edie who called the shots. She raised more than $100 million for the Motion Picture and Television Fund, endowed scholarship funds at both UCLA and CalArts, was instrumental in the development of Cedars Sinai hospital and most recently named the Edie and Lew Wasserman Building at UCLA, a six-story, 100,000-square-foot eye research center designed by architect Richard Meier which will also house neurosurgery and urologic oncology departments.
On the political side, Edie and Lew were the go-to Democratic donors in Hollywood. They were known for hosting lavish and exclusive fundraising parties that established firm ties between Washington and Hollywood; nearly every major political figure to come out of the Democratic party in the past three decades had dinner with Edie and Lew.
On her first visit to the Wasserman estate in 1981, Nancy Pelosi, the then-chair of the California Democratic Party was told by a friend, “Abandon your suits—you’ve got to dress for Edye.” Praising the Wassermans as “a great American family,“ Pelosi drew on the similarities between politics and entertainment. “One thing that politics and the movie business have in common is that we’re both in the American dream business,” she said. “Both entertainment and politics use their imaginations to lift spirits and bring ladders of inspiration and opportunity to people.”
The Wassermans were also early supporters of the Clintons, who in addition to their in-person appearance, delivered funny, heartfelt tributes that bespoke not only a political relationship, but also friendship.
In the 1980s, when Bill was Governor of Arkansas, he had the idea that movie production could bring attention and revenue to the state, so he called Lew and asked for a meeting. “He was probably so aghast that some red-necked kid would do that, so he said ‘yes.’” Clinton joked that he was terrified of both Wassermans and remembered calling Hillary after the meeting to say, “I think I was on a fool’s errand but they made me like it.”
In 1992, when Bill was running for president, the Wassermans hosted a dinner for him. As always, Edie sat him strategically – between Rupert Murdoch and Tom Cruise. “Consider this your introduction to Judeo-Scientology,” she told him.
“Edie Wasserman proved it was possible for people well into their 90s to be sexy,” Clinton said. Even in old age, she could “cause people to have a crush on her,” he said. “There was something magical about her.” Bill said he believes her ability to live so long and well came from “a remarkable blend of mind and heart.”
But Hillary, who captivated the crowd with her regal elegance, appreciated Edie Wasserman for an entirely different reason. “She was sparkly, gritty, graceful and gracious,” she said. “Her life mirrored the story of women in 20th century America. She kept one foot planted firmly in the world of her husband, but kept the other foot firmly in how it really happened.”
“People didn’t privately call her ‘the general’ for nothing,” Hillary continued. Her strength was that “she focused on a few things and did them very well. She didn’t expend her energy in every direction – she harnessed it. ”
“I was personally very touched about how excited and committed she was to my presidential campaign. She really did understand what a historic campaign that was – an African American and a woman. She told me, “It would have been a great movie.”
As Jamie Lee Curtis put it, “[Edie and Lew] were the end of an era. And the world is way better because of them.”
October 14, 2011 | 12:40 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Fear of failure is something with which most human beings struggle.
Even greatness is not exempt from defeat. Which is one of the reasons I was struck by Aaron Sorkin’s reminiscence of Steve Jobs in last week’s Newsweek, which illustrated, more than anything else, how even great men struggle with self-doubt. Most would agree that both Sorkin and Jobs orbit the realm of serious accomplishment, but also, over the course of their careers, both have fallen short and suffered setbacks.
It has often been said that the true barometer by which we measure success must also include how well we endure our failures; Jobs was outstanding because he had ample reason to feel discouraged—from the messy way he entered the world to the painful rejection that came from the company he started—and yet, he persevered. The kinship Sorkin felt with Jobs is obvious in the excerpt below: Here are two ordinary men who live (and lived) very public lives, who both endured their successes, failures and foibles publicly. As many in Hollywood can attest, it takes a great deal of courage to live out one’s life on a stage over which they have little control. It takes even greater courage to fail on that stage, to not be discouraged by popular opinion or public feedback and to continue to walk the path that feels true.
In the now famous commencement address Jobs delivered at Stanford, he spread a message of “Don’t settle.” You have to be a little bit crazy to believe in dreams and chase after fantasies, especially after you’ve fallen, but the way to achieve big things often requires just that, or as Jobs exhorted, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
The second-to-last call I got from Steve came the day a television series of mine was canceled. “I just want to make sure you’re not discouraged,” he said. Why would an almost stranger take even 60 seconds out of his day to make that call? It had to have been because he was an awfully nice man. And that he knew what it felt like to blow it on a big stage.
But it’s his last call I’ll always remember. He wanted me to write a Pixar movie. I told him I loved Pixar movies, I’d seen all of them at least twice and felt they were small miracles, but that I didn’t think I’d be good at it.
STEVE: Why not?
ME: I just—I don’t think I can make inanimate objects talk.
STEVE: Once you make them talk they won’t be inanimate.
ME: The truth is I don’t know how to tell those stories. I have a young kid who loves Pixar movies and she’ll turn cartwheels if I tell her I’m writing one and I don’t want to disappoint her by writing the only bad movie in the history of Pixar.
Read the rest at The Daily Beast