Posted by Danielle Berrin
If my story on SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg didn’t make it clear, let me be frank: The Screen Actors Guild engenders a political malice in its leadership that could rival any competitor in Washington. The downside is that SAG lacks the political savvy that actually gets things done. Which is why is has taken almost a full year for SAG to negotiate a contract that will serve its 120,000 members into the age of new media—or at the very least, for the next three years.
SAG contracts expired last June and it has taken until now for there to appear any glimmer of resolution. But alas, the Hollywood trades are reporting that a closely split vote by SAG’s national board approved a contract that its hundred-thou plus membership will have to ratify.
Over the course of 2008, SAG was scheduled to negotiate eight separate contracts. By 2009, Hollywood’s largest union had resolved a grand total of zero. After an epic year in which SAG saw its leadership humiliated, its sister/“rival” union AFTRA alienated, and its pesky stars assume a mostly ineffectual role, the day of resolution may be near.
Will SAG live to see its happy ending?
The biz is breathing a little easier now that SAG is on the verge of finalizing a film and TV contract with the majors.
But the end of this tortuous yearlong negotiation process hardly means the end of strife within the Screen Actors Guild. The battles that raged internally and externally over the contract only heightened the intensity of the political and ideological conflicts that engulf SAG’s various factions.
The stage is thus set for more brawling in the next few months as campaigning for the guild’s fall election of officers—including a possible successor to Alan Rosenberg as national prexy—and board members gets under way. The campaigning is sure to turn on two polarizing issues that go to the heart of SAG’s biggest headaches: the prospect of a merger with rival thesp union AFTRA, and the question of implementing qualified voting on guild contracts.
The fall election will be an important barometer of how SAG’s 120,000 members feel about the state of their union. But the political infighting won’t be settled even if there’s a landslide victory by candidates aligned with the Unite for Strength faction, the moderates who have effectively opposed the Rosenberg-led Membership First wing since UFS won seven seats on the national board last fall. SAG’s Balkanization is too deeply rooted to be overcome in one election. This predicament has led some longtime SAG-watchers to conclude that the guild is in danger of becoming “ungovernable” in its current state.
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April 17, 2009 | 6:20 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Not since The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy has America been so ripe for the ribbings of a new comedy team. Next week’s Tribeca premiere of “Whatever Works,” a film that unites Woody Allen and Larry David—two of the zaniest, brilliant and comedic Jews in showbiz—is bound to bemuse, delight and exasperate. The topic is love. The backdrop is New York. And the star is neurotic. Of course it’s Woody Allen—but better, with Larry David standing in as his alter ego.
The film’s message is that sometimes, the wrong love is the right one. An apropos theme, from two minds that are routinely accused of flagrant nihilism. But that’s not how they see it. It’s realism, Allen explains. “As long as you’re not hurting anybody … or doing anything that’s causing any mischief or hurting anyone or anything awful, that whatever works to get through your life is fine. All the nonsense about what one should be doing and shouldn’t be doing and what’s quote unquote appropriate according to what I call the appropriate police—it’s nonsense. It’s a tough scuffle through life,” Allen tells The New York Observer. He co-wrote the script more than three decades ago with Brooklyn Jewish comedian Zero Mostel, but after Mostel’s death, buried it in a drawer. Years later and sick of London, Allen turns to Larry David to resurrect his artistic affair with New York. And from early accounts, David does so with a bubbling swirl of angst, cynicism and ribaldry.
Sara Vilkomerson spoke to the two middle-aged, Jew-hunks for her story in The New York Observer.Ordinarily gun shy, Allen opens up: “I can’t ever say I’ve been happy with my films,” he said quietly. “It’s always the same story: I set out to make them and I’m setting out to make, you know, the greatest thing ever made. Citizen Kane or Othello. But by the time I’ve finished, when the compromises set in, and I’ve screwed this up artistically and I couldn’t get that actor and I didn’t have enough money for this, and I guessed wrong on this joke … by the time I put the picture together, I’ve gone from being sure that I was going to make the next great American masterpiece to just praying that it won’t be an embarrassment.” David explains his outlook: “..I suspect I’m probably more pessimistic about the smaller things: The relationship won’t work out, Obama will lose, the Yankees will lose, the movie will bomb—things like that. People won’t watch ball games with me because I’m so pessimistic. I’m no fun to be around.” More from “The Unshine Boys”:
So, a new Woody Allen movie starring Larry David filmed right here in New York City. Could there be a more deep-fried mix of talent, comedy and neuroses? For most of us, Woody Allen is as quintessential New York as the Chrysler Building. Many New Yorkers grew up with a vision of this city spun by Annie Hall and Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters, where the skyline always twinkles and romance lurks around every limestoned corner; where brainy, nervous men charm young and naïve beautiful women in grand prewar apartments lined with bookshelves; where there are country weekends with lobsters to chase and always—always—love to find and fail. And then there’s Larry David, another Brooklyn boy made good, co-creator and writer of Seinfeld, which defined New York all over again in the ’90s, with its exquisite, endless examinations and sweating of the small stuff—soup Nazis, being master of the domain, parking garages and puffy shirts. Since his 1999 HBO special Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the still-airing series that followed, he’s made performance masterpieces of excruciating situations. The news that he was to star in Mr. Allen’s latest had some rubbing their hands in anticipatory delight, others sharpening their knives, all anxious to see if Mr. David could pull off the ultimate as a Woody misanthropic paradigm. ... The title refers to a rather pragmatic philosophy when it comes to our treacherous human hearts, namely that if you should find something or someone in your life that makes you happy, go with it—regardless if it might appear, at first glance, to be all wrong. “I do believe in that strongly myself,” Mr. Allen said. “As long as you’re not hurting anybody … or doing anything that’s causing any mischief or hurting anyone or anything awful, that whatever works to get through your life is fine. All the nonsense about what one should be doing and shouldn’t be doing and what’s quote unquote appropriate according to what I call the appropriate police—it’s nonsense. It’s a tough scuffle through life,” he said. “A tragic situation. Whatever gets you through—as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else—is fine.” Whatever Works has its fair share of dark corners, but audiences may be pleasantly surprised at its ultimately sunny rom-com message. It’s strange to think that Mr. Allen wrote this film decades ago, long before we learned far too much about his own private romantic struggles (though its doctrine is an easy leap from his infamous “The heart wants what it wants” remark to Time magazine in 1992 amidst the Mia/Soon-Yi scandal). “I think my philosophy has been consistent over the years, and it appears either persuasive or idiotic depending on how good the film is,” he said. “If I make a film and the film itself works, then I feel people come away saying, ‘Gee, the philosophy here makes sense.’ And if I make a film where I’ve struck out and I’ve made bad artistic choices and the film is not good, then they think, ‘His ideas are stupid and narcissistic and irrelevant.’ But really the ideas have always been the same … it’s just that I’ve failed artistically.” ... “I don’t know Woody that well, but it’s pretty obvious it’s at least a bit of some of who Woody is,” Mr. David said. “He must have seen something in me to make a passable stand-in for him.” Mr. David said he had brought Annie Hall home recently for his 14-year-old daughter to watch. “She couldn’t get through it because [Woody’s character] reminded her too much of me. She can’t watch me, either. As far as I know, we’re the only two people she’s said that about.”
April 13, 2009 | 10:29 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
For a time, Phil Spector was considered one of the most successful producers in rock and roll history. Though he produced some of the most effervescent music of his generation—the Ronettes “Be My Baby,” the Crystals “Da Do Ron Ron,” the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” and perhaps most notably, John Lennon’s “Imagine”—the Bronx-born Jew battled crippling inner demons.
Earlier today, Spector was convicted of murdering B-movie actress Lana Clarkson, who had achieved something of a cult status after starring in exploitation films. Unable to find much acting work at age 40, Clarkson took a job as a hostess at the House of Blues to make ends meet. It was there that she met Spector, who promptly invited her for a drink at his mansion. Hours later, she was found dead in his foyer from a gunshot fired in her mouth.
Though he pled not guilty, Spector has over the years, fessed up to insurmountable private pain.
According to a story in the Telegraph, Spector was unleashing demons just a month before the murder:
“People tell me they idolize me, want to be like me,” Spector said in an interview with the Telegraph magazine in December 2002, just five weeks before the killing of Lana Clarkson. “But I tell them, ‘Trust me, you don’t want my life’. Because it hasn’t been a very pleasant life. I’ve been a very tortured soul. I have not been at peace myself. I have not been happy.”
The Telegraph story also attributes his suffering to a toxic (but Jewish) upbringing:
Much of this unhappiness could be traced back to his childhood. Spector was born into a working-class Jewish family in the Bronx, New York, the son of a steelworker. When he was nine-years-old his father committed suicide, leaving him to be brought up by an overbearing mother who alternately smothered and bullied him.
Spector is due for sentencing on May 29 and was denied interim bail. The Associated Press reports that second-degree murder carries a penalty of 15 years to life in prison with the use-of-a-gun adding three, four or 10 years in prison.
Read more about The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector in the Telegraph:
Spector was a visionary who dreamed of creating a sound never before heard in pop. He approached making records like a general waging war, assembling armies of musicians and singers to create the dense, echoing ‘Wall of Sound’ that would become his trademark. Spector became, uniquely, a bigger star than any of the artists he produced - ‘the first tycoon of teen’ in the memorable phrase of the writer Tom Wolfe.By 1966, Spector’s reign at the top of the American charts was over. When his most extravagant production ever, Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep Mountan High, failed to dent the American charts, he was crushed. He retired to his mansion to brood; married his protege Ronnie Bennett, the lead singer of the Ronettes, and, consumed with jealously, kept her a virtual prisoner in the home. In 1970, his career was briefly given a new lease of life when he was invited to finalise production on the Beatles’ last album, Let It Be. .
Through the Seventies, Spector worked only intermittently, producing albums by Leonard Cohen, Dion DiMucci and, finally, in 1979, the Ramones. By now his reputation for waywardness had all but eclipsed any acknowledgement of his extraordinary accomplishments as a producer. Stories abounded of his drinking, of scenes in restaurants, of, most ominously, of his prediliction for guns. He would habitually wear a shoulder-holster around the home, and he seldom left home without one. Recording with John Lennon he let off a live round into the ceiling of the studio. Recording Leonard Cohen, he approached the singer clutching a bottle of Jewish ritual wine in one hand and a pistol in the other, which he shoved into Cohen’s neck, whispering ‘Leonard, I love you.’
Cohen with admirable aplomb, simply moved the barrel away, saying ‘I hope you do, Phil’.
He also displayed an apparently pathological fear of being left alone.
Stories abounded of him refusing to allow visitors to his mansion to leave, locking the doors and warning that his guard dogs would savage them. A central plank of the case against him was the testimony of five women who claimed that a drunken Spector had threatened them with guns when they tried to leave.
Read Amy Wallace’s story about the rise and fall of Lana Clarkson:
Ms. Clarkson, 40, had starred in a number of films made by the king of the B-movies, the producer and director Roger Corman. Her occasionally topless roles in films like “Amazon Women on the Moon” and “Barbarian Queen” had won her a cult following. But she had to work as a hostess at a Sunset Strip club to pay the bills. And it was at that club, the House of Blues, where the police say she met Mr. Spector the night she died.
Just days earlier, the actress had delivered a new set of photos and resumes to her agent, who was lining up auditions for television sitcoms. “We were getting ready for pilot season,” said the agent, Ray Cavaleri. “She realized she was no longer the ingenue. But she was fine with it. She said, ‘Now I can go for the comedy, go for the more character kind of roles.’ ”
“She had to take the job at the House of Blues because she needed the money,” Mr. Cavaleri said. “But she looked at it as a positive. She was working one of the
private rooms, so she was networking, meeting the top people.” After 20 years in the business, Ms. Clarkson knew that Hollywood is all about relationships. And as a B-movie queen searching for a mainstream job, she also had to know this: She needed all the help she could get.
April 13, 2009 | 1:38 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Like many dreamers across the globe, a slew of Israeli stars are abandoning stable careers in Israel for bigger dreams in Hollywood.
This isn’t exactly new. The whole history of Hollywood is peppered with infusions of ethnic talent. Nearly every actor who achieves onscreen success in their native country then aspires to the pinnacle of cinematic achievement in Hollywood.
The Forward’s Rebecca Spence recently reported about a wave of Israeli actresses—Ayelet Zurer, Gal Gadot and Noa Tishby were three names noted—ascending Hollywood’s thorny ranks to wider mainstream success. This, even during a period of political confusion in the relationship between Israel and Hollywood (though Spence makes no mention of or reference to the fraught history of Israel/Hollywood relations). In the days of Lew Wasserman, it was practically an initiation rite to visit/support/advocate for Israel, but the present era of Hollywood has looked less favorably upon the Jewish State. What struck me was Spence’s assertion that an ever fickle Hollywood is embracing Israel (a new, niche market) purely for economic opportunity.
Well, for that and that the actresses mentioned happen to be beautiful and talented.
From The Forward:
The phenomenon, which also includes the newfound fascination with Israeli models — think Bar Refaeli on the cover of the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and Esti Ginzburg on the issue’s inside pages — is part of a wider trend of Hollywood embracing the Jewish state as a land of business opportunity. Last year, American networks began buying up Israeli sitcom formats in droves, beginning with the HBO show “In Treatment,” which Tishby, in the role of co-executive producer, successfully brought across the Atlantic. Another example is “Mythological X,” which became CBS’s “The Ex List,” before it was canceled last fall. More shows are on their way.
At the same time, Israeli films are making a splash in America, with movies like “The Band’s Visit” and the animated feature “Waltz With Bashir” receiving critical acclaim — and, in the case of “Waltz With Bashir,” an Oscar nomination. The impending stardom of Israel’s leading ladies may simply be the natural next step.
“Hollywood loves the next cool thing,” said Danny Sussman, a talent manager at the L.A.-based Brillstein Entertainment Partners. “And because of all of the series and all of the films from Israel, artists coming here and crossing over is now the next cool thing.”
It’s no secret that Israel is full of drop-dead gorgeous women, and in a business dominated by sex appeal, that can’t hurt. But the success of Israeli actresses, Hollywood insiders say, is about more than their exotic good looks.
Sussman pointed out that in Israel, where theater has as much prestige as it does in places like New York and London — unlike in Los Angeles — actors often get their training on the stage.
April 8, 2009 | 5:39 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
One look at the cover of US Weekly and you’ll understand why Lindsay Lohan needs God more than ever.
Lohan’s girlfriend of two years, deejay Samantha Ronson of a Long Island Jewish family, broke off the relationship earlier this week. The two women had been living together in the Hollywood Hills and had been seen jet-setting around the globe throughout their relationship. Last February, reports swirled that the couple was synagogue shopping for a rumored wedding ceremony, and Lohan declared her intent to convert to Judaism.
But all that hangs in the balance now, as Lohan is outright humiliated and weeping to the only people who will listen—the press.
I can’t help but feel pangs of pity for a young woman who is utterly lost, with no inner resources or support system to help her through. And I can’t help but think about the metaphor for enslavement on the eve of Pesach. Because even though Lohan is old enough to take responsibility for her choices, she is also the victim of an oppressive industry, an unrelenting media and to her own unchecked values. And we’re to blame too, because I write the headlines and you read them.
From US Weekly:
In the newest issue of Us Weekly, Lindsay Lohan opens up about her heartbreaking split from Samantha Ronson, the “humiliating” weekend showdown with Ronson’s family, and says that friends’ fears she is suicidal are unfounded.
“It’s absolute hell,” Lohan told Us on Monday in a far-ranging interview over several lengthy phone calls and emails where she was both agitated, crying and baffled by the turn of events.
Ronson broke it off with her girlfriend of nearly two years last Friday, and hired five security guards to keep Lohan out of an afterparty for her sister Charlotte at the Chateau Marmont.
“The worst night of my life,” Lohan—who was staying directly one floor above the Ronsons with her mom Dina and sister Ali—tells Us.
The next day, Ronson changed the locks on the Hollywood Hills home she shared with Lohan. On Monday, Ronson’s mom and sister asked police about obtaining a restraining order against Lohan, Beverly Hills Sgt. Nutall confirms to Us.
“Everyone’s turned on me,” says the actress. She tells the magazine that the night of the Chateau showdown, Nicole Richie walked by her and said “Uck,” and Drea De Matteo said, “Come at me, bitch.”
April 7, 2009 | 4:48 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
With 43 credits to her name, you’d assume Shirly Brener is busy as an actress.
And that would be true: By the end of 2009, she’ll have starred in 11 films, one of which, she is also producing. Her impressive Hollywood resume is probably why Esquire magazine just named her one of the top 5 hottest Israeli women in their April 2009 issue. One glimpse of her ribbed abs in a sexy bikini pose and you get the obvious: she’s beautiful, ostensibly all-American and willing to take her clothes off.
But that would leave out other exotic facts: For example, that she’s married—to screenwriter/architect/painter Bruce Rubenstein (who ran Mickey Rourke’s production company during Rourke’s notorious heyday). Or that with a petite 5’5’’ frame, she gained 55 pounds during her first pregnancy with their daughter, Mila. She was raised globally—between London and Israel—and now resides in Los Angeles. She has a degree in art history, is a classically-trained ballerina and has been acting since age 2.
More later, as I’m off to interview her!
April 6, 2009 | 1:04 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
For Amy Winehouse, city life is just too much.
Back in London, there are bar brawls to get in, a convict husband to divorce and assault charges to address in court. It’s enough to make you want to escape to a Caribbean island, like St. Lucia, where the singer has spent most of 2009 on an “extended vacation.”
Just don’t think she’s there to enjoy the high life: Wino says she’s avoided hard drugs the whole time. And what’s more, she’s curing her addiction to heroin and cocaine—- by smoking pot. Other than that, life is pretty much normal.
..[T]his visit she is planning to get back to her singing, her rep says. “She is having her usual break,” rep Chris Goodman tells PEOPLE. But “she will start working with Salaam Remi soon.”
Remi helmed much of her earlier work on Frank and Back to Black. And while Winehouse travels with mobile recording equipment, her record company, Island, has access to or owns many top studios around the Caribbean, Goodman says, and it is likely she will use one of those for the sessions.
She is set to head back to the U.K. in time for a concert celebration of her record company’s 50th birthday in late May.
Likewise, Hollywood Gossip reports that she’s turning her life around:
If you didn’t know Amy Winehouse was a complete train wreck, her interview with British celeb news mag Now might have you believe she’s a totally normal girl.
“I just wanted to get away from London in the winter and have a nice break in the sunshine,” the Wino said about her two-month long vacation in St. Lucia.
Don’t we all, A-Dubs. Talking about how she enjoyed her “daily routine” of exercise and would “love to have a family” one day, Amy Winehouse confidently asserts she “hasn’t done any smack or crack since before I went out there.”
Despite the fact that her estranged husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, is livid over her adultery and plans to divorce her, Winehouse is blithely unrepentant.
She tells British Now:
“I still love Blake and I want him to move into my new house with me - that was my plan all along. I won’t let him divorce me. He’s the male version of me and we’re perfect for one another. Alright, I had some fun with a lovely bloke in St. Lucia but that was a holiday thing. I don’t want anybody but Blake,” she says.
It’s touching; she still loves him—even though he admits he got her addicted to drugs. This love story sounds unfortunately similar to that of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. They also bonded over heroin, and as we know, that affair did not end well.
April 6, 2009 | 3:47 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Of course the trade itself handled Peter Bart’s Variety demotion with the most charity.
The headline, a soft: “Peter Bart gets new Variety role.’” Though the subhead was more revealing: “Tim Gray to oversee news wing.”
Earlier tonight, the industry’s most prestigious trade reported that their longtime editor-in-chief would take on a new, lesser position.
Peter Bart will assume a new role as vice president and editorial director of Variety, it was announced by Tad Smith, CEO of Reed Business. In his new position, Bart will report directly to Smith, assisting him in furthering Variety’s editorial mission in print and online and expanding the brand’s position in new revenue streams.
Bart also will continue to contribute his weekly column as well as his blog and serve as Variety’s ambassador in public venues, on television, on the web and at industry events.
Leave it to Deadline Hollywood Daily‘s Nikki Finke to be more direct.
Bart’s new title is “vice president and editorial director of Variety”, but it’s meaningless. He and the company are playing this like it’s voluntary, but Peter has been pushed “essentially up and out” of the newsroom, as one of my sources puts it. But he’ll be allowed to continue as the “face” of Variety in public—which is something Bart cares a lot about.
Hollywood can now safely ignore Bart. Gray is the guy to suck up to there.
An industry power player, Peter Bart was also something of an enigmatic figure—especially when it came to his Judaism. He managed to avoid identifying, discussing or even admitting he was—ethnically speaking—Jewish. In Amy Wallace‘s 2001 profile of Bart for Los Angeles Magazine, he more or less accused her of “outing” him when she reported that his parents were Austrian Jews.
Bart tells Wallace:
“What concerns me is if you are characterizing me as a runaway Jew,” he says. “It’s not that I don’t acknowledge it. I just don’t talk about it. It’s not a part of my life. Isn’t this the equivalent of outing someone?” he asks.
Bart eventually tried to recant his flippancy.
“Do me one favor,” he says. “To avoid me being blackballed, quote me saying, ‘I have no problem saying my ethnicity is Jewish.’ Otherwise you’re going to get me into trouble with all these people.”
It’s unclear whether Bart is anti-religionist, atheist or ultimately a self-hating Jew. His apparent fear of professional reprisal, however, indicates a shift in Jewish pride from the early days of Tinseltown. Bart might have fit in better with Hollywood’s founding moguls, many of whom wished to escape their Jewish past and reinvent themselves as simply American. Likewise, some perceived Bart’s work ethic as a thing of the past, saying he didn’t have the foresight to carry Variety into its digital future.
More from Wallace’s profile:
But there’s another commonality that Bart does not wish to talk about. Cohn, like many of Hollywood’s founding fathers, was Jewish. When I ask Bart about his own ethnicity, he turns elusive. It’s peculiar, to say the least. Of all American industries, Hollywood has historically been a place where Jews have not only achieved acceptance but thrived.
But following his parents’ dictum, Bart keeps his ancestry a secret.
Here are a few things Bart wouldn’t tell me: Both his parents were born in Austria. His mother, whose maiden name was Clara Ginsberg, arrived at Ellis Island in 1914. Her passenger record includes this notation: “Ethnicity: Austria (Hebrew).” There is no record of a Max S. Bart entering the United States through Ellis Island. Bart’s father may have traveled under another name. But there is a listing for a Moses Bart, which was the name of Bart’s paternal grandfather. Moses came to America in 1913, when he was 57 years old. His ethnicity: “Austria, Hebrew.”
Bart has kept even his closest friends confused about his past. “He was brought up a Quaker, wasn’t he?” asks Evans. It’s an honest mistake. You can’t spend more than an hour with Bart without hearing about his attending Friends Seminary and Swarthmore College—both Quaker institutions.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Bart says of his religious heritage, as one of his knees begins bouncing up and down. “I resent people’s militancy on these issues. Everyone wants to peg everyone else because everyone is predictable. And I’m not.”
Over several months he will volunteer that he has never once dated a Jewish girl, never attended a seder, and has been inside a synagogue only once, for the bar mitzvah of then-agent Michael Ovitz’s son. (“I wanted to see what one was like.”)
“Listen, I got berated by the vice president in charge of business affairs at Paramount,” he says, “because I did not take off Jewish holidays. And I was affronted. I basically told him to mind his own damned business.”
“A lot of people in Hollywood—let’s say if they happen to be Jewish people who come from Brooklyn—they are most comfortable with those people. Which is fine. It just doesn’t happen to describe me.”