Posted by Danielle Berrin
What hard times?
The economic recession proved no barrier to fundraising for The Saban Free Clinic among Hollywood’s elite on Nov. 24 at the Beverly Hilton. Among those who helped raise $1.3 million for the affordable health care clinic with four locations across the city were: CBS CEO Les Moonves and wife, CBS news anchor Julie Chen, Wes Craven, Garry Marshall, Bruce Rosenblum, president of Warner Bros. television. and of course, the clinic’s namesakes, Cheryl and Haim Saban, who had previously donated $10 million to The Los Angeles Free Clinic, which was subsequently renamed.
Cheryl Saban has a special relationship to the clinic, the place where she and her two children received medical care more than 25 years ago, as Brad Greenberg wrote in March 2008. Back then, Saban was a divorced mother with a low-paying job and no health care. When she married Egyptian-born media billionaire Haim Saban, the clinic became a philanthropic priority.
In the meantime, before Washington can get their plan straight, Hollywood is heaping healthcare upon the underserved communities of Los Angeles.
Plus, there’s nothing like Barry Manilow’s a capella to inspire the box office bosses to give.
Besides raising $1.3 million for the Saban Free Clinic, the BevHilton dinner Nov. 24 answered the question: Can Barry Manilow sing a cappella? He could indeed, to loud applause after his piano was found to be unplayable.
Though the piano malfunctioned, other parts of the evening including remarks from Cheryl Saban, Tom and Ellen Hoberman, Bob Saget, Dana Walden, and a touching video tribute intro’d by Norm Crosby to the late Bernie Brillstein, went smoothly.
The evening also drew many TV honchos including Leslie Moonves, Kevin Reilly and honoree Warner TV prexy Bruce Rosenblum.
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December 4, 2008 | 3:10 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
You can’t get away with everything in Hollywood—-or can you? Just ask Roman Polanski, who absconded from the country over three decades ago when he was charged with drugging and then having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Despite her pleas to have the charges dropped and the licentious filmmaker’s disturbingly casual admission of guilt, the sex case stamina endured. Now, new evidence revealed in the documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” may provide Polanski’s pedophilia with a get out of jail free card. Or at the very least, a long awaited homecoming to Hollywood.
Polanski’s attorneys cite “extraordinary new evidence” that has surfaced with the release of Marina Zenovich’s “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” as reason to reopen the case. The complaint zeroes in on interviews in which then-deputy district attorney David Wells admits discussing the case with Judge Lawrence Rittenband during legal proceedings from the 1970s and further charges the current District Attorney’s Office with misconduct in statements made upon the docu’s June release.
Polanski, the complaint charges, “was and continues to be the victim of repeated, unlawful and unethical misconduct on the part of the L.A. District Attorney’s Office and L.A. Superior Court.”
A hearing has been set for Jan. 21.
Here’s where The Guardian says it better:
His lawyers have fixed on fresh evidence uncovered in a new documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, that highlights “a pattern of misconduct and improper communications” between the district attorney’s office and Judge Rittenband. In other words the grounds for dismissal appear to be based not on any doubt over Polanski’s guilt (so far as I can tell, there isn’t any) but on the suggestion that the subsequent trial was not handled as spotlessly as it might have been. On such technicalities are guilty men recast as heroes.
November 19, 2008 | 5:44 pm
Posted by The Web Guy
Irving Brecher, a comedy writer whose career in radio, television and the movies included writing two Marx Brothers comedies, co-writing the Judy Garland musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” and creating the radio and TV series “The Life of Riley,” has died. He was 94.
Brecher died of age-related causes Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said his wife, Norma.
Hank Rosenfeld spoke with him over lunch in 2005:
“We were young, gay, reckless! That night I drank champagne from your slipper. Two quarts. It would have been more, but they were open-toed.”—Groucho Marx to Margaret Dumont in “At the Circus.”
When Irving S. Brecher was writing the Marx Brothers’ movie, “At the Circus,” in 1938, he got into trouble with the Hollywood censors.
“Eve Arden was playing ‘Peerless Pauline,’” Brecher recalls over lunch at his favorite deli, Labels Table on Pico. Currently, Irv is prepping for a guest appearance and question-and-answer session Dec. 23 during the American Cinematheque’s Marx Brothers Festival at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica.
“Arden is in her leotard in the dressing room and our detective, Groucho Marx as J. Cheever Loophole, suspects Peerless Pauline has $10,000 hidden in a purse. So he starts to make ardent love to her. She’s playing along, holding him off until suddenly he sees Arden slipping the evidence down her cleavage. Groucho steps forward to the camera and says: ‘There must be some way I can get that money back without getting in trouble with the Hays Office.’”
The Hays Office was the industry’s watchdog from the days of Warren G. Harding all the way to 1964.
“It was run almost like a religious institution and was brutal on any suggestion of sexuality,” Brecher explains. “But it also challenged us to be cleverer with our scripts. Groucho said that was the biggest laugh in the picture, although today it would mean very little.”
Brecher is the only writer to have gotten solo credit on two Marx Brothers movies, “At the Circus,” and “Go West.” Now 91, he could count as the last of the Marx Brothers. His voice and timbre still sound like Groucho, and his hair often looks like Harpo’s. After his two features with them, Brecher went on to write, “Meet Me in St. Louis” and seven other musicals at MGM. He created the radio show “The Life of Riley,” which also became the first sitcom on American television in 1949. He also wrote for and forged friendships with Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason, Ernie Kovacs and George Burns.
“But I had been a passionate Groucho Marx worshipper since I was a kid,” he recalls. “When I was a teenager [in 1930], the night editor of the Yonkers Herald-Statesman, where I worked, gave me a movie pass—worth 25 cents!—to see ‘Animal Crackers,’ and I was on the floor. I stayed in the theater and watched it a second time. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I started doing my own version of Groucho Marx.”
But nothing prepared him for meeting his idol when he was just 23.
“I was working at MGM in 1937,” Brecher remembers. “Helping spike, or punch-up, ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ The great Oz producer, Mervyn Leroy, told me I was going to write a Marx Brothers picture. I couldn’t believe it. I was excited, but scared, and when he introduced me to Groucho, I’m sure that my knees were shaking and my voice, too. ‘Hello Mister Marx,’ I said, extending my hand. Groucho says, ‘Hello?’ This is the writer you’re gonna put on the picture, a guy who ad-libs hello? That’s some ad-lib.’ Groucho took me to lunch, and from then on, we became friends.”
Groucho called Brecher, “the Wicked Wit of the West.”
“I loved the nihilism of Groucho,” Brecher says. “The anarchism. I’m a complainer, a dissenter and a put-downer, and Groucho was my alter ego. He was my champion. He always defended my scripts against less-than-talented producers.”
Brecher says he wishes the Aero were screening “Go West” at the festival, too. “At the Circus” features the famous Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg song, “Lydia O Lydia,” about the tattooed lady, and gave him the chance to have Groucho playing off his favorite foil, Margaret Dumont. But among other amazing feats of humor in “Go West,” Groucho, Harpo and Chico chop up and burn down a train to keep it running. This scene led New York Times critic Bosley Crowther to label the last reel of “Go West” among the 10 funniest sequences in motion picture history.
“Well,” says Brecher, reaching for a napkin as his wife, Norma, brings over the “old Rolls,” her nickname for his walker (she’s ready to leave Label’s). “The only thing I can do is use my tongue and my brain. I can talk about the trip Groucho and I planned for Europe after ‘At the Circus,’ and how the State Department sent us a telegram warning us against it. Hitler was on the move. We ended up in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va, at the Greenbrier Hotel where after Groucho asked, ‘Is it true you run a chain of brothels coast-to-coast?’ the anti-Semites suddenly had no reservation for us. That night the movie they showed their guests was the Marx Brothers’ ‘At the Circus.’ They let the movie in, but wouldn’t let in the Jews who made it.”
Although glaucoma has hampered Brecher’s burgeoning standup career (he performed most recently at the Oasis Center and Cedars-Sinai), his wit and memory remain outrageously sharp.
“Harpo Marx loved his mezuzah,” Brecher recalls, telling one more story before leaving Labels. “Every time I saw him he had it on. He came home from a trip to New York once and when I talked to him he said, ‘I’m so annoyed. I lost my mezuzah. I’m sure I left it on the airplane.’ I said, ‘Did you have them look for it?’ Harpo said, ‘Well I left my name and described what it was. I don’t think I’ll ever see it again.’ But when I ran into him a few days later he said, ‘Can you believe it? They found my mezuzah. No kidding. They called me and said: “Mr. Marx, we have good news for you. We found your whistle. But somebody had stuffed it full of paper, which we got out so you can blow it.”’”
Many of Brecher’s stories have to do with his faith. In fact, when asked by a Warner Brothers DVD crew to describe the Marx Brothers in one word, he answered: “Jewish.”
Irving S. Brecher will be at The Max Palevsky Theater at the Aero Cinema, 1434 Montana Ave., Santa Monica on Dec. 23., at 7:30 p.m. for the screenings of “At the Circus” and “Animal Crackers.” For more information about the festival, call (323) 466-3456.
Comedy writer Hank Rosenfeld lives in Santa Monica.
November 18, 2008 | 5:57 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The “Forward 50,” a list of prominent Jewish Americans compiled by the New York Jewish weekly has featured a whopping three Jews from the film and television industries. If this is the best they could do for their 2008 culture and media set, I’d like to know what other areas are absorbing the once flush field of Jews in Hollywood.
Not to mention, the choices therein seem a bit obvious and I’d like to think the pollsters of the Jewish A-list were a bit more creative:
While we all love Adam Sandler and affirm his hall-of-fame status in the Jewish world (it was the Hanukkah song, let’s face it), he’s a bit of old news; Jon Stewart has been hot for years now, but since he’s still hot, OKAY.
The redemptive stroke of genius this year is the inclusion of “Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner (even though the blurb omits any mention of his work on The Sopranos). Of course, my editor Rob Eshman spotted him over a year ago and I was lucky enough to catch him at the ADL conference last week discussing images of Jews on television (*will post link to story when it’s available Thursday).
If you haven’t yet seen “Mad Men,” RUN to the video store for Season One on DVD.
More from the 2008 Forward 50:
... Sandler’s “Zohan” grossed twice as much domestically as Steven Spielberg’s 2005 Oscar-nominated drama “Munich,” which likewise focused on a war-weary Israeli terrorist-hunter who finds refuge in New York City. But whereas Spielberg used Israel’s experience fighting terror as an excuse to offer a high-minded, post-9/11 morality lesson, Sandler used it as an excuse to offer a spot-on spoof of Israelis’ love of hummus, fondness for cheesy dance music and propensity for bluntness verging on rudeness.
...“The Daily Show,” Stewart’s wildly popular mock-news cable television show, is said to be the main source of news for the under-30 set. No one else in television matches Stewart, 46, at exposing politicians’ hypocrisy. There’s no disputing Stewart’s stature as the public face of a supposedly lost generation of American Jews: politically liberal, thoroughly American and proudly if ambivalently Jewish…(On John McCain visiting Israel with Senator Joseph Lieberman in tow: “You know, when you go to Israel you don’t have to bring your own Jew — there’s a wide variety of Jews there.”) In October, he lampooned Congress for delaying the financial bailout plan to adjourn for Rosh Hashanah (“I mean, seriously, Utah, you’re not coming in for Rosh Hashanah?”)...Last fall he mentioned to Tony Blair that his wife was Catholic and he was Jewish. When Blair asked how it was working out, Stewart replied: “We’re raising our children to be sad.”
Matthew Weiner is ruthless. His critically acclaimed TV series on AMC, “Mad Men”...gets to the core of the American story — and the Jewish American story — through nuanced portraits of outsiders, loners and underdogs. The backdrop is a WASP-y Manhattan advertising agency in the 1960s…“Mad Men” won six Emmy awards this year, including one for best drama, but its greater accomplishment was in shaping perceptions of who Jews are and where we came from.
November 14, 2008 | 1:16 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Thanks to a leak by producer Avi Lerner and premature reporting by the LA Times, the assumption that Brett Ratner would direct the “Conan” film franchise is just that—presumptuous and untrue.
Sort of. Apparently, budget negotiations are still being hammered out and Ratner insists he will direct “Beverly Hills Cop 4” (seriously, another one?) before Conan production commences.
From MTV’s Splash page:
“Let me make this very clear. I am not doing ‘Conan‘ now. This is totally premature,” stated Ratner. “For now, ‘Conan’ is only a development deal. I have a deal at Paramount and I’m doing ‘Beverly Hills Cop ‘ first, no matter what. Avi shouldn’t be telling you or anyone else in the press what I’m doing.”
Even Paramount is upset about the “Conan” deal, as it puts their schedule and plans for “Beverly Hills Cop 4″ in a bit of jeopardy. Ratner’s involvement hinges entirely on whether Lerner is willing to wait for him to complete his Beverly Hills installment — and Lerner is so eager to get “Conan” up and running that he may be announcing another director by the time you read this.
November 14, 2008 | 12:41 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Last week, when Rahm Emanuel was appointed Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff, interest in his brother, Hollywood ‘superagent’ Ari Emanuel, surged. I spoke with Aaron Sorkin, one of Emanuel’s most loyal clients and creator of “The West Wing” from his nest at the Four Seasons in New York.
How long have you known Ari?
He’s been my agent for nine years.
How important has he been to your career?
On a scale of one to ten: fourteen. He’s a phenomenal agent and a great friend. He’s got a brilliant mind and a great heart; he’s really everything you could hope for.
Why do think he’s been so successful as a talent agent?
If I knew more about the agent business, I could give a more sophisticated answer. I can tell you that when it comes to television and feature films, he’s incredibly smart, loves writers and directors, is very well respected within the industry. And there’s a quality about him I can only describe by saying that, with Ari, it’s all about the bottom line—until it’s not anymore. In other words, in a business deal, he’s going to try to kill for you and it’s just going to be about putting as much money in your pocket as he can, until you tell him that there’s something else that’s important to you instead of money.
Ari has a reputation for being abrasive, cantankerous, and brash. Why do you think he’s perceived this way?
Part of the reason is Jeremy Piven. Most people know Ari from Entourage [the HBO series] and they think that that’s Ari. While Ari does speak fast, and is in no way cowardly when he’s talking to you, he’s not a cardboard cut-out. Not a stereotypical central casting agent. He’s massively smart and genuinely a good guy. That’s why clients don’t leave him. You’re not going to find anybody who used to be a client of Ari’s.
You probably know better than anyone else that Hollywood and Washington have always had informal ties; given the relationship between the Emanuel brothers, what kind of an impact do you think that will have?
A good one, I think. Rahm has been very powerful in government for a long time; Ari has been a guy that cares about things for a long time and is connected to people who can help with money. There have been any number of fundraisers Ari has thrown on behalf of Rahm or the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), or for any cause that Ari feels passionate about.
Ari gained a lot of attention when he publicly castigated Mel Gibson for his anti-Semitic tirade. How much do you think Ari’s Jewishness informs his values?
It’s not for me to comment on his religious values. But a good example is that Ari did publicly castigate Mel Gibson. Also, one of his clients is Michael Moore, and when the film Fahrenheit 9/11 came out, Disney, who had decided not to release it because it was at a time when to say something bad about the Bush Administration was to fear for your life, well, they chickened out of releasing it, and Ari called Michael Eisner out on it. For an agent to do that—he’s got to deal with Disney everyday, making deals everyday—but this was more important than that. I can’t think of any other instance when a high profile agent has publicly done that with someone as powerful as Michael Eisner. He did the same thing with Mel Gibson. In both cases I agreed with him, but even if I didn’t, I’d be proud of him for speaking up when he feels that way.
November 11, 2008 | 7:55 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Hail the conquering hero: Brett Ratner, Hollywood’s young, commercial director du jour will take on yet another blockbuster franchise.
Out to prove he is more than his playboy image, Ratner, whom I determined is a startling dichotomy between frat-boy and filmmaker in my recent profile of him, is in final talks with Lionsgate to direct the action hero franchise, Conan. The character of Conan The Barbarian is drawn from Robert E. Howard’s classic adventure novels and the producing company, Millennium Films, have announced that casting for “the perfect Conan” is underway.
I, for one, am confident enough in Ratner’s talent that, physique aside, I’d like to suggest he both direct and star in the film. Based on personal experience, he’d make an excellent savage star.
November 11, 2008 | 4:44 pm
Posted by Danielle BerrinUp until Rahm Emanuel was offered the Chief of Staff position in Barack Obama's cabinet, his younger brother Ari, the cantankerous Hollywood talent agent, was considerably better known. Most famously -- or perhaps infamously -- Ari Emanuel is said to be the inspiration for the abrasive, determined Ari Gold character on HBO's Entourage, played by Jeremy Piven.