George Plimpton Meets Joe Eszterhas, But This Is No Movie Pitch

George to Gibson: You’re Mel-velous

They make paper shredders for things like this.

In a letter dated November 8, 1999, and addressed to actor Mel Gibson, care of his Rogers & Cowan publicist, Alan Neirob, George magazine’s senior editor and resident celebrity wrangler Jeffrey Podolsky opened up a big can of kiss-ass to lock up the actor for the publication’s July issue.

Mr. Podolsky began his pitch by hailing Mr. Gibson’s good taste in choosing to star in The Patriot , which was still in production at the time the letter was written. “Searingly accurate, historical dramas like The Patriot have become a rare art form in Hollywood these days,” Mr. Podolsky wrote. “And rarely is there a film that so perfectly fits GEORGE, a magazine which continually strives to educate the masses about American history and politics.”

Perhaps unaware that The Patriot would arrive in theaters with an R rating and battlefield scenes of cannonballs shearing off soldiers’ limbs and heads, Mr. Podolsky asserted in his letter that The Patriot would “bring to life for millions of school children (and adults) a little-known, but crucial chapter in our history: the importance of South Carolina joining the fight for independence and holding off Cornwallis from heading north until the French arrive.

“Few Americans realize that this war was every bit as ugly as the Civil War or Vietnam–waged by rag-tag militia, littered with racial conflicts, and fought in people’s backyards,” Mr. Podolsky continued. “There was a human element to it, which has been lost in history books and barbeque-laden holidays. You brought that depth to Braveheart and will do the same with The Patriot .”

Then Mr. Podolsky whipped out his Kennedy trump card and shifted into a plain-spoken tone right out of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington . “As you can see, I’ve gotten pretty worked up over this film. I suppose it’s because I’m something of a history buff. I gather you are too. So was John.” (Mr. Podolsky was here referring to the magazine’s late founder, John F. Kennedy Jr.) “That’s why he chose to name his magazine GEORGE when all the fancy consultants told him it wasn’t commercial enough (he told them to go to hell).”

After dropping the code words that Mr. Gibson needn’t worry about a tomahawk job–”We will photograph and write a cover story that will do justice to your work. Something that both you and the magazine will be proud of”–Mr. Podolsky signed off with the written equivalent of a Clinton hug: “I hope the production’s going well and, thank you, for making this movie.”

Mr. Podolsky did not return phone calls; however, Dianne Milton, George ‘s spokesperson, hastened to note that the letter was written a few weeks before the arrival of Frank Lalli, the magazine’s squeaky-clean editor in chief. In response to Mr. Podolsky’s invocation of Mr. Kennedy’s name, she said: “Jeffrey was referring to the founder of the magazine, and obviously wouldn’t talk about John in any inappropriate way. And just so you know, George doesn’t guarantee covers in this way any longer. It’s more that we now work with people to create covers.”

For the August issue of George , Mr. Lalli opted to do something that the magazine’s founder told employees he would never do in his magazine: put a photo of President John F. Kennedy on the cover. The elder Kennedy, along with Ronald Reagan, is used to illustrate the cover line “Who Will Make Us Proud Again?” Asked if Mr. Lalli consulted the Kennedy family on the “creation” of the cover, Ms. Milton replied, “I don’t know anything about any of Frank’s conversations.”

Fun with Joe Eszterhas

George Plimpton arrived late to the staged reading of Joe Eszterhas’ book, American Rhapsody, on July 17. There he stood inside the cozy Douglas Fairbanks Theater on West 42nd Street, underneath the orange exit sign and near Talk editor Tina Brown, who was hosting the event.

Mr. Plimpton kept his arms crossed as eight no-name actors sat in stools on the stage with black binders open and read lines from Mr. Eszterhas’ book, which is partly a retelling of the Clinton impeachment and partly a ground-scorching, Tom Wolfe-parroting memoir of Mr. Eszterhas’ reign as the professional asshole who somehow managed to make a lot of money writing movies such as Basic Instinct ($1.55 million), Showgirls ($2 million) and Jade ($2.5 million).

As Mr. Eszterhas’ blonde, very pregnant wife, Naomi Eszterhas, chortled in the front row next to her smirking husband, Mr. Plimpton, in his summer tan suit and blue rep tie, wore a look on his face of a Putney schoolmaster who had happened upon a fart-lighting contest. And this was before an actor named Brian F. O’Byrne began reading the lines of Willard, the personified version of Bill Clinton’s penis. As Mr. Eszterhas’ agent, Ed Victor, giggled and Ms. Brown beamed, Mr. Plimpton’s eyes narrowed into a Grinchy scowl.

When Ms. Brown introduced Mr. Eszterhas earlier in the evening, she said, “I think that what’s so wonderful about Joe is that he’s not at all what he appears to be. He’s not a jaded ex-hippie or a tired celebrity at all.” As the night wore on and an actor read the part in American Rhapsody where independent counsel Kenneth Starr masturbates in the basement to Internet images of Monica Lewinsky, Mr. Eszterhas and some of the others in the room sure seemed like celebrities of a bygone decade, laughing at two-year-old jokes.

Yet, as the author of a 432-page Knopf-published book that blurs fact and fiction, Mr. Eszterhas also seemed considerably more dangerous than the man who had written sex scenes for Sharon Stone.

After the reading, Mr. Eszterhas posed for a few pictures outside the front doors of the theater. In one, he kissed his pregnant wife’s belly. When someone asked for the unborn child’s name, Mrs. Eszterhas replied, “Luke,” adding: “We already have a Joe, Nick and John.” She wore a chunky gold cross. “One just turned 6,” Mrs. Eszterhas chirped. “And I said, ‘I am doomed to a lifetime of wet toilet seats.’ I sit down and say, ‘Oh God, I didn’t check!’ Always!”

Mrs. Eszterhas told The Transom that “the biggest feedback we get [about American Rhapsody ] is that people said, ‘I had so much fun!’ Kind of like Tina, when she said she got on a plane and didn’t look up for seven hours. She said, ‘I had so much fun!’”

Mr. Eszterhas wore a short-sleeved black shirt open to his chest, a gold chronograph and a number of gold rings. He looked a bit like Santa Claus, if St. Nick had been subjected to intense gravitational pressure. A cluster of irritated-looking, possibly precancerous blisters decorated his sunburnt forehead. Still, with a Salem Ultra Light hanging from his lips, he, too, seemed to be having fun.

Ms. Stone probably wouldn’t use the F-word to describe American Rhapsody . She is portrayed as a mercenary human Electrolux who sucks her way to the top while fretting over losing her looks. In the book, Mr. Eszterhas writes that during the making of Sliver , Ms. Stone told him: “‘My ass hangs halfway to my knees.’”

Jane Fonda probably doesn’t think Mr. Eszterhas’ book is fun either. She gets compared to “leftover beef Wellington.” Neither would Farrah Fawcett, who, Mr. Eszterhas wrote, defecated on the lawn at the same party where New Line’s Mike DeLuca was the recipient of some now-famous oral sex. Nor would Lyndon Johnson’s family: In his book, Mr. Eszterhas wrote that the late President “had scrotal skin hanging halfway to his knees.” Then there’s Oliver Stone, “as often stoned as he was not,” and “homophobic” Mel Gibson. And Robert Evans, whom Mr. Eszterhas quotes as saying: “Sharon Stone is a lying dumb c*** who’s had all the brains in her head fucked out.”

The Transom asked whether Mr. Eszterhas had spared anyone in Hollywood.

He paused and blew out some cigarette smoke. “With me?” he asked, incredulous. “I’m one of the wild men of the Western world. Someone’s going to say to me, ‘No, you can’t write about it’? Are you out of your fucking mind? Me? No way.”

And, of course, the thing had been lawyered.

“The book was vetted for three days by three lawyers,” said Mr. Eszterhas, who is not currently working on any screenplays. “Then it was vetted by fact checkers, and after this process, they said they’d never run into a book that was this backed up.”

Mr. Eszterhas’ fleet of lawyers and fact checkers must not have read the first 10 pages of his book, though. On page 4, he writes that Jimmy Carter claimed he was attacked by a killer rabbit while jogging. Actually, it happened when Mr. Carter was on a canoeing excursion. Then there’s Mr. Eszterhas’ recollection of President Clinton’s most famous line in the Lewinsky matter: “I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Mr. Eszterhas uses an abridged version: “I want to say one thing to the American people. I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

Perhaps his memory of Sharon Stone’s ass is better.

In Liu of Ling

… The View ‘s Lisa Ling may want to start wearing a “Not the Asian You Think” T-shirt to parties. At the premiere party for X-Men on Ellis Island on July 12, actress Ashley Judd greeted Ms. Ling by stretching out her arms and calling “Lucy!”–presumably confusing Ms. Ling for a moment with Ally McBeal star Lucy Liu. That same week, Hamptons Magazine printed a party picture of fashion designer Randolph Duke with an Asian model who was misidentified as Ms. Ling.

Ms. Ling said that she thought that Ms. Judd–as well as many of the others who regularly make the mistake–could actually tell the difference between her and Ms. Liu, and that Ms. Judd was both embarrassed and apologetic. Ms. Ling said she thought the confusion was frequently due to the alliterative L’s that the women share. Ms. Ling said she was considering her options. “I’m thinking about changing my name to Wong,” she said.

The Transom Also Hears…

…The estate of Walter Matthau may want to keep a wary eye out for two self-described “Gucci-damaged and Bowie-obsessed” musicians named Adam Pollock and James D’Adamo, who have a little duo they call UFA. Just one year after they took advantage of the coming millennium to do a techno remake of the song “In The Year 2525,” they’re back in the commemoration game, this time releasing what they call “the first musical tribute to the late John F. Kennedy Jr.”

The song, which they’ve offered up for sale on MP3.com, is a jaunty little number that features a classically trained singer named Stacia Thiel belting out lines like “And when the stars / Couldn’t guide your way / Down, down, down, down / Covered in blue,” which is all followed by a good deal of operatic shrieking from Ms. Thiel.

So they know it’s in bad taste, right? “It was a thought that crossed my mind,” said Mr. D’Adamo, “but he was such a cool guy, and … it’s more of a fitting tribute than the ‘Candle in the Wind’ kind of thing.” Besides, the duo say that if they actually make a dime from the thing, they’ll donate it to Reaching Up, one of Kennedy’s pet charities.

So what’s next for UFA? Mr. D’Adamo said that they’re considering penning a Liz Tilberis tribute, with collaborations from their dream list of Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief Kate Betts, and Vogue editor at large André Leon Talley. “We’re thinking of calling it ‘I Am The World,’” said Mr. D’Adamo. “I think Anna Wintour could do the Joe Cocker part.”