Hollywood has always been fond of satire–except when the satire comes at the expense of one its own.
IFILM.com, a Los Angeles-based Web site devoted to film buffs, found this out recently when it began posting a weekly feature called “Hollywood Email” that presented fictional e-mails poking fun at some of the industry’s most established celebrities, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Ryan.
The Web site’s home page carries a disclaimer that reads: “‘Hollywood Email’ is a satirical feature written entirely by IFILM staff. It is not real. It is not based in fact. The people speaking in these fictional email threads did not write or say the things contained in this feature.” It concludes, “We know this is obvious, but we are telling you anyway.”
Apparently, it was not that obvious. The second installment of “Hollywood Email” depicted a series of fictional e-mails that dealt with Mr. Schwarzenegger. One, which purported to be from National Research Group, an actual organization that does test screenings, to William Morris agent Robert Stein, who happens to be Mr. Schwarzenegger’s actual agent, reported low audience-test scores for Mr. Schwarzenegger’s most recent film, The Sixth Day . The letter noted fake statistics that claimed, for example, that 12 percent of the sample audience “would have preferred to ‘wait for the DVD'” release of The Sixth Day . The letter also reported that “unsolicited comments ranged from ‘My grandma could kick more ass’ and ‘Sorry, I liked this movie better when it was called ‘Total Recall’ to ‘Maybe he and Stallone could get together–they could have a Face-Lift/Off.'”
The series of e-mails centered on Mr. Schwarzenegger’s flagging box-office appeal, which has been an actual topic of discussion in Hollywood and other media. They also made reference to real Hollywood players and trends. “[Columbia chair] Amy [Pascal]‘s going to cover her ass on this one–blame it on you–as if YOU’RE the reason it’s not going to open, as if it’s not HER fault that marketing screwed up,” read one.
Others detailed CBS Network chief Les Moonves’ supposed eagerness to get Mr. Schwarzenegger to “reinvent” himself by starring in his own series on CBS à la Bette Midler. “Les is totally hot for you …. He and CBS have done wonders for Bette,” read one that Mr. Stein supposedly sent to his client.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Schwarzenegger, Jill Eisenstadt, told The Transom that “Regardless of whether or not it was intended to be a joke, William Morris was uncomfortable and Arnold was uncomfortable.”
IFILM editor in chief Lew Harris, who came to the site this year after founding the snarky E!-Online, told The Transom that the “Hollywood Email” segment is an attempt to “push the envelope a little bit.… And that led to the idea of riffing on industry e-mails. “We wanted something that people would send to other people, something that would be viral,” he explained.
The “Hollywood Emails” are all written (or “channeled” as Mr. Harris claimed) by IFILM staffer Joal Ryan. And Mr. Harris said he thinks the humor is pretty self-evident. “Nobody takes it seriously,” he said.
And judging from the “Hollywood Email” that was posted on Dec. 5, the run-in with the star of The Terminator has not dulled the edge of IFILM’s satires.
This time, the “extra-hot, extra-secret” e-mail purportedly came from one Karly Madison, who was supposedly Meg Ryan’s publicist at Wolf-Kasteler, to a Warner Brothers rep organizing Ms. Ryan’s press junket for Proof of Life, an event fraught with peril given that Ms. Ryan and her co-star Russell Crowe had begun a tempestuous affair on the film set.
Here again, the letter blended fact and fiction. Karly Madison does not exist, but Wolf-Kasteler is indeed the firm that handles Ms. Ryan’s publicity. The e-mail also referenced another letter from Gurumayi, who is, in real life, Ms. Ryan’s spiritual advisor.
“Miss Ryan asked me how we can ensure she will be understood,” wrote Gurumayi in the fictional letter. She suggested that “the reporter people” not ask Ms. Ryan “about her chestal region or wedding plans,” noting that “Miss Ryan feels especially sensitive about her chestal area and would they please not cast their eyes there as the augmentation is not complete.” Gurumayi then urged that Ms. Ryan not be “subjected to queries about Mr. Crowe’s temper, Mr. Crowe’s apparent weight problem or Mr. Crowe’s once-spiritual relationship with Miss Jodie Foster.” The guru even went so far as to note that Ms. Ryan believes “the movie-making experience to be a private experience and would ask that the reporter people honor her wishes to keep her own counsel on that matter.”
Then, in an apparent send-up of the restrictions that celebrities and their publicists put on the reporters who attend these press junkets, Karly Madison writes to the Warner executive that, when it comes to the junket, “what we’re looking at here are absolutely *no* questions about Russell, ‘Proof of Life,’ etc.”
But the high point of the e-mail is the fake Gurumayi’s reference to Ms. Ryan’s estranged husband, Dennis Quaid. “It would not be good for any mention of the Quaid,” reads the IFILM post, adding: “I myself very much love the Quaid.” Notes Karly in an aside: “Just our luck that Meg got the swami in the divorce statement,” a reference to press reports that Ms. Ryan and Mr. Quaid were fighting over who got to “keep” the real Gurumayi in their divorce settlement.
“It’s definitely not authentic,” said Karen Williams, public relations director for the SYDA Foundation, Gurumayi’s yoga meditation organization in South Fallsburg, N.Y. “We got a lot of phone calls about [the Quaid-Ryan split]. But Gurumayi doesn’t get involved in people’s personal lives. She’s a spiritual leader and a meditation master.”
Ms. Ryan’s publicist, Annett Wolf, told The Transom that the e-mail “was completely made up and has nothing to do with my office or my client.” Ms. Wolf added that there was a larger issue at work here: “This is the whole issue of what is possible on the Internet,” she said. “There are no laws. I am deeply appalled and insulted that someone would use our company name and somebody would use our client to that extent, but that’s the First Amendment in this country. You can’t really protect yourself against it.”
Wispy and frail, Sid Caesar sat erect in a chair in a makeshift green room in the Pierre Hotel. His feet were clad in gold-embroidered black slippers, his hands were on his thighs, and his metal cane rested against the chair as the clown prince of Your Show of Shows patiently weathered the bursts of camera flash.
It was Dec. 11, and Mr. Caesar was about an hour away from receiving the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s third annual Alan King Award in American Jewish Humor. But first he had to endure the photo opportunity that always comes with events like these.
“It’s a different world,” the Yonkers-born Mr. Caesar said later on as more flashbulbs exploded. Certainly the world had changed since Mr. Caesar emerged as one of the first stars of television. But he was referring to something less weighty. He was talking about the difference between New York and Los Angeles. “People here, they’re aggressive. There’re no red lights,” he murmured. “People here in New York are alive.”
Outside the green room, the evening’s master of ceremonies, comedian Alan King, was smoking a cigarette and thinking about his and Mr. Caesar’s chosen profession. “If you had a shoe store, and you didn’t sell shoes and you went bankrupt, then you wouldn’t go into the shoe business. You’d find another business,” Mr. King told The Transom. “But comedians who fail, and fail, and fail, never go into another business. They keep going at it.” He threw down the butt and ground it into the patterned carpet with his shoe.
And go at it they did that night–with no red lights, like Mr. Caesar’s New York.
The crowd was packed into the grand ballroom almost 500 strong. They sported bifocals, yarmulkes, bushels of beauty-shop hair and the stray toupee. The red-rose centerpieces were garnished with bottles of Gold’s horseradish, and jars of Streit’s Continental whitefish and pike sprouted out of challah rounds. As soon as a young boy had finished warbling the Ha-motzi, guests dove into the bread, tearing off large chunks and passing it around the table. Board member Pam Friedman stepped up to greet the eager crowd. God help the novice who shares the podium with those born on the stage. “We have a treat in store for you tonight,” Ms. Friedman enunciated, “and I don’t just mean the gefilte fish!”
After the introduction, Mr. King took over. “Thank you very much,” he began, “May you live as long as those opening remarks!” And then, after the peals of laughter subsided, Mr. King warmed up the crowd by needling some family members. “My middle son, Andy, was ‘Andy’ till he got married, then he became ‘An drew .’ I love my daughter-in-law, but when I call, I say, ‘Is Andy there?’ and she says, ‘You mean And rew? ‘ And I say, ‘Listen, you bitch, put my son on. You know what his name is! You mean if I left my money to Andy , you wouldn’t accept it?!'” The guests erupted.
Comic legend Mel Brooks got a similar reception. Mr. King introduced him by saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s only one! Finkelstein! Frankenstein! The man who brought farting to another level!”
Mr. Brooks started off by taking a shot at his old buddy and 2,000-Year-Old Man co-hort Carl Reiner, who had toasted Mr. Caesar via a previously taped video: “When I first met Carl, he was tall and slender; he had black hair, curly hair. He was light on his feet. He was dashingly handsome–very good-looking. And suddenly, I don’t know,” Mr. Brooks said. “Time took him and beat the shit out of him! I hope it didn’t happen to me, that’s all I can say!”
After Mr. Brooks had hung the foundation’s medal around Mr. Caesar’s neck and the applause and ruckus subsided, Mr. Your Show of Shows approached the microphone and showed his gratitude with some trademark schtick. He rattled on for no less than seven and a half minutes in mock French, German, Italian, Japanese and, finally, Yiddish.
The peals of laughter that filled the Pierre ballroom brought to mind something that Mr. King had said about Mr. Caesar earlier in the evening: “This bearded old Jew is right up there with the gods.”
Perhaps time had beaten the shit out of all these men–but, for what it was worth, they were all still standing and bringing down the house.
On the way out of the hotel, The Transom shared a revolving-door compartment with Mr. Brooks, who generously offered a lift in his town car. Mr. Brooks piled into the back seat clutching his coat and party goody bag and, as the driver headed downtown, he sparked up his cell phone. He rang up a few friends, trying to assemble a posse for tea in the Village. Could they meet? he wanted to know. And, mysteriously, were they decent? “You wanna have some tea?” he asked the second voice on the other end of the line. “What are you doing? Are you naked?” he demanded. “Dishabille?” he asked another. “Yeah, why don’t you make some tea. And cake? Yeah, okay, let’s stick with the diet,” he concluded as the car glided through the midtown traffic into the light mist, which was veiling the windshield.
The car pulled up in front of Grand Central. “I’m a father,” Mr. Brooks explained. “I just wanted to make sure you got to the right station.” Mr. Brooks watched as we got out of the car, and before he resumed his journey, he rolled down the tinted passenger’s-side window. He poked his wispy-haired pate out of the car and watched to make sure The Transom made it safely to the terminal. “Bye bye!” he called. The car lurched forward and he disappeared into the New York night.
Blame Monica Moorehead!
Nestled among the old political vintages on the Presidential ballot–Gore, Bush, Buchanan–was a humbler though equally loaded name: Monica Moorehead. Her run on the Workers World Party ticket, with minimal budget and staff (the party has a small office on West 17th Street with little more than a receptionist), was about as threatening to the likes of Ralph Nader as Mr. Nader was to George W. Bush.
But Ms. Moorehead (no relation to the Bewitched actress) has been gaining visibility since the election. For one thing, her name was featured prominently on the notorious butterfly ballot. “They were showing it over and over again on TV,” she said on the phone from her apartment in Jersey City. “It helped our party to gain recognition.”
It was recognized by Jay Leno, at least. During his monologue on the Nov. 10 Tonight Show , Mr. Leno held up a copy of the ballot and said, “Look at this name in the corner. This is an actual person running: Monica Moorehead. Is that some kind of Clinton write-in girlfriend vote?”
Ms. Moorehead wasn’t amused. “It was, like, very negative,” she said. “We actually called the show. We wanted to inform the producers that there actually was a Monica Moorehead, and she would be very happy to appear on his show and talk about it.” Ms. Moorehead sighed. “Of course, they never got back to us.”
A week later, Ms. Moorehead’s name came up again. Michael Moore, the host of TV’s The Awful Truth, began circulating an e-mail entitled “Blame Monica!”
Mr. Moore began with a faux mea culpa : “For the past week I have suffered this unbearable guilt that I may have put George W. Bush in the White House. I thought back to the time I first met with Ralph Nader …. Our goal? To make this country suffer, suffer, SUFFER under George W. Bush! All we needed to do was convince just 300 people, preferably in a ‘swing state,’ to vote for Nader instead of Gore. Simple! Genius! That would put Bush in the White House and THAT would lead to mass revolution and THAT would lead to … well, something.”
Mr. Moore’s e-mail went on: “So you can see why I have been convinced for the past week that it was me, all me, the one who is responsible for costing Gore the election. That is, until I saw the official results from Florida ….”
Mr. Moore listed the Florida vote tally, and continued as himself: “As I studied these results, I suddenly saw the true culprit, the one candidate responsible for putting Bush in the White House. And it was NOT Ralph Nader. It was MONICA MOOREHEAD! … Ms. Moorehead received 1,805 votes in Florida, 1,500 more votes than what now separates Bush and Gore … I hold Monica Moorehead personally responsible for all the havoc a Bush presidency will wreak … Let us all make the name ‘Monica Moorehead’ synonymous with EVIL.”
Ms. Moorehead was surprised by Mr. Moore’s mass mailing. “We really don’t have a relationship,” she said. And no, she didn’t feel sorry for costing Al Gore the election. “Gore lost the election for Gore,” she said. What’s more, she was pleased with Mr. Moore: “He has a lot of respect for the Workers World Party.” She pointed out with pride the part where Mr. Moore said the Workers World “always have the best-looking banners at any political demonstration.”
Budding slick politician that she is, Ms. Moorehead decided to write Mr. Moore a friendly note. She thanked him for his “brilliant satirical piece” and said, “This will go a long way in terms of helping to get the word out about our program.”
Mr. Moore wrote her back. This time he was serious: “Monica–Thanks for the note. I hope more than a few people went to your Web site as a result. Thanks for fighting the good fight. Some day, it will all get better … Mike.”
So Mr. Moore was a nice guy, after all. But was Ms. Moorehead O.K. with being the subject of satire? She answered automatically: “We thought it was a hoot.” Then she took a moment, swallowed hard, and said: “It certainly was better than the publicity we got from Jay Leno.”
– Ian Blecher