Bard of Central Park

“What do you prefer-someone calling you stupid or someone calling you ugly?” said the actor, director and novelist Ethan Hawke with a grumpy grimace on Monday, July 22. “I mean, they both suck.”

Mr. Hawke was attending the “Late Nite in Central Park Junior Benefit for the Joseph Papp Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival” at the Delacorte Theater. The crowd was munching on barbecue and waiting for the start of this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night , starring Julia Stiles, Jimmy Smits and Kristen Johnston.

Mr. Hawke, who has just published his second novel, Ash Wednesday , was talking about whether negative book reviews or negative movie reviews had stung him more harshly, and acknowledged that he understands his literary limitations better than he does his theatrical ones.

“I have been acting since I was 13,” said the 31-year-old actor. “I feel confident that I know a lot about performance. I don’t know much about writing. I’m enjoying the learning, but I don’t have ego about my writing.”

Though the reviews have just started trickling in, Mr. Hawke may want to get that ego of his Simonized . People magazine, which understands the difficult lives of celebrities, opined that Ash Wednesday is “crammed full of big themes: despair, redemption, masculinity, fate,” but that Mr. Hawke’s “jazzy neo-beat internal monologues and wry existential riffs … never amount to more than pale reflections of the real thing, by writers who haven’t starred opposite Denzel Washington.”

Clad in an open-collared navy polo, Mr. Hawke sported mussed hair and a studied crop of peach-fuzz on his lips, chin and upper neck. Loading his plate with pasta and Caesar salad, he took a seat and told The Transom about his new literary effort.

“It’s fantastic, have you heard?” he said with what we think was irony. “I can tell you to buy it-you’ll like it. And if you buy it and you don’t like it, I’m sorry.” Mr. Hawke sounded really sincere.

According to Mr. Hawke, Ash Wednesday is “a love story, really” about a pregnant woman deciding whether to marry her boyfriend. The 1996 publication of his first effort, The Hottest State , prompted a spate of mixed reviews, including Kirkus’, which called the book “mercifully brief.” But Mr. Hawke, who said he was “inspired by falling in love and getting married myself”-in 1998, to actress Uma Thurman-got right back on the horse and has been working on Ash Wednesday ever since.

After a year that included a surprise Oscar nomination for Training Day , the release of his feature directorial debut, Chelsea Walls , and the January birth of Roan, his second child with Ms. Thurman, Mr. Hawke is now gearing up for a national book tour.

The Transom asked him whether the depressing prospect of traveling to poorly lit Barnes & Nobles across the country was even harder to face with a new baby at home.

Mr. Hawke looked at us blankly for a moment. A drop of mayo clung to his upper lip.

“Well, I’m not bringing the baby,” he said finally.

A few minutes later, Mr. Hawke had had enough of himself.

“I try really hard not to talk too much about myself,” he said. “Let’s talk about Julia Stiles.” Ms. Stiles is starring as Viola in Twelfth Night and has played Ophelia to Mr. Hawke’s Hamlet in Michael Almereyda’s 2000 film adaptation of the play.

Mr. Hawke described Ms. Stiles as “a serious-minded young actress,” but derided the rest of her generation-”the one right below me”-as “solely interested in stardom and trying to make more money. The aesthetic right now is how big a star you are. It’s the pollution in the water of the arts.”

He said that his only hope that Hollywood might return to the days of making quality films is if it splits along similar lines as his other industry: publishing.

“You’ve got your Farrar, Straus and then you’ve got your Random House,” said Mr. Hawke with a knowing nod. When The Transom looked at him blankly, Mr. Hawke clarified: “So there’s a place for your money-makers and a place for your literature.”

We’re not really sure what it means, but for what it’s worth, Ash Wednesday is published by Knopf, a division of Random House.

– Rebecca Traister

The Porn Identity

Note to George Tenet: If Gong Show host Chuck Barris was, as he has claimed in his memoirs, an assassin for the C.I.A., then perhaps there’s a former schoolmate you might want to recruit during these dark days of spookdom: Ron Jeremy.

Mr. Jeremy, the former porn star, told The Transom that he would make a damned good spy at the July 2 birthday party for D.J. Paul Sevigny, brother of actress Chloë, atop the roof of the Atlas apartment building on West 36th Street.

There were obvious reasons, of course. Mr. Jeremy’s porn-world nickname, “the Hedgehog,” could easily make the jump to the world of espionage and subterfuge. And then, of course, there’s his rare talent for performing fellatio on himself, which would come in handy should he need to distract and confuse any captors.

But Mr. Jeremy had his own reasons. For one, he said, there’s a history of intelligence-gathering in his family.

“My mother was in the O.S.S.,” he told The Transom, referring to the Office of Strategic Services, which, he added, “in the late 40′s became the C.I.A. She spoke fluent German and Spanish; she was a decoder, a cryptographer. There were certain things that she couldn’t tell us. I think she was a little involved in the tracking down of some of the Germans who had tried to escape to New York.”

That wasn’t the whole of it. “Well, I’m fairly athletic, at least for a fat guy,” he said. “You have to be fairly quick. I went to school with the head of the C.I.A, George Tenet; we were both on the same soccer team, Cordozo High School. Then I have two cousins-can’t give names, but one of them is a very, very high-ranking diplomat, and her husband is supposedly, rumor has it … you know, C.I.A.

Mr. Jeremy was just warming up. “I’m very well-gifted in sneaking under girls’ dresses,” he added. “You know, taking phone numbers out of peoples’ phone books, covert operations. [I'm] covert, overt, obscene and obese.” As he stood on the roof of the Atlas, Mr. Jeremy was also looking pretty sweaty and hairy.

“I’m a great shooter,” Mr. Jeremy continued. “True story: I did target practice with Charlie Sheen, just for the fun of it. He had a couple of guns, and we went to a shooting range. He was amazed it was my first time using a pistol.

“I know!” he suddenly said, as if he’d had an epiphany. “Covert operations, covert stuff-every time I make a movie, I make my penis disappear …. I also talk very fast; I can save on long-distance phone calls. Oh, and I got a good one here: I’m basically immune from the Taliban, from terrorists. I look a little Arabic, that’s No. 1-I could disguise myself. But if they do know who I am, they would not want to hurt me.”

How did Mr. Jeremy arrive at that conclusion? Wasn’t he an infidel of the highest order?

“Somebody once asked if porn people are ever in danger from being celebrities. We’re not. If the Taliban think that pornography is a curse … a scourge on earth,” then, he reasoned, “they would never want to hurt a porn person, because they think that we’re good for America because we’re destroying it. They wouldn’t want to hurt us. They’d want to hurt our President, our Congressmen; they’re not gonna want to hurt porn stars. They’re glad we’re here! We add to the slime ….

“And the best thing of all?” he went on. “No one would suspect me. If someone said to you, if someone said to anybody , ‘Ron Jeremy’s working for the C.I.A.’, they’d go, ‘Yeah, rii-iight !’ It’s perfect! That’s what you want them to say! Nobody would buy the story anyway. I could be doing it right now-you wouldn’t even know it.”

Mr. Jeremy had a point, and he could have stopped there. But on the way back up to the roof, he thought of another C.I.A.-appropriate use for his penis.

“If I lose my weapon, I could bash someone on the head with it,” he said.

“From across the street.”

-George Gurley

Product Placement

Always the businessman, independent film attorney John Sloss doesn’t miss an opportunity to promote his work. On July 20, Mr. Sloss married actress and screenwriter Kathryn Tucker at the couple’s large Germantown, N.Y., home. The couple’s New York Times wedding announcement, published July 21, included the helpful marital statistic that Mr. Sloss produced the movie Tadpole , “a Miramax comedy that was released to theaters on Friday.” Sources who attended the wedding said that Mr. Sloss also distributed Tadpole buttons at his nuptials. Tadpole is about the May-December romance between a fortysomething woman and a high-school boy, and the wedding guests said the buttons were a joking reference to the age difference between Mr. Sloss, 46, and Ms. Tucker, 32. Because of their genders, however, this gap is actually a case of reverse-tadpoling (or, as Harrison Ford refers to it, “dating”). Mr. Sloss declined to comment.

– R.T.

The Transom Also Hears …

Joe Quenqua, a vice president at mPRm Public Relations, has landed the plum position of vice president of publicity at Walt Disney Pictures. The position, in which Mr. Quenqua will oversee all of Disney’s movie publicity on the East Coast, was left vacant in November 2001, when Gigi Semone left Disney to become the senior vice president of publicity for Columbia Pictures, owned by Sony. Sources said that the decision was made at the end of last week.

Mr. Quenqua has been at mPRm since January of 2001, where he handled publicity for films like You Can Count on Me and Quills . Prior to mPRm, Mr. Quenqua represented actors Charlize Theron and Calista Flockhart and late-night talk-show host Conan O’Brien for PMK Public Relations.

Neither Mr. Quenqua nor Disney representatives would confirm the hire.

– R.T.