If you live long enough in New York, sooner or later you learn that no matter what you’ve got—no matter what status you hold—there’s always some guy waiting to trump you. It doesn’t matter whether or not you care. Because for him, that’s entirely beside the point: He’s always got some ace in the hole—some connection, some overhand tennis slam—designed to take you down a few notches and put you away. Among a certain class, it’s the local intramural sport.
So join us now as we listen in on the top-seeded players in this week’s pan-Manhattan freestyle status-strutting competition:
Plutocrat I: “I’ve got a Park Avenue penthouse, a $2 billion hedge fund, a ranch in Montana, a condo in Beaver Creek, a cottage in East Hampton, a GV at Teterboro, a yacht in Saint Bart’s, a Renoir at the Met, a wing at Beth Israel, a string of ponies at Wellington, an ex-wife in Greenwich, and I’m dating a supermodel.”
Plutocrat II: “How nice for you. Steve Rattner got my kid in pre-school, David Boise handles my corporate litigation, Eddie Hayes takes care of the criminal stuff, Howard Rubenstein is my P.R. guy, Bill Clinton sits on the board of my private equity group and Harvey—you know Harvey, don’t you?—last year Harvey published my daughter’s tell-all novel about her insane mother, and this year he’s releasing my son’s first feature. He said that Marty said it’s going to go to Sundance.”
Plutocrat I: “I was on Page Six this morning.”
Plutocrat II: “I was on the front page of The New York Times this morning, in a story about how I was shaken down by Page Six.”
Point, set, match. Game over.
Your correspondent is filing this diary from Los Angeles, where —apropos of our own “tale of the tape” imbroglio, the Anthony Pellicano case—Variety’s Peter Bart has reported that “Private investigators say they now have a booming business in sweeping homes for suspected taps.” Commenting on this newest of status-driven trends, Mr. Bart mused, perhaps not altogether facetiously: “Remember, the guy you hire to check for taps may also be putting them in.”
I’ll have more to say about this in a minute. But in the meantime, as the children rush off from the Seder table to find the hidden matzo (and maybe turn up a wiretap or two), here’s the rest of what some of L.A. is talking about.
The Immigration Bill: As I write this, the streets are filled with protesting Latinos playing to the news cameras, demanding the decriminalization of workers who’ve entered the country illegally. At the same time, the airwaves are filled with right-wing radio talk-show hosts playing to their constituency, bashing George W. Bush and John McCain for their so-called “amnesty program” while spitting vitriol about overburdened emergency rooms, prisons filled with illegal immigrants, national security and jobs taken from bona fide American citizens.
What’s surprising here is that the talk-show trolls don’t seem to grasp the bigger picture, and what’s really in play: California’s emerging Latino majority. A group that’s religious, pro-military, pro-law, upwardly mobile and willing to cross party lines inside a voting booth.
Let me frame this in Hollywood terms: If you made Chico and the Man today, Chico would own a painting company with 125 employees and a contract for the Staples Center, and “The Man” would be his investment counselor at Wells Fargo.
In short, this ain’t about the borders. It’s about California’s 55 electoral votes and the 2008 Presidential election. And the really surprising thing here is that Karl Rove hasn’t been able to impart this notion to his talk-radio foot soldiers.
The Pellicano Case: Recently, I met with a talent manager who hired Anthony Pellicano during the mid-1990’s, on behalf of a movie-star client with a female-stalker problem. As the manager recounted it, their first meeting eerily foreshadowed Jared Paul Stern: “Pellicano offered us a laundry list—a menu—and asked exactly how far we wanted to take this,” the manager said. “Nobody can plead naïve here. We all knew exactly what we’d bargained for and what we were getting billed for.”
And now all of Hollywood waits, with a mixture of glee and horror, endlessly clicking on Nikki Finke’s DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com to see who’s getting indicted next. As the manager put it, “Everybody’s going to turn. These are wimpy white guys; they’re not going to jail.” He’s right. It isn’t like John Gotti and the Mafia. You don’t get to run a studio— greenlighting Ben Stiller pictures—from a prison cell.
As I’ve written before, Hollywood has become a meaner and nastier place over the past few years. Lots of little people chasing big, soul-crushing dreams. None of this is surprising. It used to be: “It’s not enough for me to succeed; I want my friends to fail.” These days, the expression is: “It’s not enough for me to succeed; I want my friends to get indicted.”
The Strike Zone: You hear it in dribs and drabs and whispers: from film directors over dinner, from screenwriters lingering at lunch, from actors killing time between takes: Hollywood may go to war next year over DVD payments. As Edward Jay Epstein, author of The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood, explained to me: “These days, a typical picture earns 45 percent of its revenue from DVD’s and only 14 percent from its theatrical release. The rest comes from TV, cable and other forms of distribution. But the definition of profit—how much a movie actually makes—still comes from the days when box office was king.” There’s a growing sense that the time is ripe to address these issues, along with payments for iPods and Google. The call for strikes hasn’t reached a boil yet, but the pot is definitely simmering.
Hillary 2008? As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, the junior Senator from New York is losing her allure out here. Sure, in any group setting, everyone loves her and bemoans “those people out there” who won’t vote for a woman for President. But one-on-one, the litany begins: She’s an opportunist; she’s on the wrong side of the war. Enough of the Clintons already. Ultimately, we’re the people out there who won’t vote for her.
In any case, this is going to follow an entirely predictable story arc over the next two years: She’s invincible, she’s vulnerable, the front-runner stumbles, she’s the new comeback kid; Bill does something stupid to undermine her; it’s all a horserace.
Page Six, Anthony Pellicano and Hillary. Too bad you can’t TiVo ’em and fast-forward to the highlights.