“You mean like, Angelina’s a bitch and Brad is great?”
That’s former longtime Daily News-er, Joanna Molloy, replying to a question about what we might expect to find in her forthcoming memoir with George Rush, “Scandal, A Manual: The Inside Story of America’s Infamous Gossip Columnists.”
As Rush & Molloy, the husband-and-wife team wrote the Daily News’ premier gossip column for 15 years. They met when both were working on the rival Page Six column at the New York Post.
There are plenty of war stories.
“When Sean Penn called, it was usually to yell,” recalled Ms. Molloy.
“He was totally yelling at me because he had been with another woman that wasn’t [his wife] Robin Wright. And he just kept calling and yelling, ‘I haaave a family! I haaave a family!’ I said, ‘well, you didn’t think about that when you were horizontal.’”
These days, having a celebrity scream at you personally would be called “access.”
“The ones who pick up the phone themselves are always interesting to me,” Ms. Molloy said. “Most of them delegate the yelling.”
“Jay Z called to really have a conversation about trying to understand why I did a certain item. And I came to understand him more, because he said, ‘look, there are jealous people out there, and they put lies up on the internet.’”
Mr. Rush recalled, “Julia Roberts tried to use flowers a couple of times.”
Ms. Molloy interjected: “Two dozen tulips is his price! He totally killed my item about someone who she was sleeping with”—the actor Benjamin Bratt—“for a couple dozen posies.”
“And she calls him up and says ‘oh George, this isn’t news. We don’t want the spotlight on it.’” Ms. Molloy’s Julia Roberts impression sounds remarkably like Ginger from “Gilligan’s Island.”
Mr. Rush’s is more of a sultry Jane Birkin. He remembered, “she gets all flirty—‘Oh, is this George Rush? Why are you writing about my boring life?’”
Anyway, it worked.
For anyone who has encountered Mr. Rush and Ms. Molloy—and their wide-ranging beat made them ubiquitous on the New York party scene for almost two decades—“Scandal, A Manual” is exactly like talking to them. Mr. Rush wrote most of it, until Ms. Molloy interrupts with whole pages introduced with segues like “Now, over to Joanna.”
(When I started as their assistant around 2002, George was in the office and Joanna was working in the field. For months I thought a publicist was laying down the law to George on the phone when it was just Joanna calling.)
There is a lesson for billionaires like Ron Burkle in how not to manage gossip columnists. Such as, maybe pick up the phone, rather than try to use your Clinton connections to kill an item about your divorce? Of course, given the messy and inconclusive sting he later tried to pull on the Post’s Jared Paul Stern, he may not have listened.
I also asked my former bosses whether there was much in the book about Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein, who always enjoyed trying to pull strings with the different gossip columns.
“There are certain behaviors we describe that could apply to a number of producers who had relationships with the columnists,” Mr. Rush replied cautiously.
“I think Harvey and [his brother and producing partner] Bob should be saluted,” he added after a pause. “Because they recognized that the columnists were not poisonous reptiles, and that a dialogue could exist where you could use the media to get your message out to promote your films. The big studios had always kept the columns…”
Ms. Molloy jumped in: “It was like we were living in a leper colony. But it was Manhattan!”
“And Harvey was the first one to figure out that, actually, the columns in New York drove TV in New York,” she said. “Because the first thing that all the young producers and now the web journalists do in the morning is check all the columns. It took years for some of the studios out of LA to figure that out.”
It was a generous take on such a famously cantankerous character—but then that was what the Rush & Molly column was known for.
“Scandal, A Manual” will be released from Skyhorse Publishing on October 21.