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Hollywood: The dark side of the moon

When I titled my book, “Conservatives Are From Mars, Liberals Are From San Francisco,” I could have substituted “Hollywood” for “San Francisco.” It really is another planet. It is filled with high-school drop-outs and drama majors making millions of dollars a year and thinking they should tell everybody else how to think.

What you must never forget with these people is that most of them took acting classes, and the No. 1 lesson they learned is to get in touch with their feelings. And, so, that’s what they do. Which only serves to divorce them even further from whatever thought processes they might possess. They can depict emotions and action, but where most of them fall short is in suggesting that they are thinking about anything at all, except for the size of their trailer and their back-end points.

Sixty years ago, it was quite a different place. Major stars like Jimmy Stewart, Tyrone Power and Clark Gable, all enlisted and did active duty. The older actors and the actresses served coffee at the USO and the actresses, and I dare say a few of the actors, danced with the G.I.s about to go overseas. Lots of people besides Bob Hope went around the world to entertain the troops. The whole town actively toured the country to sell war bonds. The great Carole Lombard died coming home from just such a trip.

These days, you have people like Ed Asner, Mike Farrell, Susan Sarandon and Alec Baldwin bad-mouthing the war effort. Sean Penn went to Bagdad to give comfort and aid to Saddam Hussein, reminding some of us of Jane Fonda schlepping off to North Vietnam to pose for pictures with the Viet Cong.

One thing you have to give the Hollywood community credit for is monumental gall. I mean, Barbra Streisand insults conservatives every day of the week, knowing full well it won’t hurt her CD sales. Julia Roberts tells the world that if you look up Republican in the dictionary, you’ll find it right after reptiles, and she continues to sell tickets, even though half the people in America are Republicans.

Although Arianna Huffington is not an actress, she hangs around a lot of them. Actually, it’s actors and actresses and Hollywood types who hang around her because she runs a political salon out of her home in Brentwood. What makes her so deserving of mention in this company is her unflagging self-righteousness. Sometimes, it seems that every other day, the Los Angeles Times is running one of her columns attacking people who drive SUVs.

Now, I don’t happen to like those over-sized vehicles myself – mainly because they take up so much space in parking lots. Ms. Huffington hates them because they waste fossil fuels. To understand how hypocritical this is, you must understand two things. One, the folks who congregate on a regular basis at her Westside mansion mostly all drive SUVs, Rolls-Royces or are driven around in limos. The other thing is that Ms. Huffington lives in a house the size of a small hotel. I can assure you that the energy it takes to warm and cool the palace is far more than a soccer mom uses driving her SUV to the supermarket.

Something else you’ll notice about Hollywood celebrities is that they’re very outspoken, just as long as they’re addressing the choir. But, you rarely see them placing themselves in a situation where they have to debate the issues. In fact, some years ago, long before Alzheimer’s set in, Charlton Heston offered to debate Ms. Streisand on the subject of guns, all the money collected to go to the charity of her choice. No chance.

Speaking of Mr. Heston reminds me of Michael Moore, the man who produced “Bowling for Columbine,” a movie which was carefully and cruelly edited so that Heston, who had already started to show signs of his illness, could be made to look foolish. A terrible sidebar to the movie is that it won an award from my union, the Writers Guild of America, as the best original script of the year. A documentary wins for Best Screenplay? A couple of months later, Moore won the Oscar for Best Documentary. When people started pointing out all the lies and the half-truths in the movie, Mr. Moore’s response was, “Why is everybody getting so excited? It was just a comedy.” He’s the comedy, but the laugh’s on us.

If I were a betting man, I would say that the closest thing to a sure bet at next year’s Academy Awards is Michael Moore’s winning another Oscar for “Farenheit 911.” Even those Hollywood pipsqueaks who are willing to acknowledge that the movie is packed with partisan lies and claptrap like to say that, cinematically, “Farenheit” is very well done. They are also very big fans of Hitler’s favorite propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl.

The fact that he won two major awards for “Columbine” proves what a moral cesspool Hollywood is. But, then, it was the same year in which the members of the Motion Picture Academy recognized that “Chicago” was the Best Picture of the Year, but they couldn’t resist the opportunity to show how sophisticated they are by giving the award for Best Director to the pedophile fugitive, Roman Polanski, apparently the only person in the world who thought that his movie, “Chinatown,” had a happy ending.

Speaking of Charlton Heston, I have to relate a personal anecdote. A few years ago, my wife and I were at a dinner party with five other couples. All the men worked or had worked in the industry as writers, directors or producers. After dinner, as we were sitting around having coffee, someone started to say something insulting about Mr. Heston. One of the others quickly agreed. Soon, everyone was trashing the man. Finally, I piped up and said, “Well, agree with him or not, you have to give him credit for having the courage to voice a contrary opinion in this town. After all, he is an actor for hire.”

Well, nobody would acknowledge what I regarded as an obvious fact of Hollywood life. I mean, in a town in which people will readily admit they’re drunks or drug addicts, Heston was one of the few people who ever had the nerve to be openly conservative. These people hated Heston so much – a man who had walked shoulder to shoulder with Martin Luther King in Selma – that they could not even give him credit for having the courage of his convictions.

The part I really loved was when one of the guests, who had begun to think that I wasn’t quite as liberal as he had suspected, finally asked me if I owned any guns. When I said I didn’t, you could see the entire room relax – apparently I wasn’t as terrible as they had thought. Then I pointed to my wife and said, “I don’t, but she does.” It was delightful to see 10 jaws drop to the floor.

These people live in such a cocoon that they, literally, do not have dealings with people who are not in lockstep with them. Proof of this is what happened to a friend of mine and his wife. They had been invited to a cocktail party. Other guests had already arrived when they got there. As they entered a fairly crowded den, a very successful TV producer was telling the group that he, personally, did not know a single a–hole who had voted for Bush. My friend, with perfect timing, said, “Well, now you do.”

I wouldn’t want you to get the idea that my wife and I get invited out a lot, but we were at a dinner party with about 20 other people. As is my wont, I spoke my mind, and wound up arguing with just about everyone. Naturally, everyone else just happened to be a liberal. The next day, I wrote a thank-you note to our hostess.

I told her the food was fine, but there was something I enjoyed even more. And that was the opportunity to change people’s minds on an important issue. Which is something, I think we’d all agree, very rarely happens. In this case, I know for a fact that at the start of the evening, everybody at the party was opposed to capital punishment. By the end of the evening, they were all quite prepared to make an exception in my case.

Sometimes, when we would sit around in the writers room at “Diagnosis Murder,” someone would wonder aloud why one of the cast members had done or said some really stupid thing. Invariably, someone else would say, “Come on, he’s an actor.” And everybody in the room would just nod. Of course, that is always the answer where these idiots are concerned.

To understand the mentality of actors, you have to appreciate the fact that these are grown-ups who spend their entire careers dressing up in other people’s clothes, wearing makeup, speaking words that have been written for them, and being told how to walk and talk by a director. Does that sound like something an adult would want to do with his life? When you then pay them enormous amounts of money, excuse their boorishness, glamorize their excesses and perch them on pedestals, is it any wonder these pampered pets are going to act like babies?

How ridiculous are they, you ask? An example, some years ago, I was interviewing Jack Lemmon at his office. Lemmon was a very nice guy, a Harvard graduate and a very good piano player. Anyway, he was telling me about having just finished making a movie with director Costa-Gavras. Lemmon wanted to explain to me the amount of trust that he, as an actor, placed in this man.

He said, “Burt, you haven’t been in my home, but we have a bar at the back of the house. And I swear to you that if Costa-Gavras were sitting at the bar and he said, ‘Jack, I want you to get up off your stool and go into the backyard and keep walking until I tell you to stop’ – and by the way, at the end of the back lawn we have a deep canyon – and if he didn’t tell me to stop walking, I’d step right off into the canyon. That’s how much I trust him.”

Now of course, Jack Lemmon wasn’t a complete fool. You and I know he would not have kept walking to his certain death. The point is, he thought he was proving what dedication he had to his art. Instead, I’m sitting there trying to keep a straight face and wondering if it is absolutely essential that actors – even good ones like Jack Lemmon – have to be balloon-like from the neck up.

It isn’t just that Hollywood is bigoted against people who don’t agree with them, but that they are so hypocritical. I’ll give you three examples.

For years, you couldn’t turn on an awards show without seeing everyone wearing one of those red ribbons, showing support of AIDS victims. Well, there was an actor named Brad Davis. He played Bobby Kennedy in one of those TV movies about the Cuban missile crisis, and he had a featured role in “Sybil” with Sally Field, and he had his biggest role starring in “Midnight Express.” Well, along the way, Mr. Davis contracted HIV. But because he knew Hollywood, he kept it a secret even from his agent, so he could keep working for the six or seven years he had left. It’s one thing to wear a silly ribbon, quite another to hire an actor with AIDS.

My second example is Alan Alda. Because he had a bicoastal marriage while he was working on “MASH,” and because he always said nice things about his wife who was back in New Jersey, he used to get standing ovations at NOW conventions. Oddly enough, since he pretty much controlled “MASH” after the first few years, nobody ever asked him why women never got to write or direct any of the episodes. In fact, up to the last couple of seasons of its 11-year run, when they finally put a woman on the writing staff, the only time a woman ever got to write or direct was when it was one of the rare episodes that dealt primarily with Hot Lips Houlihan, when Loretta Swit would insist on it.

My third example also relates to NOW. Norman Lear was a special hero of theirs because he had made a $250,000 donation to the group , and did it in the name of Edith Bunker. Cute. However, I had met one of his company’s vice-presidents, a woman, at a writers seminar in Georgia. One night, a few of us got a little drunk and she let her hair down. It seems she was very upset because she had found out that a man at Lear’s company, who did not have a so-called comparable job to hers, but the exact same one, was earning $125,000-a-year, while she was being paid $75,000. On top of which, Lear was notoriously cheap to his staff, most of whom were female. But that didn’t stop him from handing out big checks to rich women on behalf of a fictional woman, and getting applauded for it. But that’s liberals for you.

People ask me how I managed to survive for so long in the business, being a conservative. Well, the truth is I wasn’t always one. Most of my life I was a Democrat. I grew up in a home where FDR was a god. As time went by, I discovered that I would vote for Democrats running for president, but I’d hate myself in the morning.

It was only in the ’90s that I decided to switch over to the right side – the far right side. But it was after this that I got my first staff job in the business, working on “Diagnosis Murder.” Up to then, I had always been a free-lancer, and my politics were my own business. Suddenly I was locked in a room with four other people. To give you some idea, three voted for Gore, one guy voted for Nader. The good thing was that after the 2000 election, the other three hated him more than they hated me.

But, I honestly think that I was the first conservative some of these people had ever worked with. We’d have arguments and they would gang up on me. After we’d worked together for a few months, I interrupted one of those Burt-bashing sessions to point out what I thought was fairly obvious. Namely, that I was a pretty nice guy, even if I didn’t agree with their politics.

I told them that they had to get over their belief that anyone to the right of Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton was a bad person. If I believed in capital punishment, it wasn’t because I was a bloodthirsty ogre, but because I empathized with the victim and the victim’s family, and not the killer. If I was opposed to affirmative action, it wasn’t because I wanted blacks and Hispanics to be condemned to poverty, but because I thought the quota-based policy was patronizing and counterproductive. If I thought so-called bilingual education was a bad idea, it was because every study showed that it held kids back, and that in all too many instances they never caught up.

I’m not sure if they changed their mind on any of the issues, but I think, at least for a couple of years, they didn’t think everyone who disagreed with the liberal manifesto was the devil’s spawn.

This brings us to the question of why the folks in Hollywood are the way they are. One main reason is herd mentality. No matter what politics you were raised with, if you’re going to work in show business, it behooves you to run with the pack. And there are definitely reasons that the pack is so left wing. Partly it’s because so many people in positions of power and influence are homosexuals, Jewish, and/or female.

By and large, women go with their feelings and if there’s one issue that matters to Hollywood women more than any other, it’s the right to have abortions on demand.

Gays flock to the left because liberal politicians treat them like an endangered species – funneling billions of dollars into AIDS research and crusading for same-sex marriages.

Finally, we have American Jews. Being Jewish myself, I am freer than some people to point out that, considering how bright and accomplished we are as a group, we tend to be dangerously naive when it comes to politics. In the past, we were attracted in large numbers to socialism and communism, and today we make up a large segment of the radical movement.

Whether Jews call themselves progressives, liberals or just plain Democrats, we have for far too long behaved as if we were facing the same dangers in Christian America as Jews faced in tsarist Russia and Nazi Germany. Let a man like George W. Bush freely acknowledge that he is a devout Christian and we Jews start looking around for Cossacks.

Radio host Dennis Prager refers to it as a paralysis of memory, likening it to black Americans who carry on as if lynchings were still taking place and Jim Crow laws were still in force.

But, then, perhaps, Hollywood being the place where the lunatics tend to be in charge of the asylum, it is perfectly reasonable that paranoia is regarded as a normal state of mind. And, sadly, of politics.