Sammy Glicks And Tinseltown

by Mark Lacter

I had been waiting for justice suddenly to rise up and smite him in all his vengeance, secretly hoping to be around when Sammy got what was coming to him; only I had expected something conclusive and fatal and now I realized that what was coming to him was not a sudden pay-off but a process, a disease he had caught in the epidemic

From Budd Schulberg's "What Makes Sammy Run?"

It's still the same old story Hollywood will forever be populated with jerks. The trick is in keeping your jerkiness from public view. This year's Oscar saga provides testimony of those who do and those who don't.

Russell Crowe, of course, is in the latter category. The New Zealand-born star of "A Beautiful Mind" blew his chance at a second Oscar by roughing up a BBC producer after discovering that the poem he recited at a British awards telecast had been snipped. Too much, it seems, for Academy voters to stomach, no matter how deserving he might have been.

Oscar-philes might remember his sourpuss reaction to Steve Martin's quip that actress Ellen Burstyn had to gain 30 pounds to play the role in "Requiem for a Dream" and, "Russell Crowe still hit on her." Later, after some fawning reporter asked a dumb question, he responded: "Ask me questions that I can answer yes or no or short answers to and we will get on really well."

There's no defense for boorishness, and the guy does seem like a piece of work, but at least he lays it out for the world to see. Besides, how would you like being described before tens of millions as a brooding, sex-crazed jerk?

By contrast, there were several Oscar winners the other night who have managed to keep a Teflon edge on their jerkiness. They seem nice enough in front of the cameras, but in the workaday world they are considered well, difficult and often a lot worse.

I'll refrain from naming names because this is not the National Enquirer and besides, Hollywood scuttlebutt is not always reliable. But where there's smoke there's usually a flame or two, and a survey among colleagues around town turned up the following descriptions of the not-so-nice folks holding statuettes: "Screamer." "Bad cop." "Insolent." "Erratic." One Hollywood journalist advised me that you never want to know what show folk are really like because you'll usually be disappointed.

But how do they avoid the Russell Crowe plague? There are obvious strategies, such as having a good publicist, cooperating with the media (no matter how moronic they might be), being married, having kids, not getting addicted to alcohol or drugs, and not sounding off at inappropriate times (even if they edit your poem).

Then there is the not-so-obvious explanation that Hollywood is like high school and in high school, looks and smarts count for a lot. As those beautiful, creative people lined up to get inside the Kodak Theatre, they could easily have been sauntering into science class full of themselves and their stature. Even the hunkish Crowe, for all his naughtiness, has won a best actor Oscar and two nominations in the last three years.

When you're a Hollywood celebrity, you just get treated better. This is not reasonable or fair, but simply the way the world works. It's a wonder that even in these privileged climes, some show folk manage to be well-grounded citizens. For others, it's a license for malice and disregard a license to be a jerk.

Mark Lacter is editor of the Business Journal.

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