BetteBack Aug 22, 1993: What’s The Matter With Hollywood?

Hollywood & Vice
Aug 22, 1993 8:00 PM EDT

Entertainment: Heidi and her little black book have Hollywood running scared–and expose the old hypocrisy behind its new political correctness

You are entering Hollywood, where everyone is d about “Madam” Heidi, not really. Where every is pumped up about this politics thing, sort of. re movie executives are going to do something about the treatment of women and gays very, very soon. Yes, Hollywood. Where the honest ones say they’re in it only for the money, and they are. Where, not long ago, two industry types were having breakfast at the posh Four Seasons Hotel. Said one, “Damn it, you’re lying to me!” Said the other, “I know. You’re right. But hear me out.”

On Sept. 10, “Madam” Heidi (also known as Heidi Fleiss, also known as Case No. BA08005) will appear at the Criminal Courts building in Los Angeles for a preliminary hearing on pandering and drug charges. The world will watch. But why? This reported “madam to the stars” will probably never tell all. She will never name names. History tells us this: “Mayflower Madam” Sidney Biddle Barrows refused to sing, as did Heidi’s purported mentor, Madam Alex. Common sense tells us, too: Heidi wields no real power, just a threat she can never make good on. If she published her famous black book, Hollywood would not be after her body, but out for her blood.

Movie stars and moguls are already in heavy denial. Columbia Pictures exec Michael Nathanson issued a statement saying that he “never did business with Heidi on any level,” an unusual career move given that no one had accused him of anything. (Did he jump, or was he pushed?) The juiciest rumors, however, involve box-office heroes. Heidi has threatened to sell her story for $1 million. But nobody needs enemies like these. As Barrows said in the New York Post, “Get a grip–when this is all over she’s going to have to find a job.”

So why are we fascinated with the 27-year-old woman in the sunglasses and the minidress? It’s not because she has said anything titillating; it’s because she still might. Here is a woman who could tell us how Hollywood really works: the secret slush funds, the drugs, the dangerous liaisons. There are clearly two Hollywoods, after all. One is down and dirty: it traffics in sex and violence, and it’s making an unprecedented amount of money this summer (page 50). The other is high and mighty: it poses as a bastion of social concern, and it’s constantly sending its celebrity foot soldiers to Congress to hold forth on the politically correct issues of the day, hour and minute.

Heidi reminds us that Hollywood is, above all, the capital of artifice. What follows is a primer on the tangled web the movie industry has woven–the new hypocrisy. Maybe Heidi would say that our friends in Hollywood aren’t the conflicted, sexually disoriented poseurs we think they are, that they’re only as bad as everybody else. But then again, that’s bad enough.

At the Oscars in March, the movie industry was still insisting that it was the “Year of the Woman.” That the woman in question turns out to be an alleged madam makes sense: Hollywood still thinks the lady is a tramp. In June, Michelle Pfeiffer spoke at a Women in Film luncheon, where she joked that women were worth more than ever before: Richard Gere once bought Julia Roberts for just $3,000 (“Pretty Woman“), but Bill Murray had recently put Uma Thurman‘s value at $40,000 (“Mad Dog and Glory“) and Robert Redford had anted up $1 million for Demi Moore (“Indecent Proposal”). Said Pfeiffer, “I’d say that was real progress.” On the simplest level, there’s a great gulf–between what actors and actresses get paid. Demi Moore reportedly wants $6 million a picture, an asking price that has helped earn her the nickname “Gimme Moore”; but Arnold Schwarzenegger has been commanding $15 million. The real issue, of course, is what’s expected of actresses. “There isn’t a leading man who will do frontal nudity,” producer Robert Evans told Entertainment Weekly, “and there isn’t a leading lady who won’t.” Sharon Stone’s “interrogation room” scene in “Basic Instinct” burned a hole in the male retina, Evans says the actress has “cojones like Mike Tyson,” and, well, she’d have to.

Why so many sordid, sexist scripts? Because, in Hollywood, there are women and there is power and rarely the twain shall meet. Paramount’s Sherry Lansing is the only woman running a major studio. It’s not entirely clear if Lansing is a friend or foe: she produced “The Accused,” but she also oversaw “Sliver” and “Indecent Proposal.” Still, she’s there in the driver’s seat and that counts–just as it counts that Lisa Henson and Stacey Lassally are now the production heads at Columbia and TriStar, respectively. Will all this get women better roles? Producer turned provocateur Julia Phillips believes that the male executives who made Heidi Fleiss a star will need prodding: “I think you can make an association between their preference for whores and the kind of entertainment they purvey. It’s open season on women.”

The gay ’90S: There is no shortage of powerful gay men in Hollywood, but their taste in movies seems to be as bad as everyone else’s. The AIDS epidemic–and gay themes in general–have barely made a dent in development lists. Two years ago Bette Midler appeared at an AIDS benefit and acknowledged a standing ovation by saying, “I did my part. I did what I was supposed to do. And I’m proud of myself that I didn’t run screaming for the hills Eke a lot of people did. Well, f— ’em, I say.”

Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 brought AIDS to the attention of the American mainstream. But Hollywood continues to steer clear of AIDS-related projects. It has spent almost six torturous years trying to make a movie out of Randy Shilts’s AIDS history “And the Band Played On.” HBO, which picked up the rights after NBC dumped the project, had trouble finding a star adventurous enough to sign on. “Band,” which features Richard Gere, among others, will finally air in September. Says Shilts of the entertainment world: “What is appalling is that there is no industry on the planet that has been so decimated by AIDS.”

Some have taken to calling Hollywood’s gay contingent the “Velvet Mafia.” But few are “out” publicly, and those who are tend to be, as one young dancer puts it, “discreetly out.” “The truth of the matter,” he says, “is that the gay community doesn’t support itself in Hollywood.” Is it a gay executive’s job to push “gay” product? David Geffen thinks not. The mogul, who has donated millions of dollars to gay–related causes, told Rolling Stone: “If you have a job in Hollywood to make movies, it’s your job to make movies that make money.”

The irony is that there are heterosexuals getting “gay” movies made. Jonathan Demme’s forthcoming “Philadelphia:’ will feature two bankable straight stars: Tom Hanks, as an AIDS-infected lawyer suing to get his job back, and Denzel Washington, as his homophobic attorney. There is talk of an Oscar for Hanks, but if “Philadelphia” flops financially it may be some time before gay themes dominate a major release.

In May, Susan Sarandon told the graduating class at Rutgers College that Hollywood’s political thinking runs along these lines: “Nominate an actress for playing an activist, but ban her from being one.” Over the years, celebrities, including Sarandon, have lobbied mightily for their favorite political causes, but most memorable are the presumptuous press releases and the awkward moments on Oscar night. Remember Richard Gere and his bewildering happy-thoughts speech for Tibet? And who can forget this surreal statement from Barbra Streisand: “Running for the Senate is out of the question.” When celebrities start proselytizing, you invariably wish they had just stuck to the script. Any script. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Bruce Willis blamed the high cost of movies on the price of union labor. This from a man used to pocketing $12 million a picture.

When President Clinton first took office, it looked as if Washington and Hollywood were a match made in heaven. They are, after all, our twin cities of megalomania and self-absorption. Things have cooled in the intervening months, although the Clintons did invite Liza Minnelli to sleep over once. Earlier this year they were criticized for frequently stepping out with celebrities and decided to blow off the premieres of “Dave” and “Jurassic Park.” The marriage, it would seem, is on the rocks. Celebrities will continue to wax political. But Hollywood will never start mass-producing socially conscious movies. In a recent Harper’s magazine, Bob Israel, CEO of the Hollywood advertising agency Aspect Ratio, said: “The sad reality is, every time Hollywood tries to make a politically correct movie, it bombs.”

So it all comes back to money. Or sex. Or sex for money. in the end, this is what’s troubling about the Heidi scandal: no one seems troubled by it. Last week Heidi showed up for her arraignment, looking entirely pleased with herself, and pleaded not guilty. As for the world at large: all the ricocheting rumors have left us hot but not terribly bothered. So what are we to make of the fact that some Hollywood types may boycott Woody Allen’s new comedy, “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” because of his affair with Soon-Yi Previn? “We won’t go see it,” says one movie exec. “My wife feels totally betrayed by Woody.” It’s a tricky business, this moral superiority–especially in a town like Hollywood. “Some people have decided to be moralists,” says a source in Allen’s camp, “and many of these people have no room to talk given what’s going on in Hollywood with a certain little black book.”

Ah, yes, the little black book. it was reported late last week that the Los Angeles Police Department was looking into whether any of its officers had moonlighted as security agents or chauffeurs for the prostitution ring allegedly run by “Madam” Heidi. The U.S. Attorney General’s Office is also said to be on Fleiss’s case, and the IRS is reportedly after not her black book, but her bankbook. One producer thinks the Heidi story is a story about Hollywood’s inability to slough off the ’80s: “The whole party-girl thing has to do with flashy lifestyles and hubris and being above the law, spending the vast expense account on nonsense.” Heidi has given us a glimpse of that decadent old world. And so we’ve made her Hollywood’s newest star, its latest hothouse flower. Because she just may talk. And who knows what she will say?

Ingrid Bergman won fame for playing paragons of probity in “Casablanca,” “Gaslight” and other movie masterpieces. But when word leaked in 1949 that she was pregnant with director Roberto Rossellini’s child while still married to Petter Lindstrom, a Swedish dentist, Bergman was run out of the country. Though she eventually married Rossellini and had two more children with him, Hollywood didn’t hire her again for seven years. (UPI–BETTMANN)

In 1921, Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle gave new meaning to the phrase living large. On day three of a drunken orgy in San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel, the 266-pound Keystone Cop took starlet Virginia Rappe into a bedroom. She emerged writhing in pain accured Fatty of rape and lied five days later of peritonitis. Three juries failed to convict him, but Paramount canceled his contract. He changed his name to Will B. Good, but few believed him; he died at 46. (JERRY OHLINGER)

Rock Hudson was about to grab a giant hunk of stardom in 1954 when slimy Confidential magazine started asking about his sex life. In the Beaver Cleaver ’50s, open homosexuality killed careers. Hudson’s agent spotted a secretary in his office and arranged for a quickie wedding–though much of Hollywood knew Hudson was gay. The marriage to Phyllis Gates lasted three chilly years

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