independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Thrills, spills, perverts 'n' pills: catching Hollywood in the act

Ian O'Doherty laps up a new book that lifts the lid off Tinseltown sleaze, but finds its mixture of prurience and puritanism a little difficult to digest

It's the town we all hate to love. But whether you're a Timberland-wearing mall rat who spends most of your money in the nearest goggleplex watching the latest Michael Bay atrocity, or a hardline Islamic revolutionary plotting the downfall of the Great Satan, you can't get away from the fact that Hollywood is the single biggest cultural export centre in the history of the world.

The industry protects its cash cows, of course, but in their book Hollywood, Interrupted, Andrew Breitbart and Mark Ebner sink their fangs into what they call "the twisted culture and pathological behaviour of celebrities which has destroyed comedy, snuffed relationships and demeaned family values".

And while some people may be suspicious of the politics of the authors, there's no doubt that some of the tales here will perturb the citizens of Tinseltown.

Most of us would assume that Hugh Hefner, the man the authors blast as the "fossilised relic embalmed in nostalgia and Viagra", is simply a cheesy, slightly pathetic but ultimately harmless old man.

Breitbart and Ebner, however, accuse Heff of having a keen interest in a bizarre sexual practice that, even by Hollywood's debauched standards, doesn't so much push the perversion boundary as vault over it.

They also disclose that Eddie Murphy's encounter with a transvestite hooker wasn't a case of simple mistaken identity, as he claimed at the time, but part of a systematic pattern stretching back more than 10 years.

A planned deposition of other accusers was cancelled after suspected - later to be proved correct - payoffs to numerous people and, more suspiciously, the defenestration/suicide of Atisone Seuli, the transvestite Murphy was caught with.

Inevitably, Michael Jackson comes in for some special attention, not least for the fact that two of those closest to him during some of his more lurid times in Neverland had a background in producing a brand of gay porn in Europe that specialised in making young men look younger.

Jackson's "friend" was eventually fired, but only after a sleazy private investigator went to Jackson in an attempted extortion attempt.

Not all of the scandal is sex-based, of course. Anne Heche may have scandalised Middle America when she married Ellen Degeneres in a gaudy lesbian wedding (she is now in a heterosexual marriage, but with her career on the skids, stay tuned) but she simply baffled them when she started speaking an alien tongue during a television interview.

Courtney Love figures prominently too. As perhaps the most out-of-control, deluded and irritating individual in the entertainment world at the moment, she is certainly fair game.

The authors show their studs early: "Love, a trust-fund brat with a penchant for self-aggrandisement coupled with what seems to be healthy dose of narcissistic personality disorder, claimed in a Vanity Fair interview to have shot up heroin while pregnant ... [she] ranks among the most troubled and twisted alumni of entertainment industry and her brand of insanity chic deserves special attention."

And attention she gets. The entire chapter is a cavalcade of one atrocity against taste, decency and common sense after another.

The air rage incident; the demands that anyone who looks directly at her be fired from their job; the death threats, suicide threats and weird conversations she has with her daughter ("Mommy has taken too many bad pills, don't be scared, the ambulance will be here soon"). All serve to make Love a monster.

Amid all the outrageously deluded behaviour and belief in her own talent - which, in Love's case, must surely rank as a true sign of extreme mentalism - that Vanity Fair cover story is the most damning indictment of Hollywood culture yet.

VF editor at the time, Tina Brown, understandably jumped on the lurid details, yet airbrushed a cigarette Love was holding out of the cover picture in case it gave Love's fans the wrong message.

It is this level of hypocritical political correctness, as well the indulgences offered to otherwise ignorant stars, that really enrages Breitbart and Ebner.

The folly of allowing stars to address Congress, for instance, resulted in Kevin Richardson of The Backstreet Boys appearing in front of the Senate Environment and Public Works sub-committee to protest against open-top mining.

"I'm not a scientist," said the singer with admirable honesty, "but I know what I've seen in flights over the coalfields." Not surprisingly, more than one senator refused to be part of the spectacle - but they were all Republicans and this was during a Clinton presidency.

Still, while there are moments of genuine rage and resentment peppering the pages of Hollywood, Interrupted at the egregious misuse by stars of their easily earned power, Ebner and Breitbart are primarily gossip mongers. The book works best when they are having a good old-fashioned laugh at some of the more eccentric behaviour of our cherished celebrities.

You might have worked out already, for instance, that Shirley MacLaine is as mad as a box of frogs, but did you know that MacLaine and fellow Hollywood flotsam such as Linda Evans and New Age wibbler Yanni were involved in a legal case with a 35,000-year-old Atlantean warrior?

Ramtha (for it was he) was apparently an ancient warrior who was channelled by the trio's television cable installer (as cable guys do, you know). Ramtha warned the credulous company that Atlantis blew itself up after misusing technology and that we were headed the same way.

Ramtha then urged his growing following to invest their money in a horse stables, which just happened to be - surprise, surprise - run by the cable installer.

Things reached a bad end, however, when a student at the Ramtha School of Enlightenment tried to sue the warrior for sexual misconduct, leaving an exasperated District Attorney trying to explain to an irate Shirley MacLaine that it is rather difficult to subpoena a 35,000-year-old warrior who only appears through a cable installer.

The Ramtha School of Enlightenment, incidentally, is still open; for a mere $800 they will let you in on some of their secrets.

While such stories are fundamentally harmless - the Darwinian principle of relieving stupid rich people from their money is a long and noble tradition - there are more serious aspects of the Hollywood PC brigade changing popular culture to such a degree that the course of entertainment has been irrevocably altered.

In the terrifying chapter 'The Death of Comedy', the authors detail the fate that befell comedians such as Sam Kinnison and Andrew Dice Clay.

While Kinnison was always the far more talented performer ("Let me talk to you actors in rehab," he once said. "If you can still pay $30,000 to go into drug rehab you don't have a drug problem, so shut the f**k up and go back to looking pretty on screen"), his rage at the growing neo-puritanism of comedians such as Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal and Janeane Garofalo was a contributing factor to the depression that ultimately led to his death.

Clay may well have been unpleasant in parts, yet he was undoubtedly a funnier talent than any of the comedy orthodoxy that followed. His gag about the thieves who save money by only using dental floss to blindfold Korean shopkeepers may be in bad taste, but it is funny.

The right-on brigade, though, soon ensured that he would be exiled from the mainstream. Indeed, it is because of the tyranny of liberal comedians who refuse to allow a dissenting voice that virtually every American sitcom at the moment (with the odd honourable exception like HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm) are anodyne, life-affirming and stultifyingly, mind-numbingly boring.

But while the authors are to be congratulated, and indeed thanked, for some of the research they bring to the book, there is an undeniably prurient and nasty seam running through it.

Their pointless insistence, for example, on constantly referring to Tom Cruise as "the heterosexual Tom Cruise" simply grates after a while and proves nothing.

Conveniently, there is no mention of the lawsuit Cruise was forced to bring two years ago to prevent allegedly compromising photographs of himself being released to the media.

And while there is an interesting chapter on the love affair that Cruise and his friend John Travolta have with Scientology, the simple fact is that L. Ron Hubbard's 'creed' remains a relative irrelevancy. Among Hollywood's major players, Christians and Jews still far outnumber Scientologists.

Throughout the 300-odd pages, there is a real sense that while the authors are undoubtedly witty and know their material, there is far more that they are unwilling to print. The feeling that they have deliberately omitted exculpatory evidence is almost overwhelming in parts.

'Hollywood, Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon' by Andrew Breitbart and Mark Ebner is published by Wiley, price £18.95 (?28.40)

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