The Upside: Hollywood dreams -- and nightmares
Cleavage was definitely the must-have accessory at the recent Hollywood premiere of The Hangover. I attended as the guest of Spiderman producer Laura Ziskin, with whom I'm working on developing my comic novel How I Paid for College. The experience was eye-opening as well as eye-popping.
For starters, the audience is herded into Grauman's Chinese Theater in a process about as much fun as boarding an airplane: celebrities are First Class, industry people are Business Class, and the seat-filling winners of radio giveaways are Steerage. As for journalists, when I asked a security guard why the paparazzi were penned behind barricades, he mumbled, "'Cuz they're animals."
I myself was shunted to the side where I got several excellent shots of the backs of Jim Carrey, Heather Graham and one of the Olsen twins, though I'm not sure which one. After seeing celebrities like Zac Efron and Jeremy Piven up close, I concluded that movie and TV stars are shaped like soup spoons, with enormous round heads atop smooth, skinny bodies.
But while Hollywood was rolling out the red carpet for its youngest stars, it was rolling it up for some of its oldest and most vulnerable.
One day earlier, I attended a rally protesting the closure of the Motion Picture and Television Fund Nursing Home. The fund, begun in 1921 by celebrities like Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin (who also probably looked like soup spoons), has dedicated itself to nursing those in the entertainment industry who cannot pay their own way. Its motto: "We Take Care of Our Own."
Earlier this year, however, the home's CEO, David Tilman, announced that the MPTF was kicking out its own, due to the facility's increasing losses, now up to $10 million a year. "Closing our long-term care facility does not alter MPTF's historical commitment to industry veterans and their families," he said -- never mind the eviction notices his organization was serving to 138 industry veterans. (In other news, black is now white, and up is now down.)
Jeffrey Katzenberg, who serves as president of the MPTF Foundation, acknowledges that these are hard decisions for hard times. But the foundation continues to fundraise for its assisted-living facilities -- which, tellingly, turn a profit. Indeed, COO Scott Ellis stated, "We want this campus to be a place for elders to live their best lives, not a place that looks at sickness, but looks at the key ingredients of successful aging." Because, really -- looking at sickness is such a downer.
Which leads me back to breasts, which were on my mind for another reason during the premiere. You see, my host, Laura Ziskin, is a survivor of breast cancer. Unlike the MPTF board, however, she decided to harness the energies and resources of her Hollywood colleagues to look sickness right in the face.
So she formed Stand Up To Cancer and produced a nationwide telethon that was simultaneously broadcast on all three major networks. Despite being aired in the midst of a presidential election and a recession, the program managed to raise $100 million for cancer research in just one night. Ziskin envisions a cooperative scientific effort on the scale of the Manhattan Project, with a goal of nothing less than eradicating cancer in our -- and her -- lifetimes.
In other words, Spiderman totally kicks Shrek's green ass.
So I'm calling Katzenberg and his board of Hollywood bigwigs on the carpet. Because an industry that manufactures dreams can do much better when facing reality.
And that, my friends, is The Upside.