March 2007

March 27, 2007

A Really Good Movie!

Once_2 I saw a wonderful movie tonight, such a rare experience as to make it all the more notable. It's called "Once" -- or,at least, it used to be called "Once" -- and is a musical told in cinema verite style by a new writer-director from Ireland, John Carney. The movie tells  a touchingly simple story about a street musician who meets a young woman (Marketa Irglova) from Eastern Europe on the streets of Dublin, a day worker herself. The music, mostly written by the lead actor, Glen Hansard, is a completely natural extension of the story and its dramatic flow, all the more unobtrusive for Carney's natural filming style and effective use of the ever-so-rare commodity: Silence.

The movie made a big splash at Sundance, was acquired by Fox Searchlight, is in the midst of apparently acquiring a new name, but in any event will be out on May 18. Put on the 'to see' list, most certainly. (And perhaps we'll send a copy to Julie Taymor.)

March 25, 2007

Skater Boys

Skater Hard to believe all the things I’m missing sitting in front of my computer. And being over 40. This afternoon, I ventured into a room full of spinning, jumping, flipping and sliding teenagers, boys with long hair and skinny jeans showing off their tricks in a local skateboard competition. I went because my nine-year-old’s life ambition is to become a professional skater. (This is not great news in my book, but there it is.) And it was nothing short of amazing: two dozen boys (my son the 2nd youngest) crammed like goldfish into a store called Nine Star in West L.A., doing tricks for the judges, and one another. Thumping New Agey/hip-hop music thudded in the background, as the kids whizzed and whirled in a concrete space no bigger than a couple of elevators, cleared around the racks of clothes and dirt bikes. It was pretty great. Oh yeah, and my kid made it through the first round.

March 22, 2007


Andres_2 Sometimes I think our profession is bent on self-destruction. In the breathtaking space of not-quite -24 hours, the Los Angeles Times publisher David Hiller has killed an opinion section that featured guest writers invited by Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. And the editorial page editor, Andres Martinez, has, in response, resigned. Why? Because a publicist who worked for Grazer was the girlfriend of Martinez. Pause to take this all in. The mind reels.Grazer

Here's an excerpt from LA Times' Jim Rainey's on-line account, along with Martinez's resignation note:

"An emotional internal rift rocked the Los Angeles Times today, as Publisher David D. Hiller scrapped a special edition of the paper's Sunday opinion section to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, causing editorial page editor Andres Martinez to resign in protest. The paper had been scheduled today to print an edition of its Current opinion section edited by Hollywood producer Brian Grazer, but Hiller announced this morning that he would not publish the section because it "might appear that something might not be quite right."
Hiller said he had only learned in the last few days that Grazer was represented by Kelly Mullens, Martinez's girlfriend -- leaving at least the appearance that the producer of "A Beautiful Mind" and other films might have received a special favor as the first "guest editor" of Current.
A controversy that had burst into public view only a day earlier escalated today as Martinez delivered an extraordinary online resignation, some of his colleagues rose up to protest that he had been targeted by enemies in The Times' news operation, and his second-in-command scrambled to produce a replacement section."

March 21, 2007

The Nudist Buddhist Borderline-Abusive Love-In

September 19, 2004

FILM; The Nudist Buddhist Borderline-Abusive Love-In

DAVID O. RUSSELL had developed something of a reputation. The screenwriter and director of ''Flirting With Disaster'' and ''Three Kings'' had become known for smart, wildly original movies, and for attracting top actors despite relatively modest budgets. But he was also known for alienating some of those actors while shooting (most notoriously when he and George Clooney ended up in a fistfight on the set of ''Three Kings.'') For his next movie, ''I Huckabees,'' Mr. Russell was determined to chart a happier course.

This seemed fitting, since one of the movie's themes would be the very possibility of human happiness. Billed as an ''existential comedy,'' ''Huckabees,'' which had its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last week and opens on Oct. 1, may be one of the oddest Hollywood releases in recent memory: a jumbled, antic exploration of existential and Buddhist philosophy that also involves tree-hugging, African immigrants and Shania Twain.

The shoot, Mr. Russell decided, wouldn't be a typical Hollywood affair. It would be an intimate, personal experience for a handful of actors otherwise accustomed to populating magazine covers and award ceremonies. Both the movie and the set would be extensions of Mr. Russell's own uncensored, often unpredictable personality, and an opportunity for him to explore profound spiritual questions that have preoccupied him for years. (Indeed, the original idea for the movie was based on Buddhist theories Mr. Russell first learned in college from Robert Thurman, Uma Thurman's father.) ''The whole thing is an existential meditation,'' Mr. Russell explained in one of several interviews through the making of the film. But the experience turned out to be no blissed-out meditation session. To get the performances he was after, Mr. Russell did all he could to raise the level of tension on set, unapologetically goading, shocking and teasing his actors. Sometimes these techniques prompted reactions that were less than photogenic. And in perhaps the most un-Hollywood move of all, Mr. Russell allowed a reporter to watch.

April, 2003: The Headlock

From the beginning, Mr. Russell knew exactly what he wanted to create with ''I Huckabees.'' The trouble was, few others were able to grasp what that was. Many who read the script said they could not understand it, and several studios -- Sony, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Fox, all led by people who say they are fans of Mr. Russell's -- turned it down. (Later, some of the actors who went on to star in the film said that the script had never made sense to them; they simply trusted Mr. Russell's vision). But now the seasoned producer Scott Rudin has joined the project, the mini-studio Fox Searchlight has signed on and a British financier named Michael Kuhn has agreed to finance it for $18 million. So the movie is, at last, in preproduction.

Better yet, some of the biggest actors are involved. Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow have signed on to play eager-to-succeed employees at a department store chain called Huckabees. Mark Wahlberg will play a firefighter traumatized by 9/11, while Jason Schwartzman will be a frustrated young environmental activist. Each of these characters suffers from some form of spiritual malaise and will hire Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, a pair of ''existential detectives,'' to investigate. Isabelle Huppert will play the detectives' glamorous French nemesis, a mysterious force for chaos who equates life with pain and suffering.

Except that the cast is falling apart. Gwyneth Paltrow drops out because, Mr. Russell says, she still hasn't dealt with the death of her father. Nicole Kidman expresses interest, but can't get out of ''The Stepford Wives.'' Jennifer Aniston becomes and then unbecomes a possibility. Naomi Watts, Mr. Russell's original choice, frees herself from scheduling problems and after some brief drama -- she and Ms. Kidman are close friends -- is finally cast.

And then Jude Law quits (the explanation Mr. Russell hears is that he needs to make a big-budget movie because of an impending divorce settlement; Mr. Law's representatives deny that money was a factor). Mr. Russell is devastated: instead of doing his movie, Mr. Law has decided to take a role offered by Christopher Nolan (''Memento'').

At a Hollywood party, Mr. Russell, a lean, muscular 46-year-old with dark, lanky hair, runs into Mr. Nolan and -- in full view of the party guests -- puts him in a headlock. Wrapping his arm around Mr. Nolan's neck, Mr. Russell demands that his fellow director show artistic solidarity and give up his star in order to save ''Huckabees.'' (In the meantime, Mr. Russell has met with Jim Carrey as a possible replacement.) The next day Mr. Law calls Mr. Russell from a boat while crossing the Atlantic and discusses his ''Huckabees'' role at length, never mentioning Mr. Nolan or his project. The headlock story makes the rounds in Hollywood.

July 9, 2003: Almost Naked Lunch

Filming has begun, and on a suburban street in the Woodland Hills section of the San Fernando Valley the ''Huckabees'' operation has taken over a simple split-level house with rounded shrubs in the front. A tent has been set up in the front yard for video monitors and director's chairs.

But Mr. Russell is almost never in the usual director's position behind the monitor. Giddy and childlike, he rolls on the ground, dances, does push-ups and shouts at the actors with a megaphone. ''I never want it to end,'' he whispers. Mr. Russell starts the day wearing a suit, but it's slowly coming off: first the jacket, then the shirt. Also, he keeps rubbing his body up against the women and men on the set -- actors, friends, visitors.

Perhaps Mr. Russell is trying to free his actors to be as outrageous or ridiculous as he is. The script will require the actors to risk embarrassing themselves thoroughly: Isabelle Huppert is to perform a sex scene while covered in mud, Mark Wahlberg must repeatedly punch himself in the face, Jude Law will vomit into his own hands and Naomi Watts will essentially be driven crazy by her own physical beauty.

The scene at hand is a climactic moment in Mr. Law's character's breakdown, requiring the actor to cry and tear at his clothes. After several takes in which Mr. Law says the lines he has memorized, Mr. Russell is now yelling at him with new lines, even as the camera rolls. Mr. Law, exhausted, finally ad-libs a string of expletives, shrieking and beating his fists into the grass. ''I am lost in the wilderness!'' he cries. In character (or maybe not), Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Tomlin look on in pained sympathy.

Mr. Russell shouts: ''Eeeeee! Eeeee! Keep rolling!''

Mr. Hoffman: ''We're rolling. What's 'Eeeeee'?'' There is no response, but Mr. Law keeps emoting.

On the next take, Mr. Russell lies on the ground, just behind Lily Tomlin, but out of view of the camera. Perhaps he's trying to add to her feeling of unease in the scene. ''Most likely he was looking up my skirt,'' she deadpans while watching the playback a few minutes later.

It seems impossible that a film set could feel any less formal -- but come lunchtime, it does. Mr. Russell sheds the rest of his clothing, leaving only his boxers, and starts to exercise -- first jumping rope, then sparring with his personal trainer, right on the sidewalk of the suburban street. Many of the actors and crew join in. They, however, keep their clothes on.

July 24, 2003: The Car Trip

It is a hot, tense day in a dried-up marsh near Los Angeles International Airport. The shoot is nearing its end. Mr. Hoffman, Ms. Tomlin, Ms. Huppert, Mr. Wahlberg and Ms. Watts (devoid of make-up and wearing an Amish bonnet) are all crowded into an old Chevrolet for the critical scene in which they will articulate the movie's themes: how everything in the universe is connected, and how sadness is an inevitable part of life. In an essential bit of back story, Ms. Huppert will explain how she became a pessimist because of a failed love triangle with Ms. Tomlin and Mr. Hoffman.

The actors do take after take in the crowded car, with Mr. Russell, as is his habit, constantly throwing new lines at them from a few feet away. The dialogue is poignant and bizarre at the same time, and the scene culminates with Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Tomlin weeping simultaneously and loudly.
While the cameras roll, Mr. Russell berates the actors: ''Where's the [expletive] reaction?'' he swears at Mr. Hoffman.

The actors look tired. As he has throughout the shoot, Mr. Russell is touching them -- a lot, and sometimes in private places. At one point, Mr. Wahlberg grabs the director's megaphone, shouting: ''This man just grabbed my genitals! It is my first man-on-man contact!'' At other times, the director whispers into the actresses' ears -- lewdly, they later say -- before a take.

So far, the actors have been remarkably tolerant of Mr. Russell's mischief. As Ms. Huppert later observed in a phone interview, the actors knew Mr. Russell was intentionally trying to destabilize them for the sake of their performances. ''He is fascinating, completely brilliant, intelligent and very annoying sometimes, too,'' she said. They also know he has created superb films from chaotic-seeming sets before. Besides, he's the director and the writer; now that they've cast their lot with him, they really don't have a choice.

But on what is meant to be the last take of the day, Ms. Tomlin, who recently ended an exhausting run of her one-woman play, collapses into Mr. Hoffman's arms crying and doesn't stop. As he embraces her, the wails grow louder and louder, and finally it becomes clear that she is not in character. After long moments, Ms. Tomlin breaks the tension by shouting at Mr. Hoffman: ''You're driving a hairpin into my head!'' Everyone collapses in laughter and the take is trashed.

But the drama is not over. The car scene takes several more hours to shoot, and as the sun fades, the accumulated tension erupts. Ms. Tomlin begins shouting at Mr. Russell: she is unhappy with the way she looks. She wants to try the scene a different way. She taunts him with a few expletives and curses at the other actors too. Their patience worn, the other actors laugh at her outburst.

Later, unfolding himself from the back seat of the Chevrolet, Mark Wahlberg jokes that his next project will be a nice, easy action film.

July 31, 2003: Candid Camera

The production has moved from the dried-up swamp to the set of the detectives' office. It is hot and cramped, and the hour is getting late. To pass the time while a shot is set up, Mr. Russell treats the crew to a description of a baby passing through the birth canal.

And then Ms. Tomlin is berating Mr. Russell again.

This time, the director turns on her angrily, calling her the crudest word imaginable, in front of the actors and crew. He shrieks: ''I wrote this role for you! I fought for you!'' Mr. Russell ends his tirade by sweeping his arm across a nearby table cluttered with production paraphernalia. He storms off the set and back on again, continually shouting. Then he locks himself in his office, refusing to return. After an uncomfortable, set-wide pause, Ms. Tomlin goes in to apologize, and Mr. Russell returns to the shoot.

Unbeknownst to both of them, a member of the crew has videotaped his tirade. The recording makes its way around the Hollywood talent agencies. Asked about the incident later, Mr. Russell says: ''Sure, I wish I hadn't done that. But Lily and I are fine.'' For her part, Ms. Tomlin admits that both she and Mr. Russell lost control. ''It's not a practice on his part or my part,'' she says. ''I'd rather have someone human and available and raw and open. Don't give me someone cold, or cut off, or someone who considers themselves dignified.''

This must be the Zen part.

Sept. 4, 2003: Roller-Coaster Party

The shoot finished earlier in the day, at 3:15 a.m. -- miraculously on schedule and on budget. For the wrap party on the Santa Monica Pier, the ''Huckabees'' production has taken over an amusement park along the Pacific, where Dustin Hoffman is chatting with his old pal, the producer Robert Evans, flanked by a couple of towering women whose assets spill out of their halter tops.

Mr. Russell is wandering around the pier in a grey suit and blue pinstripe shirt, unbuttoned, with a blinking red heart-necklace slung around his neck. Everyone else is playing arcade games and riding the roller coaster under a gentle black September sky. But the director seems to be in a kind of dazed dream state, and has been that way for about a week, he says. Usually, he says, ending a film brings a mixture of sadness and relief, but this time it's only sadness. He seems to be mourning the end of the free-wheeling universe of the ''Huckabees'' set; now he has to retreat to the solitude of an editing room to figure out exactly what his movie is. ''I told you,'' he tells a visitor, as if wondering how one could forget something he'd said in passing two months earlier. ''This was the happiest experience of my life.''

But there are murmurings of confusion as to how the movie will turn out, even among actors who trust Mr. Russell. ''I hope he has all the pieces,'' observes Talia Shire, leaving the party with her son, Jason Schwartzman.

July 26, 2004: Reality Check

It is a balmy night on the lot of Twentieth Century Fox and the Little Fox theater is packed with leading members of the cast, some crew, several agents, friends. Dustin Hoffman and his wife and children and their friends have come; so has a still golden-haired Jude Law and his parents. The theater hums with anticipation: it is Mr. Russell's first film in five years; he's locked himself in the editing room for an unusually long time; and though almost no one has yet seen the film, it is already being mentioned as a nominee for a best picture Oscar.

A half-hour late, Mr. Russell walks to the front of the theater wearing a blue suit, a red and white striped shirt and sneakers. Compared to the manic exuberance he displayed on set, he seems relatively subdued. ''Wake up, it's a comedy,'' he announces, even though his audience of insiders presumably knows as much. ''We're going to have an amphetamine mist,'' he tells the crowd, playing with a strand of hair.

No one -- even those involved with the film -- knows quite what to expect from it. What they see is a movie that is, well, dense. Emotionally dense, and intellectually so; jammed with ideas both profound and prosaic, thick with rapid-fire dialogue about human beings and the use of petroleum. But it's not quite the movie they shot. A few major scenes -- like the one in the car, which was supposed to explain the entire movie -- have been cut. As people file out of the theater, trying to find the words to describe the movie, executives from Fox Searchlight eagerly cull reactions. Does the movie play? Do the pieces fit? But it's hard to gauge the mood. Several audience members say they can't even decide if they liked the film or not.

Claudia Lewis, a production executive who has been a staunch proponent of the film, is hopeful and nervous. ''We are working on some original marketing ideas,'' she says. She and her colleagues know that this movie is not an easy sell.

It's not clear if Mr. Russell is picking up on the uncertainty in the air. A few days later, he sends a euphoric e-mail message about the screening. His words are rhapsodic and earnest; he seems to be channeling the same energy with which he directed the movie: ''It was such a swell night. Such good vibes in the air. I especially liked those who said the film affected them like a trippy reality drug.''

In fact, for a moment, Mr. Russell seems as if he's never left the set.

Sharon Waxman, the Hollywood correspondent for The Times, is the author of ''Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Studio System,'' to be published in early 2005.

March 19, 2007

Strange Appearances

Dor A strange, short film appeared for a brief time on YouTube today. It was a much talked-about, little-seen tirade by director David O. Russell from the set of his 2004 film, "I Heart Huckabees." (I was on the set a fair amount, took some pictures on a happier day, see left.) I had described this outburst in a piece I wrote about the making of the movie in the Times in 2003, but had never seen it myself; Russell lets loose at Lily Tomlin, unleashing a stream of obscenities at what he considers her obstinacy, or inability to give him what he needs in the scene. Jason Schwartzman sits in a defensive slouch; Dustin Hoffman stands behind Tomlin, looking embarrassed as Russell rages around, using the f-word, and even the c-word.

Here's what I wrote back then, in a much-emailed piece that effectively ended my friendship with Russell:

"This time, the director turns on her angrily, calling her the crudest word imaginable, in front of the actors and crew. He shrieks: ''I wrote this role for you! I fought for you!'' Mr. Russell ends his tirade by sweeping his arm across a nearby table cluttered with production paraphernalia. He storms off the set and back on again, continually shouting. Then he locks himself in his office, refusing to return. After an uncomfortable, set-wide pause, Ms. Tomlin goes in to apologize, and Mr. Russell returns to the shoot.

Unbeknownst to both of them, a member of the crew has videotaped his tirade. The recording makes its way around the Hollywood talent agencies. Asked about the incident later, Mr. Russell says: ''Sure, I wish I hadn't done that. But Lily and I are fine.'' For her part, Ms. Tomlin admits that both she and Mr. Russell lost control. ''It's not a practice on his part or my part,'' she says. ''I'd rather have someone human and available and raw and open. Don't give me someone cold, or cut off, or someone who considers themselves dignified.'

That must be the Zen part.' (read the whole thing here.)

After about an hour, the video clip had disappeared from YouTube just as quickly as it appeared. (Update: It is apparently now also available here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=LzqjimUs2RU.)

History for Sale

Prax_2 Now we're talking. Ron Stodghill has written an interesting article in the Sunday Times about the Aboutaam brothers, two seasoned antique art dealers whose lives are being made increasingly complicated by the new realities of the art trade. The subject, it so happens, is one that I am currently investigating for my new book, "Stealing from The Pharaohs," about the tug-of-war between museums and countries whose antiquities were carted off by Western powers. The article explains that with all the concerns over looted art and otherwise illegally obtained antique objects, it has become terribly difficult to conduct commerce even for reputable antiquarians. (Photo at left is of a sculpture by the Greek artist Praxiteles, currently in Cleveland at the Museum of Art, but which Greece is claiming to be of problematic origin.)

In other words, no more swashbuckling art dealers who flit between Beirut and Geneva and New York with priceless, 2,000-year-old bronzes stuffed in their shaving kits. The implications for the great Western museums are daunting. They will have to take a much closer look at their own collections of Greco-Roman, Near Eastern, Egyptian and other art, and explain where they came from, and how. Stay tuned, there'll be more on this to come...

March 17, 2007

no shows at showest

Showest ....and just to close the loop, here's the article about the studio no-shows at this year's ShoWest:

"The major Hollywood studios are following similar no-frills scripts at what is the principal industry showcase for mainstream movies. A frayed relationship between the major studios and exhibitors, cost-cutting across the board and consolidation among the national theater chains has turned a promotional event for big-budget movies into one that is not promoting very many big-budget movies."

'Nuff said about the topic.

March 14, 2007

ShoWest Shimmy

Spidey LAS VEGAS -- Your intrepid correspondent sends greetings from ShoWest, the annual convention for theater-owners and managers from all across the country. Here's all you get of Spider-man 3 at ShoWest  (see left). A nice big image, liberally posted around the Paris Hotel, with no hint at all of what this movie will be like. The upcoming summer, however, seems poised to be filled with blockbusters (nearly all sequels), from "Shrek the Third," to the Pirates of the Caribbean, to the next Fantastic Four and a new installment in the Bourne Identity series.

Paramount showed a few minutes from its upcoming Michael Bay extravaganza, "Transformers," a monstrous version of those itty-bitty toys that little boys love to put together. Transformers The sections showed to exhibitors had an unusual tone: Bay's attempts at humor, mixed with his specialty, which is explosive action sequences, heavy on the special effects, and seriously influenced by "War of the Worlds," by the look of it He got a few laughs, and applause when the lights came up.

March 08, 2007

Winterstern's Tale

WintersternIn today's paper there's a Hollywood morality tale: same story,  new protagonist. Henry Winterstern resigned last week as the CEO of First Look Studios, an independent that he'd been trying to build over the last two years. Winterstern, it seems, is quite successful at raising money. Not so successful at creating profit. He brought a Quebec pension fund to Hollywood a number of years ago. This time, with a hedge fund and Merrill Lynch behind him, he got his hands dirty, and was putting together a moviemaking, distributing venture.

As the calls I'm getting this morning indicate, Winterstern has left a swath of ill will in his wake. But as he indicated to me yesterday, he is not through with Hollywood yet. Here's the article:

LOS ANGELES, March 7 — The journey of Henry Winterstern is a classic Hollywood tale: of this town’s irresistible lure, the particular hunger it breeds and the hubris that so often leads to a sudden demise. But this rapid rise and fall came with some trendy hedge-fund trimmings. (continued...)

March 05, 2007

Visit With Art

    By Sharon Waxman

    WASHINGTON, June 15, 2006 -- Art Buchwald isn’t dying, as it turns out. “Do you think he scammed us?” asks my editor at the Times. I say I’m not sure, but I better go find out, and make an appointment to visit Art at the hospice in Washington DC.

    Since I wrote about Art’s imminent death in The Times in March – he was scheduled to die within weeks because he’d declined to submit to the rigors of kidney dialysis -- we’ve become friends. Why isn’t he dead? Nobody seems to know. Unexpectedly, one kidney is working fine, and he doesn’t appear likely to die soon. That’s all I can tell you on that score.

    But it’s funny. I knew Art a little bit when I wrote the piece, having met him last summer. After it was published we began to talk every week, about all kinds of things. He tells me about his high-class visitors. I tell him about my work.

    I call from the airport. What do you want for lunch? “A roast beef sandwich,” he says. Then there’s a pause. Worried about his health? Apparently not. “McDonalds,” he finally says. I stop on the way, and get him a Big Mac, fries and Coke. I get a Filet-o-Fish.

   At the hospice, Art is sitting in the sun-room, with his correspondence piled around him, a painting sent by an admirer and a few photographs. He is wearing a striped polo shirt and shorts. Short shorts, black ones. His phantom leg, amputated below the knee last January, waggles in the void. He doesn’t seem to care.

    Art, who is 80, continues to file his syndicated column twice a week and entertain a steady, if diminished, stream of celebrity visitors. One result of his previously-imminent death was he got a book contract, which is about going into a hospice to die but then not. It’s called “Too Soon to Die,” His column has changed too; he’s no longer writing humorous meditations on the end of life, and has gone back to news-related satire. He recently wrote, for example, about Ann Coulter losing her broomstick.

    Talk turns to the summer. My family is going to Switzerland, to the home of a wealthy friend of my husband in the Alps. Art brightens: St. Moritz is absolutely beautiful in the summer, he says. I’ve been there too. Art was there in the 60s, I was there in the 90s. He hung out at The Palace, the famed hotel perched above the St. Moritz lake, with the Greek tycoon Stavros Niarkos and assorted princes. Art didn’t ski (exercise has never figured much in his life), but he did play chess with the bluebloods all evening. One prince used to bellyache about having to pay $15 a day for his dog. Art told him that seemed reasonable. Yes, said the nobleman, but the dog’s been dead for nine years.

    Art has been sitting in a chair since the amputation last January. He figured if he was going to die, there was no point in learning how to walk. Now that he’s going to live, he has been fitted with a wooden prosthetic leg. He’s leaving in early July to Martha’s Vineyard, where he has a house, and he has to learn to walk again. I ask if he’s ready to face the challenges of physical therapy. He gives me a look that says: none of your damn business.

    Instead he says he plans to use the leg as a selling point with women – as in: I’ve got a brand new, sexy wooden leg. Apparently it worked for Al Capp, the cartoonist. One time during the Vietnam War, Art recalls, he was on a USO tour with Al Capp and George Plimpton, the writer. Capp had a wooden leg, and successfully used it to snare women.

    At one performance, there was a beautiful redhead. “Stacked,” Art recalled. After about an hour, Al Capp disappeared with her behind a stage berm. Fast-forward 25 years, to a Democratic convention in the 1980s. Art is surprised to be accosted by an attractive red-haired woman. “Don’t you remember me?”she asks. “We had an affair in Vietnam.” Art says,”No, that was Al Capp.” “No,” she insists, “it was you.” Art calls his friend George Plimpton on the phone, and asks him to tell the woman that it was indeed Al Capp with whom she had an affair. She takes the phone, talks to George Plimpton for several minutes, then hangs up. She looks at Art and says: “It was you.”

    This story is recounted in slow, deadpan fashion. With an eyebrow cocked to look for the laugh.

    In Art’s room, the wall is practically covered with photos, drawings and cards. Cartoonist Mike Lukovich has sent a cartoon – obviously from when Art was dying – saying “I’ll miss you.” There are photos of his kids, blown-up shots of the grandkids. Photo with Ethel Kennedy, Eunice Shriver, and two other women he doesn’t identify. I see Ben Bradlee. New photos, old photos. A journalist interviewing him in his hospice bed.

    Even if it hasn’t been a scam, Art’s definitely been milking the dying thing. Geoffrey Cowan, the dean of USC’s journalism school, called up to ask if there was anything he could do for Art. (USC is his alma mater.) “Yes, I have a dying wish,” Art said. “I have two young women I’d like you to get admitted to USC.” Cowan doesn’t promise anything, but the two women both get in. Art is very proud of this. I accuse him of shameless guilting people into things, like when he told me his dying wish was that I seek professional therapy because, in his view, I needed it. I haven’t gone yet, which I think is fair, because he hasn’t died yet.

    We open the mail; a stranger has sent him a CD of her favorite music. “Music to drive to the Vineyard to,” she writes enthusiastically. There’s a picture of him and Carly Simon on the cover.

    Important people still come to visit. A senior member of the Bush administration, who Art would rather I not name, has been to visit twice. Ok, it’s Donald Rumsfeld, chief defender of the war in Iraq. They’re old tennis buddies. Art often criticizes the administration in his columns. How can he sit around and make small talk? “I’ve known him forever,” says Art. “And besides, he asked to see me, I didn’t ask to see him.”

    After two hours, Art is tired and is starting to fall asleep. We take a picture on his Razor cellphone. I leave, so he can rest before the arrival of his physical therapist. He calls her Ann Coulter or, alternately, the torturer.


Buchwald Lives

Artbuchwald_1 They had a memorial today for my friend Art Buchwald, who died earlier this year, at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. I couldn't be there, but it sounded like just the kind of event Art -- Artie, as many called him -- would have loved. There were loads of Kennedys, and Tom Brokaw, and Dan Barry, and of course his dearest friends Ben Bradlee and Mike Wallace.

I last spoke to Art around New Year's. I When he was supposed to die a year ago, I wrote an article for The Times about having met him on Martha's Vineyard the previous summer. But then he didn't die, and we began to talk every two or three weeks. He'd inevitably have me howling. I last saw Art when I went to visit him in June of last year, at the hospice where he was still not dying, and instead held court for a Who's Who of Washington insiders. I wrote an account of the visit, just for myself, and I share it with you all here. Here goes:

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2006 -- Art Buchwald isn’t dying, as it turns out. “Do you think he scammed us?” asks my editor at the Times. I say I’m not sure, but I better go find out, and make an appointment to visit Art at the hospice in Washington DC....(continued)

March 04, 2007

Lasseter Leads

Lasseter In the quiet becalming of Hollywood that occurs in the days post-Oscar, my colleague Laura Holson has weighed in with a fascinating, and fairly rare, glimpse into the style and substance of John Lasseter, the founder of Pixar, come lately the chief honcho at Disney animation. He has been charged with reinventing the place, and hopes to do so in the grand tradition of Walt Disney. Lasseter is one of those classic man-behind-the-curtain figures in Hollywood; his home base of Pixar, up in northern California, has a true bunker-style culture and is extremely media averse, so this is a welcome ray of light into his thinking. The story has wonderful touches, like the animation mogul's pulling rubbery faces, and looking shocked that a reporter might ask him the most obvious of questions. Here's how it starts:

"It wasn’t the first time John Lasseter, the director of 'Toy Story' and 'Cars,' had sat through the screening of a not-quite-ready animated film. But when he saw an early cut of Disney’s 'Meet the Robinsons”' last March, he watched it with a new eye. He wasn’t just a fellow director, and a founder of Pixar Animation Studios. This time he was the boss, the chief creative officer of animation for the Walt Disney Company, which had agreed to acquire Pixar two months before.

As he sat in a dark theater on the first floor of Disney’s animation studio here, something bothered him about the villain...(read the rest)