November 2008

November 30, 2008

The Moguls Speak: Let's Be Reasonable

In a full page ad in tomorrow's L.A. Times, the moguls speak up and sound oh so reasonable when they say: Actors, take the deal! Let's not have another strike!

It's hard to trust the moguls, to be sure. It feels a little bit like Wily Coyote warning Bugs Bunny to steer the runaway coach off to the left to keep  from going off a cliff. We know better than to trust Wily Coyote. If he's saying turn, then you probably want to keep driving straight. But then, it does look like a pretty steep cliff.

"Because of SAG's failed negotiating strategy, our industry now faces the prospect of another destructive and unnecessary strike," says the ad signed by the heads of the seven major studios plus Les Moonves, the president of CBS. "Incredibly, this SAG strike would occur at a time when the national economy is reeling from a historic financial crisis. Just as stunningly, a SAG strike would be self-defeating from the start - with actors losing more within the first several days of the strike than they could ever hope to gain."
The ad pleads with members of SAG to reconsider their offer once again, and avoid a strike.

In the meantime, the guild continues to insist that its request for a strike authorization vote is merely meant to give them more clout at the negotiating table. I’ve yet to speak to a single rank and file member of the guild who believes this. (Last night, one member compared this strike vote to giving Bush the authorization to go to war in Iraq.)

Instead, the talk everywhere is that a strike is practically inevitable.

It feels very Bugs Bunny. And in this case, the guild appears to be headed straight for the cliff.

November 29, 2008

Re comments: Keep it civil, please

To my readers,

The comments on this blog go up unfiltered. It is part of my belief in the give and take of journalism in the age of the Internet. But I ask you all to remain civil in your discourse. Some of the comments are becoming intemperate. If I find the discussion turning ugly, I reserve the right to cut it off.

Thanks for using judgement and self-restraint.


November 28, 2008

Cold-Blooded Murder in India; Outrage, and Sorrow

Mumbai_rabbi_600_1  How is it possible that in this 21st century, we must be witness to the sort of butchery that took the lives of a young Brooklyn rabbi and his wife, Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, left their infant orphaned, and led to the deaths of three others - just a few of the 150 victims - in Mumbai? These people were innocents, on a mission to bring Judaism to those Jews who happened to live or be passing through a foreign, Hindu city.

On a day of Thanksgiving, when those of us lucky enough to live in the freedom and security of this country, eating our fill and enjoying  the comfort of family, this atrocity was taking place.

 This act shocks the conscience. It demands our outrage, and our sorrow.  

Here is the latest from the New York Times.

November 26, 2008

Who Holds SAG Accountable?

Re-Update: In response to comments from readers, I'd like to clarify that SAG has not denied the story. The guild's response to my specific questions about the meeting can be read below in the original post. It's a day later, and the guild has still not denied the story. Nikki Finke saying the guild denies the story does not make it so. The guild declines to say when this meeting took place. My further reporting indicates it was a few months ago. If and when I am able to confirm further details, I will post them in the original story.
Earlier: In customary style, Nikki Finke devotes more ink than I do to supposedly debunking the story I broke about a secret meeting of top stars convened by SAG president Alan Rosenberg. It was not deleted; I was editing it last night to further check facts and inadvertently left it in ‘draft’. I have now reposted, and apologies to those who missed it in their sleep. On further reporting, I learn that the essence of the story is correct. I have amended the time element, however.
Here is what makes me curious about this story. SAG acknowledges that it has occasional meetings “on set” and elsewhere with top stars to talk about issues of the day. How often does this occur? In what context? And who is informed about such matters? Apparently not the membership.
I wonder if it is considered normal policy for a labor union to invite a cadre of elites to consult on strategy and policy, outside the board and outside the guild’s official business. On the face of it, it sounds as if the guild was lobbying this group to get support for its policy of continuing to reject the studios’ offer, despite pressure from AFTRA, which cut a separate deal.
Readers will recall that SAG is not always an organization that makes full disclosure a part of its every day habits. Just weeks ago I broke a story about SAG sitting on $25 million in “unclaimed residuals.” I remind readers that the guild launched a campaign to return this money three weeks after my story went out.
Finally, if the story is so unimportant, I wonder why Nikki Finke devotes so much energy to it, and if doing so serves her readers. I suspect it has more to do with embarrassing a fellow journalist. Is she a mouthpiece for SAG, or an independent voice? I believe reporting is about holding institutions to account, including the guilds and the studios in this case. I will always be open to rectifying errors, and have done so.



Note: This post has been updated to correct errors and reflect further reporting.

LOS ANGELES – They met in the private room of an Italian restaurant, like in a scene from one of the Godfather movies: Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Nick Nolte, Annette Bening -- about 20 of Hollywood’s great stars from the past 30 years.

Their faces were grave. The subject was serious: the livelihood of the entertainment industry and the prospect of yet another strike, months after the end of a painful writers guild strike.

These top stars were called together last month by Screen Actors Guild president Alan Rosenberg to give the thumbs up – or thumbs down – on a strike, according to one person who was present, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But others familiar with the meeting, which they said took place a few months ago, say the purpose was to vote on whether to sign a solidarity statement in support of the negotiating committee, which was under pressure to take the deal offered by the AMPTP, at a time when a sister guild, AFTRA, had made its own deal with the studios.

At the time, a strike vote was nowhere on the horizon. Negotiations were Federal mediation was still ongoing between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and Hollywood was in slowdown mode because the guild had been working without a contract since July.

But this elite gathering of stars had an agenda. They were given slips of paper to write down their views -- to support guild policy rejecting the studio offer, or not.

Their verdict, according to two sources: to support the guild strategy. Another source said the verdict was to support moving  toward a strike. (Continuing to negotiate while AFTRA made its deal was ultimately a move down the path toward a strike vote.)

A spokeswoman for SAG said that the guild has had frequent meetings with high-profile actors to discuss issues related to contract talks.  "We have met with high profile actors on sets and elsewhere to discuss various issues throughout our negotiations," said Pam Greenwalt. "We do not publicize the meetings nor do we release details."

The rest of the members of the guild of 120,000 will be allowed a more formal vote in the next few weeks as to whether to strike, though many in Hollywood now believe a stoppage is inevitable given the standoff and the current invective between the two sides.

Still, many in the guild have expressed anger in the past two days at the prospect of yet another strike in less than a year, after the three month work stoppage by the Writers Guild of America, at a time of great economic uncertainty.

An online petition against a strike, the No SAG Strike petition, had reportedly gathered more than 5,700 signatures as of Monday evening.

But the idea of a small group of actors being tapped for an early vote while mediation was meant to be the order may anger some members even more.

Negotiations between guild and the studios have been at a standstill for months. While the AMPTP has not budged from its offer of a $250 million increase in its contract with the guild, the union has pushed for more concessions regarding new media. The studios say they cannot possibly give more than they have already offered, a deal similar to that struck with other guilds.

What’s more, the economy has embarked on a downward spiral as the standoff  has continued.

At stake are the fees to be shared on revenues for new media, entertainment distributed in new and as-yet-uninvented distribution channels over the Internet. The guild’s negotiating committee had, late in the mediation, agreed to the new media proposal extended by the studios, but only if the studios granted the guild an increase in the rate of DVD residuals. That fee – established in the decades before DVDs became huge, and a source of resentment among the Hollywood guilds – is considered sacrosanct by the studios, since DVDs constitute a huge part of their profits.

What role these major stars gathered at a favored Hollywood watering hole on the west side of Los Angeles would play in the decision-making of the guild was unclear.

“Everyone was writing their views on slips of paper,” said one person who was present at the secret meeting.

The final decision on a strike will rest with the national board.

November 22, 2008


I'm back doing a toe-touch in the midst of my book tour, but even so I cannot believe that the Screen Actors Guild is calling for a strike vote after the no-progress meetings with a federal mediator and the AMPTP this week.

How can this be? I'm hearing from SAG members that they are furious that the guild is painting itself into this corner in the very same year that another strike yielded so little after slowing the industry to a halt for three months.

This message went out to members today from the guild negotiating team:

"Management continues to insist on terms we cannot responsibly accept on behalf of our members.  As previously authorized by the National Board of Directors, we will now launch a full-scale education campaign in support of a strike authorization referendum.  We will further inform SAG members about the core, critical issues unique to actors that remain in dispute.

We have already made difficult decisions and sacrifices in an attempt to reach agreement. Now it's time for SAG members to stand united and empower the national negotiating committee to bargain with the strength of a possible work stoppage behind them.

We remain committed to avoiding a strike but now more than ever we cannot allow our employers to experiment with our careers. The WGA has already learned that the new media terms they agreed to with the AMPTP are not being honored. We cannot allow our employers to undermine the futures of SAG members and their families."

And I'm hearing this from Mark Willis who is starting a petition against any strike:

"There are many out there who have had a seriously angry reaction to todays news that SAG heads are seeking a strike authorization. Second, they won't get the authorization anyway (let's be realistic) so that means that will be another 2 months WASTED, and during this period of wasted time, Hollywood will have slowed production significantly due to strike fears, thus putting countless out of a job even without a strike actually occurring. " Here's his petition

I know how the studios feel about all this. They are calling the strike authorization vote "bizarre," and the guild "tone deaf," given the economic meltdown all around us. Apparently they believe that the guild leaders would automatically need to cave, given the weak economy. Actually, I kind of figured they would too. Facts are facts.  

But that's not what is happening. I would like to understand what could be gained by a strike.  I'd also like to understand what was  gained by the last one.  SAG members, I hope you will weigh in. I may not be blogging full time just yet, but I will be following this story and -  not to brag, but - I did help find $25 million of your residual cash.

Final note: The Wrap News, which launches in January, has started its first editorial product. To sign up for First Take, the email newsletter that culls the best of entertainment and media news every morning, please sign up here.

The Anand Jon Verdict: Justice? An Analysis of the Case

In retrospect, Anand Jon’s lawyers have a great deal of explaining as to why they put on such a limited defense of a man accused of raping and otherwise assaulting a parade of underaged or nearly underaged models. One wonders if they drank the Anand Jon Kool-Aid.


From the start, Jon has suffered from a case of self-delusion. He has given the impression of being completely convinced of his own innocence. He has never accepted a shred of responsibility for what he quite obviously did: take advantage of naïve and inexperienced young women who sought a quick path to the big time, often (not always) encouraged by greedy parents who should have known better.

Jon’s mother, Shashi Abraham and sister Sanjana Jon have reinforced this delusion. They practically use Christ-like terms to describe him, and analogies like the Dreyfus Affair to describe his prosecution and trial. Jon, too, seemed to believe that he was a martyr to some higher purpose, sent to suffer in solitary confinement in one of the worst ratholes in the American prison system, the L.A. County Jail, on the path to some greater destiny.

That destiny turns out to be prison for life. It didn’t have to be this way.

In the beginning of the case, the Los Angeles district attorney was willing to discuss some kind of plea bargain, recognizing that there were significant holes in the prosecution’s case. Jon wouldn’t hear of it, and he separated from his first lawyer partly for this reason. Although he admitted that he’d had sex with some of the accusers, he would not consider admitting to having had sex with them against their will.

So Jon found new lawyers, Leonard Levine, Anthony Brooklier and Donald Marks. From a practical point of view, the minimalist path taken by this team is a puzzling one. They presumed, it seems, that if they could shred the credibility of one witness, they could taint the others. I too believed this could be an Achilles heel of the prosecution.

But it turned out that the jury, which threw the book at Jon, drew a distinction between those accusers who appeared to be lying, and others who were credible. The jury threw out the claims of Britney O. and her outrageous story of waking up to Jon sitting on her face, and still believed the others. Holly Gavel,  a character witness, who accused Jon of rape but mumbled “I don’t know” countless times under cross-examination when asked to explain holes in her testimony, did not undermine the claims of the others.

In retrospect, the prosecution’s decision to drop 11 plaintiffs on the eve of trial – the gap-ridden testimony of Lori B; Jennifer S; Jennifer C; Katie W; Ashley H; Chloe N; and Avery G. among others, as I noted in my Los Angeles magazine article – was fateful. With the weakest stories weeded out the more credible plaintiffs stood out. This was a worry among the defense team ahead of trial, but this cncern was not visible in the defense strategy.

I was surprised that no one called Marla Maples to talk about Jon’s many kindnesses to her; or to talk about his charity work in India. That kind of thing. Or other models who I’d interviewed who said they never saw a thing.

And the jury undoubtedly needed Jon himself not merely to deny that he’d raped the girls, but to admit that he seduced and bedded them cavalierly, that he was remorseful for having done so, but that that hadn’t amounted to assault or rape.

That, I think, would have been his only chance.

Jon will spend the rest of his days, it appears, in jail. I cannot think this is a fully just punishment. I have seen too many other heinous crimes get off lightly; and the girls and their parents did not exactly demonstrate responsible, or even logical, behavior in many instances. 

But it is a lesson in hubris, and a harsh one. Jon believed in his own myth – the myth of his celebrity, of his talent, of his fame and, ultimately, of his own martyrdom.

November 13, 2008


Anand-jon-guilty Anand Jon, the 34-year-old fashion designer accused of raping nine models, has been convicted of 16 of the 23 counts of rape and sexual assault against him in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

A jury deliberated for about five days before finding Jon guilty of 14 felony and two misdemeanor counts against seven women. The jury found Alexander not guilty of four counts of sexual assault, and was deadlocked on three counts, including one count of rape.

Judge David Wesley declared a mistrial on those three counts.

Because this case involves special circumstances of including multiple victims, the penalty is a mandatory life sentence. Jon will be eligible for parole in 67 years. Jon’s attorney Leonard Levine said he would appeal the verdict.

In a trial that lasted the better part of two months, a parade of former models emerged to accuse the Indian-born designer of luring them to his apartments in New York and Los Angeles, and raping them, sometimes within minutes of their arrival. Some of the models were young teenagers at the time.

But the case was complicated because with one exception, none of the models complained to police at the time. Many of them stayed with Jon after the assault or followed him to other cities.

Moreover, there was no physical evidence of sexual assault presented at trial.

While Jon maintained his innocence throughout, he never took the stand to defend himself, believing that the prosecution had not proved its case.

As the jury foreman read the verdict, Jon looked down without emotion, but his mother Shashi Abraham and sister Sanjana Jon began to shake uncontrollably.

The jury declined to speak to the press, and thus would shed no light on their deliberations.

Despite inconsistencies in some of the victims’ stories, the jury appeared to agree that Jon’s behavior amounted to rape and sexual assault. They convicted him of rape, lewd acts; sexual penetration by a foreign object; using a minor for sex; possessing child pornography; attempted oral copulation; sexual battery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The jury threw out all four accusations of Britney O., including one of rape. Her testimony described outrageous behavior by Jon, including forcing her to give him oral sex while two friends sat on an adjacent couch.

And the jury deadlocked on three counts, 11-1, according to a court official, involving the accusations of a victim called Candace. The judge declared a mistrial on those counts. The deadlock was due to a lone holdout on those counts, juror 12, a man who appeared to be in his 40s, said one trial observer.

Other witnesses gave testimony that was uneven, or could not fully explain why they had never complained to police before last year. But jurors were clearly outraged by images of underaged (though not pre-pubescent) pornography on Jon’s computer, and a log he kept of every sexual encounter in which he praised his victims for their performance with comments like “swallows very well.”

Jon faces still more charges in New York and Texas. A spokeswoman for the district attorney said Jon is likely to be extradited to New York first.

“The victims who came forward were courageous,” said spokeswoman Jane Robison. “The jury sent a message that our communities will not tolerate serial rapists and child molesters like Anand Jon.”

Jon will be sentenced on January 13.

[Read more posts on the Anand Jon case]

November 12, 2008

Desert Full of Stars

Sure, there's a credit squeeze. And it's been a while since A-list stars have been able to command $20 million salaries at the box office.

But there's a celebrity feeding frenzy half a world away from Hollywood, as I found out on a recent trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. 

Almost every night in this tiny, oil-rich country, there's another celebrity appearing before a small group of Emiratis and foreigners at concerts and cabarets, at film festivals and other cultural events. 

On one recent night at the Emirates Palace Hotel, the ornate, $5 billion edifice around which much of Abu Dhabi's social life revolves, Jeremy Irons presented a musical tour of the world in a plush concert hall below ground: gypsy musicians, an Egyptian group from down the Nile, and a German jazz troupe were among the top performers, for the pleasure and edification of the local Emirati residents. 

Meanwhile, Christina Aguilera performed a couple of floors above him, at a packed, if less edifying cultural event. For that single concert, she was paid $700,000, I was told by a cultural official who declined to be identified. 

This kind of money is even more than Manhattan bar mitzvahs for hedge fund honchos, money that has evaporated along with Wall Street firms.

The same official told me that Madonna had negotiated $3 million for an upcoming one-night concert. (I don't see a date on her public schedule, but these concerts are not always announced outside the Emirates.) 

Money can buy a lot of good will. George Michael is out on a concert tour ahead of retirement, but he added a last-minute date to perform in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 1, lured by a reported $1.7 million fee for the night. That will be, he says, his last concert.  

And even Meg Ryan – a former box office darling now regarded as too plastified for the A-list -- was able to command $150,000 to show up and host the Abu Dhabi film festival last month. 

While the trough is full, the celebrities will feed. 

This young country, which struck it rich in the 1970s after surviving for centuries as pearl divers and date farmers, is on a mission to become an international cultural hub. Glittery names and high-class culture are tops on the agenda to lend cultural substance and high profile status to a faraway place where few Americans have been. 

Last year celebrity news outlets were set aflutter over reports that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had bought a manmade island in a new development in the planning stages in Dubai. Pitt's publicist promptly denied that the stars had bought a spot in "The World," a collection of manmade islands in the shape of the continents.

The word on the street in Dubai? Pitt and Jolie didn't buy the island. They were given it as a gift. 

November 05, 2008

Obama: Dare To Believe


Nov. 4, 2008 - Tonight, I dared to believe.
On this night of history, with its narrative drawn straight out of fiction, I could – just for this moment – believe.
On the night of his election to the presidency of the United States, Barack Obama did not just speak of change; he was change itself. He did not seize the moment. He was in it, and of it.
Watching, this is what I saw: a man standing in the spotlight of history, allowing it to wash over him, and then giving voice to its full measure. Aware that he was speaking to several hundred thousand people standing in the chill Chicago air, but also speaking to the nation, to world leaders and to millions in the “forgotten corners of the world.”
He said: “Change has come to America.” And he said: “This is your victory.”And he said: “A new dawn of American leadership is at hand.”
A few dozen electoral votes, and already we were different.
We looked different. No one could fail to notice that the somber, subdued crowd in Arizona awaiting John McCain was a sea of white faces, with blonde hair and patriotic lapel pins. The crowd in Chicago was white, grinning college students and sobbing teenaged black girls. Businessmen in suits, little old ladies, a big church mama, two attractive, dark-haired 40-somethings and Oprah leaning on a white dude with glasses, beside Jesse Jackson.
It’s the same country, just a different perspective. We didn’t need to squint to see it. We needed, instead, to believe that we could “bend the arc of history” to our will. Yes we could.
This moment “belongs to you,” Obama told the crowd. “This is our time to reclaim the American dream.” “Our union can be perfected.” "I will listen to you, especially when we disagree."
He said the words we wanted to hear. He evoked our highest achievements, from stepping on the moon, to giving women the vote, to conjuring “a world connected by science and imagination.” We did those things already.
So what can we accomplish as a nation and a world, if we believe? New worlds, new heights. We can surprise ourselves. It is up to us to fill in the blanks of Obama’s call to our higher angels.
Most of the time, I will not go there. But the thing about hope: it’s contagious. For myself, and my husband – who did not vote, at the end of the day, even though it is his first election as a naturalized American – I have wished the end of cynicism..
 As I watched, I suddenly remembered: this poised man on the world stage, rising to his destiny as if it were pre-ordained, is an orphan. His mother and father are gone; he just lost his last link to his childhood in the passing of his grandmother.  
Yet he stands strong in this unlikely moment  -- an African-American rising from obscurity to conquer the highest office in the land.  If he could believe his way to this moment, I could believe. On this night of history, I could not resist. 

November 03, 2008

"Loot" is out! I'll be off on book tour; Go to Lootbook.com

Update: Please follow my latest at www.lootbook.com; waxword will have to go quiet for a short while. Please check back later in November, and we will be back.

The long-awaited moment is here!  "Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World" is finally available for purchase in bookstores everywhere, and online.

Should the Met should have given back the Lydian Hoard? Are modern day Egyptians the proper heirs to to ancient pharaonic civilization? Should the Parthenon sculptures stay at the British Museum or go back to Greece? Is the Getty a rogue museum, or wrongly targetted by politicians?
Find out, and be the first to support this book by buying it today, at www.lootbook.com, or at your local bookstore. We need your support, please take a moment to buy the book today.
Then join in the conversation underway at the www.lootbook.com website.  
Already, "Loot" is causing a stir in the art world, from an excerpt published at "The Daily Beast" about sex at the J. Paul Getty Museum, and among passionate advocates for and against restitution, commenting online. You'll find the Daily Beast excerpt, along with the Introduction, posted at lootbook.com.
I'll be leaving on book tour, and appearing at events in Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Boston and elsewhere in the coming weeks. I hope you will join us at public events next weekend in Los Angeles; you can check those out under Appearances, but most updates will be at lootbook.com
As a result, I will not be blogging as much about Hollywood and other related news in the next few weeks. I hope you'll forgive the interruption, and will come back in December, when I will again pick up the pace, ahead of the full-on launch of thewrapnews.com.

November 02, 2008

Anand Jon Has Rested

6a00d8341f7e1f53ef010535cdbcca970b-800wi In the end, Anand Jon, the former fashion designer,  did not testify on his own behalf at  trial for the rape of nine models, despite all his protestations that he wanted to do so. His mother, Shashi, did not testify as expected. His sister, Sanjana, did not testify as expected. His brother-in-law, friends like Marla Maples, acquaintances – no one who knew Anand Jon and his life as a sexually obsessed climber with a taste for young fashion flesh, testified for him. Instead, the defense called a Santa Barbara district attorney, some cops and one very potent witness: Alicia Hanon,  the supervisor at a Radio Shack in San Luis Obispo.
Hanon testified that she felt compelled to come forward because she overheard one of her employees, Britney O., talking on the phone about the trial. Britney O. told friends that she was hoping to get her father’s house out of foreclosure in the wake of Jon’s trial, and was heard to say: “We have to get our stories straight.” As mentioned earlier, Britney O. wasn’t terribly credible before Hanon testified.
The defense is apparently convinced that the prosecution hasn’t made its case. But some pretty heinous behavior has been alleged from the stand in this six-week trial. In her closing statement, Assistant D.A. Mara McIlvain used a power-point presentation to drive home the youth of the alleged victims, their innocence and expectation, contrasted with Jon’s penchant for barely-legal porn, which she projected onto a screen for the jury.
The defense took four hours to wrap it up, with all three defense lawyers taking a whack at destroying the credibility of accusing witnesses. Leonard Levine delivered a rousing oratory: “These witnesses lied to you, and they lied to the court,” he said.
He noted that the prosecution based its case almost entirely on oral testimony. There was no physical evidence to back up the stories of rape. And he accused the detectives involved of failing to find the holes in the witnesses’ stories (this is demonstrably true), and of taking their stories at face value.
The jury is meant to begin weighing the case on Monday. Right now, it seems impossible to call this thing. Jon’s decision not to testify denied him a chance to create a sympathetic rapport with the jury. Some of the victims were credible, but not all of them were. Will this taint the whole enterprise? A jury is likely to want to punish Jon somehow, for something. But it will be hard to dismiss some witnesses as gold-diggers, or publicity hunters, while accepting others as legitimate.
This case that may never satisfy those of us who like clear answers - heroes and villains, and the satisfying thud of an obvious verdict. Let's wish the jury good luck.  
With so many victims and so much evidence, I’m hearing it could be a couple of weeks before there’s a verdict.