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Business in Hollywood demands a whole lotta love

But in Tinseltown, 'love" and "friendship' are always fleeting

I’ve been wondering whether it’s time for Hollywood to revisit its business lexicon. Let me explain:

During meetings at a major talent agency the other day, I heard one agent say, “love you, kiddo” to a client and another say, “love you, bubbie,” to yet another, who was on the phone.

Coincidentally, when I got in my car and turned on the radio, the first thing I heard was Tina Turner’s old song, ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’

Now, my agent is a very candid guy, so later in the day I asked him to tally up the expressions of love he’d made during the course of a normal business day. His response: 16.

Business is tough in Hollywood these days, so it’s nice that love is in the air. Or at least its faux manifestations.

But if the word “love” is recklessly overused in town, so is the word “friend.” One producer confided not long ago that he was making a megadeal at a studio and that he was sure it would close because the key executive involved was “a good friend.” Translation: They played golf three or four times a year.

The deal fell apart.

I don’t believe in business friendships any more than business love. I remember when Michael Eisner and Michael Ovitz each assured me they were “best friends.” They even took vacations together. After Eisner named Ovitz president of Disney, “best friends” morphed into instant enemies.

One of the town’s top producers acknowledged to me recently that these random expressions of love made him very uncomfortable. “When a business guy says, ‘I love you,’ how am I supposed to respond?” he asked. “Do I have to love him back? Should I suggest we have sex?”

Yet on reflection, he admitted that he, too, had begun to use the “L” word habitually.

I’m not suggesting that business friendships are inherently doomed — just that they are provisional in nature. In the new HBO movie titled “A Special Relationship,” the Bill Clinton character explains to Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister, that “friendship is a very tentative and provisional condition in politics.”

Blair had just expressed his friendship for Clinton, who had given him great help. Clinton was dubious. Within four years Blair had suddenly become George Bush’s great buddy and Clinton was forgotten.

Why are terms like these so carelessly tossed around in politics and in Hollywood? One reason is that denizens of show business, like politicians, tend to be pathologically ingratiating. When they want your support, they can’t just like you, they have to love you.

I think there’s something downright comforting about these expressions of fealty, except that I don’t want my agent to love me. I just want him to return my phone calls.

One filmmaker who had a true understanding of business friendship was the late Hal Ashby. In my days as a film executive I was principally responsible for Ashby getting two damn good directing gigs (the films were “Harold and Maude” and “Being There”).

Ashby was grateful for my support. Though suspicious by nature, he even told me that he considered me a friend.

The moment principal photography was started, however, Ashby made it clear to me that our roles had changed. As the money man, I was now the enemy and he made no effort to disguise that reality.

Ashby usually went over budget. We were always fighting about it. I suppose I could have eased the tensions by telling Ashby that I was his friend, that I loved him.

But he would have stared at me and asked, “What’s love got to do with it?”

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