Here’s a rude awakening: H’wood is polite

Guest Column

IN MY LITTLE MIND, I have memories of rude people.

There was the astoundingly rude partner at the law firm of Reavis & McGrath in New York where I worked as a summer associate 33 years ago. I wrote a memo for him, and he threw it back at me, saying, “This is the worst piece of shit I have ever seen.” The beauty part was that he then used it almost word for word in a brief he submitted without in any way giving me credit for it.

I can recall another lawyer in the firm shouting obscenities down the hall so loud and so coarse that the secretaries (all women in those days) blushed.

Then there were the meetings I had with lawyers when I was an expert witness in cases involving management misconduct and/or fraud in accounting. Sly, nasty and then shouted innuendo about my honesty and integrity came from lawyers who were earning $400 an hour defending looters. Then there were the PR spinmeisters for other corporate crooks who used their connections to spread vicious lies about me to newspapers friendly to the crooks and screamed at me on the phone when I called them on it.

THESE COME TO MIND because of a piece I recently read in the mammoth Los Angeles Times by a man named Patrick Goldstein. Mr. Goldstein’s point, certainly true in its facts, was that Hollywood men and women (especially men, I gather) are amazingly rude and vulgar, and agents and producers especially, but also old-time actors.

In Mr. Goldstein’s view, these people are uniquely rude. Not just rude, but off the map rude. This relativity thing is where he goes astray, I think.

When I read the piece (as I was watching TV in the Friar’s Club, by chance), I actually laughed out loud. If Mr. Goldstein really thinks Hollywood people are uniquely rude, I envy the peaceful life he has led. The sad fact is that people are really rude in many, many occupations. Law is just one. Finance is another — an area where a horrible few men and women mark territory, as dogs do, basically by urinating everywhere they can and on everyone they can. I have seen screaming contests by finance men that make anything I have seen in almost 30 years in Hollywood look sedate.

Politics is another area of brutal rudeness. The sneering, the screaming, the whipping up of the most primitive passions and fears, especially racial fears, by politicians, is beyond anything I have ever seen in Hollywood (where I have never heard one racist remark uttered in conversation).

I have only heard rumors of how rude men and women are in the rag trade, and stories of cutting, cruel remarks in design and in real estate sales are commonplace.

THE POINT IS, people in high pressure jobs scream a lot. They use the threat and actuality of rudeness a lot. Where success is based largely on browbeating people instead of on real knowledge, scholarship or talent, rudeness is a standard weapon. Unfortunately, this covers a great many arenas of human endeavor.

Hollywood is one of them, but in my experience, which really started in 1974, Hollywood is actually far more polite than other places. I am often tricked in Hollywood (very often but a lot less than I was when I started). And I am often disappointed. But I encounter far less rudeness and actual displays of temper in my little corner of Hollywood than I did as a trial lawyer, an expert witness in finance or in my few forays into commerce. When people here want to turn you down, or break your heart, they do it with extreme finesse and indirection. (“Getting nibbled to death by ducks” is the old phrase.) Even when your pocket is being picked, you get it picked with a deftness that any surgeon would envy. True, agents do scream and producers scream, but that is theatrics and everyone knows it. For the rest of us, life is peaceful and even gentlemanly. On the set, especially, during my long years of production (not over yet, I might add) there is a punctilio of manners that is courtly in its kindness.

None of this contradicts the specific examples that Mr. Goldstein gives, and none of this is meant to show that there are not rude men and women in Hollywood. But my experience is that they are far worse in many other fields, and that for the most part, Hollywood lives by a kind of gentleness of manner (often belying fraud of some kind, to be sure) that much of American business would find bewilderingly, old-fashioned and even quaint.

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