I’m constantly amazed how the Hollywood media seem to have no institutional memory when it comes to the Industry’s culture. That’s why none reported with any fanfare on that showbiz institution Morton’s shutting its doors at the end of the year. Namesake Pam Morton is so verklempt about it, all she could say to me Tuesday was, “It’s time for me to pursue other passions.” Sure, the restaurant has been eclipsed by The Grill for lunch and wherever is trendiest for dinner. And Morton’s is best known to civilians as the site of the Vanity Fair Oscar party. But during its heyday throughout the 80’s and 90’s when the Art Of The Deal meant The Art Of The Meal, the power players went to Spago for leisurely dinners and to Morton’s for business meetings. Rarely did a negotiation get done in Hollywood without a trip to the dimly-lit eatery at the corner of Melrose and Robertson. First, some forgotten trivia: Producers Larry Gordon and Joel Silver once cast the maitre d’ at Morton’s as a security guard in the first Die Hard. The art of table-hopping at Morton’s was perfected by Jeffrey Katzenberg who made it like ballet, pirouetting from table to table but never lingering. Spy magazine’s “Celia Brady” ended her columns with the teasing line “See you Monday night at Morton’s”. Frank Sinatra actually talked to reporters and photographers at a private party at Morton’s when he introduced his signature spaghetti sauce. Malcolm Forbes used to list Morton’s as one of his three favorite places on earth to eat. Larry Tisch took over CBS and then headed to Morton’s during his first meet-and-greet trip to Los Angeles. CAA under Mike Ovitz deemed Morton’s one of only three “approved” restaurants for expense-account dinners. Michael Eisner, then head of production at Paramount, signed young actor Eddie Murphy to a landmark $15-million, five-picture deal over dinner at Morton’s. Later, it was over dinner at Morton’s again that Eisner decided to jump to the Walt Disney Co.
Perhaps nothing illuminates Morton’s place in the Industry’s cosmos more than this anecdote: The year was 1985, and MGM-UA had just split into separate companies. The entertainment industry was searching for clues as to who would ultimately take over the previously contracted-for projects — MGM President Frank Yablans, or United Artists’ new president, Alan Ladd Jr. Forget the fact that both executives had assured everyone that all the movies in progress were divided on a “mutually cooperative” basis; no one believed them. One night, so the story goes, both men made reservations at Morton’s. Yablans arrived first and was shown to the perfectly placed front table usually occupied by MGM-UA top executives. Laddie arrived a few minutes later to find that all eyes in the dining room were upon him. Where would he be seated? And would it be in a better or worse position than Yablans? Laddie displaced Yablans from the key table. The next day, all of Hollywood claimed to know the score on the MGM-UA schism. Read More »
When you think about it, what went down with the Tribune Co. and Sam Zell is not unlike an episode of The Sopranos. Or maybe I just have Tony on the brain because the series begins its death rattle this Sunday. After all, the Chicago real estate tycoon didn’t give himself the nickname “Grave Dancer’ for nuttin’, right? (Specifically, for buying up assets that others had given last rites.) This morning, Tribune Co. chairman Dennis J. FitzSimons sent an email around to employees telling them about Trib’s choice of Zell to buy the company. That’s basically the equivalent of Tony’s errand boy making calls to his mob from his Escalade on the way to the social club. If any of the Trib workers had any hope left that L.A. billionaires Ron Burkle and Eli Broad were still in the running, or believed all those articles and updates that the duo’s bid was being taken seriously, fuhgeddaboutit. The Broad/Burkle offer slept with the fishes a long, long time ago because Broad had done so much bad-mouthing of the LAT‘s Chicago bosses in concert with editor Dean Baquet. (“The Trib guys hated Eli Broad,” I’m told by an insider. “They thought he was a piece of shit.”) Then, later today, FitzSimons followed up the email with a video hook-up where he answered questions from the worker ants. Someone asked FitzSimons what’s “the vision” for the Trib’s newspapers under Zell. “Basically, … Read More »
FRIDAY AM AND PM UPDATE
THURSDAY AM UPDATE
WEDNESDAY PM: The Los Angeles Times is supposed to report entertainment news. Now it’s making the news with its own Hollywood scandal. A lot of eyebrows were raised recently when powerful entertainment mogul Brian Grazer was tapped as the first of what would be quarterly ”guest editors” of the Sunday LA Times‘ classy Current opinion section. Well, woo-hoo. It turns out there was a romantic relationship between Andrés Martinez, the paper’s editorial pages editor who assigned the gig to Grazer, and Kelly Mullens, an exec for the Hollywood PR firm 42West which just happens to represent Grazer’s production company Imagine Entertainment. I’m told that publisher David Hiller knew all about it and still didn’t pull the plug — even though the girlfriend’s PR boss Allan Mayer was the person who flacked Grazer to Martinez in the first place. Now Hiller has killed this Sunday’s Current that was put together by the producer rather than run a mortifying editor’s note. And a furious Martinez has quit in protest. Granted, it’s not news that a pushy Hollywood PR firm had considerable influence with the local paper. This is a case of unusual influence. But was it improper influence? And, really, isn’t the Current mess the publisher’s fault since he was making the final decisions after all?
Now the LA Times‘ opinion section is embarrassed, the paper’s news side horrified, the Hollywood mogul humiliated, the PR company spinning. Media critics already beating up on the Tribune Co.-controlled LA Times are gonna have a field day with the latest contretemps. (I’m sure ousted editor Dean Baquet is enjoying it. After all, Hiller fired him.) If all this isn’t enough to get Hollywood and media circles buzzing, consider that, irony of ironies, Grazer and his Imagine partner, director Ron Howard, made the 1994 pic The Paper about journalism ethics at a big city daily. Read More »
What a mess surrounding Revolution Studios’ Across the Universe thanks to the idiocy of hiring director Julie Taymor, who may be lauded as a visual iconoclast in the pages of The New York Times but also derided as a cinematic loon based on what Hollywood sources tell me. So now this musical romance pic has dissipated into two warring versions, and its scheduled September playdate hangs in limbo. (See the trailer here.) Meanwhile, distributor Sony Pictures is tiptoeing around the issue of not releasing the pic, especially with a full frills marketing campaign, unless Taymor compromises; the studio is supposed to distribute all of Revolution’s film product under Joe Roth’s about-to-end deal there. In a perfect world, Sony would love to get behind Across The Universe because it’s synergistic. Told mainly through numerous Beatles tunes performed by the characters, it takes advantage of that Sony/ATV music publishing catalog owned with Michael Jackson that boasts some 250 Fab Four songs. Of course, Roth has only himself to blame for his fight with Taymor. This is just the latest of the many missteps he’s made at Revolution whose films have mostly bombed at the box office despite expensive Sony marketing campaigns. He is, after all, the one who hired Taymor in the first place even knowing her notorious Hollywood reputation for directorial pretension and indulgence, which is exactly how people describe her impossibly artsy-fartsy cut of this pic which audiences dislike. When Taymor wouldn’t listen to reason, Roth (himself a pretty lame film director) went in with an editor to cut his own version which is not just shorter but more commercial. So I can’t understand why Taymor isn’t kicked to the curb since she doesn’t have final cut. And I’m perplexed why The New York Times took Taymor’s side in this squabble and ignored the terrible truths people have told me about what a disaster she was on this project. Today’s article compares Taymor to Orson Welles. Ridiculous. The article fails to mention Sony’s Beatles biz synergy. Good grief. And there’s not a word about Taymor’s history of awful fights over length and content as the director on Titus (with producers and the MPAA over a possible NC-17 adults-only rating for too much sex and violence and gore, and with Anthony Hopkins who threatened to walk) and on Frida (with Harvey Weinstein, culminating in a loud expletive-filled fight in the lobby of NYC’s Sony Lincoln Square as shocked preview-goers filed past.) The NYT must have let its Nexis research account expire. Also, the paper of record implies that Across The Universe has been “taken away” from the director. Not yet. Now the details. Read More »