Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Christmas in Hollywood?: Bah, Humbug!

The mildly entertaining film version of the recent Broadway hit called The Prom features some of our most glittering talents (Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman) as self-centered thespians who decide to Do Good only when it means they will personally reap some kind of reward. That’s why they jump on the bandwagon for a gay teenager who’s been barred from bringing her lady love to the high school prom, staging what they think will be a big publicity coup to enhance their own sagging box-office appeal. Of course, since The Prom started out as a Broadway musical, it oozes optimism and good-will for all humanity. The stars discover their kinder, gentler selves, leading to a jubilant finale in which everyone (even Kerry Washington as a narrow-minded PTA lady) finds happiness. Sounds like Christmas in June to me.

 Hollywood loves redemption movies, especially those set in the Christmas season. Hence the enduring appeal of It’s a Wonderful Life, as well as all those various versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which have starred everyone from Bill Murray to the Muppets We all know that A Christmas Carol ends (after Scrooge has learned to appreciate the warmth and family camaraderie of the holiday season) with plum pudding and a joyful “God bless us everyone.”

 Yet Ebenezer Scrooge’s earlier dismissal of the Christmas spirit as “humbug” is what I want to discuss right now. There’s something about celebrity that seems to bring out the worst in those who’ve been blessed with mass media appeal. When I worked in the film industry I saw, along with a lot of very nice people, some who’d definitely let fame and fortune go to their heads.  Perhaps it was a weird form of insecurity. But in any case, I watched name-above-the-title celebs demand extra attentions they didn’t deserve. These media monsters expect fealty from those around them, and think nothing of making others suffer if they don’t get their way at every turn.

 One such graced the cover of the Hollywood Reporter a few weeks back. There’s a full-colored shattered-looking picture of the star, along with these words: “THE IMPLOSION. It wasn’t just erratic, violent behavior that unmade Johnny Depp. It was his unquenchable thirst for revenge.” Inside are 4 full pages recounting instance after instance of Depp’s disturbingly self-centered behavior. On screen it may be lively and funny, but in real life not so much.

 Meanwhile, I can’t resist telling a personal story of how Hollywood’s sense of entitlement infects people other than stars. Decades ago, I was at our local Shubert Theatre, seeing a splashy road-show production of Cats. I was sitting in a house seat, because I’d just written a major piece on this production for the Los Angeles Times. By my side was my three-year-old son, ready and eager for his first big theatre-going experience. Yes, he had a booster chair, and he’d been carefully coached on how to behave.

 On the other side of me were two empty seats. They stayed empty until midway through the show when—in the middle of a musical number—a man and his daughter made their way across many laps and plopped down. I knew instantly that He was a well-known local TV personality, one who interviewed bigwigs and gave arts reviews. The child, about 5, didn’t sit quietly in her seat. Instead, she STOOD on daddy’s lap, while keeping up a steady stream of chatter about a production she’d clearly seen before. When I dared to politely reprimand the interlopers, I got an icy glare. The Spirit of Christmas Present? Bah, humbug. 


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