Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Just for the Hell of it: Episode Fifteen

                                Where there's smoke, there's usually fire...

                                    Quote of the Week

“With the possible exception of romantic love, nothing drives human narrative as often and as forcefully as the quest for justice. In the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, the nature of the universe usually comes down to how a story answers one simple question: Even if they are rich and powerful or poor and disenfranchised, do people get what they deserve in the end?

Over and over, in literature, film and television, we tell ourselves that the answer is yes.
Mysteries are solved, often at the eleventh hour or decades later, through the miracles of technology or cleverly induced confession. The bubbles of money and privilege are burst revealing the craven humans within who are then punished. The wrongly imprisoned are freed, the wrongly accused exonerated. Either way the truth is known, order and faith restored.
None of which is likely to happen here.”
Mary McNamara, from her excellent column in the LA Times on the increasingly sordid mess of the Bill Cosby affair.

I didn't really want to write about this.  So much has already been said (and for my money, Mary McNamara's piece is the best of the lot), so what could I add to the conversation?  Nothing new or profound, that's for sure. But I couldn't get it out of my head, and when that happens it usually means I have to write about whatever it is just get the bile out of my system. So I wrote what was on my mind, never intending to post it… but as the weeks before, during and after the holidays came and went, I found myself coming back to it again and again -- adding, cutting, re-writing, chewing on it like a dog with a bone.  

So I'm posting it, if for no other reason than to get it over with so I can find something else to chew on for a while.  Feel free to ignore the following and skip down to the bottom (where some good stuff awaits), or yell at me if you disagree -- I think we all have some bile generated by all this, so go ahead and vent if you need to.  

I'm doing this one for me. 

There’s no way the current generation can fathom what an enormously positive impact Bill Cosby had on our culture and the business of television. Sometimes you just had to be there to understand.  First as a comic, then as an actor, Cosby connected with mainstream American culture like no other black celebrity before -- not Flip Wilson, Sidney Poitier, or Sammy Davis Junior, as talented and successful as all three of them were.

First co-starring with Robert Culp in I Spy (a terrific show at the time -- “must-see” TV long before NBC came up with the term) and later as Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” he created and occupied a singular niche on the tube.  Forget all those stupid, cloying (and lucrative) Jello commercials -- in his prime, Cosby was an astonishingly powerful force on screen.  He may well have been the most likable man on television.  

Like everybody else, I was a huge fan back in the day, but have no first-hand knowledge of Bill Cosby.  I've never met or worked with the man during my three-and-a-half decades of toiling on set. The only inkling I had about his predilections came from an old friend more than twenty years ago, who had worked on a show with him and was disappointed to see the very married Cosby entertain a series of beautiful young women in his dressing room for reasons that seemed obvious at the time. 

It’s possible her assumptions were wrong, and whatever went on behind those dressing room doors was innocent -- I wasn’t there -- but either way, the dynamics of Bill Cosby’s marriage were (and are) none of my business.  Besides, philandering husbands are nothing new in Hollywood or anywhere else but that was then and this is now.  The sheer weight of accusations gathered against Cosby over the last few months suggest something much more serious than a married man with a wandering eye.  According to the growing legion of women speaking up, Bill Cosby is nothing less than a serial rapist, a sexual predator who drugged them into unconsciousness, then did whatever he pleased. 

Can all these stories be true?  Maybe, maybe not.  Are all of these women lying through their teeth?  That seems unlikely.  This isn't the McMartin preschool case, where hysterical parents conjured up fantasies in some kind of bizarre feedback loop with their young children -- a sensational legal circus that played out to a gullible public who ate it up with a spoon.  But those were children;  the two dozen or so women accusing Bill Cosby are full grown.  Still, only those women and Cosby know for sure what happened -- anything written or said by others is empty speculation -- but at this point it almost doesn’t matter. Even If only a fraction of those charges are true, Bill Cosby is nothing like the man we thought he was.   “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” the saying goes, and there’s a dense cloud of smoke rising from the charred remains of Bill Cosby’s reputation right now. 

Everybody has a demon or two under their skin, and maybe a few skeletons in their closet.  We're all human, and thus highly imperfect. We say and do stupid, hurtful things that -- later, hopefully -- cause us to feel shame and regret.  That doesn't seem to be happening in this case.  I suppose that's understandable -- if these charges are true, admitting it would completely destroy whatever's left of Bill Cosby's career.  If not, then he's in an utterly impossible position.

I don't know what the truth is here, but it seems yet another icon of my generation turns out to have feet of clay.  Or is it mud? 

How depressing and how the mighty have fallen. 


This being the first "JFTHOI" post of the 2015, I don’t want to end on a negative note, so here are a couple of excellent podcasts.  First, seventeen minutes on what just might be the strangest film set ever, then a terrific forty minute interview with George Pelecanos, novelist and writer/producer for “The Wire” and "Treme," among many other things.  

Pelecanos has some very interesting and useful things to say about life, writing, and working on set. Unlike so many writers, he has a deep respect for those of us who together do the heavy lifting necessary to put his words on screen. There's a lot in this interview -- enough that I listened to it twice.  

And although it's a little late at this point, Happy New Year...


JB Bruno said...

Before I worked in film, or in theater, I worked in radio. The ultimate "cool guy" - the post-hippie hippie - was a NY guy named Dave Herman at WNEW-FM. If George Carlin had a model for the FM voice of cool, it was Herman.

When fellow radio friends mourned his passing a while back, they mentioned the "unfortunate circumstances" previous to his death. I was out of the loop, so I had to "google" to find out that he died in prison awaiting charges that he had made advances against a 6-year old girl.

I was shocked. He was the morning-man I grew up on, such a "cool dude."

This is the category I choose for the Cosby charges. Like you, I have no idea or way to know the truth, but I've been so upset at the dismissal of similar charges against others of power that it hurts.

Thanks for sharing the excellent quote that starts your post, and the even better article.

Michael Taylor said...

JB --

Mary McNamara is a treasure -- her wonderful writing has appeared in the LA Times for a long time now, and pray she never gets lured away.

It's not just us -- popular celebrities all over the world take advantage of their position. The Brits had their own moment of shock a couple of years back when Jimmy Savile was revealed to have been a serial child molester.

"Power corrupts," the saying goes, and I guess it's true in politics, popular culture, and doubtless every other human endeavor.

Thanks for tuning in...

Anonymous said...

Chloe Goins has actually filed a police report against Cosby, so we're starting to get folks going to the courts and the police. Cosby and his attorney are denying the claims. So we've got a sworn police statement and eventually may get a sworn statement from Cosby or other evidence and it will be good to start being able to match things up.

Do I think there are a few folks who might wish to ride the crosby bandwagon. Absolutely!

I happen to agree though where there is smoke there is likely fire. In contrast to the rolling stone article and it's claim of gang rape, these women are coming out with names, dates, places. It's very compelling (29 women have come out with stories so far)

From church priests to Cosby... very disappointing and hopefully a situation which is less likely to occur this day and age.

Anonymous said...

As one of very few women who worked behind the scenes back in the 80's, i wanted to shed some light on how life was back then. Young women were raised differently.. They had to fight to break out of the "good girl" image that was drilled into them. One major way was to experiment with drugs.. mostly "reds" back in the 80's. Its hard to remember NOT having a conversation with girlfriends back then and NOT talk about it. You cannot put what you feel today and attach it to what the world was 40 years ago. The sexual revolution exploded and most women were anxious to be part of it. But they also needed an excuse.
Read the stories from the old rock stars about backstage passes and one nighters. I worked on most of the jello commericals and Cosby called me pud.. he loved humor and always showed the crew nothing but respect. Yes he flirted with me as well with any female writers on set I personally never took the bait. IT WAS A CHOICE. I had many opportunities with different actors. Its my opinion these women making accusations realize they are old and need to feel relevant in an industry based on youth. Remember VALLEY OF THE DOLLS? The "DOLLS" weren't young women.. they were DOWNERS barbiturates. Most young women tried to score REDS, seconals and others. They didnt take them to do housework. They took them to be great in the sack and impress a guy thinkin that would get them another date. NONE of these women were 6 year olds. They lived in a time that had NO LINES TO CROSS. Even cocaine was accepted on sets. TV guide wrote an article on it back in the 80's. they printed that "if you walk on a hollywood set.. just walk up to the sound man and purchase a small bag of cocaine. Its just my opinion but as I stated.. I WAS ONE OF VERY FEW WOMEN who worked behind the scenes and saw first hand the other side of the arugment from a womens point of view.

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous --

I agree that trying to impose current standards -- sexual and otherwise -- on past generations is a fool's game. As you point out (having been there at the time), things were very different in every way.

That said, there's a big difference between a woman willingly "taking the bait" to play with a celebrity and -- as has been publicly charged -- a woman being unwittingly drugged into unconsciousness so that he can have his way with her. Call that what you will -- and the law calls it rape -- but I find it extremely creepy.

Still, none of us really knows what happened, and probably never will.

Thanks for tuning in...

Anonymous said...

Mike, I do understand what you're saying.. but i still consider it hearsay as the only one that has come forward is a professional lap dancer and pole dancer. No evidence just remarks from from over 7 years ago. I have worked at the playboy mansion many times since the 80's and i know the protacol to enter and exit. the atmosphere certainly doesnt aliegn with her accusations. Also i would like to add. I believe the saying "YOUNG N DUMB" applies to most of us. I question when people look back 30 or 40 years and instead of taking responsibility for their own actions, they want someone else to. And when you say WHERES THERES SMOKE THERES FIRE... remember someone else is most likely there to willingly add kindling to that spark. And yes Bill Cosby WAS a womanizer. I happen to believe the women were willing participants. He didnt need to force himself on anyone. Our crew flew to vegas to do a quick commericial with him and young ladies were lined up trying anything and everything to get thru to him. I'm just giving my POV from moments of being personally up close. But as you said.. we will never really know. Just dont be too quick to judge.

Anonymous said...

Mike, i do understand what you're saying. But i question a gal who puts a police report in about an incident she says happened over 7 years ago. no evidence and no witnesses. I worked at the playboy mansion a great many times and i have my doubts regarding her story. NO ONE IS ALLOWED up stairs. Hef's personal room is on second fl as well as many of the girls. Back in the 80's thru to present one needs special clearance to even enter the property as well as house. They don't just leave passed out girls in rooms unattended. Has anyone heard of ANY accusations or gossip in the passed 40 yrs at the mansion? I do know this accuser is a professional pole dancer and lap dancer. I remember flying to vegas with the crew to do a commerical with Cosby and gals were lined up and trying anything and everything to get to him. Bill Cosby may have been a womanizer but he was also surrounded by willing participants. The saying YOUNG AND DUMB is what most people can claim. As we look back we need to take responsibilty for our own actions not try to force someone else in taking it for us. And WHERE THERES SMOKE THERES FIRE... real close by there is also someone adding kindling to that spark. And you're right. we may never know but im just saying Dont be too quick to judge.