Hollywood continues to presume to tell the public what their priorities and values should be, despite indisputable evidence that the entertainment industry is large run by narrow, venal, intellectually limited, under-educated people, and always has been. My now-deceased friend Bob McElwaine, who was born in Hollywood as the son of a silent film producer, was baby-sat by Clara Bow and played pick-up football games against Mickey Rooney as a child, had wonderful anecdotes about his time as a writer and publicity agent during Hollywood’s Golden Era. He often would relate these jaw-dropping tales without attribution out of loyalty and his vows of confidentiality—it was his refusal to go public with these stories that led to his memoirs being rejected by publishers. They wanted dirt, and Bob refused to spread dirt or even embarrassing anecdotes about those who had trusted him, even after the clients and employers were dead.
Bob said that he witnessed this conversation in one studio executives ‘s office while trying to stifle giggles. A producer burst in full of excitement saying he had an idea for a blockbuster film. This was during the Fifties, when biblical spectaculars were the rage. “The Lord’s Prayer!” he said. “I know just the scriptwriter for it! Can you imagine the box office?” The studio chief laughed out loud. “The Lord’s Prayer! That’s ridiculous!” he chided. “Why, I bet you don’t even know The Lord’s Prayer.”
“I do too know it: what an insult! Do you think I’m an idiot?” the producer responded.
“It starts, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep…'”
The exec was stunned, and finally said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t think you knew it. I stand corrected.”
I was reminded of the story, which Bob swore was true, when I read in Variety that Gregory Allen Howard, the screenwriter for Kasi Lemmons’ hit film “Harriet,” swears that studio executive wanted Julia Robert to play the legendary Underground Railroad “conductor,” Hariett Tubman. Howard says he had been working on the script for a Harriet Tubman biopic for years, when a “then-president of a studio sublabel” raved about praised the script and suggested that Roberts play Tubman at a meeting. The lone black employee at the meeting spoke up an informed him that that Harriet Tubman was black. The executive shrugged the information off.