Signature Significance: Two Unethical Tell-Alls

My late friend Bob McElwaine was of another era for sure. Once an active Hollywood publicist with many A-list clients, Bob once peddled his memoirs to publishers. He was an excellent writer with a great sense of humor, but was told repeatedly that unless he included “dirt” on his famous friends, girl friends and clients (like Danny Kaye, Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh and Dean Martin) the book was a non-starter. Bob refused. “My clients hired me to be discrete and to keep their secrets,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they are dead now: I’m not betraying them for a check.” (Bob did tell me some his experiences, knowing that I would not publish them. Yikes!)

Well, Bob is dead, and so is his brand of professionalism, trustworthiness and honor, as two forthcoming books demonstrate.

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Return To”Field Of Dreams”

Field of Dreams2

Baseball had a rare PR triumph earlier this month when it held a regular season game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox in the Iowa cornfield diamond that was the setting for the cult movie favorite “Field of Dreams.” The TV ratings were the best for any regular season broadcast in 16 years. That’s amazing, but maybe it shouldn’t be. Despite rumors of its demise, baseball still has a cultural bedrock of tradition, nostalgia and history unmatched by any other sport, professional or amateur. So many Americans would not tune in to a baseball game if they didn’t still have a flicker of affection for the sport, and if your argument is, “Yeah, but that’s just because of the movie,” the movie wouldn’t have become iconic if a lot of people didn’t care about baseball. As Terrence Mann said,

Now my confession: I’m not a wild fan of the film, nor that scene. The scene in particular is unforgivably stagey and artificial: it’s right out of the (much better) book, “Shoeless Joe,” and not even the great James Earl Jones could make it sound like anything but a recitation. I got annoyed, during the hype for the game broadcast, with “Field of Dreams” being repeatedly called “The greatest baseball movie.” I don’t regard it as that; I think it just barely makes the top five, and I could be talked out of ranking it that high.

For good reasons, many baseball writers, fans and bloggers have criticized the film over the years, and not just because it is shamelessly manipulative. But it is that. Baseball writer Craig Calcaterra, a vocal debunker of the film, writes,

“I will fully admit that a story about a father and son repairing a longstanding rift over a game of catch — with or without the magical realism elements — could form the basis of a MAJOR chills moment in an absolutely fantastic movie. The problem, as I’ve said in the past, is that “Field of Dreams” does not earn its chills moment. It is lazy in that it does not sketch out the dispute between Ray and his dad in anything approaching realistic terms — it’s dashed off in the rushed intro with almost no details — and it does nothing to explain why Ray’s moving the Earth and the Heavens to bring his dad back to that ball field is so important or why it serves as the “penance” Ray must pay for whatever reason. With no buildup or backstory, there’s no payoff.”

But worse, for me and others, is the slipshod handling of baseball history. “Shoeless Joe” Jackson was not innocent of taking a bribe to throw the 1919 World Series, he was guilty. He was not a thoughtful, wise-cracking Ray Liotta, he was just north of being a moron. He batted left-handed, and famously so, not right-handed like Liotta. When Frank Walley’s character, a magically reincarnated and youthened old ballplayer named Archie “Moonlight” Graham, whose single appearance in the major leagues was in 1905, is nearly beaned by a close pitch, he says “Hey ump, how about a warning?” Umpires didn’t warn pitchers for throwing at batters in 1905, and not for more than a half-century after that. Sloppy.

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The “White Christmas” Ethics Guide 2020

2020 Introduction

I have some very dear friends who are still angry with me for writing this admittedly harsh analysis of their favorite Christmas movie. Maybe that’s why I didn’t post it last Christmas season; I don’t know. It really is an ethics mess, however, and as I’ve stated elsewhere this week on Ethics Alarms, if you are going to make an ethics movie, someone involved ought to have functioning ethics alarms. The heartwarming ending—I still get misty when the old general played by Dean Jagger, gets saluted and serenaded by his reunited army unit—doesn’t make up for all the gratuitous lying and betraying going on in the rest of the film.

I have never mentioned this here before, but the movie was the result of an ethical act by one of the most unlikely people imaginable, Danny Kaye. If you search for Danny here, you will find that I have more connections to him than to any other entertainer, primarily through my co-writing and direction of an original musical about him, written by his long-time publicist and my friend. I credited Kaye with my interest in performing, musicals, and comedy, but my research into the real man was disheartening: in stark contrast to his persona and his public image, Danny was a miserable, paranoid, selfish, mean and insecure sociopath when he wasn’t playing “Danny Kaye,” which could be on stage or off it. “White Christmas” had been conceived as a re-make of “Holiday Inn” with the same cast, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Fred couldn’t do the project, so his part was re-written for Donald O’Connor, who became ill so close shooting that there was no time to retool the script and have the film ready for its target holiday release. In desperation, the producers asked Kaye if he would play Bing’s side-kick even though it meant 1) playing a support, which he had never done in a movie since becoming a star 2) playing a role that couldn’t highlight his special talents 3) subordinate himself to Bing Crosby, who was indeed the bigger star and box office draw, and most daring of all, expose his own limitations by doing dance numbers created for Donald O’Connor. Kaye was not a trained dancer, just a gifted mimic and athlete who could do almost anything well. Danny (actually Sylvia, his wife, agent and and career Svengali) had his price for the rescue: he demanded $200,000 and 10% of the gross.

Everyone around Danny Kaye was shocked that he agreed to all of this. Not only did he agree, he also amazed everyone by not playing the under-appreciated star on set, by doing O’Connor’s choreography as well as he did, and by knowing how not to steal focus from the star, something he infamously refused to do when he was in “Lady in the Dark” with Gertrude Lawrence. The movie was the top grossing film of 1954, and the most successful movie musical up to that time.

Danny’s good deed was punished, because today it is by far the most seen of his films, and is likely to be the source of his public image as time goes on. Yet it is not his best movie, or a fair representation of what made him a unique and popular supporter. Like Darren McGavin, a fine and versatile dramatic actor cursed to be remembered only as the father in “A Christmas Story,” Danny’s slice of immortality also minimizes his legacy and talent. Watch “The Court Jester.” With your kids or grandchildren.

1. The First Scene

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Ethics Dunce: “Streiff”

William B. Crews, an official at the National Institutes of Health, announced his retirement  this week after he was outed as surreptitiously attacking the NIH and particularly Dr. Anthony Fauci  in  posts on Twitter and on the right-wing website RedState using the screen name “Streiff.”

Crews worked for and promoted the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases while simultaneously undermining  the agency’s work with his posts since March. His deception and betrayal was exposed by The Daily Beast.

A representative comment Crews wrote on RedState in June read, “We’re at the point where it is safe to say that the entire Wuhan virus scare was nothing more or less than a massive fraud perpetrated upon the American people by ‘experts’ who were determined to fundamentally change the way the country lives and is organized and governed.”

This is a perfect Ethics Dunce performance, because what Crews did was both unethical and dumb. Screen names tend to get discovered, and something like this is a career-breaker. It’s also a cowardly and ineffective way to make an impact, if the objective is to actually accomplish something. Secret whistle blowing only works these days if your objective is to take down the President.

The ethical way to have an effect on policy and public opinion is to make objections like “Streiff’s” public and under one’s real name. It also helps if you can prove your claims. Continue reading

The Daughter Of KellyAnne Conway And George Conway Is A Monster, And Of Course It’s Their Fault

The rebellion of 15-yeqr-old Claudia Conway against her politically prominent parents, Trump Counsellor KellyAnne Conway and NeverTrump jerk George Conway (when one devotes one’s time to publicly attacking one’s spouse’s employer, one is, by the Ethics Alarm definition, a jerk. Also an asshole.) qualifies for the famous George Kaufmann reaction, which has been quoted here frequently, when crooner Eddie Fisher (husband of Debbie Reynold and Elizabeth Taylor, father of Princess Leia) visited  ’50s TV panel show and complained about his  love life:

Mr. Fisher, on Mount Wilson there is a telescope that can magnify the most distant stars to twenty-four times the magnification of any previous telescope. This remarkable instrument was unsurpassed in the world of astronomy until the development and construction of the Mount Palomar telescope.The Mount Palomar telescope is an even more remarkable instrument of magnification. Owing to advances and improvements in optical technology, it is capable of magnifying the stars to four times the magnification and resolution of the Mount Wilson telescope.Mr. Fisher, if you could somehow put the Mount Wilson telescope inside the Mount Palomar telescope, you still wouldn’t be able to see my interest in your problem.

Why am I writing about it, then? Claudia is an unusually spoiled teen, but a teenager rebelling against her parents is neither news nor intrinsically interesting. However, her rebellion is publicly embarrassing her parents while turning her into a celebrity,  That shouldn’t happen, and it is the result of multiple  instances of unethical conduct that it has happened.

Claudia has been assailing her parents on social media all summer, and her insulting  attacks, notably on Tik Tok where one of her videos referred to her mother as “Smelly Kelly,” have “gone viral’ much to the joy of Trump Haters everywhere. (Nobody cares  about George Conway, except as a resistance tool.)  Now she has announced that she’s seeking emancipation from her parents because co-existing with two conservatives who love her and who have provided the very essence of privilege is  just too, too horrible to bear.

Observations:

  • Two career-focused and neglectful parents weren’t sufficiently attentive to the basic duties of parenthood to convey to their daughter minimal ethical values, including one’s obligations to  family.

KellyAnne Conway has publicly encouraged her daughter to have “independent” views. That’s self-serving cover. Her daughter has watched her father attack her mother’s job and employer in public, and has seen her mother shrug it off as if her husband was a just another Trum- deranged stranger. That is the respect for family, love and loyalty that has been modeled for her. Claudia’s conduct is the natural and predictable result.

  • I don’t know what kind of ideological indoctrination Claudia has undergone in the high-priced private schools she attended, but it’s an easy wager that she has been subjected to constant progressive brain-washing away from home, and limited influence by her parents in it. My wife and I briefly sent our son to one of those schools, and Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” was presented as part of the science curriculum. For decades, parents have naively and negligently trusted our education system, because it saved them time and anxiety to do so.  The United States is now reaping the whirlwind as a consequence.

It is clear, or should be, that parents must not trust teachers, public schools, private schools, colleges, universities,or the administration of those schools, to keep politics out of education. That is the revelation that the riots around the nation  engineered by anti-American revolutionaries should be bringing home.

  • Social media has the capacity to make our children monsters. It gives them power they are neither mature, responsible, experienced nor wise enough to handle. Claudia could be the poster girl for this phenomenon.

She is the victim here.

In one of her whiny tweets, Claudia writes that her parents have ruined her life. I think she’s right, but not for the reason she thinks.

“How Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth It Is To Have A Thankless Child!”

 

What’s going on here? All of a sudden we are seeing children turn on their conservative public servant parents in public. (That’s Oedipus with the spear, incidentally.)

  • Kellyanne Conway’s 15-year-old daughter  Claudia has been posting videos on Tik Tok, berating her mother for working for  President Trump while attacking her boss. This  disrespect is an order of magnitude worse than what Conway tolerates from her despicable husband George. I can’t conceive of the path whereby any child would acquire the idea that it was ethical or anything worse that gross breach of the family bonds to publicly attack a parent or her employer.

[To the commenter who sent me this, thanks! I lost the original email...]

  • Meanwhile, Mary Trump, the President’s niece, is trying to get a tell-all book about her uncle published in time to slime him during the election, allegedly violating a non-disclosure agreement. Maybe it’s because I was raised by a Greek mother and grandmother, but I can not imagine attacking a family member like that, no matter what I thought of him. Unless an uncle was a secret serial killer or a spy, this is on the absolutism side of the ethics spectrum for me.

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Yes, Some Things Are Worse Than Racism, Part 2: The Betrayal Of Daniel Miller

This seems like a propitious time to keep reminding people, especially those who are currently engaged in trying to tear up the culture and the nation into little pieces without a clue about what to do next,  that some things are worse than racism. Lots of things, actually. At some point, we will have to have this debate and that truth must be established.

In ethics, we judge conduct, not thoughts, beliefs, desires and even words, if they are not truly linked to unethical conduct. “Cancelling” people based on past racist or bigoted sentiments that do not seem to have been consistent with later conduct is unfair and  oppressive. The current movement to punish American citizens based on their failure to conform mandated thoughts and specific beliefs is at its core totalitarian, and is doomed to failure, or worse, success.

Playwright Arthur Miller committed one of the most nauseating acts of selfishness, cruelty and betrayal imaginable, but he wrote some of the most ethically resonant dramas in the American theatrical canon: “Death of Salesman,” “The Crucible,” ‘All My Sons,” “A View From the Bridge,” “The Price.” More than any other U.S. playwright, indeed writer in any genre, Miller earned a reputation as the culture’s herald of morality.  When he died in 2005, Miller was celebrated as perhaps our greatest playwright (he isn’t, but he’s certainly near the top.) He was also lionized as a lifetime ethics hero, in particularly because of his refusal to “name names” before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. His battle with HUAC caused  Miller to be convicted of contempt of Congress in May 1957, when he was sentenced to prison sentence, fined, blacklisted, and forced to surrender his  passport.

Then, two years after the obituaries and tributes The Atlantic magazine revealed a horrible secret— not a skeleton in Miller’s closet, but a living, breathing, son.

Miller married the last of his wives, photographer Inge Morath (she came after Marilyn Monroe) in February, 1962.  The first of the couple’s  two children, Rebecca, was born on September 15, 1962. Their son, Daniel, was born  in November 1966.  Miller was excited about the birth until doctors diagnosed Daniel as having  Down syndrome. Against his wife’s wishes—she couldn’t have objected too strenuously— Daniel’s famous father sent the newborn to a home for infants in New York City within days of his birth, then four years later  to Southbury Training School, then one of two Connecticut institutions for the mentally challenged. There Daniel stayed until he was 17. Of that place, The Atlantic’s Suzanna Andrews wrote,

By the early 1970s, however, around the time Arthur Miller put his son there, Southbury was understaffed and overcrowded. It had nearly 2,300 residents, including children, living in rooms with 30 to 40 beds. Many of the children wore diapers, because there weren’t enough employees to toilet-train them. During the day, they sat in front of blaring TVs tuned to whatever show the staff wanted to watch. The most disabled children were left lying on mats on the floor, sometimes covered with nothing but a sheet. “In the wards you had people screaming, banging their heads against the wall, and taking their clothes off,” says David Shaw, a leading Connecticut disability lawyer. “It was awful.”

One observer reported that the institute reminded him of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Continue reading

A Lesson In Ultimate Utilitarianism: Israel’s Nazi Hit Man

Israeli special agent, Otto Skorzeny. No, I’m not kidding.

There are few better examples of how extreme versions of “the ends justifies the means” can be adopted as an ethical course than the strange, and oddly under-publicized, story of Otto Skorzeny.

Do you know the tale? I didn’t, until today. This is a good day to consider it, being the anniversary of the date Hitler’s minions invaded Czechoslovakia.

 Skorzeny was born in Vienna in June 1908. He joined Austria’s branch of the Nazi Party in 1931 when he was 23. He worshipped Hitler. When the Nazi army invaded Poland in 1939, Skorzeny left his construction firm and volunteered  for the  SS Panzer division that served as Hitler’s personal bodyguard force. He took part in battles in Russia and Poland, and was probably involved in exterminating Jews.

In 1944, Skorzeny handpicked 150 soldiers in a plan to foil the Allies after they landed in Normandy on D-Day. Dressing his men in captured U.S. uniforms, he procured captured American tanks for  to use in attacking and confusing Allied troops from behind their own lines. This mission more than anything else earned Skorzeny two years of interrogation, imprisonment and trial after the war ended. Somehow, despite being one of Hitler’s favorite SS officers, he still managed to be acquitted in his war crime trial in 1947. The Führer had even awarded Skorzeny the army’s most prestigious medal, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, for leading the rescue operation that rescued Benito Mussolini from his captors.

After  Skorzeny’s acquittal, newspapers called him one of the most dangerous Nazi criminals still unpunished. Typically brazen, he capitalized on the notoriety by publishing his memoirs,  including the 1957 book “Skorzeny’s Special Missions: The Autobiography of Hitler’s Commando Ace.”

Skorzeny did not reveal in his books how he escaped from the American military authorities who held him for a year after his acquittal, perhaps saving him from more charges and another trial before the Nuremberg tribunals. The escape was rumored to have been assisted by the CIA’s predecessor agency, the OSS, which he assisted in some special operations after the war. Continue reading

Ethics Alarms To “The Ethicist”: It’s Called “The Golden Rule”—Why Is That So Hard?

I hadn’t checked in for a while on Kwame Anthony Appiah, the N.Y.U philosophy teacher and author who finally brought ethical consistency to the New York Times magazine’s advice column, “The Ethicist.” I was surprised to find him struggling to answer two family related queries that I would have assumed he could and should have answered  easily with three words: “The Golden Rule.”

The first inquirer asked in part,

Recently a mutual acquaintance who knows my friend’s husband well told me that he has been cheating on my friend on and off for years with someone who once worked with him.I know that if I reveal this information, my friend will take their child and leave her husband. Do I sit on this information and pretend the affair isn’t happening, or do I tell her?

Isn’t that an easy call? Of course she should tell her friend. The Golden Rule applies: would she want to be told if the positions were reversed? Sure she would; anyone would. Not telling her would be a betrayal of the worst kind.

Yet Appiah uses 608 words to reach that conclusion. 608! This makes a slam dunk of an ethics decision appear to be a difficult one. Oh, it’s difficult in the sense that the inquirer has to take sides in a crisis affecting a couple she and her husband are close to, and thus the repercussions as well as the process will be unpleasant, but that’s life. One of the Ethics Alarms rules is that if you can fix a problem, fix it. The Ethicist’s rabbinical musings about the decision just supplies a dangerous volume of rationalizations to temp the questioner into keeping the husband’s secret, and abetting the harm. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: The Betrayal And Ultimate Triumph Of Dorothy Seymour Wills”

The smartest –and most ethical—thing John and Paul ever did: agreeing to share credit for every song, no matter who wrote it.

On the topic of authors being reluctant or resistant to sharing authorship credits,I wrote in a replay in a comment to the post,

I have shared the authorship credits of several stage shows where I was the initiator and the creator of 75-95% or more. There are two shows, a drama and a musical, that have made substantial money without my sharing in any of it—one because I added co-authors out of respect for their non-authorship contributions, the other for which I got no credit at all despite making the alterations that made the difference between the show being a hit and a flop. My wife thinks I’m a sap and a patsy. No, I think sharing credit liberally is the right thing to do, and that generosity should be the rule, not the exception. And I will continue to do unto others what they should have done unto me, even if the others usually don’t.

Here is a different personal perspective on the issue, in mermaidmary99’s Comment of the Day on the post, “The Betrayal And Ultimate Triumph Of Dorothy Seymour Wills”:

I was a record producer in the early 1980’s. (Still am.)

In ones early 20’s it was unheard of to be a producer unless one was in the group. To be a woman in their early 20’s was shocking to most every man who would arrive to the studio to see me in charge. They often assumed my boss was coming.

The men were always respectful and helpful as I cut my teeth in those early days.

How did I get a job like that?

The label owner, who was a studio musician and had played with The Righteous Brothers and other acts, had heard 3 songs I wrote on an album (my boss chose them and was the producer) and loved them. He asked my boss who wrote them, and he said I had. (And that I assisted on production on those too) so the owner said. “have her write and produced the next record, this stuff is amazing!”

So along with my then boyfriend, I did.

Yes, later I was a mom and asked to produce for another label. (Women producers were still unheard of) and I accepted. I asked my husband to help.

I’ll never forget his reply.

He kindly declined saying. If he did, I’d not get the credit, They’d think, “Oh, she helped her husband and probably nagged for credit.”

I was hurt because I wanted him to share in it. He explained nicely again how it wouldn’t support my Dream. And he LOVED producing too .

I’ve often felt lucky he was so supportive, and reading this I realize how very fortunate I am to have had him by my side.

I’m glad this story is being told. This woman deserves credit and I can see why men would both want her to, and not. Continue reading