Why Do We Pay Any Attention To These People And What They Think At All?

Wait. what’s the matter with non-traditional casting?

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.” Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Steve Bannon-President Trump Blow-Up

Excerpts from his new book revealed that journalist Michael Wolff extracted some highly inflammatory quotes from ex-White House aide Steve Bannon, who criticized his former boss, members of his family, and White House colleagues. In an unusually well-written, if unrestrained, response, the President used a rhetorical blowtorch on his former ally, writing,

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.”

Observations:

  • Once again, we have the unforgivable spectacle of a once highly placed member of an administration team betraying trust to vent, to get publicity, to settle scores, or to cash in. It’s not whistle-blowing, and its not in the public interest. It hurts the current President and future Presidents, by making a breach of loyalty and confidentiality that was once unimaginable routine. David Stockman, Reagan’s bitter budget director, started this trend with a tell-all book after his star fell to earth, and now every Presidential appointee is a potential Judas. If any of these creeps were ethical, professionals or patriots, they would wait until the administration they had worked for were out of power and in the rear-view mirror, and ideally, way, way in the rear view mirror, like a decade or more. Better yet, they would take the secrets they were entrusted with to the grave.

But what’s the fun in that? More to the point, where’s the money in it? Ten years from now, Steve Bannon will be the answer to a trivia question. Continue reading

An Act Of Kindness, Danny Kaye And Me : An Ethics Case Study

Brian Childers

This isn’t a Christmas tale exactly, but it is a deeply personal one that will always make a big difference in how I make decisions in my life. It is episode that taught me, once and for all, that when you do the right thing, the amount of good that can come from it is unpredictable and sometimes unimaginable.

Maybe it will inspire you too.

In 2001, my friend Bob McElwaine handed me a script and a CD of a musical he had been working on about his long-time friends and clients, entertainer Danny Kaye and his wife, song writer Sylvia Fine. Bob was in his 70s, retired, a former Hollywood publicist and later an association executive who had taken up writing musicals with his childhood buddy, legendary movie score bassist Bob Bain (that’s Bain you hear playing the famous bass instrumental on the “Bonanza” theme…

…and the melody line in “The Munsters” intro too.)

McElwaine knew I was a long-time Danny Kaye admirer. He had been a wealth of information for me about Kaye when I was directing “Lady in the Dark,” the Broadway show that had made Danny a star in 1941, for the American Century Theater years before. One day, Bob asked me, as a favor, if I would agree to workshop the new piece, direct it, and see how it turned out in front of an audience.

I was not enthusiastic about the project, not at all. I had my ethics business as well as the theater to oversee; I had just finished directing a show, requiring me to be out of the house every weekday night and all day Saturday, and I thought the piece itself was too old-fashioned and formulaic to work. Mostly, however, I didn’t see how anyone could be a credible Danny Kaye, since Kaye was a unique performer—he wasn’t exactly a comedian, or a singer, or a dancer, yet  all of these and more—that has never had a close equivalent since. I was trying to find a way to turn Bob down nicely when I watched a performance of the show I had just gotten up and running. A young man named Brian Childers who was only in his second professional role played the romantic lead, and that night, for some reason, he handled a scene differently than I had ever seen him do it before—and for maybe three seconds, probably because Bob had just put the late performer’s image in my short term memory, reminded me of Danny Kaye.

After the performance I asked Brian if he would be interested in playing Kaye in this new musical, and he enthusiastically agreed, saying he was a huge Danny Kaye fan. (Later I learned that he barely knew who he was). Continue reading

A Batboy Sells Out His Heroes

Don't trust him, Roy...he's doing research for a book!

Luis Castillo became a batboy for the New York Yankees at the age of 15, and for eight baseball seasons shared the clubhouse with his hometown heroes. Now he’s cashing in, having written a tell-all memoir of his experiences  that dishes on Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and others, all of whom trusted him to be fair, respectful, and discreet.

The recurrent theme from the media’s commentators, which I heard repeated on CNN this morning as it hosted Castillo in his book-hawking efforts (in this case he told an embarrassing anecdote about Yankee catcher Jose Posada) is that “Castillo is able to divulge Yankee secrets in his new memoir because he was part of the last group of batboys who did not have to sign confidentiality agreements.”

This is accurate, but wrong. It is also typical of what passed today as journalistic ethics. Continue reading

Oprah and the Icons: the Ethics of Lying to Make a Difference

Kitty Kelley’s unauthorized, rip-the-mask-off-the-icon bio is out, and now Oprah Winfrey must weather the inevitable de-construction of some of her meticulously self-created image. Oprah is pretty much untouchable now; I was a guest at her “O” Magazine Expo last Fall in Kansas City, and it was clear that her status with he legion of followers is somewhere between a guru and a goddess. There aren’t many revelations, short of proving that she is secretly Dick Cheney in an elaborate disguise, that could do much to reduce her cultural influence or undo her popularity.

Still, it used to be that heroes, celebrities and cultural icons could count on the whole truth about their personal and career embellishments to surface only late in life, or more often, long after death. Thus it has been a standard tool of rising figures in America to carefully craft an inspiring story and an appealing persona that excite and engage the public, and the truth has had little to do with it. It’s worked, too. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Robert M. McElwaine, 1925-2010

Every time I hear about a new tell-all book by a famous person’s former lover, spouse, political aide or appointee, full of embarrassing revelations about what celebrities, political leaders or admired (or reviled) historical figures did or said behind closed doors or in the dead of night, I admire Bob McElwaine just a little more. When he died this month, the Washington Post obituary described him as a man who knew how to keep a secret. He did, but he was much more than that.

Robert McElwaine was a gentleman. Continue reading