Under his expert producer’s eye, 60 Minutes became not just a consistent time slot winner for CBS but also an occasional chronicler of the behind-the-scenes of showbiz for the consumer audience. For instance, back in January 1975, Sue Mengers was being touted as Hollywood’s hottest agent, a title that was sanctified when Don Hewitt profiled the agent on 60 Minutes. The segment featured the agent fielding phone calls from the rich and famous. “Hi, Gore,” (As in Vidal) “Hi, Mick.” (As in Jagger) (Mike Wallace’s last question to her was, “Do you ever pinch yourself and say, ‘Who, me?’” “Yeah, a lot,” Mengers replied. “And then I say, ‘Who deserves it more?’”)
Of course, 60 Minutes did softball celebrity profiles mixed in with those hard-hitting Hewitt-ordered investigations that made mincemeat of shameless businessmen and lawyers. (Remember Marty Short’s parodies of their denials with that sweaty and quivering upper lip?) One of the few exceptions was 1991 when Steven Spielberg appeared on a 60 Minutes segment devoted to Hook in which he dissed Julia Roberts’ onset behavior. It was a seismic violation of pre-pic publicity and showbiz protocol.
But my favorite story about Don Hewitt and Hollywood was about the interview that never happened. It was 1983, and Al Pacino was coming off filming the disastrous Author! Author!. The actor was refusing to do any publicity for the film, and when his then agent Marty Klein broke the news to 20th Century Fox head Sherry Lansing, she was furious. “Fuck you!” Lansing yelled, thinking Klein was behind the decision. (Later, trying to diffuse the tension, Klein called back, “Did you say, ‘Fuck you’? or ‘Fuck me’?” Klein quipped, and Lansing roared with laughter.) To make amends, Klein came up with the idea of a segment on 60 Minutes. After all, the newsmagazine was interviewing a lot of celebrities. Who wouldn’t die to talk to the reclusive Pacino? The agent called Don Hewitt and pitched Pacino as an exclusive. “Who gives a shit about Al Pacino?” Hewitt snapped. “What the hell’s he ever done that anybody’s interested in?”