I’ve written this before, but it’s worth repeating: It’s always hard to know whether bad people are drawn to Hollywood or good people go bad here. So when the Devil came calling, in the lumpy pudding face of Anthony Pellicano, either you hired him, or not. Too bad we now suspect that many Industry power players trotted onto Ovitzian turf in terms of out-and-out paranoia, especially when in the throes of professional or personal wars they wanted to win at all costs. They acted one way in public — truthful, trustworthy and soulful — and quite another in private — lying, untrustworthy and soulless. But no matter if a mogul or a talent or his lawyer were in litigation or just negotiation with a nut or a jerk or a golddigger, they never should have sunk so low as to hit below the belt with Pellicano’s help. For chrissake, showbiz is a handshake business and Hollywood a town of relationships. It’s hard to imagine sitting across a Grill lunch table with any of these nasties now.
The point of the latest New York Times Pellicano exposé — this is becoming a weekly exercise — may not be wiretapping after all but the thug P.I.’s sly ability to play off one Hollywood heavyweight (in this NYT example, L.A. billionaire Ron Burkle) against the other (ex-agent/mogul Michael Ovitz) in hopes of bagging both men as his clients and scoring major moolah. But, as the newspaper points out, it’s also a morality play that “provides a new glimpse into Mr. Pellicano’s methods of drumming up new business and holding himself out as a broker between rich and powerful adversaries — thereby drawing them into his realm at Hollywood’s underbelly. In Mr. Burkle’s telling, it also shows how he was able to deflect a heavy-handed approach from Mr. Pellicano, while other Hollywood personalities, when similiarly confronted, either hired Mr. Pellicano or became one of his targets.”
True, it’s abundantly clear to all by now that Anthony Pellicano was one heck of a signer. Just take this story that Bernie Brillstein told me recently. Brillstein, as I reported before, used to have his offices in the same 9200 Sunset Boulevard building as Pellicano’s, on the same floor, just two doors down. It’s 1982, right after Bernie’s client John Belushi has just OD’ed, and Pellicano comes calling at the Brillstein office and asks, “Is there anything you want me to do?” To which the grief-stricken Brillstein responds, “Tell me, what can you do when the poor guy is dead?” With that trait of single-mindedness, there’s no telling what Pellicano could have accomplished had he been, say, an agent or a manager. (No matter, he was still bottom-feeding.) This is what makes the Pellicano case a scandal: the way that he seduced Hollywood types, who grew up in this business worshipping films like Star Wars, over to the dark side.
I say it doesn’t matter anymore if they didn’t know about Pellicano’s wiretapping: their credibility is shot. The more I hear about everyone’s Pelican briefs, the more I’m made aware of the entertainment industry’s aberrant values system. It infects everything and deforms it, makes a weapon out of power, and turns wealth into greed. No doubt, many will find my assessment unnecessarily harsh because they know these fellas as “those great guys.” And they are, as long as you didn’t cross them.
My advice is to watch the theatrical allegory playing now. And learn from it, people.