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Blacklist Backlash

Photo by Kathleen Clark

Industry heavyweights are freezing out the protest against Sunday’s Oscars presentation of a lifetime achievement award to director Elia Kazan, who testified about colleagues’ left-wing ties during the Hollywood blacklist era. Despite widespread condemnation by the entertainment glitterati of the McCarthyite "naming names" of 40 years ago, few have dared to come out today against Kazan’s laurel for fear of hurting their own careers. Appeals from the anti-Kazan camp to such reliable pillars of protest as Oliver Stone and Susan Sarandon have gone unanswered, organizers say. Even among the once-blacklisted, some — like actor Rip Torn — have distanced themselves from the protest. (Many blacklistees, or their surviving family members, are supporting the campaign, which plans to picket the Music Center ceremonies Sunday at 3 p.m.)

Some Hollywood figures, while donating money toward the full-page protest slated for Friday’s Variety, refused to sign the ad, citing "pending deals," or friendships with Karl Malden (who proposed Kazan’s award to the Academy board) or with screenwriter Nick Kazan, Elia’s son. On the eve of publication, two panicked producers (one screen, one TV) took their names off the signers’ list.

At a Writers Guild ceremony last week restoring credits to blacklisted writers, including protest organizer Norma Barzman, WGA ex-president George Kirgo told Barzman she was "talking too much" about the Kazan affair. Also at that event, Warren Beatty spoke to reporters in defense of Kazan, who gave him his first big break in the 1961 feature Splendor in the Grass. Beatty was also one of six bigwigs, including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Gregory Peck, Sean Penn and Milos Forman who received copies of a fax attacking the protest from Mike Medavoy of Phoenix Pictures. "The Academy Awards honor people’s art, not their politics . . . I am highly disturbed [by the dissent] . . .," Medavoy said. Only Penn (whose father, actor Leo Penn, was a blacklist victim) signed the protest ad; Scorsese is slated to present Kazan with his award.

At least two members of the 39-person Academy board that voted for Kazan’s honor have come to regret their decision, though only one was willing to go on the record. "My hope had been to heal and that people would understand that in insane times people did things that were reprehensible," said cinematographer Haskell Wexler. "But what happened was that people came out of the woodwork to defend the blacklist and things that were indefensible." Kazan, of course, continues to defend his testimony and has shown no remorse for the shattered lives and careers of his colleagues. The deafening silence from working Hollywood, then, appears to have less to do with a spirit of reconciliation than with McCarthyism’s enduring legacy: self-censorship = self-preservation.

—John Seeley

Yardbirds Yammer

 

The March 11 New York Times revealed that Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Ahmed Yousef have been allowed to converse with each other — through mesh and in separate cages — during their exercise periods at the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, or Super Max, in Florence, Colorado. Latin Kings gang murderer Luis Felipe may also be allowed to participate in some of the chats. Through a hidden camera, OffBeat was able to eavesdrop on a recent conversation.

Yousef: So, what do you want to talk about?

Kaczynski: [piercing stare]

McVeigh: [blank military stare]

Yousef: People think with us it’s just bombs, bombs, bombs. I feel that’s an unfair stereotype.

Kaczynski: [piercing stare]

McVeigh: [grunt]

Yousef: There are lots of other subjects we could discuss. Anybody familiar with the Koran?

Kaczynski: [piercing stare]

McVeigh: [blank stare]

Yousef: Well. Uh. Those embassy bombings in Africa. Those were a hoot, eh?

Kaczynski: [eyebrow twitches]

McVeigh: [ghost of a grin]

Yousef: Yeah! All right! We’re on a roll. Oh, before we really get gabbing, I hear they want

to drag that gang murderer’s cage over here too. What do you think? Yes, no?

McVeigh: [blank stare]

Kaczynski: [piercing stare]

Yousef: Hey. Hey. You’re right. Sorry I brought it up. Why fuck with a good thing?

—Greg Burk

Pave Paradise, Send Taxpayers the Bill

 

Playa Capital, developers of the massive Playa Vista project, have never publicly admitted what they paid for the last large coastal wetlands in Los Angeles County. And for good reason, it turns out. According to a secret 1998 business plan, leaked by L.A. City Council candidate Rex Frankel, the property’s purchase price, when Playa Capital took over from debt-ridden Maguire Partners in 1997, was $101 million. That’s much less than the mountain of public subsidies Playa Capital and its predecessors have sought for their mega-development.

In December 1995, the city of Los Angeles announced that it was contributing $70 million in tax breaks, loans, roadwork and reduced municipal fees to help make Playa Vista the home of DreamWorks SKG’s new movie studio. Governor Pete Wilson promised $40 million more for roadwork to ease the 200,000 car trips a day that Playa Vista’s 30,000 residents and 20,000 office workers will generate. Bad blood between DreamWorks SKG and Playa Capital delayed the subsidies, but with the two firms’ November peace pact, the aid package is heading back to the City Council.

In December, the council approved Playa Capital’s request for $87 million in tax-exempt government housing bonds to help build an apartment complex with 417 "affordable" units. (A state hearing in Sacramento this June will determine whether or not the request is granted.) Council members also will be asked to approve city backing for the sale of $415 million in tax-exempt Mello-Roos bonds to allow Playa Capital to obtain lower-cost construction loans. Councilwoman Ruth Galanter says she can’t find $100 million to save the city’s last open big space. But then, it always seems to be easier for politicians to come up with corporate welfare than the money to save a piece of paradise.

—Bill Gibson

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