Dave Robb, the investigative reporter at the center of the management upheaval at the Hollywood Reporter, is so old-school he doesnt seem to realize how he stood out among the many toadies in the murky realm of Hollywood journalism.
There are other people doing what I do. You dont even have to turn over a rock. Theres news everywhere. You just write until they stop you, Robb said during a phone interview Monday, the same day Reporter editor Anita Busch resigned, in part over Robbs sudden departure the previous week. (Writers disclaimer: Robb is an old, and much-respected, colleague of mine.)
Robb quit over Reporter publisher Robert J. Dowlings decision to kill his investigation into allegations that the papers society columnist, George Christy, was on the take. Specifically, Robb said he learned that Christy was being investigated for not appearing in several films for which he had received acting credits. The phantom appearances qualified Christy for lucrative Screen Actors Guild (SAG) health and pension benefits. One of the producers who gave him the credits, Steve Stabler, got numerous favorable mentions in Christys influential back-page column.
Reporter spokesperson Lynda Williams said Christy would not be responding to questions, but provided statements indicating that Dowling had reassigned the Christy story because he believed that Robb had lost his objectivity.
It wasnt the first time Robb quit over a spiked story. In fact, it wasnt even the first time Robb looked into Christy. (In 1993, Robb broke the story of a lawsuit the SAG pension and health fund had filed against the Motion Picture Corporation of America, Stablers company with then-partner Brad Krevoy, charging the outfit with inflating Christys salary for bit parts to qualify the columnist for SAG benefits. The suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed six-figure sum.) Time and again during his 20 years at the trades -- Variety as well as the Reporter -- 51-year-old Robb dug into the seamy underside of Hollywood and surfaced with stories of mob corruption, presidential fancy footwork, and scamming. And he demanded the same ethical standards of his own profession that he did of the movie biz.
One might ask why Dowling would sacrifice not only Robb but Busch, a consummate pro credited with restoring the Reporters luster -- along with the equally respected executive editorfilm editor Beth Laski, who also quit in the fracas -- to save a male Hedda Hopper. Specifically, a male Hedda Hopper given to such prose as The musicale . . . got off to a grand start. (The quote is from Christys May 1 column, which also included the gem Julies husband Blake Edwards then announced that hes always been enchanted with singers and the music that comes forth from their vocal chords.) But then, one would be showing ones ignorance of Hollywood culture, its baroque court politics, the importance of seeing and being seen -- not to mention the power of Hollywood wives, of whom Christy is said to be a great favorite. (Christy is not a favorite of some publicists, who have complained that his demands for swag and tribute were outlandish even in the graft-laden atmosphere of Hollywood.)
Hollywood wives probably dont know Robb, but many power players do -- players like Tommy Short, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees president. Robb first quit the Reporter in 1995 over the papers refusal to run a story about Shorts alleged mob background; a version of the tale later appeared in the Weekly. Robb returned to the Reporter after an amicable eight-month hiatus he calls his walkabout.
Robb also took on Power Rangers co-creator Haim Saban for claiming music credits, and ASCAP royalties, for titles composed for his TV kiddie shows. And then there was California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk: Robb uncovered a police file concerning the then-politicians dalliance with a prostitute. And former SAG official Ronald Reagan: Robb found Reagans secret grand-jury testimony from a U.S. Justice Department antitrust investigation into the then-actors superagent, Lew Wasserman.
Robbs finest hour may have been his lengthy investigation into the denial of film credits to blacklisted screenwriters. Robbs work corrected the record for dozens of writers, including Michael Wilson, whose credit for the Oscar-winning film Lawrence of Arabia was finally restored.
Robb got his stories the old-fashioned way: He followed the paper trail. (For the blacklist story, he dug through old correspondence in UCLAs film archives.) He cultivated sources. And he was relentless.
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Its not like all I do is George Christy stories. Ive been busy covering union strikes, said Robb, who was on the Reporters legal and labor beat. But Ive been covering [SAG pension scams] since 1993. George just fell into my net. What was I supposed to do?
Now, however, it looks like Robbs 20 years in the trades are really over. Hes unlikely to jump to Variety, whose editor, Peter Bart, has also been the target of Robbs investigative reporting. But Robb harbors no rancor against the Hollywood Reporter.
I always liked Bob Dowling, and I still like him, Robb said. True to his old-school reporting values, Robb wont hazard a guess as to why Christy and Dowling acted as they did.
Why people do things I dont know, Robb said. Why is not my specialty.