Friday, November 2, 2007

Blind Item

Some say it's only a matter of time before an actress blows the whistle on this middle-aged moviemaker. When casting his last project, the silver-tongued, not unattractive manipulator went so fast from flirtation to outrageous passes to outright lewd behavior it left a couple of performers' heads spinning. The guy's tendency to unzip and demand all sorts of hanky-panky has become so talked about around town that many hot young performers are refusing to work on his movies because they're afraid they'll be branded as desperate and easy. – Movieline

In Nashville, when I was a teenager, there weren’t many places you could buy comics. There were a couple of drugstores in Donelson with comics racks, and that was about it. In Downtown Nashville, the pickings were even thinner, with the only comics sales venue within walking distance of the Downtown YMCA being the bus station.

I was told not to go to the bus station, my mother having heard a lurid tale or two. That’s a little funny in retrospect, knowing what I now know about the reputation of YMCA hotels as homosexual assignation spots. For the record, no one ever approached me at the bus station, and in all the years I was at the “Y” I received a total of one single proposition, when I was somewhere around 16-17. I politely declined, the fellow not being the type I’m attracted to, that type being, well, female.

Drugstores also carried the Hollywood gossip magazines, mostly tame things by today’s standards. I must have glanced through some of them from time to time, because I remember two stories that caught my eye. The first was cover billed as about “Jim Nabors’ Secret Heartache,” and the second concerned, “The Pain in Raymond Burr’s Past.” In the first case, the article divulged that Nabors had asthma, and the second noted that Raymond Burr had struggled with a weight problem when he was young. They were bait-and-switch articles, in other words, promising something scandalous, but delivering only yawns.

Much later, I learned that both Burr and Nabors were closeted homosexuals throughout their careers (Burr also married and apparently had a relationship with Natalie Wood, so we’ll leave the veil covering the full nature of his sexuality). So the bait-and-switch was also a wink-wink, nudge-nudge for anyone in the know.

I’m uncertain as to whether or not the magazine in question was the notorious Confidential Magazine, in which case the stories may have been blackmail threats as well, although that sort of thing was mostly early on in the magazine’s history, before they got sued to hell and gone by almost everybody. I mean, they lost a libel action to Liberace. How sloppy do you have to be, to call Liberace a homosexual, get sued, and lose?

The bait-and-switch articles only work if you have a cover for the lurid title as the bait, then the tepid story inside for the switch. If you only have a column to work with, or something too small for a full article, or if you really, really want the salaciousness but don’t want to get sued, you go with the blind item.

This TV superstar is young, pretty and living high on the hog, but she doesn't want to live alone. So she moved a platonic male friend into her fancy digs. He seems like a nice guy, but little does she know what he does when she's away working! First he gets himself high as a kite on drugs. Then, since he has a fetish for call girls, he calls sex magazine ads for the kinkiest gals he can find. He loves pain and pays extra for the girls to bring big sex toys. Where he gets the $300 and up to pay for these sessions is a mystery! Worst of all, the guy gets so drugged up he doesn't realize the call girls are getting into his famous roommate's private things and helping themselves. –Star

The blind item may not have been invented by Walter Winchell, Louella Parsons, and Hedda Hopper but they elevated it to an art form. It’s perfect, really. Totally libel-proof, since there are no names attached, and there need not be a grain of truth in it, just a touch of “truthiness,” scandalous behavior amongst the rich and famous.

But the blind item works best as a shroud for truth. I’ve slid into memoir quite a few times in these essays, and I’ve given some indication of my dancing around with the sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll crowd from time to time ‘way back when (Really, I’ve given all that up. Would I lie?). In fact, there was a time when S&D&R&R had a few other things often appended to it in the common culture, like science fiction or comics, both mainstream and underground (underground comix, boy, there’s a term from the past). I like hanging out with writers, artists, and good looking women and if cheap thrills were to be had, well, in Woody Allen’s immortal line, “It’s all I could afford.”

But discretion, yes, good point, that. People have told me things and short of waterboarding, I think it ill-advised to tell tales out of school. But some of the things were just so cool, and well, by knowing them that makes me cool, right?

And there’s the rub, because as soon as you start thinking that way, the cool just evaporates and leaves behind something rather tacky. Winchell, Parsons, and Hopper, like today’s gossip mongers may be feared, or fascinating, or even monstrous, but they’ll never, ever, be cool, at least not in my dictionary.

So I’ll just do my little dance in the dead of a moonless night, maybe whisper a few things to Amy, or to a close friend, and leave the rest as fiction fodder. That’s actually all they ever are, because even the truest blind item is still fiction, and not very good fiction at that. It fails to convey the true shape of reality that the best fiction can convey.

Still, if I were to mention the phrase “The Greater Bay Area Co-Prosperity Sphere,” there are a few people who would still get a chuckle or give a little snort or remembrance. The possibilities seemed endless once, but it turned out they were merely combinatorial.

A funny thing happened when the glam, famous young wife of the equally glam, famous guy struggling to control his well-concealed drug habit, started turning up at New York self-help meetings. Her intentions were all pure and good, of course, as she was trying to support her hunky hubby in his withdrawal from cocaine and other nasty vices. But insiders on both coasts are abuzz at how close she has become to a fellow attendee of that same self-help group, the sexy executive husband of a well-known, substance-addicted Manhattan A-list socialite. Sure, it all started out innocently, with just two lost, sad souls trying to help each other through some harrowing times. But now their two-person extracurricular support group has flared into a two-person extracurricular support grope. – Hollywood Life


black dog barking said...

Preteen, in the days before steam ships, the mother lode comic collection was at Carol Mae's, the local beauty parlor. "Beauty" was a half-day process then, the whole of a Saturday afternoon, and costly enough to be indulged infrequently -- which meant the current comic stock was always new-to-me as I whiled away the hours of mom's beauty sessions. (I'm thinking Carol Mae had access to remaindered items from a nearby news stand.)

Donald & Mickey & Scrooge McDuck, Richie Rich, the Archie clique, SuperMan and Boy, Green Lantern. My strongest memories are of McDuck's and Rich's wealth, and Minnie Mouse's picnic baskets.

Semi-public shakedown via the tabloids seems the perfect business model. The target gets publicity in exchange for indulging (exciting!) depravity. Win win. And an inquiring public wants to know. Win win win. How does one fuck this up? Greed? Incompetence? Sloth?

James Killus said...

How does one fuck this up? Greed? Incompetence? Sloth?

I'd be voting for drugs and alcohol, plus some players who didn't like the game.

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