New York Times

Bye bye Bernie

WeinraubIn Sunday's New York Times, retiring L.A. bureau stalwart Bernard Weinraub pens a personal farewell to Hollywood and admits to his fallability. He was star-struck, had money envy, and agrees that he stayed on the beat too long. (On the other hand, he now lives in Brentwood and drives a Range Rover.) Here's the top and some snippets:

I came to Hollywood in 1991 thinking I knew quite a lot about the world and its ways. As a young reporter, I had been to Vietnam. Later, I covered Northern Ireland, several political campaigns and the White House under President Ronald Reagan and the elder President George Bush. On arriving, I was fresh from a sudden assignment in India after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. But only in my 14 years here - most of it spent covering the movie industry, the rest covering television and music - did I come face to face with some of the more startling, and not always pleasant, truths about human behavior, my own included. On retiring (officially, this is my final week at The Times), it seems best to sort through this Hollywood tour. It began in a string of modest, even shabby, apartments - one of them, on Martel Avenue in West Hollywood, best remembered for the cluster of police cars, drug dealers and prostitutes on the corner. Along the way I married a studio chief, Amy Pascal, now chairwoman of Sony Pictures. For both of us, the liaison opened a rare two-way window on the inner workings of two worlds, moviedom and the press, that have long been locked in a messy but symbiotic struggle. But our marriage also changed the game.

I won't speak for my wife and her own way of coping with career complications born of an alliance with a reporter, but I can say that our wedding, in August 1997, brought to the fore some of my own shortcomings. Clearly, I stayed too long on my beat, clinging to a notion that I could sidestep conflicts of interest by avoiding direct coverage of Sony, and learning too late why wiser heads counsel against even the appearance of conflict. But my marriage, and some of the events that tumbled out of it, also taught me something about the ferocity of a culture in which the players can be best friends one day and savage you the next.

He gets even a bit with Jeffrey Katzenberg, Hollywood Reporter boss Robert Dowling and Variety Editor Peter Bart:

When I finally asked to be taken off the movie beat in 2000, I laughed and said I felt like the Duke of Windsor. But I quickly caught a lesson in how chilly life as a former movie correspondent could be. In the past, I'd written about Jeffrey Katzenberg, then president of the Walt Disney Company. He returned every call quickly and often phoned me; he dished over pasta at Locanda Veneta about all the studios in town and became such a pal that I once showed him off-the-record comments made about him by Michael Eisner. That was wrong and foolish, and years later I still regret it. As soon as I stopped covering movies, Mr. Katzenberg stopped responding to phone calls. I was surprised but shouldn't have been.

Not every Hollywood moment involved operators like Mr. Katzenberg, nor were they all somehow tied up with my marriage. Fellow journalists contributed their share. In one remarkable episode about two years ago, Robert J. Dowling, the publisher and editor in chief of The Hollywood Reporter, threatened to punch me during a charity event. He was upset by an article I had written about two years earlier dealing with staff resignations after his newspaper failed to print an article about an inquiry by the Screen Actors Guild into whether the Reporter columnist George Christy had received pension and health benefits to which he was not entitled. Mr. Christy's column was soon suspended. (Peter Bart, the editor of Variety and a former Times Hollywood correspondent, went beyond Mr. Dowling: he sought to get me removed from the job because of an article I wrote saying that The Hollywood Reporter was catching up with Variety.)

On being a middle-class schlub covering celebrities and rich people:

Journalists in Washington do not feel diminished by their lower salaries. In Hollywood, many do. I did. Waiting for a valet at the Bel-Air Hotel to bring my company-leased Ford, I once stood beside a journalist turned producer who said, "I used to drive a car like that." Though I'm ashamed to say it, I was soon hunting for parking spots near Orso or the Peninsula Hotel to avoid the discomfort of having a valet drive up my leased two-year-old Buick in front of some luncheon companion with a Mercedes.

On falling asleep on the job:

My most embarrassing moment in Hollywood was an interview with Jim Carrey that at least absolved me of star fever. The comedian, in a suite at Ma Maison Sofitel, was promoting his film "The Mask." I had taken medicine for a bad cold. The interview began. I was settled into an easy chair, facing Mr. Carrey with my feet crossed in front of me. As he began answering questions, I fell asleep. The next thing I knew, I was feeling somebody kick the bottom of my shoe with his foot. I woke up, mortified. Years later, I met his manager Jimmy Miller. I told Mr. Miller I had a confession: that I fell asleep while interviewing Mr. Carrey. Mr. Miller exclaimed: "So you're the guy! He talks all the time about a reporter who once fell asleep on him."

On Amy Pascal, his life partner and conflict of interest:

As we began dating, I rationalized that I could avoid any hint of a conflict of interest by avoiding any coverage of Turner Pictures. By the time we were married, the next year, my wife had been appointed chairman of Columbia Pictures. I should have left the movie beat right then, if not sooner.

But with the agreement of my editors, who were confident I could deal with the issue, I felt I could continue covering the movie business, avoiding coverage of Columbia and its parent company, Sony, and leaving that to a colleague. It was a delicate balancing act that seemed to work for a while. But I underestimated how closely I would be watched, or how quickly Hollywood would jump on my marriage as way to get an edge in coverage by The New York Times.

Warner Brothers, once a high-flying studio, was at that time beset by a string of expensive movie flops and its parent company's music operation had a weak track record. With a colleague, Geraldine Fabrikant, I covered the failures at Warner, whose co-chairmen were Robert A. Daly and Terry S. Semel. The two eventually resigned.

Mr. Daly was furious and told friends and others that I should not write such articles because of my marriage, a view I came to share, though I remain convinced that the coverage was accurate and fair. Soon enough, an article appeared in Brill's Content, a magazine covering the news media, by Lorne Manly (now a reporter for The Times). It said that "two Hollywood sources" said Warner had offered my wife a production deal instead of "the high-ranking job she sought," and that "instead she headed to Sony." As I read it, the implication was that The Times's articles were written because I was personally peeved at Warner and not because the studio was experiencing failures like "The Postman" and "Sphere."

On Michael Ovitz, upset at a Weinraub story, learning a reality of big newspapers like the NYT:

"What does The New York Times have against me?" Mr. Ovitz asked Joseph Lelyveld, then the executive editor, according to New York magazine. "Your football writer hates me, your theater writer hates me and Bernie Weinraub just killed me."

Mr. Lelyveld said: "What are you talking about? If I got all three writers in a room they wouldn't even know each other."

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