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Has Mel Gibson become a pariah in Hollywood? Or just for the time being?

Mel_gibson Even though it wasn't until last Friday that WME officially announced that it was dropping Mel Gibson as a client, rival talent agencies had figured Gibson's days at WME were numbered when the agency took out trade ads paying tribute to Gibson's agent, Ed Limato, who died on July 3 after a lengthy illness. The memorial ads featured photos of Limato with his top clients, who included Denzel Washington, Steve Martin and Richard Gere. But there were no photos of Limato with Gibson, who had been Limato's client for years, staying with him through Limato's moves from William Morris to ICM and then back to Morris, remaining at WME after Morris and Endeavor merged last year.

"That's when we knew Gibson was gone," said a rival agency head. "They couldn't keep him after what he'd said." In case you missed the online coverage, Gibson, who'd been a subject of controversy after launching into a booze-fueled anti-Semitic rant in 2006, is in hot water again after tapes surfaced of him yelling obscenities and insults at his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, including a variety of vile racist slurs using what is known in polite society as the N-word. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department has reportedly opened a domestic violence investigation into Gibson's actions against Grigorieva, who has claimed that the actor abused her on several occasions.

The whole Gibson affair has offered a fascinating glimpse into what you might call Hollywood situational ethics. After all, it was WME czar Ari Emanuel, when he was running Endeavor, who was one of the few leading industry figures who called out Gibson for his anti-Semitic insults, writing a piece in the Huffington Post arguing that what Gibson had done was beyond the pale.

As Emanuel put it: "People in the entertainment business, whether Jew or Gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line. There are times in history when standing up against bigotry and racism is more important than money." 

Of course, back then, Gibson was represented by a rival agency, so many veteran Ari watchers believed that he was standing up for an easy cause, since anything that would weaken one of Ari's competitors was good for Ari's ultimate cause--making Endeavor the most powerful agency in Hollywood. This assumption was only strengthened when Limato (who had fiercely defended Gibson after his anti-Jewish remarks) became one of Emanuel's close associates after the Endeavor-William Morris merger. Limato brought Gibson with him to WME, but Ari didn't shun Gibson, nor did he demand that Limato drop Gibson as a client. (I asked to speak to Emanuel, but a WME spokesman said Emanuel would have no comment.)

At the time, virtually no one in Hollywood, and for that matter, virtually no one in the media, made a stink about it. Gibson had apologized for his inflammatory statements, time had passed and, after all, he was still an enormously successful filmmaker and movie star, which is the sort of stature that allows time to heal all wounds. This time around, things were different. With Limato dead, Gibson no longer had a loyal defender. And once Limato passed, WME was faced with an even more difficult dilemma.

As befits his old-school approach, in which an agent dealt with all of his client's personal needs, Limato had clients who were loyal to him, not to his agency. This was especially true of Denzel Washington, who had become Limato's most valuable client, being, after Will Smith, the biggest African American star in the world. Even before Limato's death, Emanuel and WME co-chief Patrick Whitesell had been wooing Washington, being on hand when he won his Tony for his role in "Fences" and making it clear they would do virtually anything to keep him in the agency fold.

 Once the extent of Gibson's racist tirade became clear, it was pretty obvious that there was no way WME could possibly keep Washington if it made any effort to keep Gibson as well. So Gibson was a goner. And as I've discovered from talking to the heads of other agencies in town, not to mention the heads of several studios, Gibson is a true Hollywood pariah right now. Every talent agency has a cadre of important African American clients who would be outraged--and rightfully so--if their agency made a play for Gibson as a client.

Of course, you could call these moral judgments extremely situational, since as one top agent succinctly put it: "If Himmler had a hot spec script, he'd find someone in this town to represent him." But Gibson is no longer a must-have-as-a-client movie star. His most recent film, "Edge of Darkness," was basically a programmer, actually making less money overseas ($35 million) than it did here in the U.S. ($43 million). His last big hit was "Signs," which was released in 2002. He still has credibility as a filmmaker, but no one believes that he could ever duplicate the runaway success of "Passion of the Christ."

I guess it's the situational part of the situation that amuses me, since even the agency chiefs who swore they'd never dream of pursuing Gibson as a client wouldn't say it on the record, since, well, things could change. I guess that means we have to give Ari a half-point for moral rectitude since he did put his name on his original declaration of abhorrence toward Gibson, even if he did eventually take Gibson as a client.

As for Ari's peers, they say--for now--it's impossible to imagine anyone, even one of the weaker agencies, making a deal for Gibson. But not just because he's made racist and anti-Semitic remarks. It's a little more complicated than that. 

How complicated is it? Keep reading:

Since none of the high-level agency executives would speak on the record, I'll paraphrase their explication of their thought process: Based on what's happened, you have to assume that Mel is a total jerk, so why would you want to be in business with him, since it's not only bad for your soul--and probably makes you look sleazy--but if he's a total jerk to his ex-girlfriend and people around him, then why wouldn't he be that way to you too? You have to figure that working with him would be both financially and emotionally unrewarding. If it were just one or the other, maybe you could do it, but if it's both, you just say--Yuck!

In other words, to use a favorite Hollywood maxim: Life is too short.

If you want to be a stickler, there are still some double standards of moral relativism here. As the conservative novelist-blogger Andrew Klavan noted in a recent post: "To see Hollywood strike a condemnatory pose against Gibson (he was dropped by talent agency William Morris) while it tries to sanctify child rapist Roman Polanski is almost as disgusting as Mel’s rant." But even Klavan has concluded that Gibson is an embarrassment to his former supporters. And I suspect Gibson will remain an embarrassment for some time to come.

When you're a huge star in Hollywood, you are surrounded by enablers. But when your star has dimmed, you quickly discover that you have ardent detractors wherever you turn. There are plenty of tough jobs in the movie business, but right now it's hard to find any applicants for the job of defending Mel Gibson.

Photo: Mel Gibson, pictured earlier this year, doing publicity for the film "Edge of Darkness." Credit: Charles Platiau / Reuters


Comments () | Archives (82)

The comments to this entry are closed.

It's so interesting that these religious nut balls, preaching Jesus Christ, religion, and what-have-you are the most sinful people around. They don't live by the word of their savior. They should remake Despicable Me," and then call it "Despicable Mel."

To MaryKatherine above ...
To MaryKatherine,

First of all it depends on the state one lives in whether taping someone without his/her knowledge is illegal. In Maryland it is, that’s why Linda Trip got in so much trouble.

Secondly, free speech I’m all for. But, in Mel’s case his speech is not only insane and hurtful, he is a racist no doubt about it. And it doesn’t matter whether she provoked him or not. He has the potential of being very dangerous when you listen to how he talked about using a bat on. He has broken her teeth once already … this man could go the way of O.J. Simpson and end up killing this woman, or someday someone else. He needs to be stopped. He hit his girlfriend that is a felony. Using his mouth to say such nasty things are not a felony, hitting is. This man needs to go away. And lets not forget they have a daughter who could be at risk with this man.

I’m disappointed in the entertainment industry since no one has come out against this crazy nutcase. I agree with another person who commented that they all fight for treating everyone equal. Those disgusting words of Mel’s didn’t garner one comment from Hollywood.

The should remake the movie “Despicable Me,” and star Mel in the new movie “Despicable Mel.”

It seems to me that Mr. Gibson became a target following the success of "The Passion". I do not follow the entertainment business. But I do know Mr. Gibson had a very successful project with the Jesus Christ movie. Are people expecting Mr. Gibson to be Saint Gibson? That is something I never heard from him. He is acting human. I do not think he is a racist. I feel that some of this information was obtained in unethical ways. I don't think anyone should be rushing to judge Mr. Gibson. But you that have can throw stones, but sometimes they come back.

Have any of you guys seen Entourage? Ari Gold is based off of Ari Emmanuel. I don't know does that character play a racist, homophobe, who slings offensive slurs when ever he can.

It makes me sick that people are defending this racist, anti-semetic, misogynist. Clearly the man belongs in the stone-age and I for one will never patronize anything this hypocrite touches. I hope his career is over.

Ever since Mel left his wife Robyn he has been on the slide. I don't think he realises what a person she was to continually stand by him through all his personal problems. Now that he has no one to keep him steady, he looks completely lost.

Seems like all these stars who get older want to re-discover their youth. Need to accept you're going to get old, and you're not going to find happiness in a younger woman who's only interested in money. They'll say all those beautiful things you want to hear, but it's not real. Paul McCartneys a prime example of this. Hollywood sure is a strange place.

On one hand, a star's personal insanity really doesn't seem to affect the public's desire to see them on screen, as long as they're cast in appropriate roles. Take Tom Cruise for instance.

But on the other, didn't Mel say he was done with acting years ago?

I wonder how the public will take his upcoming "crazy man with a beaver puppet" movie after this.

Someone needs to remind Mel that it's nice to be important, but more important to be nice. How can anyone pretend he is anything other than a self-indulgent fool? Indulging your anger to that degree is childish. Apparently he's gotten away with this his whole life. He needs professional help.

Well only in Ari Gold's office.

After listening to the unconscionable disgusting outbursts of Catholic Mel Gibson, they should remake the movie “Despicable Me,” to “Despicable Mel,” and Gibson could play the lead. He’s racist and anti-Semitic. And where is Hollywood regarding Gibson’s egregious rants, so far not one word out of Hollywood. If this was any politician the Hollywood types would be all over the story.

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