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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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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)

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This is really something quite revolutionary. I never heard about this anywhere. Though we all can have differing opinion, I must say I am amazed to see this post about with genuine information. Surprised the site is not frozen with comments!

Tabloids release these things and all hell breaks loose before people question or realize 2 things: 1.) This was taken out of a context of a whole lot of stuff that is happening in his life 2.) Somebody gave this to the tabloids and somebody recorded these for a reason. To either RUIN him or get something out of it.

I'm not condoning death threats, racism or hitting a woman. Mel was wrong. Yet, there are two sides to every story and people shouldn't judge him out of context or without knowing what got under his skin to create his anger. He's not the first hollywood celebrity to hit a woman or threaten somebody, he just happened to be RECORDED doing so.

Charlie Sheen, Mike Tyson, Chris Brown, Charlie Chaplin.. I wont go on and on.

Mel Gibson is an actor and when I see his movies, I see the character he's portraying. If he were less of an actor, his career would be over, but he's too good at what he does.

He just needs help right now and he needs to get away from that woman.

Michael Jackson, Wagner,and King Henry the VIII, these men have three things in common: they wrote some fantastic music, and they were very flawed people. We all know what MJ did, Henry was wife murderer, and Wagner is the 19th century Mel Gibson. The other thing they have in common is they all composed music that I greatly enjoy (in case you did know Henry the VIII composed "Greensleeves"). The last thing they have in common is, of course, they are all dead.

Death has a way of wiping the slate clean. I always had a guilty conscience when listening to MJ as I think a child molester is one of the worst things in the world. The cloud of his misdeeds hung over what he did and enjoying his work somehow would profit him. However, upon his death that cloud has dissipated for me. Regardless of whether you think he did or did not harm children, he was very sick and disturbing man. With him gone I feel I can enjoy his talent without endorsing the man.

This hold true for Henry the VIII and Wagner as well, both who where detestable people but contributed something I greatly enjoy.My fiance disagrees with me, and refuses to listen to their work at all, but I feel if I take a moral high road, there will nothing left for me to enjoy in the world.

Mel is turning out to be a very flawed human being. He certainly is very cruel to those close to him and he believes that certain ethnicitys are inferior to him. If he did not believe these things, he would of never said them inebriated or not. However, I really do enjoy his body of work. The Road Warrior is one of the best post-apocalyptic film ever made and Braveheart is a masterpiece. I just cannot cease my enjoyment of these film because the man in them and behind them is closet racist.

Hey! Stop the madness! Who said "I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it"? We're all different and there are many different point of view.

Mel will be fine if most people realize he got played like a piano by a gold digger. Yes, he was stupid, but MANY a man has made mistakes (and will continue to) by thinking with the small head below his belt. She also had Timothy Dalton's child out of wedlock in 1997, so she must like action stars -- Mad Max/Riggs and a former 007. Bruce Willis and Sly Stallone watch out!

Who cares what he said?

We have a criminal government that is looting what was once a great nation.
We live in a total police state and we just sit here and pour over this garbage.

Good Luck,

the only people reaching desperately to justify mel's actions are the closet racists who take refuge behind the anonymity of the internet because they'd get annihilated in the real world. You'll never hear a peep out of them anywhere where opinions actually matter and people are held accountable for what they say. Gotta love the internet. Never short of losers who won't amount to anything.

I wonder how many people condemning Mel for his language have never used the 'n' word (describing blacks), the 'w' word (describing Mexicans), or the 'c' word (for women) themselves. Everyone of all demographics probably have. This is probably a bunch of hypocritical nonsense.

Then there's the politically-correct double standard at work. Look at Jesse Jackson - a man who has referred to a Jewish community as 'hymietown' (in addition to repeatedly lying and slandering others of racism), but is still revered by the same cultural elitist snobs who find it unacceptable for a white man to use 'anti-Semitic' language.

Really sad our culture continues to play this game of victimization because members of a certain demographic group are supposedly hurt by someone's WORDS and can't get move on with their lives. Grow a spine, people.

Judging by the comments that support Mel, it's easy to see why misogynist attitudes towards women, and domestic violence as well as spousal homicides represent some of the highest general murder rates in the world. He's a narcissistic caveman, who's repeated attitudes towards not only racial differences but the value of women in general have been a matter of public record for awhile now . . . and yet, he's 'in need of help', or 'she deserves it' are some of the inane comments made. Has anyone considered the possibility that she made these recordings because she was actually afraid for her life? Frankly, I've seen messy break-ups and arguments that were incredibly heated, profane, insulting, but none I've ever witnessed have ever ended with death threats regardless of HOW much a person was provoked . . . and suffice it to say, anyone who threatens to 'do something that she'll regret and it'll be on her head', especially when children are involved is in need of being watched, if not even actually committed. Anyone that does threaten someone with murder as he's done is a person of serious concern, not some person to be pitied. Frankly, even if she was making the tapes with the intent to 'spite or provoke him', if he was truly some person in need of understanding or pity, there would be nothing on those tapes for anyone to talk about other than some insults, threats with lawyers, and rampant use of the 'f or b word', and if that person was somewhat racist, I could even understand the use of the 'n word' . . . but let's be seriously honest . . . not death threats . . . or implied threats of bringing the children into this. In past, anyone who threatens or implies suicide along with 'regretting what else will happen' has proven there's a definite risk involved with ignoring those words. If this was anyone BUT someone like Mel Gibson and just some regular schmuck, people would be insisting en masse that he shouldn't be allowed anywhere near her or the children.

People need to remember that if you enable someone like Mel, you are part of a problem that just won't go away, even with all the laws in effect to try and protect spouses. The man only made a movie about Jesus . . . he's not a god himself . . . clearly. Well, unless as you don't read the first five books of the Bible, that is . . . in that case, God has a lot in common with a vengeful, jealous Mel that's potentially willing to destroy a lot of people and things out of spite.

I don't care if Mel Gibson isn't an angel off screen and if he's a bit crazy. I sure hope he'll reconsider and star in "Mad Max 4" and directs and stars in his "Viking epic" before retiring as he mentioned recently. There was a time when the film industry had a lot of real hellraisers off-camera, Lee Marvin, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, even Jack Nicholson, James Caan and Dennis Hopper, but those were less PC times. Mel Gibson is one of today's few true movie stars and he's an intense actor and even better director to boot. Hollywood today especially needs all the real talent it can get. If Hollywood stupidly and self-righteously refuses to forgive him and allow him to star and direct big-studio films, Mel should return to Australia and make films financed in part by himself, the Australian film industry and other international sources. He can also use a combination of Aussie stars and import some actors from America and other countries. "Edge of Darkness" is a top-notch thriller that speaks a lot of truth, having the perfect villains for today -- ruthless, unscrupulous corporations in cahoots with ruthless, unscrupulous politicians. Mel, don't give the jerks the satisfaction.

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