Malice in Wonderland

Newspaper gossip columnist is one of the few jobs in Hollywood where you’re allowed to be ugly. In the early days of celebrity hounding, one bad word from either Louella Parsons or her arch rival Hedda Hopper, the original queens of mean, meant the movie stars didn’t work. Ever again, in the famous case of Ingrid Bergman after daring to become impregnated by the married Italian director who fathered Isabella Rosselini. Both women's lifelong quest to hunt, chase and publicly bitch slap the wayward glitterati must certainly have stemmed from some unfulfilled desire around what they themselves might have been. I was surprised to learn that Hopper—who would always receive a piece of fine jewelry on her plate like some burnt offering during mealtime at Hearst Castle—had formerly been a no-name character actress. Her most memorable screen role, ironically, was playing herself at the height of her own celebrity in Sunset Boulevard.

Parsons, meanwhile—who ultimately established herself as the town’s social and moral arbiter—was a failed screenwriter. Before her rise to absolute power at the hand of a poison pen, she'd managed to script a couple of forgettable B-list movies—along with one of the original how-to books on screenwriting.  Fittingly, she entitled her autobiography The Gay Illiterate, a nickname given by her editor—perhaps also serving as a backhanded confession that she didn’t think much of her own writing.

While the Legendary Hollywood Trade Paper where I'm begrudgingly working as an office temp was once known for tossing around a salacious blind item or two, nowadays it tends to focus on the business part of the show, things like box office grosses and film production charts. The scant few columnists—none of whom I'd describe as “larger than life” by any sense stretch of the imagination—cover such straightforward drivel as "Tech Talk" and "Legal Briefings." Editorials occasionally weigh in on topics as warmed over as last night’s meatloaf—such as the power of the Internet to re-shape the future of global movie distribution. Yawn.

On the other hand, a veritable gaggle of squawking gossips swarms the lunchroom we share with one of the industry's more colorful rags. Most days I'll read screenplays, trying to melt into the wallpaper and enjoy my Lean Cuisine in relative obscurity. More often I'm subjected to the endless monologues of the one who seems to be their queen, holding court around the table like something out of Alice in Wonderland. I gather her job is to interview celebrities, then report back to the office to deliver the goods in exchange for extra Chinese take-out. "Are you going to eat that eggroll?" she'll say to an Unassuming Copy Editor dutifully absorbing the latest star-studded diatribe.

"I was saving it for later," Unassuming will say. "But you go ahead."

Round and round the name dropping goes—the Eleven-Year-Old Actress who "really needs to grow up;" the Adorable Ex-Junkie whose sobriety seems "just a little too rehearsed." Though I'm not one to name names, let's just say by the end of the lunch hour I expected William Randolph Hearst to come out and drop a bracelet on her plate.

What struck me most about the little bombshells shared among this group were that they were droppped so loudly right there in front of me. I guess I really have managed to cease to exist at all here in Hollywood, to become completely inconsequential, another fly on another wall. The irony is that given my own background as a journalist, part of me understands the Queen and her bees all too well. What's not to like about a fawning audience all too willing to fork over their adulation and dim sum? I guess another thing they won't tell you in film school is that if you don't have the talent, strength and resolve to make your own movies, writing about those who do may well be the next best thing.


  1. You're not in the background, you are just sneaking past the dim-witted guards, ready to make your break-in, over the wall, while they are all distracted by the big peacock.

    You just keep your eye on the goal.

  2. Why thank you, Dave. Oh, how we yank ladies love a guy who can pass as a Koala bear. Thanks for reading and for reading.

  3. Hell Julie I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in such a viper's nest. Vile women!

    Besides, I've always figured that critics are just those who couldn't hack it themselves.

  4. Anonymous5:56 AM

    In your gossip columnist post you say:

    "(Hopper)was playing herself at the height of her own celebrity in Sunset Strip."

    It was actually "Sunset Boulevard."

  5. Thank you, Anon. You know what they say, a writer is only as good as her editor.