My Many Critics


 

Roger Ebert, who died yesterday at the age of 70. On the very first Enemies List I ever posted on Facebook on April 21, 2009, the third entry was "My Many Critics." To illustrate the post, I used a photograph of Roger Ebert because by that point his image had become synonymous with the word "critic,"a distinction he continues to hold after decades of Ebert wannabes having done their best to rip off his shtick. His many accomplishments will be chronicled and re-chronicled over the next few days: his being the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, his legendary partnership with Gene Siskel (a guy who he had remarkable chemistry with but who frankly wasn't remotely in the same league as Ebert as far as their abilities as film critics went), and his heroic struggle against cancer that ultimately cost him his lower jaw and his power of speech.

I only encountered Mr. Ebert in person once in my life, when a girlfriend of mine dragged me along to watch celebrities enter the theatre for the rehearsals of that year's Academy Awards broadcast. We went into a nearby restaurant to have lunch and we came across Mr. Ebert holding court at the bar. My friend said hello to him and he rewarded her with a friendly smile and that was that; an interaction that he forgot thirty seconds after it took place but one that I'm writing about almost thirty years later. I think what set him apart from other critics – even more than his singular writing style or his winning partnership with Siskel – was the fact that he seemed to love the movies even when he was ripping them to shreds. I always thought that critics should never be set at a level equal to or above the work that they were criticizing, but I was willing to make an exception for Mr. Ebert because for all his vast fame and fortune, the core of his success came from the fact that he loved the movies as much as anyone who read his work; and judging from the power and preeminence he held within the industry, the movies seemed to love him back every bit as much. I don't mourn Mr. Ebert's passing; he led a great life that he lived to the fullest even in the face of obstacles that would bring most people to their knees. But I have to admit shedding tear or two for the movies when I heard the news. It can't be easy to have to carry on after losing the love of your life.



Mara Marini hosting “Inside Dating”
 
Enemies List favorite Mara Marini, who comes roaring back to these pages after getting a rare miss last week. Ms. Marini premiered a new vlog that she hosts called Inside Dating with Mara Marini in which she lays out the do's and don'ts of putting together an online dating profile that could snag even as prime a prime a cut as Ms. Marini. Judging from the submissions she displays in her show, her perspective suitors seem to live on a diet of vinegar and water as they advertise for potential fuck-buddies with douchey photographs of themselves sitting in luxury automobiles and standing next to Z-List celebrities like Danny Bonaduce, posting close-up photos of their bank statements, and lots and lots of digitized depictions of their reproductive organs. Ms. Marini is spot-on in the advice she gives (although it seems to me that any man who needs to be told that chicks don't dig seeing photos taken of his penis with a wide-screen lens should be on the shortlist for chemical castration anyway) but speaking as a male member of the species who has endured an online date or two, she might want to consider some advice to the ladies. For instance, don't lead off your profile with a statement like "anyone with baggage need not apply."There's nothing wrong with baggage. As the saying goes, "anyone who doesn't have baggage has never been anywhere." So when you say that you won't consider anyone with "baggage," that throws out the implication that you've been run over on the freeway of love so many times that your date can expect to pick you up for your first encounter with you wearing a suit of armor and a full-body cast. Next, while you may be in the 38-45 year-old age range, try not to make it too obvious that you're counting your few remaining eggs like they're a six-pack of Evian water you had with you when your plane went down in the middle of the Sahara desert. All couples have secrets from each other – especially at the beginning of a relationship – so it's perfectly okay to throw some sleeping bags and an old yoga mat over your biological clock so that its ticking doesn't drown out the conversation. My last bit of advice is to never refer to yourself as a "BBW"in your online profile, which is Internet shorthand for "morbidly obese." I'm not implying that you have to be a stick figure with artificial breasts to find a man but anyone who has let herself go to the point where she feels the need to call herself a "BBW"might want to consider a low-carb diet and jogging a few laps around the dating pool before she dives into it. But if she's insecure about her present appearance, it's perfectly okay to post a photograph of herself from when she was a college freshman in 1982. After all, there's no way of knowing that she wasn't looking at old pictures of his penis.



 
 
My compadré Eddie Frierson, who recently replicated a relic of his misspent youth on the wall of his palatial home. From his college years until he was forced into marriage by his grandchildren-obsessed parents, Mr. Frierson lived in an apartment located on the sands of Santa Monica Beach which was recognizable for its front fa├žade decorated with a white lifesaver that was emblazoned with the title "Sandy Bay House,"and a copy of that lifesaver now decorates his living room wall. Sandy Bay House was an ideal location, literally a few yards walking distance from the Pacific Ocean with a bevy of bikini-clad California Girls in between. The only downside to the place was that it was approximately the size of a typical container of Cap'n Crunch cereal. It was not possible for Mr. Frierson to open the sofa bed that he slept on without first opening the front door and letting his feet dangle in the chilly ocean breeze. What's more, Mr. Frierson kept himself alive in those days by frequenting a nearby diner called "Ted's Village Fez"owned by a group of Asians (none of whom was named Ted) that were so outraged at his fondness for piling salsa on whatever he ordered that they would hide it when he entered the establishment so as not to run out for the lunch rush. Ted's Village Fez was ultimately shut down by the board of health (presumably because the Asians hid the salsa in some pretty dicey places) and the Sandy Bay House was converted into a UPS drop box for parcels weighing less than 6 oz. (and even that is pushing it to full capacity). But it's sweet that Mr. Frierson has a memento from a bygone era. Now when he can't find the salsa, he can pretend that he's being nostalgic rather than dealing with the onset of Alzheimer's disease.



 
 
Bro Joe, who celebrated a birthday last Saturday. For some inexplicable reason, Joe chose to celebrate the Big Day by dining with a group of people who are frequently mentioned on these pages: the evil genius Lars Fargo, his main squeeze Tawdry Baubles, and worst of all my nemesis Misty LaRue, and included me in the mix (presumably to raise my blood pressure to the point that I'll keel over from a heart attack so that he'll inherit my massive fortune). The worst part was that Joe decided to prove he was full of youthful vigor by insisting that he, Ms. LaRue and I all walk to the restaurant after meeting at his mulch-laden studio apartment. We assumed that meant a quick jaunt to a corner eatery (seeing as the last time Ms. LaRue got any exercise was when she threw a ceramic ashtray at my head in May of 2007, and I had been drinking since 6:15 the previous night and was already on the woozy side). Instead, Joe took us on an odyssey of approximately the same length that Ms. LaRue's forebears experienced when they first left Egypt. I couldn't decide which was worse: the marathon journey or Ms. LaRue complaining about the marathon journey. The latter finally won out when she nagged me into carrying her piggy-back for the final leg of the walk (although to be completely fair about that, I may have been hallucinating by that point). When we finally got to the restaurant, Mr. Fargo and Ms. Baubles had long since arrived, having had the foresight to forego the walk and instead drive in from another state (which took a fraction of the time). And while their stomachs were rumbling from having to pass the time for us to arrive from the walk, at least they were able to order a glass of wine while they waited and toast Joe while it was still his birthday. I think that we didn't get there until sometime after midnight.



Rare video of an unsuccessful audition I made for a commercial for E.T. cereal in 1982. The footage recently sold at auction for seventy-six cents.
 
My buddy Jeebus Burbano, who posted an article about casting directors Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson being forced (after a public outcry) to withdraw from auction early audition tapes they owned of youthful future stars like Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock, and donating them instead to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Ms. Burbano and her actor pals were quick to bemoan how unethical and sleazy the casting directors were for violating the sanctity of the casting room for crass profit. At the risk of pissing off my thespian pals, I don't see what the fuss is about. I made the point that TCM has been broadcasting failed screen tests of people like Paul Newman and Paulette Goddard for years and no one said boo about it, but Jenkins and Hirshenson are being vilified because they realized that a few of the boxes and boxes of old audition tapes they had gathering dust in a store room were worth a few bucks on eBay. I realize it's probably a little on the sleazy side, but I once heard a dude on the radio say that he sold a used tampon that he stole from Julia Robert's hotel bathroom for five grand, so there's no shortage of douchebags out there would want to profit from the price of fame. When I pooh-poohed the furor Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Hirshenson raised, some people tried to shut me down by saying that it was done for profit without the actors' consent. But I doubt if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences asked for Brad Pitt's consent before adding his tape to their collection nor will they balk at accepting a licensing fee for it if Fox wants to use it in a Before They Were Famous TV special. Anybody who has ever set foot in a casting director's office dreams of being in a position that an audition tape he made for a Taco Bell commercial that he didn't get would be worth two grand to somebody. A casting director's office isn't a confession booth (there isn't as much nonconsensual sex going on in it) and, like it or not, the audition tape that you're praying that the casting director will take a glance at after you've made it becomes the property of said casting director after you've walked out of the office. I speak from experience because I'm in possession of a VHS tape of an audition Jeebus Burbano did for Walker, Texas Ranger that I bought from a casting director who I promised not to name. Ms. Burbano may not yet be as famous a Brad Pitt or Sandra Bullock, but there's a nip slip on frames 47-62 that made it totally worth the five grand I paid for it.



Jonny and Rooney, Asian-style
 
My college chum Genelle Izumi. I conducted a sociological experiment yesterday when I noticed that an inordinate number of my Facebook cronies had updated their profile pictures and in each case, the new images were inundated with a barrage of "likes"from cloying hangers-on. So I took the worst picture ever taken of me (the one on the above left where I am depicted glumly shoveling food into my mouth) to see what kind of reaction the heinous photograph would get. To my great surprise, it too was rewarded with an avalanche of "likes"even though I look like Socrates ingesting hemlock in it. There were a few nay-sayers: one buddy of mine on the social media claimed I looked Asian in the photo (a common phenomenon in images of me; I have an oil painting of myself playing Hamlet which I dubbed "Chinese Hamlet" because I look like Bruce Lee playing The Melancholy Dane in it), to which I quoted Charlie Chaplin's response questioning if he was Jewish by answering "I don't have that honor." Enter Ms. Izumi, a bona fide Asian American who backed up the assessment, claiming that I looked like Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's and posting the photograph below as evidence. For those of you too young to remember the performance, Mr. Rooney (who rose to fame playing the ultra-WASP Andy Rooney in MGM programmers of the 1930s) was made up as a slanty-eyed monster out of a World War II propaganda cartoon, complete with buck teeth and Coke bottle eyeglasses. He was sufficiently inspired by the subtlety of his makeup to contribute a performance of shrill hysteria in which every "R" was painstakingly replaced with an "L," resulting in the single most racist screen depiction of a member of any ethnic group since Birth of a Nation. Being Asian herself, I suppose Ms. Izumi can get away with such jibes. But someday those Coke bottle eyeglasses are going to come back in style and Mr. Rooney and I will finally get the respect we deserve.