News From ME

Show Biz

The Three-Minute Rule

One memory here leads to another. I was writing here the other day about a "crush" I had back around '71 on the actress Paula Prentiss…

I was hardly alone in this and hadn't been since certain of my friends discovered that the cute lady on He and She (a sitcom in desperate need of a DVD release) was undraped in Playboy. In 1970, she appeared with clothing off in the movie version of Catch-22 and the following conversation occurred in a group that included me and some male friends…

"Hey, that movie they made of that book — you know, Catch-22 — opens on Wednesday. We have to go see it."

"Oh, I hated that book. All that war crap and the story jumping around every which way…"

"The movie has Alan Arkin in it. And Bob Newhart and Orson Welles and Jack Gilford…"

"A team of wild horses couldn't drag me into that theater…"

"And Paula Prentiss is in it and I've heard she's naked…"

"What time is the first show?"

"Do you think we oughta go get in line now?"

I remember the conversation but I don't remember who said what. Any of those remarks could have come from any of us, even the friend whose current marriage is not recognized in Southern states. We all hated the book but not nearly as much as we liked the thought of Paula Prentiss ungarmented. About six of us went to the very first screening on the very first day at the National Theater in Westwood.

Ms. Prentiss removes her duds for about thirty seconds about ten minutes into the movie. It would be tacky of me to provide a link to view those sacred moments so for those of you who don't have the twenty seconds it would take to find those thirty seconds via Google, let's just say they did not disappoint. The rest of the film actually was pretty decent but, you know, it's not like they were going to top those thirty seconds.

So the film ended…and none of us left the theater. We all just sat there with the same idea, waiting for one of the other guys to suggest it. Finally, someone (not me) said it out loud: "Hey, let's stay for the next showing and see the first ten minutes again." This was back before home video, back before the Internet, back when no one had heard the term "frame grab." At that moment, we couldn't conceive of any way to ever see those thirty seconds again after we exited except to buy another ticket to see this movie…which would soon disappear from theaters, presumably forever. I mean, they might show Catch-22 on TV some day we figured…but probably not with those thirty seconds.

We decided by unanimous vote to stay for a second look. Then one of us (again, not me) said it would look wrong to sit there, wait until Paula Prentiss got naked again and then get up and walk out. Everyone else in the theater would say, "Wow, look at those horny guys…sitting through the first part of the movie again just to see the nude scene." Which is, of course, exactly what we were planning to do but we were somehow embarrassed to make it so obvious.

Finally, one of us (might have been me) said, "Here's what we'll do. We'll stay and then we'll wait three minutes after Paula's big scene before we leave. Then it won't be so obvious what we're doing." Everyone concurred. Three minutes.

Before long, the next showing began. Before long, Ms. Prentiss was naked again. After the last shot of her like that, we all looked at our watches. Precisely three minutes later, we all got up to leave…

…and so did about forty other males in the theater. We all had the same idea…including the three minutes.

I finally met Paula Prentiss in 2005 at the Memorial Service for her He and She co-star, Hamilton Camp. Despite the fact that at that moment she was 67 years old, mourning the loss of a dear friend and standing right next to her husband of 44 years, I still for about two seconds considered asking her to run off with me. Fortunately, the woman in my life then and now is even cuter so I kept my tongue and as much of my dignity as I ever have.

I can however report that she was quite charming and quite lovely and she did laugh (and "get it") when I told her that I sat through Catch-22 one and one-seventh times.

From the E-Mailbag…

This is from a gentleman (I assume he's a gentleman, as opposed to a boor) named Jeff Clem…

I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Mr. Dick Cavett in 1986, while I was a Graduate Student/Assistant at a small, liberal-arts college in Nebraska.

He was scheduled to give a presentation at one of our on-campus auditoriums, and once it was announced that he was coming, months before the event, the tickets sold out in a matter of minutes (I think Cavett was from Nebraska, so a large part of that was the "local boy does good and returns to visit his roots" charm, as well as the simple fact that people liked and enjoyed him). Needless to say, I failed to buy any tickets before the sell-out.

I lived in the Faculty apartments on the 2nd floor of one of the classroom buildings, and across the hall from me was the VIP suite where visiting VIPS were put up. A buddy of mine I hadn't seen in awhile was coming to visit me on the day of the night that Cavett was supposed to perform, and for some reason we were standing out in the hallway talking. Down the hallway comes a sweaty, tired Dick Cavett in running shorts, running shoes and tee-shirt; he'd obviously been out jogging. We said "hi" and he said "hi" back and asked us if we'd be at the show that night. I explained about my not being able to buy tickets and he said there'd be no problem; if we'd wait for him to clean up and then walk him over to the auditorium, he'd let us watch the show from the side of the stage, and that is what we did.

We chatted backstage for awhile before the show (he was extremely flattered by Rick Moranis' imitation of him from SCTV — I had to ask, what with me being an SCTV fan). I even helped him put his necktie on! His presentation, as you could guess, was a smashing success. He went to shake hands and sign autographs for his adoring fans after the show and me and my buddy went to the local cocktail lounge to talk about our great fortune of being in the right place at the right time. So, there we are in a dark, cozy lounge, nursing our drinks, when in walks Dick with a couple of the college's "handlers." He sees us, steers towards our table and joins us for drinks (he insisted on paying!). The handlers had no idea who he even was and got frozen out of the extremely fascinating conversation we continued to have with Mr. Cavett into the wee hours before closing hour. Dick was casual, nice, patient, interesting, friendly, etc….

I treasure that experience to this very day and whenever me and my buddy get together, we immediately reminisce about that unexpectedly wonderful evening. I've met other famous people and have had both good and bad experiences doing so, but meeting Dick Cavett is one of the best times I've ever had.

Just thought I'd share this little tidbit with you and your readers. Keep up the good work, Mark, and thanks for letting me share this with you.

We love stories like that. And speaking of impressions of Dick Cavett: Rick Moranis does a great one but the best is done by my pal Frank Welker, who in addition to being the most prolific cartoon voice actor of all time (yes, more than Mel or Daws or even June…) is also by some measures the Number One Box Office Champ of the Nineties in motion pictures — and not far down the list for the decades before or after. I mention this honor so you can get some idea that he's pretty good at what he does.

Back when Frank was a largely-unknown impressionist, he decided to try and get on The Dick Cavett Show during one of its weeks taping in Hollywood. He found out where the local office was and called the producer there, impersonating Cavett. The producer thought it was the star and Frank engaged him in conversation for a minute or so before saying, "Hey, there's this great impressionist I want to book for the show while we're out here. His name is…let me look at this piece of paper I have here…oh. It's Frank Welker."

The producer was making a note to book Frank Welker when Frank decided to drop the impression and say, "Hi, I'm Frank Welker and that was me doing Dick Cavett!" Whereupon the producer yelled, "I knew it was you all the time!" and slammed down the phone.

A day or two later, Frank was in a gas station when he spotted Mr. Cavett. Nervously — because Frank's a pretty shy person as proven by the fact that I can't coerce him into coming down to Comic-Con and making an appearance — he approached Cavett and said, "I do an impression of you." Cavett asked to hear it. Frank did the impression which of course sounds exactly like Dick Cavett. Cavett said, "I think my voice is a little lower" and drove off.

Frank never did the Cavett program. He's since done pretty well for himself in spite of it.

After Dinner Remarks

Jimmy Kimmel did better than I'd expected at the White House Correspondents Dinner last night, especially in the first half of his act. I got the feeling after about twenty minutes that he was wishing he'd been a bit more ruthless in editing out some of the weaker gags which were bunched up just where you don't want to have them: Near the end. I'll watch it again in a few days and I expect to like it more.

Another problem he had was following Obama, who scored big comedically and maybe to some extent, politically. I'm not sure who supplied his material, though I seem to recall hearing that his speech last year had been cobbled together by the staff of The Daily Show. I don't think we should judge our elected officials by how well they can do stand-up but it doesn't hurt when they do it well.

I am informed by many, by the way, that Jon Stewart performed at the dinner in 1997. Obviously, he's been asked to return. Obviously, he said no. I'd be curious to know why.

Dinner Theater

The White House Correspondents Dinner is tonight. Usually, they invite a comedian to perform but instead, this year they got Jimmy Kimmel.

I'm uncomfy with some aspects of the ritual, particularly with the press being so darned friendly with folks they're supposed to be dispassionately covering…but I'm fascinated with it as a piece of show business. It's a tough room and not everyone can work it. Last year's appearance by Seth Meyers raised the bar high with the best set I can recall anyone having.

Not every comedian has done well in what's obviously a very tough room. Jay Leno had a great appearance in 2004 and a disappointing one in 2010…although one thing I notice is that with one exception (Rich Little in 2007), the performances that seem weak when watched live all seem much better when you watch them later on YouTube. Little's seemed feeble at the time and seems even worse in hindsight.

He was asked, of course, to play it "safe" after some complained that Stephen Colbert offended too many sensibilities in 2006. He probably did…but a lot of folks think he bombed and that's not so. If you think that, watch it again. That audience loved most of what he did. Craig Ferguson's speech in 2008 was quite successful though he largely eschewed one-liners for an actual attempt to say something to the assemblage. You can see videos of a lot of these and learn more about the dinner over on this page at the C-Span site.

It's also interesting which topical comedians haven't been there. Bill Maher and Lewis Black have each spoken once at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner but apparently haven't been invited to the larger, more presidential White House affair. David Letterman apparently has but declined. Even the Bush administration didn't want Dennis Miller. I assume Jon Stewart has been asked at least once and am curious as to why he's said no.

CNN and MSNBC are carrying the event tonight beginning at 6:30 Pacific Time, 9:30 in the East. Did Fox News carry this event when it was a Republican president? I don't know. C-Span covers the arrivals. This page will tell you roughly who's expected to attend.

Another Dick Clark Story

I turned down doing press and radio interviews about the late Mr. Clark because those things tend to inflate your connection to the deceased and I didn't think I knew him well enough to be quoted that way. But the other day, I was telling a friend a story Dick told me and I thought I'd share it with you here.

You have to remember two related things about Dick Clark. One is that he hated to waste time. There was something of an unspoken rule around him: He wouldn't waste yours so don't you waste his. If you had a meeting with him at 11 AM, you were there at 11 AM and he would see you at 11 AM. And while the meeting would be very cordial and friendly and there would be small talk and joking, the meeting would not last any longer than it had to in order to accomplish whatever it was intended to accomplish.  You would leave at 11:19 and on the way out, you'd see someone waiting for their 11:20 meeting.

And the other thing — and I was by no means the only person to notice this — is that while Dick was a major figure in the music business, it was the "business" part that interested him the most. He said he liked the music itself but if he got to talking about, say, Chuck Berry, it was talk about how many records Chuck had sold, how many shows he'd sold out, how much his performance fee had gone up or down, etc. I didn't even feel it was about the money as much as about the success. Dick ran his business like a business, which meant he had occasional clashes with music folks who didn't see or live it that way.

One time in connection with an upcoming project, Dick had to have a meeting with the members of a very successful rock group. I'm not sure I'm accurately recalling the name of the band so let's just call it The Rock Group. They were very big at the time and Dick needed to have what he figured would be a fifteen minute conference with them…at most. Their manager suggested he come to a local concert they were doing, see the show, then come backstage after for the meeting.

Dick didn't want to do that. He had no interest in sitting through an entire concert and wasting that much of his life. Could he just come over before the concert? Or after it? Could he drop by rehearsal? No, said the manager. The group was insisting that Dick be in the audience for the concert and then they could meet after. As Dick explained it to me, "Those meetings are always the same. We shmooze and talk and finally they say, 'We love you, Dick, and anything you want to do is fine with us if it's okay with our managers' and it's over. But in this case, I didn't have a choice. I had to go."

The manager said they'd arrange for the best seats, right in front. Dick said, "Thanks but I really like to be back a ways when I go to a concert. Could you put me in row 20 or so?" The manager said that would be arranged. Dick had learned from past experience that if you're in row 20, it's easier to sneak out to the lobby to make phone calls (or to just plain leave) without the performers on stage noticing your seat is empty.  He also asked not to be introduced, ostensibly to prevent him from being mobbed for autographs.  But the real reason was that you don't want to have them introduce you when you're not on the premises.

The concert was supposed to start at 8 PM, which meant Dick took his seat in row 20 at 7:59. By 8:10, the concert had not started. It hadn't started at 8:15, either. By 8:25, the audience was restless but not as restless as Richard Wagstaff Clark. He was annoyed that his time was being wasted like that and appalled at the baseline unprofessionalism of the whole enterprise.

Around 8:30, he was seriously thinking of walking out and not doing business at all with The Rock Group. That was when someone on their staff came to his seat and took him backstage. They said, "The guys were thinking you could have your meeting with them now." Dick was puzzled but he figured there were technical problems of some sort preventing the show from commencing. Perhaps one member of the band was stuck in traffic or something. Anyway, Dick was pleased someone had thought to fill the time by seeing him now. He was already figuring that when the show did start, one seat in row 20 would be unoccupied.

He was led back to a fancy dressing room and there were all the members of The Rock Group, sitting around, eating from a huge buffet and drinking spirits and smoking. Everyone was glad to see Dick and they quickly got down to business and discussed the matter he had come to discuss. It took around five minutes for the members of The Rock Group to get to "We love you, Dick, and anything you want to do is fine with us if it's okay with our managers."

With that done, Dick asked them what the delay was. By now, it was 8:45 and you could hear the crowd in the hall stomping their feet and chanting the group's name, demanding that the show start. The Rock Group seemed to be in no hurry to go out and play, and one of them said, "We're going to start at 9:10."

Dick didn't understand that attitude. He asked, "Why are you keeping your audience waiting an hour and ten minutes?"

And like it was the most obvious answer in the world, one of the band members said, "Because the last time Aerosmith played here, they kept the audience waiting an hour and five minutes."

The Magic of a Subpoena

Teller (of Penn &…) is suing another magician for plagiarizing one of his signature illusions. Could be a landmark case if it goes the distance…which it probably won't.

Tales From the Script, Part 2

Many moons ago, I wrote a couple of TV shows for a small production company that also produced the occasional movie, either for TV or theaters. The producer — we'll call him Mr. Producer — had a fellow on staff to act as his "reader." We'll call him Mr. Reader. This is another anecdote about what often happens to scripts when they get submitted in Hollywood. Mr. Producer had neither the time nor the interest in reading the many scripts that were submitted to him, mostly by agents but occasionally by friends or friends of friends. That was why he needed Mr. Reader. The job of Mr. Reader was to read those scripts, write "coverage" for the files and then to politely reject them.

That was not a joke. His job was to reject every single script. That was the assignment.

Mr. Producer made one or two movies a year. He was not a writer, not in the slightest, but he wanted a little pride of authorship in the films he produced. Any movie he made had to originate with an idea of his.

It could be the vaguest of ideas. One time, he had the notion that it would be interesting to make a movie filled with slapstick about an ordinary guy who's very clumsy. That was the totality of the concept. He called in (one at a time) a couple of good, experienced screenwriters and told each this whim and said, "If you have an idea for a movie about an ordinary guy who's really clumsy…something that could be filled with slapstick…come back in and pitch it to me." Each came back with such an idea and he picked the one he liked and hired the writer to develop it.

But understand this: If before he'd had that initial thought, you'd submitted a slapstick-riddled script about a clumsy guy, there's no way Mr. Producer would ever have made it. It never would have gotten past Mr. Reader and if by some chance it did, Mr. Producer would have rejected it. Because it didn't originate with him and he wanted every movie he made to begin with him so he could feel it was "his" movie. (For some reason, he didn't care that much about the point of origin on his TV projects.)

So why did he need Mr. Reader? Because if you want the agents to treat you like a real producer, you have to accept script submissions and respond to them. Mr. Reader would take the pile of scripts and read enough of every one to write the coverage, which was a one or two page memo-to-the-files that briefly summarized the plot and quoting One Great Moment in the script. That was an important part: Citing One Great Moment. Mr. Reader told me that was sometimes the hardest part of his job…finding that One Great Moment.

Then he'd give his recommendation, which was — always — that the script had great merits and the writer had talent but that this particular effort was not right for Mr. Producer's company at this time. And then he'd make up some reason why not.

If an important agent phoned Mr. Producer to ask, "Hey, didn't you just love that script I sent over last week?", Mr. Producer would consult Mr. Reader's memo and say, "Oh, yes. What a great idea…a script about [whatever Mr. Reader said it was about]!" Then he'd add, "Your client is very, very talented. I especially loved the bit where —" and here he would cite that One Great Moment and then he'd say, "I'm afraid though this isn't quite what I'm looking for right now."

If pressed to explain further, Mr. Producer would cite Mr. Reader's reason and the agent would be disappointed but satisfied. He'd go back to the client and say, "I got Mr. Producer to read your script. He really liked it — especially [One Great Moment] but it's not what he's looking for at the moment." That was how it worked. Every time.

In theory, having Mr. Reader read those scripts might have had its value in that he could have discovered a great writer and suggested that person for when Mr. Producer had one of his ideas…but I don't think that ever happened. Mr. Reader liked to call in folks who'd written recent hit movies he'd liked.

As I said, I worked for him on some TV projects. I got the distinct impression that he wasn't reading what I wrote, either — and I was writing material he was going to produce. He'd tell me he'd read it and that it was fine and he'd send it over to the network…and if they had notes, he'd pass them on to me. Once, I asked him of a script I'd handed in, "Did you think the scene in the gymnasium was too long?" He said, "No, seemed about right to me." There was no scene in that script in a gymnasium…but I wasn't about to point that out. I liked having a producer who didn't read the script. It was one less person to tell me to change things.

Tales From The Script

Gavin Polone reveals what gets read in Hollywood…and he oughta know. Mr. Polone is a top producer with recent creds as an agent and manager. (He represented Conan O'Brien when Conan got and lost The Tonight Show.) He is absolutely right that folks in the TV and movie business who have the power to do anything good with a script receive way too many of them to ever read.

I don't think I've ever mentioned it here but I briefly worked on the TV series, MacGyver in its second season. It was not a happy month of my life — that's all it lasted before they wanted me out and I wanted out and I'm still not sure if I managed to quit before they officially fired me. Anyway, a few weeks before I was hired, one of the producers made a remark in TV Guide along the lines of "We're always looking for good stories." Something innocuous like that. I mean, isn't every TV series always looking for good stories?

An awful lot of people — most of them, I suspect, not already in the TV business — took that as an open invitation to write a script and submit it to the show. The deluge was beginning about the time I arrived: "Spec" MacGyver scripts arriving every day by the hundreds. A large room there that otherwise might have been my office became the storage place for them. Each day, a guy from the mailroom would come by with a hand truck and deliver the latest arrivals…and I'm sure that by the time I left, there were well over three thousand scripts in there. I am not exaggerating.

They were largely ignored, at least while I was around. Every so often, someone would peer into the room, gasp and ask, "What the [f-word] are we going to do with all these?" There was the obvious fear of lawsuits. If we broke a new story for the show about MacGyver cooking a meatloaf…well, there was probably a script somewhere in those piles about MacGyver cooking a meatloaf and its author would never believe no one had read his submission before we came up with our story.

But that aside, how could the show ever deal with all those scripts? If there's a gem in there, how do you find it?

The producers and story editors might at best each have time to read two or three a day. That's on a day when the workload on that week's script and next week's script was light, and at least during my brief stay on that show, there were no such days. It may seem unfair that someone could go to the trouble of writing an entire 60 page script and have no one on the show read it…but tell me how to arrange that. (By the way: I never opened any of those scripts but one of the secretaries there told me there were quite a few in excess of 100 pages or even 200.)

Anyway, read what Mr. Polone has to say. It's a pretty honest appraisal of the way at least some producers and agents operate. Not all. But a lot.

Hollywood Labor News

Members of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have voted overwhelmingly to merge the two unions. The margin was wider than I think anyone expected.

The opposition, as I mentioned before here, was not so much to the idea of joining the two labor organizations into one as whether to do it now. Many members, including vocal ones like Martin Sheen and Ed Asner, wanted more advance study to be done on the fiduciary impact and other questions. Some wanted the marriage not to proceed until there was an airtight pre-nup and more decisions about the final living arrangements. I presume now that the leaders of SAG-AFTRA will hustle to do that kind of research and to resolve questions so as to bind the new union together before its first negotiation. If they can, all will be well with that world.

P.S.

Yes, I am aware that the forthcoming complete DVD set of the Three Stooges is one of those deals we all hate. They put the stuff out in individual volumes and the eagerest of fans snatched them all up…and now wish they'd waited because the complete set has more material and is a lot cheaper. Yes, we know that someone is hoping that by doing it this way, some folks out there will wind up buying the same material twice…and some will, even though I hear the new material will be made available in some manner. Anyway, yes, it's an annoyance but by now, we should all know how this works.

Knuckleheads on Parade

In the last few weeks, I've had pretty much the same conversation with at least three separate friends…not the guys in the above photo but about them. There's a new movie coming out in which current actors portray the Three Stooges and these Stooge fans are worried it will sully the good name of Stooge. My attitude in response is like, "Really? You're concerned about the dignity of the Three Stooges?" I submit that if you think the Three Stooges ever had any dignity to lose, you don't "get" the Three Stooges.

Did the Three Stooges ever turn down a script? Did Moe ever say to their director, "My character wouldn't say that"? More to the point, did Larry ever say, "No, Moe wouldn't hit me with one of those"?

I knew Larry a bit. I briefly met Moe Howard, Joe Besser and "Curly" Joe DeRita but I spent a few hours of quality time with Larry Fine when he was living in the Motion Picture Country Home. If you mentioned one of their films to him by name, he'd display no recognition of the title but he might wonder aloud, "Is that the one where Moe hit me with the tire iron?" Oddly enough, I hear Dame Judith Dench asks the same thing if you quiz her about anything by Shakespeare.

I've told this before here but one of the saddest/strangest things I ever saw on a TV news show occurred the day Larry died. The local CBS crew rushed cameras over to Moe's house and interviewed him on his front lawn. Moe was crying and his lower lip was trembling so much, his mouth was literally out of sync with his own voice. He was sobbing and saying, "He was my best friend…he was like a brother to me…I loved him so." And as he was saying this, they began rolling footage of Moe smashing pottery over Larry's head, running a saw across his skull and ripping out handfuls of Larry's hair.

I loved the Three Stooges. I still love the Three Stooges. I will always love the Three Stooges and there's no movie anyone can make that will change that.

And one of the things I love about them is that they had absolutely no standards.  They would do anything, anything.  You know how freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose?  Well, those guys were as free as a human being in show business could be.  They had no standards to live up to or even down to.  Someone would say to Moe, "Hey, how about in the next scene, you drop your pants, then stick your brother's nose in a light socket and electrocute him?" and Moe would just ask, "Okay, which side should I be on?"

One friend of mine was concerned this new movie might bomb and lessen the name and glory of the real Stooges.  Naah.  I don't think that kind of hurt happens very often to something people really love.  I always cite the anecdote about the author whose great book was made into a crappy movie.  That happens.  And when it happened in his case, people said to him, "Oh, they ruined your book" and he'd reply, "No, my book is right over there on that shelf, unchanged."

Here's the thing to remember…

Let's imagine it's forty-some-odd years ago and you're a devout fan of the Three Stooges.  You worship at the altar of Ted Healy, yearn to be married by Emil Sitka and whenever you're in a hospital, you listen to the P.A. system, hoping to hear a call for "Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard."  You decide that what you would most like in the world would be to actually own and have in your own home, the complete works of your favorite comedy team.

Well, you couldn't do it.

Not in that world possible.  Not then, anyway.  In the pre-Betamax era, that meant buying bootleg 16mm prints.  I had friends who had a few and they were expensive and hard to find…and when you did find one, it was usually a scratchy TV print full of splices and with scenes missing.  You could have spent thousands of bucks and not amassed even half the body of work of Shemp.

Today, you can go to someplace like Amazon and order non-bootleg, complete, restored copies of all the Stooges shorts (with special features included) for about what you once would have paid then for one of the lesser Bessers.  They've been issuing them in volumes and the complete collection comes out in June.  Ninety bucks and it's all yours.

I don't think anything can besmirch the rep of the Three Stooges.  At worst, the new movie will be a mess of bad impersonations…and from the trailers I've seen, it actually looks pretty decent.  But even if it sucks, so what?  The actual Three Stooges are available in all their glory on DVD…and that author's book is still over there on that shelf, unchanged.  I have friends who squirm and moan and speak of heresy when one of their childhood favorites is updated in some new version.  I will admit that some of those resurrections have been pretty awful and that they frequently miss the whole point of what they're adapting.  But at worst, all that results is a bad movie or TV show which will soon be forgotten.  So long as the original is available, it speaks for itself.  Sorry but I just plain do not believe it's possible to "ruin" the Three Stooges.  Look at some of the later movies they made.  If they couldn't destroy their own reputations with that stuff, nothing anyone does today will do any damage.

And besides, folks…this is the Three Stooges we're talking about. For God's sake.

Hollywood Labor News

On Friday, we'll hear the results of the recent vote as to whether the Screen Actors Guild should merge with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The "industry buzz" seems to be that most voters favor the premise of the two unions becoming one but many think there needs to be more research and planning before it comes about. This is not the first vote ever on this. There were a few before, most recently a 2003 vote in which the proposal had to win the votes of 60% of the membership in each union. A majority in both said yes but the vote of SAG members fell a hair short of 60%. Ergo, no merger…then.

As they try anew, it seems obvious that there's more sentiment for a merger. In the last negotiations, the two unions bargained separately and the Producers skillfully used each to undercut the other and no actor wants to see that happen again. The suspense point is whether the "Wait, let's figure more of this out before we do this" crowd has mustered enough votes to block this union of unions. I doubt they have but if they do, it probably doesn't mean the membership doesn't want a merger. It's that they just want more study and planning to take place first. We'll find out on Friday if that happens.

Maher's Attacks!

Bill Maher blows hot and cold with me…and if you or I were Bill Maher, we'd turn that into an oral sex joke. Fortunately for us, we're classier than that. Well, you are, at least.

My few brief encounters with the man have not been pleasant and I don't think his attitude about women is as different from Rush Limbaugh's as he thinks it is. He's just better at not mentioning it, perhaps because he doesn't have to fill as many hours of airtime as Limbaugh does. Also, he has to function in show business and get movie stars to do his show.

I should also say that when I like him, it's usually not when he does stand-up. Like a lot of comics of his generation, he picked up many traits from Johnny Carson but somewhere else, he picked up that annoying little fake laugh. He giggles at his own written, performed-before lines like he just thought of them and they crack him up so…and speaking unopposed, he gets arrogant and didactic. When I like him, it's when he's debating with others, even on their shows. In fact, I admire his willingness to go on any show, even in front of hostile audiences, and defend his positions. There are many ways in which he differs from Rush and Hannity, and one is how those guys usually avoid discussions where they are not in charge and therefore do not enjoy an enormous advantage.

And I really like Maher's New Rules, which I think is often one of the smartest sources of political comedy these days. I don't always agree with his points and I sometimes wince at a dose of nastiness…but most of it is very funny and very bold. A lot of it causes me to say, "Hey, no one else had the guts to say that but he's right." Or sometimes, "…he may be right."

If you enjoy New Rules, you may enjoy this. Each week after his show, Maher does a few extra "rules" for the Internet. It's sometimes difficult and time-consuming to find them so I haven't been making the effort. I recently discovered, however, an easy way to view them.

You go to the most recent one on YouTube and engage Autoplay. This is not easy to locate over there so I made this link which I think will do it for you. It should take you to the latest web-only New Rule and then play them all in reverse order. First Warning: They run 30-45 seconds each and there are 108 of them so you could be there a while. Secondary Warning: Some, of course, are lame including a couple of the first ones you'll see…but the overall batting average is pretty good. Tertiary Warning: It's Bill Maher.

If my link doesn't work for you and you want to view this anyway, this link will take you to the page for YouTube user "RealTime," which is the show's account. Locate the link to watch New Rules videos and select "Play All." But remember that First Warning. I thought I'd just watch a few and then quit but I got hooked and wound up viewing all 108.

Book Reports

Backstage after the show: Fred Willard and Weird Al.

Spent a laugh-filled evening last evening at Celebrity Autobiography, a show that pops up around the country from time to time, though not often enough. I explained about these last time I attended one but for those who don't remember: Celebrity Autobiography is where a bunch of celebrities come out and read excerpts from autobiographies from other celebrities. The texts are real and unaltered except, at times, via emphasis and performance. But for example, Fred Willard read a few pages of Don't Hassle the Hoff, the autobiography of David Hasselhoff. It was quite funny. So were all the other readings by (at this outing) Fred, Lainie Kazan, Laraine Newman, Rita Wilson, Rob Reiner, Florence Henderson, Weird Al Yankovic, Illeana Douglas and the show's founders, Eugene Pack and Dayle Rayfel.

The audience howled at, for instance, Ms. Kazan reading chunks of Ethel Merman's memoirs while Ms. Henderson read from Snooki's. Since we were in a theater downtown at the Grammy Museum, the emphasis was on music. Rob Reiner read from two different books by rappers. Dayle Rayfel read from the autobiography of Diana Ross — who, we were told — was performing right next door to where we were. There was also a reading of the poetry of Suzanne Somers, a medley of diet tips from the stars, a lot of naughty quotes from Madonna's book, Sex, and many other delights. I especially enjoyed a rerun from the first time I saw one of these shows: The story of Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, Richard Burton and a few of Liz's other hubbies, drawn from the autobiographies of most of those folks.

There's no real schedule as to when these shows pop up except that they seem to do one a month at the Triad Theater in New York. The next one there is April 9 and the readers will include Brooke Shields, Mario Cantone, Darrell Hammond, Gina Gershon, Jackie Hoffman, Steve Schirripa, Eugene Pack, Dayle Reyfel, Jennifer Tilly and Alan Zweibel. If you can't make that and you want to see one of these — and believe me, you do — you'll have to keep an eye on their website for the next opportunity. I sure enjoyed myself.

Late Breaking Jerry News

So according to Jerry Lewis, his musical version of The Nutty Professor is going to open on Broadway on November 15. Kathleen Marshal, they're saying, is going to choreograph, which raises two questions…

One is whether Ms. Marshal, who has also done some directing, is in to be more than the choreographer. It takes a lot of expertise to direct a Broadway show and apart from his time in a revival of Damn Yankees and the aborted Hellzapoppin' flop, Jerry hasn't even logged a lot of miles on the legit stage as a performer, let alone as a director. Mel Brooks, who's the same age as Jerry and has directed a lot of funny films, didn't feel qualified to direct the stage versions of two of those movies. You'd kinda think Jerry would need a co-director, billed or unbilled, with some experience in putting on a musical…preferably someone under 80.

And here's the other question: How could Kathleen Marshal possibly choreograph a Broadway show that's opening on November 15? She's directing and choreographing the musical version of the movie Diner and it plays a tryout engagement in San Francisco from October 23 through November 18 with an expected opening in New York in Spring of '13. See here.

But in spite of this, I'm more inclined to shift my thinking and to believe The Nutty Professor might just happen…maybe not by 11/15/12 but someday. They may not have a theater yet but they've had a runthrough and they have a website. That's a start. Thanks to Vinnie Favale and Josh Curtis for telling me about the Diner conflict.