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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 23rd May 2004

Graydon Carter's Feeble West Coast Career

The news that Graydon Carter, the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, has been moonlighting as a Hollywood producer generated a great deal of excitement in New York last week, where it was cited as a classic example of a conflict of interest. But out here it's been greeted with a collective cry of "So what?" In Hollywood, such double-dealing is known as "synergy".

To be fair to Graydon, he isn't the first magazine editor to work both sides of the street. Jan Wenner, the founder and editor of Rolling Stone, scored a three-picture deal with Paramount in 1978 and no one demanded that he give up his day job. If it emerged that Leonard Downie Jr, the editor of the Washington Post, was receiving money from an industry his newspaper was covering that would be one thing. But it's absurd to hold Graydon to the same standard.

The real story here, buried beneath the headlines, is how pitiful Graydon's efforts to establish himself as a Hollywood player have been. Admittedly, he did receive a payment of $100,000 from Universal Studios for suggesting that the book A Beautiful Mind would make a good movie, but he didn't manage to extract the fee until 18 months after the film was released--and it took a good deal of lobbying.

More recently, Graydon tried to set up a series of meetings with various Hollywood studios in order to pitch them with an idea based on an article that appeared in Vanity Fair last December. His plan was to attach himself to the project as a producer. However, in spite of his best efforts only one studio granted him an audience and it quickly sent him packing. So far, his only credit is being one of nine producers on The Kid Stays In The Picture.

Back in his heyday, as the co-founder and co-editor of Spy magazine, Graydon was a great muckraking journalist, fearlessly skewering the foibles of the rich and famous. The tragedy isn't that he's sacrificed his reputation in return for a pot of gold, but that the pot has turned out to be so bare. If Hollywood is capable of buying off troublemaking hacks of Graydon's stature for such a paltry amount, what hope is there for the likes of me?

The LA Art Scene

According to an article in last week's New York Times, Los Angeles is poised to steal London's thunder as the centre of the global art scene. Not only is it home to a Museum of Contemporary Art that boasts one of the best collections in the world, it's recently seen the emergence of a new group of billionaire collectors. As Machiavelli said, money doesn't follow fashion. Fashion follows money.

I decided this matter required some further investigation and took myself off to an opening at a gallery in Motor City called Blum & Poe. Sure enough, the bespectacled men and women peering at the paintings were every bit as aloof and condescending as their London counterparts. However, in one respect, they revealed themselves to be somewhat less sophisticated.

The main exhibition was for a Japanese artist called Takashi Murakami, but in an antechamber I discovered some works by a lesser artist named Emilie Halpern. One of these was a completely blank white canvas identical to the one in Art, the long-running satirical play. Was this a joke? I sought out the owner of the gallery and asked her whether this piece was for sale.

"Not any more it isn't," she replied. "I just sold it."

The price, apparently, was $2,500.

Celebrity Discounts

Question: What's the similarity between Rodeo Drive and a Moroccan souk? Answer: Almost nobody pays full price.

I recently discovered that the most upmarket department stores in LA--Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, Barneys--offer a range of discounts according to your status in the Hollywood food chain. The general rule is that the more you can afford, the less you'll be asked to pay.

Corporate lawyers, for instance, get a discount of 10%, while talent agents get 15%. Common-or-garden celebrities, such as Demi Moore, get 30%, whilst at the very top of the tree superstars like Tom Cruise get 35%.

A spy inside one of the department stores told me how a typical A-lister will go about his or her Christmas shopping. First, they'll send their assistant down to do a "provisional shop", writing down various items next to the names of their employer's friends and colleagues. Then, the star will come and do a "walk through", usually after the store has closed for the night, and sign off on their assistant's choices. Only then will they hand over their black Amex card, making sure they receive their 35% discount.

Ben Stiller Anecdote

I met a girl at a party last week who told me about a disastrous date she'd been on with Ben Stiller. This was in 1998, just before the release of There's Something About Mary.

They arranged to meet at 10pm for a late dinner, but he didn't show up until 11pm. After buying her a cheese sandwich he took her to his office in Beverly Hills where he left her sitting by herself for an hour while he rummaged through some boxes searching for some out-takes from The Cable Guy. After forcing her to watch these, he finally made a pass at her.

They started to make out and, seconds later, he began tugging at the waist of her jeans. She told him to behave, but he persisted and, eventually, she asked him to take her home.

By the time they emerged from his office car park it was 2am and he immediately got pulled over. At first, the cop didn't recognise him and started giving him a hard time so Stiller explained exactly who he was.

"I'm a writer-producer-actor-director," he said, handing the officer his card. "I don't keep regular hours."

Satisfied by this ridiculously long-winded job description, the policeman waved him on. For the remainder of the journey, Stiller said nothing.

Needless to say, she never heard from him again.

Overheard Outside Yoga Studio

I overheard two women in workout gear arguing in the car park of the local yoga studio on Monday.

First woman: Do you want to get something to eat?

Second woman: No, I just ate.

First woman: So what? You're fully bulimic. Let's go.

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