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LANGUID DAYS IN TINSELTOWN : But Those Cashmere-Covered Noodles Are No Slouches

August 24, 1986|JAY SHARBUTT

The sad truth is that when it comes to corporate Hollywood, languid is In.

In the good old days, stars and executives were a robust, hearty breed. Their idea of training was to mix Scotch with water, then to drink same. If pestered while training, they'd go a few rounds with the pest. If pestered by one of their own, why, by neddies, they'd go a few rounds with him, too.

But that's all gone. So is the key ingredient of Tinseltown's yesteryear, the broad-shouldered manner that told the world: Cross me, pal, and I shall whomp you upside the head.

I mention this because of these rumors that ran rampant in recent days about some supposed incident in which some studio executives supposedly shoved each other around. The reports were heartily denied. And, fact is, this sort of thing can't happen.

Nobody in Hollywood fistfights or shoves anybody around nowadays. Today's Hollywood executives only go to the gym to train at looking so relaxed you wonder if they intend to be the main event at a vertical funeral.

I came to this conclusion recently while on an inspection tour of smart-set emporiums like Trumps and Morton's (a Hollywood insider advises me that my findings also hold true in places called Bocca, Le Dome and Spago).

Each was mostly awash with apprentice moguls, many of them 28-year-old senior vice presidents who periodically murmured, "I work in development."

All slouched in a manner suggesting that repeated applications of Gucci had left them with no bones. They resembled noodles wrapped in cashmere. You got the feeling a straw had been stuck in their heads, then all the calcium in their bodies sucked out.

They didn't seem to get excited about anything, either. They just lolled about, sipping white wine spritzers or orange-flavored bubble water. Even their speech lolled about.

Gershon Watney, the young Hollywood writer, was at the bar, so I asked him about all this.

"Looks are deceiving," he said. "These guys are sharks, make no mistake. But you've got to be very casual about it now. Very casual. No shouting, no fights, no emotion. The idea is, hide your energy, just glide , if you get my drift."

I didn't.

"Well," Gershon said, "take fighting. When I was at USC film school, I read a Hollywood history book about fights between executives. It said it wasn't uncommon for them to step outside and settle things man to man.

"Today, you tell yourself, 'Don't waste your time on this kind of negativity.' You just smile and say, 'Of course.' If you do it right, you make your point. And the other man won't feel he has to invade your space, which is what people used to call a fistfight."

He continued: "Now, as part of hiding your energy, you also have to learn to slur your words. That's very important and requires a lot of practice. A career can end if you don't say Cannes just right, or turnaround or Paramount ."

I asked for a demonstration.

"Con, turnrnd, Prmnt," Gershon said. "You also have to learn the executive shuffle, where you sort of drag your feet as if you don't care if they come along. Bob your head, too, as you shuffle. And slouch. Slouching is very important."

"Why so?"

"It shows you aren't tense."

"I see. Don't fight, don't be tense, shuffle and be languid. Now tell me why."

Gershon sipped his orange-flavored bubble water.

"Because it shows you're above all this," he said casually.

This struck me as plumb ridiculous, and I told him so. Bad move. His face turned red and he balled his fists. Somehow, through a herculean effort, he suddenly regained control. Too much control, maybe. Signs of terminal languidness set in.

His speech slurred too much. His head bobbed too much. He slouched too much. Then his energy disappeared. So did his head, his shoulders and then his entire body.

In three minutes, all that was left of Gershon Watney was a small pile of cashmere on the floor.

"Awesome," said a young executive lolling nearby. "Say, didn't he write 'Howard the Duck'?"

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