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Of Trust, Manners and How Hollywood Works

April 12, 1993|CHARLTON HESTON | Heston has been a stage, screen and television actor and director for four decades. He received the Academy Award for best actor in 1959 for "Ben-Hur" and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1977. and

I differ strongly with two Counterpunch articles you ran April 5 ("Hollywood's the Loser in the Basinger Verdict" by Alec Baldwin; "Our 23 Seconds at the Oscars" by Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon). Let me respond, with respect, but from a very long perspective in film.

Alec Baldwin, defending Kim Basinger's withdrawal from "Boxing Helena" and condemning the judgment against her, grossly misrepresents the way films are put together. My sympathies are with Kim; I directed her second film ("Mother Lode" in 1982), in which she gave a very good performance, impeccably professional through a long and difficult location. I've always been proud of playing a part in launching her extraordinary career.

Nevertheless, Baldwin is simply wrong to say that "fragile egos of Hollywood" make it impossible to speak for the record in a negotiation. . . . it's all "happy-speak" and nobody's bound by such idle chatter. I've made more than 60 films; I've never signed a complete contract on any of them before production began. . . . usually it's some time after the film's finished. Believe me, the verbal commitment is firmly established in Hollywood precedent.

As Baldwin well knows, you don't bound into a film meeting burbling, "I LOVE this project!" You say, "I'm interested. I have some concerns." And so on. When everyone finally agrees, a short deal memo listing the basic terms and conditions is signed, and production goes forward (you know all this, Mr. Baldwin . . . some of The Times' readers may not). I understand a deal memo was signed in the "Boxing Helena" case.

The judgment was excessive, I agree. I would hope it can be significantly reduced. But you demean Basinger, and certainly our profession, by implying that actors are children whose word can't be trusted. You could trust Basinger when I worked with her. She has my warmest wishes, and deepest sympathy.


So do the many actors who can't resist the free soap box the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences telecast provides. Attendees now often wear ribbons advertising their advocacy. I noted one starlet (can we still say "starlet"?) wearing three different colors. Winners usually just thank people, although one year Marlon Brando sent a young woman in Indian costume to protest . . . whatever it was. Then there was the naked man who scurried across the stage behind David Niven. Never before have one man's private parts been so public.

Some of the academy presenters are flashing in public too--exposing their private views only because a billion people are watching. A composer is getting the award that may crown his career, and the actor the academy has invited to present it to him wants to talk about Haitian AIDS or oppression in China. Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins: Do a documentary on Haiti, go on with Jay Leno, but don't steal this guy's moment in the sun.

Yes, I know we all have a "right to speak out." I've been doing that for a lot of years, often for unfashionable causes. That's not the issue here. But if you want to do it on the academy show, don't con them, discuss it first. Don't sneak in and steal your 23 seconds. That's cheating. The academy invited you to sing at their party and you peed on the carpet. Are you comfortable with that? Really?

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