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Schoolyard Rules for Hollywood Players

Access to cool wheels, being in with the 'in' crowd and impressing the ladies is still where it's at in this field.

May 10, 1999|JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Someone once said Hollywood is like high school for grown-ups, which is probably an exaggeration.

Middle school is more like it.

Where else would you get one of the richest and most powerful executives in the industry, Michael Eisner, on a witness stand, as he was last week, swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about having once called former protege Jeffrey Katzenberg "the end of my pompom" or having once said of Katzenberg, "I hate the little midget"?

Like any playground, Hollywood has its rules of behavior. Here are the seven highly effective rules of behavior:

1) Making enduring "art" is secondary to your deal.

Your contract demands are always at the top of your list in importance. Nothing else matters if you don't have a contract that's better than the ones your rivals and competitors have.

2) The single most important thing to get into your contract is liberal use of the corporate jet.

When the Gulfstream V first became available, Hollywood's elite tripped over themselves to get the first ones off the assembly line, with Seagram Chief Edgar Bronfman Jr. winning the race.

Never underestimate how much envy and awe the ability to use a corporate jet generates. While an executive at Sony Pictures, producer Jon Peters once used the Sony jet to deliver flowers to a girlfriend.

3) It's not who you know, it's who people think you know.

Always name-drop every chance you get. If you shake hands with someone, you're friends. If you engage them in conversation for more than a minute, they're one of your best friends.

Some advice on names to drop:

* Those two brothers from Chicago who were behind "The Matrix" (even though you can't remember their names).

* Bill Bradley ("I've known him since his Knicks days").

* Gray (as in Davis).

* "Steven" ("I told him I still can't believe he got ripped off on the best-picture Oscar for "Saving Private Ryan").

* The Weinstein brothers of Miramax ("I told them how could anybody think 'Saving Private Ryan' deserved it more than 'Shakespeare in Love'?").

* Roberto Benigni ("One of my best friends, even though I don't speak a word of Italian").

* Cher ("I told her to cool it on the infomercials and get back into the recording studio where she belongs").

Names not to drop:

* Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs (unless he's cleared in that assault case, then he's OK again).

* President Clinton (acceptable, only if you add, "I told him I don't approve of his behavior").

4) Childlike executives should be seen while on vacation.

The most important thing about choosing a vacation spot is to pick one where lots of people you work with hang out.

That's because they can then see you hanging out with them. If you aren't there, everyone will assume you can't afford to be there, or don't have enough clout to get a reservation.

Preferred choices:

Summer: the Hamptons, Martha's Vineyard, a villa in Tuscany or on a boat with other top executives and at least one major star.

Winter: St. Bart's, Aspen, a vacation home belonging to some other mogul.

5) Minimum daily requirement: one tantrum.

Screaming and berating assistants will qualify you as a Hollywood juvenile, especially if you have a low threshold. Some executives have become legendary in what sets them off.

The late producer Don Simpson reportedly once dressed down an assistant for putting whole milk, rather than skim, in his coffee and affectionately called her "garbage brain" along with a few other nicknames that can't be printed here.

Another tale had Simpson screaming at a hotel staff for returning his jeans pressed and starched, rather than fluffed and folded.

6) Always take credit where credit isn't due, especially from subordinates and writers.

If a movie you are peripherally involved with is a hit, refer to it as "my movie" even if you never visited the set, never read the script, never met the director and couldn't score an invitation to the premiere. Tell everyone the script was a mess until you stepped in.

If the movie's a dud, you liked the original script better. Blame the suits at the studio for screwing it up.

7) Like high school, popularity with females is important.

Reaching age 50 qualifies a Hollywood executive for a trophy wife at least 20 years younger.

Also, despite Hollywood's liberal leanings, being openly sexist is as acceptable as it is in high school. One former Sony executive had such a proud reputation as a ladies man that he was known around town as "the vice president of chicks and clubs."

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