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City of Angles

The End of the Great Life

November 02, 2001|GINA PICCALO and LOUISE ROUG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

After 26 years of covering the Hollywood glitterati, embattled gossip columnist George Christy, 74, is shipping his byline to a small monthly gazette in San Francisco, with a federal grand jury probe in his wake.

There was no farewell column in the Hollywood Reporter on Thursday. Instead, a tiny story at the bottom of page 4 noted Christy's resignation and the demise of "The Great Life." "George's column was enjoyed by many people throughout the entertaiment world," publisher Robert J. Dowling was quoted as saying, "and we wish him well in his future endeavors."

Few in the industry seemed too upset by his departure.

"I don't see any ground shifting," said celebrity publicist Pat Kingsley, in a moment of plus ca change reflection. "Everything does change, but in a sense everything remains the same. Only the names change." New York gossip columnist Liz Smith said Christy was "an old-fashioned guy who got caught up in the new wave of journalism." Smith, 78, recalled visiting the home of former Times gossip columnist Louella Parsons in the 1950s, where "you couldn't move in the rooms for the gifts."

Christy, Smith said, "wasn't doing anything of any consequence. It wasn't like he was reporting atomic secrets and selling them to [Osama] bin Laden."

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 3, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong newspaper--In the 1950s, Louella Parsons wrote a gossip column for the Los Angeles Examiner and the Hearst syndicate, not the Los Angeles Times, as reported in City of Angles on Nov. 2.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 3, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong newspaper--In the 1950s, Louella Parsons wrote a gossip column for the Los Angeles Examiner and the Hearst syndicate, not the Los Angeles Times, as reported in City of Angles on Nov. 2.

Before his resignation, Christy had been suspended for five months, following a Screen Actors Guild audit after allegations that he received benefits for which he wasn't qualified. A federal grand jury investigation followed. Both inquiries are still in progress. Some studio executives and fellow employees have also alleged that Christy routinely solicited costly gifts and favors from studios he covered. Christy has denied any wrongdoing.

"The only good thing that came of [the Christy controversy] was people started looking at journalistic ethics," said Anita Busch, his former editor. "But I don't think anybody won in this."

Busch, executive film editor Beth Laski and labor reporter David Robb resigned from the paper over questions about Christy's ethics.

John Gatti, an attorney for Christy, did not want to discuss the terms of Christy's settlement with the Reporter but said, "George is continuing to be a very prolific entertainment reporter.... He's going forward."

The columnist will continue to do TV work in Canada and write a monthly column for the Nob Hill Gazette in San Francisco, said his publicist Howard Bragman.

Gazette editor Merla Zellerbach said Christy's new "Celebrity Watch" is a popular blend of recycled Reporter columns and coverage of local parties. "He sends his copy on time," said Zellerbach. "The fact that he was having problems at the Reporter doesn't change anything for us."

Sources close to Christy say the columnist is relieved to leave his job and ready to write a novel documenting his experience as a Hollywood gossip.

Ratings Rave

"I'm calling from the entertainment capital of the world," said Jack Valenti, before providing the kicker in his booming voice: "Washington, D.C.!"

Valenti, chairman of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, celebrated his 80th birthday in September, and yesterday marked another milestone: the 33rd anniversary of the movie rating system.

Like any proud parent, Valenti is adamant that the system he fathered with the National Assn. of Theatre Owners is beautiful, and beyond reproach.

"The criticism has come from within the entertainment industry, not the parents," said Valenti. "No director has to cut one frame" because of ratings. If a director cuts a film to alter its rating, it is because of marketing considerations, not because of rating censorship, he said.

Valenti praised the 13 full-time raters who determine the G, R, PG, or PG-13 tags. For those interested in applying for the job, there are only two criteria: "You must be a parent so you can think like one," Valenti said. "And you must like movies 'cause you'll be seeing a lot of them."

Night of the Spirits

Halloween at UCLA's Royce Hall was more avant-garde than masquerade on Los Angeles' favorite holiday Wednesday night. In a nearly pitch-black theater--the only light was from a gothic candelabrum on stage--producer Hal Willner reprised "Closed on Account of Rabies," a show he made famous in the late 1990s at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. He brought the show to Los Angeles for a night after the church's priests got spooked. "Powers that be thought the devil was loose in the church," Willner explained in the program notes. Satan didn't show at Royce, but there was a solemn bow to the evil spirit with the creepy readings of Edgar Allan Poe stories by Chris Parnell, Syd Straw and "Le Show" host Harry Shearer.

And speaking of the devil, Michael York wins our vote for best Beelzebub. The seemingly buttoned-down Brit has twice portrayed Satan--once as a media mogul in the 1999 film "The Omega Code" and again in this year's sequel "Megiddo: The Omega Code 2." During a recent phone call, York bragged of one climactic scene in which "the Beast" bursts from his well-groomed head. "He's wonderful to play," said York. "You can sweep the floor with everyone around you."

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