If you've been away on holiday and missed the big Hollywood story of the summer, allow me to catch you up on the continuing saga of Variety editor Peter Bart.
Back in mid-August, Bart was exposed in Los Angeles magazine for use of offensive language, egomaniacal behavior, shopping a script, and using his position to advance his own interests, reward friends and punish enemies.
There were only three options for the owners of Variety:
1) Double Bart's salary for a job well done.
2) Dump him so they'd look like they were of good conscience.
3) Try to get him a job running one of the major studios for about a million dollars a minute. Bart used to be a studio exec, in fact.
Unfortunately, most of the studios already had more than enough self-important, power-crazed, double-dealing moguls. And upping Bart's salary did not seem to be the politically correct thing to do in Hollywood, where no one uses slurs or pays petulant actors obscene sums of money to toss insults around on screen.
So the owners of Variety, shocked out of their socks to discover that their editor was a schemer and a rogue, decided to suspend Bart without pay while conducting an "internal investigation," even as Bart complained that he'd been wronged.
What really makes this so entertaining, for my money, is not the inherent hypocrisy of Hollywood aghast over intemperate and conniving behavior, or "internal investigations" of such, but the spectacle of these two publications duking it out in a public battle over ethics and taste.
Los Angeles magazine is a must read for those interested in a vegetarian Reuben, an essential guide to tea or a chemical peel. It's also a must read for anyone who wants to hook up with someone who shares those lofty interests. For a first date, I'd recommend the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, where, as the magazine informs us, "cheerful service is just the icing on the pistachio-orange petits fours."
The Bart opus, appropriately enough, was little more than a very long gossip column, despite the implication that the most powerful man in Hollywood, if not all of Southern California, was being brought down.
And then we have Variety, a trade publication with a mere 34,000 readers, many of whom would trample lepers in wheelchairs for an oceanside table at Ivy at the Shore. Variety, a must read in Hollywood, was neatly summed up in the Bart story as "a high school newspaper that everyone has a tremendous need to see their names in."
If I were the owner of Variety when the Bart "expose" broke, I'd have said, "Who reads Los Angeles magazine?" Instead, the owners told Bart to cool his heels while they conducted what they somberly called "a very serious investigation, done in the most professional and in-depth way." The result of which was the finding announced last week.
Are you ready for this?
Variety essentially cleared Bart on charges that he was peddling a movie script, which would make him the only person in five counties who isn't. And they just couldn't substantiate, despite their best efforts, that he'd fiddled with stories and made up quotes to reward friends and punish enemies.
Well of course they couldn't. Self-promotion, back-scratching and sabotage go to the heart of what Hollywood is about. But admitting it would be like admitting that Mickey sleeps around on Minnie and beats Goofy with a strap. Besides, Bart is controversial and pithy enough that he's been a cash cow at Variety, which is the only truth that counts for anything in Hollywood.
But PR-wise, the high-minded owners of Variety couldn't just let Bart off scot-free. So what did they do? They decided to donate his missed paychecks to unnamed do-gooder groups, and to subject Bart to a form of punishment right up there with thumb screws.
Not a sensitivity round-table headed by Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.
Not a "talking to" from the cast of "Touched by an Angel."
Not endless reels of self-righteous Martin Sheen acceptance speeches.
They sentenced him to diversity training.
Are they kidding? The guy's practically got Tourette's syndrome, and at 69, you'd have to say the lad's impressionable years are behind him.
This entire saga is so preposterous, they ought to just make a movie out of it. Jim Carrey could be made over to play Bart as a brilliant yet flawed kingmaker who likes to pass gas in public.
Nah. Too crude and offensive. Hollywood would never go for it.
Steve Lopez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.