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Serious Conversation About Celebrity Gossip

January 05, 2003|JANET KINOSIAN

In a culture obsessed with fame, celebrity gossip is serious business. Just ask the bards who make global news out of the hairdos and personal dramas of a thimbleful of beautiful people. Ted Casablanca (a.k.a. Bruce Bibby), a Dallas native, is E! Network's resident celebrity dish purveyor by way of his staunchly read, often hilarious, trademarked column, "The Awful Truth." Casablanca, who started in the print business in 1985, now broadcasts on E! Online and E! News Live and regularly swaps intimacies with Hollywood's importisimos. We talked at a safe remove from the red carpet.

Why should people care what a celebrity thinks or does?

You're doubting the godlike position of celebrities in America? Listen, I'm not in the business of telling people what they should care about. But if they're interested in Hollywood, I'm all for filling them in on it. I think it's a fascinating town, and a fascinating subject. I do try to stick into [the column] once in a while, "You might want to keep an eye on your own life while you're worshiping at the sparkly altar that is Hollywood." But, sure, let's gab about something as scintillating and silly as J.Lo's curvaceous figure, which I love.

What's the difference between Hollywood gossip and political gossip?

Probably about 60 pounds. [Hollywood and Washington are] both about the politics, the gaming, knowing who you're friends with, what your agenda is. On the surface there are lots of similarities. But in reality they are night and day. Mainly because Hollywood is full of pretty people. Washington is typically filled with people who look like you and me.

How did the column "The Awful Truth" come about?

I went to NYU grad school and got some great jobs coming out. First at Esquire, working in the research department doing the Jay McInerney thing, where, by the way, I helped train Michael J. Fox for his role [in the film of "Bright Lights, Big City," McInerney's novel about a magazine researcher]; then to Rolling Stone; and then to Premiere when it started up. I've always loved editing the letters department, getting a pulse on what people are thinking, and I noticed the many off-the-wall letters we were getting. The column began as a response to the letters; a kind of funkier view of Hollywood.

Do you have a line you simply won't cross as a reporter?

Drugs, [gay] outing, illness. Those three. Because I have to sleep at night. I have to draw the line someplace, and I don't see it as my business to be outing people. Also, I've been sober for 12 years and I know what it's like to have a debilitating disease and fight it. I covered [Robert] Downey [Jr.] when he talked about his struggle, [but] that's fair game because he talked about it himself. I can't tell you the number of times I've had information slipped to me, "So and so's in rehab now." I'm not going to go with that. It wouldn't be very encouraging of me as a sober man to heckle someone who is having a hard time.

Would you call celebrity gossip a kind of cultural tranquilizer?

A free tranquilizer, don't forget. If I believed in tombstones, I'd like something like this on mine: "I almost got fired today because I got caught laughing in my cubicle." People sometimes write to me [complaining that] I forced them to laugh, and nothing makes me happier, because let's face facts, there's not enough levity in the world, certainly not in Hollywood. I'm all about trying to get more of that out there.

How do you choose whom you'll write about each week?

Basically I'm interested in people who are making news, and readers are likewise. And they'll tolerate my occasional prehistoric references to Alec Baldwin and Elizabeth Taylor.

What do the 86-year-olds say who write to you?

"I miss the days of Lana Turner. The stars today are just poor imitations of the days of Lana and Liz." Which is sweet, because the same gals that are 12 now will be writing to some columnist in 60 years saying, "Gee, these people today are no J. Lo."

What would a world without celebrity gossip be like?

Well, first off, it would be a world without Ted Casablanca. I mean, how self-reverential can you get! No offense, but I wouldn't spend a lot of time trying to figure that one out because it's a fantasy question. It's like saying, what would a world without war be like? It's one of those things we're stuck with. It's the nature of personkind.

You didn't like that question yet you answered it very well.

Thank you and exactly.

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