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Critics Find Voice in Gibson Drama

August 01, 2006|Claudia Eller and Claire Hoffman | Times Staff Writers

On the heels of Mel Gibson's reported anti-Semitic tirade during his drunk driving arrest Friday, several prominent Hollywood figures broke the industry's silence Monday by publicly condemning the star.

Meanwhile, Walt Disney Co.'s ABC television network said it had abandoned plans to make a miniseries on the Holocaust with Gibson's production company, although it stopped short of saying his behavior was the reason.

Those who did admonish Gibson on Monday called his purported remarks reprehensible and particularly inappropriate while fighting rages in Israel and Lebanon.

"It's incredibly disappointing that somebody of his stature would speak out that way, especially at this sensitive time," said Sony Pictures movie Chairwoman Amy Pascal, the only studio chief who spoke to The Times on the record.

Hollywood was largely founded by, and the studios are still chiefly run by, Jewish executives such as Pascal. Still, dozens of Jewish executives, producers and agents contacted Monday would not go beyond expressing their outrage in private. In typical Hollywood fashion, they refrained from publicly criticizing -- and potentially alienating -- a powerful star and director who could make them a lot of money.

But Gibson's alleged profanity-laced remarks, including the statement that "the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," stirred an industry that has honored him with its most prized award -- an Oscar for directing "Braveheart" -- and has given him the opportunity to reap hundreds of millions of dollars.

"To make all of your money from Jews in Hollywood, and then have a few drinks and say you hate Jews, is shocking," said "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" producer Arnon Milchan, an Israeli citizen. "If you are so upset with the Jews, don't work for them."

Gibson apologized Sunday, blaming his long battle with alcoholism. But apparently his regrets had little effect.

"It's like throwing a nuclear bomb and saying, 'I didn't know the damage it was going to cause. I'm really sorry,' " Milchan said.

Even the head of the International Creative Management talent agency, which has represented Gibson for 18 years, felt compelled to speak out.

"I hate what he said, and so does he," said Chairman Jeff Berg. "His remarks have created a first-class mess, and he has owned up to it. You cannot spin this. This is a question not of how low you can sink, but how you can dig yourself out of this hole."

After a call from Gibson, Berg said he was trying to communicate the actor's remorse to his staff and clients.

"We're not going to back away from him in a moment of need," Berg said. "Our goal is to help him, not judge him."

Gibson's publicist, Alan Nierob, said the actor was seeking help. He has not checked into a rehabilitation facility, but "is fighting for his life" in his struggle with drinking.

Gibson is one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, with the clout to make his own projects. He has starred in such hits as the "Lethal Weapon" action series and "Ransom."

His self-financed "The Passion of the Christ" was a global blockbuster but was criticized by some as anti-Semitic. Gibson denied that and also distanced himself from his father's remarks dismissing accounts of the Holocaust.

Hollywood's silence on the Gibson controversy was shaken loose Sunday night by one of Berg's chief competitors, Endeavor partner Ari Emanuel, who wrote a scathing blog entry on the Huffington Post website. Emanuel said the actor's alcoholism "does not excuse racism and anti-Semitism."

"People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line," Emanuel wrote.

Within hours of the posting, Hollywood insiders expressed dismay with Gibson's character.

"He's an old friend of mine," said veteran producer Jerry Weintraub, who rarely speaks to the media. "I am so sad, so hurt and so disappointed. I don't have words to express it. I really feel bad for him as a human being. I never knew this side of him."

"Spider-Man" producer Laura Ziskin, who is Jewish, echoed the industry's anger. "I think it's appalling. In a world in which there is so much hatred, and there is so much violence, to harbor those kinds of feelings ... it is so sad."

Asked about ever working with Gibson, Ziskin said: "I don't see that in my future."

Veteran talent manager Bernie Brillstein also said he would not work with him.

"If he calls me tomorrow, would I represent him? The answer is no. That doesn't make me right. I just don't like bigots."

Another longtime Hollywood figure, former MCA Inc. President Sidney J. Sheinberg, remarked: "If he said it, he's at best a putz."

Neither ABC nor Disney, which plans to release Gibson's "Apocalypto" film Dec. 8, directly addressed the star's statements, with the exception of a show of support by the studio's new production president, Oren Aviv, in a story on the Slate website.

Disney said the movie release date remained in place. ABC, however, said that if it continues with the languishing Holocaust miniseries, Gibson's Icon Productions won't be involved.

"Given that it's been nearly two years and we have yet to see the first draft of a script, we have decided to no longer pursue this project with Icon," the network said.

The miniseries is based on the memoirs of Flory A. Van Beek, an 81-year-old Dutch woman who said in an interview that Gibson himself had not been involved.

"I've never met him, I've never heard from him," she said. But she added that it would be a "good thing" for his company to sever its ties to the project.

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Times staff writers John Horn and Meg James contributed to this report.

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