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Casting for the next crisis du jour

Pesci pushing preschool? SJP versus Guantanamo? Better leave the pairings to us, the pros at Cause Celebs.

July 30, 2006|Gerald Nachman | Special to The Times

A week ago, I ran into my old agent pal Murray Haggler at Nate 'n Al's in Beverly Hills and he invited me to join him for Sunday brunch.

"So how are things at William Morris?" I asked him.

"You didn't hear? I left last year to open my own agency -- Cause Celebs. We package world issues for stars. I arranged Angelina Jolie's delivery in Namibia to call attention to the Darfur crisis, then I did Daryl Hannah's tree-sitting gig that captivated the nation. Right now I'm working on getting Adam Sandler to go fishing in Afghanistan. Adam's holding out for Iran, but we're still talking."

"How did all this start?"

"Dumb luck," said Murray, digging into his eggs Benedict. "Things really took off after I lined up Richard Gere and Tibet. Boffo headlines everywhere. Played very big in East Timor. I followed up with Willie Nelson and biodiesel fuel. A monster hit for Willie."

"I'm impressed. Say, you weren't by any chance responsible for those trips Sean Penn took to Iraq?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty proud of that booking. They loved Sean in Fallouja! A win-win for everyone. I had to bat away celebrities begging me for a chance to be embedded in Baghdad. But, hey, been there, done that, right? As a sequel, I'm trying to book Sean into another world trouble spot. All I can say now is that North Korea is very interested."

"It must be tricky finding just the right star for this or that hot-button issue."

"Hey, I was on the phone two hours yesterday with Drew Barrymore demanding her very own world crisis. She turned down polluted rivers and dyslexia -- can you believe it? Not big enough crowd pleasers, she claims."

"Tough little negotiator," I said. "What did she finally agree to?"

"Secret government wiretapping. It's a natural for Drew. Sometimes a celebrity is just miscast. Like before I put Rob Reiner together with preschool education, I tried Joe Pesci, but there were creative differences. Likewise, Kirstie Alley and offshore drilling was too big a stretch."

"Say, do I detect your skilled hand behind the Dixie Chicks' anti-Bush flap?"

"I wish! Ever since I opened Cause Celebs, others have been muscling in on my turf. Never occurred to me to line up a trio of female country singers from Texas to take on the president. But I learn fast. Next month, Reba McEntire is attacking Dick Cheney."

"So what else are you working on right now?" I asked Murray.

"I've got a full plate," he said. "Paris Hilton has agreed to speak out either for or against undocumented aliens -- we're ironing out the details now -- and I'm hoping to land Sarah Jessica Parker for the much-coveted Guantanamo detainee account. That's a perfect fit for Sarah."

"Sounds like a busy year for you."

"Huge," said Murray, "but I've lost some major accounts. Meg Ryan and FEMA looked like a lock, then Meg grabbed a better offer from some sharpie at ICM handling the wetlands."

"Ooo, that must have hurt," I said.

"Look, ya roll with the punches. And certain causes your big names won't even touch. I was working the phones all day yesterday trying to get a star to take a stance on outsourcing, but the best I could do was Robert Blake. Bobby leaped at the chance to blast trade embargos -- said it's always bugged him."

"What other hard-sell issues are you hustling?" I wondered aloud.

"Doctor-assisted suicide and flag burning are real tough bookings. Even Regis Philbin took a pass on those, but Al Roker looks like a lock. After Katie Couric came out against colon cancer, Al called to see if any major illnesses were still available. The best I could offer him then was carpal tunnel syndrome."

After downing his latte, Murray explained: "A lot of your old-timers and B-list stars are very eager to get in on a little congressional-hearing action, but they'll settle for one of the lesser issues. So I've lined up Ruth Buzzi and second-hand smoke; Frankie Laine and bilingual education; Doc Severinsen, the estate tax; Pee-wee Herman, grass-fed beef; and Star Jones Reynolds just agreed to take on deficit spending."

"I guess Al Gore's hit movie on global warming gave you a nice shot in the arm."

"You kidding? I had to open a new office in Washington," said Murray. "The phones are ringing off the hook with politicians who suddenly see a way to ... "

"Speak out on major controversial issues of the day?"

"No, no -- break into movies."

*

Nachman wrote "Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s" and "Raised on Radio."

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