Now that we — I’m talking to you, Barney “Fannie Mae” Frank and Chris “Hinky Dink” Dodd — have all had our little fit of high moral dudgeon over the shameful AIG bonuses and outrageous executive compensation, we seem well and truly on the way toward punishing people for the crime of making money. It’s about time! Watching Commissar Frank shout at hapless business executives fills us with a sense of pride and shared outrage and we thank Gaia that the good people of Brookline and Newton, Mass., keep re-electing him.
It doesn’t matter a fig to them that Frank was reprimanded by the House in 1990 by a vote of 408-18, when, as the New York Times put it at the time: “Barney Frank, a bright, articulate and productive Congressman, has committed serious indiscretions in his personal dealings with a male prostitute. By his own admission he deserves the reprimand . . . for fixing 33 of the prostitute’s parking tickets and for writing a misleading letter that wound up in the hands of Virginia authorities characterizing the prostitute as fit for release from probation on a drug conviction.”
Now comes Barney’s latest bright idea, the “Pay for Performance Act of 2009,” which may at first sound like the house rules at the Georgetown pad he used to share with Steve Gobie, but in fact refers to tovarish Frank’s notion of imposing wage controls on all employees of companies currently siphoning funds from the federal trough. The bill would “prohibit unreasonable and excessive compensation and compensation not based on performance standards.” We’re all for that: the sight of those fat-cat executives swanning around in their private jets and making obscene amounts of money is just –
Hang on . . . we Hollywood liberals might just have to rearrange our position on this one.
For as much as we love Barney Frank and all that he stands for, and wish he were our Congressman (we have to make do with hopelessly un-photogenic Henry Waxman), when it comes to this sort of thing, we’re a little iffy. Who knows where “unreasonable and excessive compensation” will stop? After all, an excess of success is one of our selling points: you, too, can get off the bus from Newton and become a movie star, a great director, or a big-time producer. You, too, can spend a year waiting tables at Orso and then sell your spec script for seven figures.
The real money out here, though, is not in the movies at all. The richest folks in Hollywood are not the A-list screenwriters who make more than a mil per script, nor the top directors who make more than two or three mil transforming the fevered products of our drug-addled imaginations — excuse me: I mean our carefully wrought, elegantly couriered typescripts — into more or less coherent motion pictures, even the ones based on comic books. They’re not even the scared suits trying to pass for mighty moguls. No, the winners of life’s lottery out here in La-La land are the TV people: the writers, writer-producers, show runners, the “created by” writer-producers. For while movie scriveners sign away all the rights to their work once it gets bought by a studio, the TV johnnies really are top dog, gleefully opening the mailboxes each week and watching the checks pour out.
Take, for example, the late Aaron Spelling, the creator of Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Dynasty, and a million other shows. The son of immigrants from Russia and Poland, Spelling was born in Dallas, joined the Army Air Corps, won the Bronze Star, went to Hollywood, acted in some movies, married the actress Carolyn Jones, divorced her and married Candy, produced hit after hit, bought Bing Crosby’s old house in Holmby Hills, demolished it, and built a faux-French chateau almost as big as a football field, just because he could.
I’m not kidding: on six acres, it really is almost as big as a football field. Built at a cost of $45 million in 1991, at 56,500 square feet, “the Manor” is the largest private residence in Los Angeles. Among its 123 rooms are twelve bedrooms, three kitchens, four bars, a doll museum, three gift-wrapping rooms, a bowling alley, a gym, a spa, a screening room, eight two-car garages, a greenhouse, a 20,000 square foot attic, a wine cellar, and a wing for Candy’s wardrobe. There’s also a 6,000 square foot guesthouse and a stable on the six-acre grounds — plus a swimming pool, tennis court, and fountains galore.
And it can be yours for a mere $150 million.
Now, did Aaron Spelling steal his money? Did he bamboozle or fleece somebody? Did he fix somebody’s parking tickets or date a former Fannie Mae executive? He did not. Spelling’s money came out of his head: he thought up TV shows people wanted to watch. And then, through the miracle of what we do here in Hollywood, a vast industry sprang up around him. Spelling gave work to writers, actors, directors, stagehands, limo drivers, chefs, caterers, dry cleaners, and delivery boys — not to mention masons and carpenters and craftsmen. He paid oodles of taxes, and bought his wife a fortune in jewelry. Heck, he even made his daughter — Tori — a TV star. There’s a mensch for you.
Now you too can aspire to owning the most expensive home in American history. Yes, Candy is selling and moving to smaller digs in a 17,000 square foot Century City condo, for which she shelled out a measly $47 million. I myself was thinking of making an offer, once I off-load my underwater home up here in Echo Park — but all of a sudden, I have a better idea.
We should all take up a collection and buy it for Barney Frank. Think of the fun Barney could have, romping around the 123 rooms, going for a midnight dip in the pool, touring the doll museum. It would be the perfect way for him to get a sense of how the other half lives, to feel the uninhibited joy of “excessive compensation,” and even develop some sympathy for the notion of “compensation not based on performance standards” — has he seen a Josh Hartnett movie lately? He’d be the happiest guy on earth.
And then maybe he’d leave the rest of us alone.
– David Kahane used to aspire to be rich and famous, but after what happened to AIG’s Edward Liddy and Rick Wagoner of General Motors he’s keeping his head down and rediscovering the simple joys of living in his car on Magnolia Blvd. in Valley Village. Please pass along tips about free parking spaces and best dumpster diving at [email protected].