Politics & Policy

California Screaming

Hollywood, it's a helluva loud town.

One highlight of this season’s Television Critics Association press tour, which wound down late last week in Beverly Hills, was comedian Adam Carolla’s tantrum. The luckless target: Scott Pierce of Salt Lake City’s Deseret Morning News, who made the mistake of asking Carolla, at a Discovery Networks press conference for a new TLC home-improvement show called The Adam Carolla Project, about a failed sitcom of Carolla’s.

The problem was that Carolla, best known for The Man Show and Love Line, has never had his own sitcom, failed or otherwise; Pierce had confused him with someone else. That was kind of a lame mistake, but probably not so much that it deserved this outburst: “Listen, why don’t you just go to the bar…just write the show sucks and I’m using my own money and I’m–just go write it now and leave me alone, would you? J***s Ch***t. Write something sh***y about the show and give the mic to somebody else, please,” Carolla yelled.

“Everyone hated The Man Show and everyone had a problem with Love Line,” he ranted on, “but the shows are good. So there you go. Thank you. Thank you. Oh, The Man Show, minus four stars, minus three stars. I got minus a million stars. You look up at night when you’re in Colorado, that’s how many stars I got minus… Well, look, you got an axe to grind, go up in your room and write something sh***y.”

Pierce seemed philosophical in the column he wrote about the incident: “If, say, Bob Newhart had yelled at me, I’d feel bad,” concluded. “Adam Carolla yelling at me? Not so much.” Maybe even in Utah people know that screaming at people who can’t scream back is as much a part of Hollywood tradition as waiters who say they are actors or hipsters who wear sunglasses at night.

I love a good Hollywood screamers story and am grateful to the invaluable Defamer for alerting me to a new online publication called Hollywood Momentum, which keeps an eye on tales of factotum abuse in a weekly Screamers section. My favorite was last month’s story of an actor’s assistant who got fired for failing to bring his boss green beans with the actor’s Koo Koo Roo turkey dinner. As Defamer noted:

Luckily for the hapless lunchboy, he was in the employ of a C-list actor, and SAG regulations clearly restrict punishment to mere dismissal from the job. Had he boned the lunch order of an A-lister, the actor would’ve been well within his contractual rights to behead the assistant with the plastic, serrated knife accompanying the meal, then sodomize the lifeless body with a spork.

Over the past decade or so, Hollywood screaming has evolved into something really rich and strange. It may have been around the time that snack-loving producer Scott Rudin programmed the digital readout on his office phone system to inform his assistant “String cheese NOW!” at the push of a single button that showbiz screaming entered the 21st century.

A master of the modern form, like Oliver Stone, evidently doesn’t even need to raise his voice (although, of course, he often does) to keep his staff walking on eggshells, nervously wondering what kind of a mood “Mr. Stone” is in today. (Apparently it is always “Mr. Stone,” just like it was always “Miss Ross.”) Associates have reported that Stone is particularly good at playing his I-saw-action-in-’Nam-so-don’t-mess-with-me trump card. “He knows exactly where to throw the knife so that it pins you to the wall for a few days,” one unfortunate told me. Favorite screamed phrase: “Move!”

I met a rather marinated-looking Oliver Stone a few years ago at a party, where we got into a little political disagreement. He didn’t scream at me, but he was belligerent.

“I think George Bush is a lesbian! A lesbian in a dress! And high heels,” he’d said conversationally, I suppose figuring I’d be appreciative. (The party was, after all, at Arianna Huffington’s house, and filled with major Democratic donors.) Why is it, I wondered, that when a man disapproves of another man the worst thing he can think of to say is that the man is really a woman?

“That’s your fantasy,” I said coldly.

“Are you calling me a…fantasist!” Stone yelled. Well, yes. Especially after he went on to say that he’d just returned from Palestine, where he’d been interviewing Arafat. I asked if that was a package tour that included stopovers in Utopia and Xanadu. The conversation kind of went downhill from there, and luckily the valet soon pulled up with Stone’s car.

Behind the New Age grin of beatific self-righteousness with which so many Hollywood celebrities greet the world often lurks a tantrum ready to erupt. When the full, roiling boil is over, the slow simmer can last for weeks, if not months. By comparison, old-style screamers can seem quaint, almost benign. The storm may have been intense, but it passed quickly. A classic of the type–the agent Norman Brokaw, for instance–could suggest lunch within minutes of a blowup. And the scream usually took the form of a statement: “Get outta here!”

But new-style screamers eschew declarative sentences for rhetorical, F. Lee Bailey-esque questions: “What were you thinking? Why did you even pick up the phone? Do you even have a brain?” This can be harder to bear. As an observer told me once, “If it’s ‘You’re fired,’ then at least you’re out. If it’s someone trying to teach you a lesson, you’re there, and you’re stuck.”

Some screamers can hardly utter a sentence that doesn’t contain the f-word. The syllable almost seems to function as their sound, signifying only that they are in the room. Others are more careful with their language, because being sworn at is the point where many screamees stop listening and may even quit. So bland, schoolmarmish words of displeasure are amplified to ear-splitting volume. A vein-popping “Un-ACC-EPT-able!” is a great favorite. Also, a drawn out “DIS…A…PPOINTED!!!”

When in full throttle, the classic Hollywood screamer cannot be neither stopped nor shamed. I once heard a story about a studio executive who screamed at someone’s assistant for a good five minutes before realizing he was in the wrong office–possibly even on the wrong floor. “Well, if you see her,” he yelled before stomping out, “tell her what I said!”

Screaming actors, it seems, can be easier to deal with, perhaps because they are not always famous for their brains. Many years ago, I read a story about how Roger Moore (a nonscreamer) took a younger actor aside and suggested he stop attacking everyone on the set. “I’m not in this business to win a popularity contest,” the screamer fumed. “I just want to be a good actor.”

“Well, you’ve failed at being a good actor,” Moore replied reasonably. “Why not try for the popularity contest?”

Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.

Catherine SeippCatherine Seipp had been a frequent contributor to National Review Online prior to her death in 2007.


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