Showbiz Stories From The Vault — Buck Henry Died Today; I'm Proud To Say I "Put Words Into His Mouth"

Back in the day, I ran a show for HBO called “Tales From The Crypt”. My creative partner and I were hired to take over the show’s third season after its second season went a million dollars over budget. We ran “Tales” through four more seasons (60 plus episodes) and two “Tales From The Crypt” feature films (“Demon Knight” and “Bordello Of Blood“).

Making Tales was a hoot from start to finish (I absolutely do NOT include the making of Bordello in the ‘hoot’ part; making Bordello was literally the stupidest experience of my life). Gil (my partner) and I pushed hard to take Tales back to its ironic roots and to make the Crypt Keeper more of a franchise character than he was. We also pushed hard to get the biggest, best names we could get for our silly little horror TV show. And we succeeded.

We got to work with Tom Hanks (first thing he ever directed — an episode of Tales), Brad Pitt (a very young Brad Pitt), Michael J. Fox, Kirk Douglass, Dan Ackroyd, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Friedkin, John Frankenheimer, Isabella Rosselini, Ewan MacGregor & Daniel Craig (among many others). I’m not a star-effer by nature. I might be a fan — but if you screw up a day’s work and make life hard for everyone, you’re useless to me. The quality of the work is my bottomest line. Celebrity is twaddle.

But — funny thing about even mega-celebrities? Even THEY have someone they get goofy over. My executive producers on Tales were huge names: Bob Zemeckis, Joel Silver, Dick Donner, Walter Hill. I learned a ton from each of them. I wrote two of the three Tales episodes Bob Z directed (about which I am very, very proud).

And yet — for all the “big names” I got to work with and for, the one person I got to work about whom I felt… awe — there’s no other word — was Buck Henry who died today at 88 years of age. You can find Buck’s credits here. He was a giant in American comedy writing. A Giant.

“Get Smart” was seminal. “The Graduate” was transcendent. Buck Henry didn’t write the book (Charles Webb did that) but Buck Henry (along with director Mike Nichols) made “The Graduate” iconic by capturing something ineffable about Benjamin Braddock’s dilemma. “The Graduate” didn’t cast stones from outside Benjamin’s experience, it cast stones from inside. It identified white middle class alienation and spoke to a generation of kids (white, suburban) about the terrible contradiction they faced going forward between what they felt in their guts about life and the utter bullshit their parents (and the rest of the adults) were selling them about life.

“The Graduate” didn’t “solve” Benjamin’s problem, it simply pointed out that he had one.

I write screenplays — occasionally for a living even. I bow down before superb writing. Buck Henry’s work in “The Graduate” is superb.

We cast Buck in an episode called “Beauty Rest” wherein Mimi Rogers kills roommate Kathy Ireland to take her place in a beauty contest where she’s guaranteed to win — unaware that the contest is for a Miss Mortuary & the winner is going to get killed as part of her “prize”. It’s goofy, I know. That was Tales — it was more black comedy than horror. Our casting director Victoria Burrows suggested Buck Henry to play the strange beauty contest’s strange emcee.

He said yes.

My job on Tales was to rewrite every script (in addition to writing my own) until it was ready for production — and fit our franchise. The original script (credited to “Donald Longtooth” but actually Terry Black — Terry resented being rewritten) needed massaging as all scripts did. We added a musical number for the emcee character to perform and I wrote that part of the episode.

Writing dialogue for a great screenwriter is both tricky and (when they seem happy with it) gratifying. This isn’t just another writer reading your stuff and nodding at it — they’re having to take your words into their mouth — and speak them. They’re going to have faith in them as an actor — the words make sense to them and they feel they’ll look okay speaking them.

A screenwriter I deeply respected had faith in the words I was writing specifically for him to say. He had enough faith to sing some of the words I wrote for him. That’s a huge indication of “faith”.

He was a lovely man. I wish I had been less star-struck. I wish I had had more confidence in myself as a writer; I’d have talked way better shop than I talked. I don’t think we talked shop at all actually; I was waaaaaaaaaay to intimidated.

Rest In Peace, Buck.

You made the world a better place than it deserved to be. Thank you.

Among All The Animals, Only Human Beings & Monkeys Are Capable Of Lying; Then There Are Republicans…

Some time before humans and apes went their separate ways, something fused into our hominid brains that — no matter how we split off and evolved — stayed with us, as hard wired into us as the impulse to breathe: lying.

Sure, sure — plenty of animals use deception. Blue Jays imitate other birds to scare off competitors, cowbirds put their eggs into other birds’ nests and eastern grey squirrels pretend to hide nuts to throw off nut thieves. There are lies involved in each but outside of those specific survival-based behaviors (breeding and food) — and a species-wide ability to lie in exactly the same way (like that specific lie was hard-wired into them) — do those animals lie in any other way?

No, they don’t. So — when I say “lie”, I mean the way humans genuinely understand the word: a falsehood told mostly for convenience.

Humans lie to get out of trouble — trouble they didn’t have to be in. They cheated on their mate. They stole from someone. They murdered in cold blood. They lied to avoid the punishment they deserved for breaking the group’s rules. Actual premeditation is important. A cowbird slipping its egg into another bird’s nest is not in any way the same thing as a rapist insisting his victim “wanted it”.

Dogs are incapable of lying (hunting as a group is one of those hard-wired survival-deceptions). Ever walked into a room where a dog just wrecked something they know they shouldn’t have wrecked? That’s pretty much half of YouTube. Cats are political as hell — with humans and other cats — but they do not dissemble. You always know where you stand with a cat. They can’t lie.

Only a human being will lie to you in order to sell you insurance or a burial plot or love. Only humans kill each other because other humans refuse to believe the made up stories they believe (that’s how important lies are to us). Only humans insist they want what’s best for everyone when what they clearly want is what’s best for them personally. Well, only Republicans do that last bit of lying.

We have a POTUS whose notoriety for lying is his brand. His official lie count lies somewhere north of 15,000 since he took office. And those are just the official lies. No one’s bothered (except anecdotally) with what he does on a golf course or in his marriage. We all accept that Donald Trump is a liar through and through.

Think about that — and what it says about how readily human beings accept and normalize lying. Think about how utterly Americans have accepted lying as part of our status quo.

Make that “some” Americans. A lot of us do not and will not accept lying as status quo. We’re never going to expunge lying from our DNA. But we absolutely can make lying — done to the collective — so expensive that it simply isn’t worth anyone’s while — even the richest of the rich.

The time to start down that road is right now. We need to normalize a zero tolerance for public lying.

By Their Very Nature, RW-ers Are Closed-Minded & Progressives Are Open-Minded

“Both Sides Do It” thinking (and journalism) would want us to believe that that headline is biased and wrong because both sides are equally closed-minded and open-minded. The fact is both sides are different not just because they want to be different but because they actually think differently. There’s even science to back that up (both sides are not equally interested in science by the way — because both sides are not equally “open-minded” about new information).

Conservatives, as their name says, want to conserve. They’ll accept conserving the present but what they really want to conserve is the past. The future — and any change — terrifies them. Progressives, as their name says, want to progress into the future of course since no one wants to progress into the past. Progress demands an open mind because one knows one will face new challenges that old ways simply won’t be able to resolve.

Progressive thinking, by its nature, is inclusive. We see that the answers to our problems could spring from nearly anywhere — and anyone — if only we’d give all these minds the chance to develop. We see America’s diversity as its exceptionalism. We aren’t just the greatest experiment in human self government ever, we’re also the greatest experiment in human diversity where our cultural dynamism is born out of the rich gumbo of ideas and approaches that flow from the variety of cultures who came to this place in order to be part of the first experiment.

Conservative thinking cannot tolerate uncertainty. That’s why it tends to be deeply religious (instead of being more openly-minded and just plain spiritual). Conservatives want a power structure in place. They want the world as it was (when they were in absolute control) to be the world as it always WILL be — with them continuing to be absolutely in control). Never mind the fact that they are an ever-increasing minority. They are the “god of the gaps”.

It’s painfully ironic that our news media — regardless of the topic — always demands equal open-mindedness from both sides. Lacking any perspective, they start from the false premise that both sides are the same and behave the same. They assume that both sides start off equally stuck in their ways — as if “their ways” were exactly the same.

This is why we get a press that demands Elizabeth Warren explain how she’s going to pay for health CARE for all Americans while they shrug off Republicans insisting (without a lick of data) that their tax cuts to themselves will PAY for themselves. This is why we have a main stream news media that gives equal weight to lies and the Truth. This is why we have a news media that insists that Democrats are impeaching Trump for entirely political reasons.

No, you idiots, the Democrats impeached (and will impeach Trump again) because he violated his oath of office the instant he took it. The Rule Of Law either is or it isn’t — and the instant we allow a POTUS to violate his oath brazenly and with impunity, our entire system of self-government is in mortal peril.

The Democrats did not drive us to this Constitutional crisis, the Republicans did. The Republicans are acting political because their interest is political — they want to HOLD ONTO the political power they now have AT ALL COSTS. They’re so determined to hold onto power that they’re willing to cheat every which way they can. They’re willing to suppress every Democratic voter they can. Those are all political acts. The person having their vote suppressed is NOT acting politically, they’re the VICTIM OF A CRIME.

Same token — the Democrats, when they point to the myriad ways Donald Trump has violated his oath of office, broken the law and shredded the Constitution, they’re NOT reacting politically, they’re pointing to criminal acts. When Democrats cry foul — that election 2016 was neither free nor fair because RUSSIA decided its outcome (isn’t that what Mitch McConnell was protected by refusing to let President Obama tell America that our election was under assault?) — they’re not acting politically, they’re being PATRIOTIC.

They’re also speaking for the real victims of the crime, The American People. Our electoral choice was stolen from us — our Will. That’s the majority of Americans. The 3 million plus (who knows how many suppressed votes there were) who wanted what Hillary and the Democrats were selling, not what Trump, Mitch McConnell and the Russian-owned Republicans were selling.

Mitch McConnell epitomized conservative closed-mindedness by not even giving Merrick Garland a hearing. Democrats wouldn’t even think of doing such a thing. Because it’s now how Democrats — the Progressives among them especially — think.

Even a glance at a conservative crowd versus a Progressive crowd tells you all you need to know about each crowd’s open-mindedness versus its closed-mindedness. A thousand words? No — a million words. More even.

Is there really a question?

The Most Frustrating Thing About Anti-Semitism Is What It's Based On: NOTHING

I’ve said here before that I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust — in a Jewish suburb of Baltimore just 20 years after the camps were liberated. Many survivors lived in my community. I can tell you from experience — it’s damned hard for a little kid to wrap his young mind around that much hatred for who he is when, as far as he knows — he’s done nothing to deserve it.

The Nazis didn’t invent anti-Semitism, of course, they merely industrialized it — finding ways to make money off the hatred via forced labor and even body parts. If Spain had had similar technology at its disposal, I’m sure the Spanish Inquisition would have been even ghastlier and more gruesome & cruel than it was.

In between the Spanish Inquisition (well before it too) all the way up to the Holocaust, anti-Semitism saw plenty of other outlets — pogroms and other mass murders of Jews often when the Christians decided they didn’t want to pay back the money the Jews had loaned them. The church made it hard for anyone other than Jews to lend money. Follow that? The Church made it illegal for anyone except Jews to lend money — though the Church also understood that the lending & borrowing of money was essential to the Church’s economic survival. Massive churches don’t pay for themselves to be built — or kept up.

The Church made anti-Semitism part of its economic strategy. In a perverse way, it was genius.

But where did the Church’s Jew-hatred start?

Jesus — if he existed in any way as the person we think he was — did not invent Christianity. He was born, lived and died a Jew. Back in the 1970’s, Bible scholar Robert Funk put together The Jesus Seminar — a group of about 50 critical biblical scholars and 100 laymen who wanted to tease out a historical Jesus from the Gospels. That Jesus taught a very simple message: Do Unto Others.

He also taught that one did not need a temple or its high priests to speak to Yahweh (the God character’s actual name). One could go to “the father” directly.

So where did a “church” come from? Where did Christianity come from? That’d be Paul — the former Saul of Tarses. If Saul never has his moment on the road too Damascus, Christianity never gets invented — because Paul’s the guy who invented Christianity.

The bulk of the NT is Paul’s work — his epistles to the far flung churches HE was nurturing and encouraging. But encouraging to do & believe what? What was Paul selling? Paul tried hard to sell his version of Jesus to the Jewish community except they weren’t interested. Paul never met Jesus. Never heard his voice or heard his teachings directly. But Paul did have an agenda — and after the Jewish community rejected him (and what he was selling), he turned his attention to the Helenized-Roman Gentile world.

Paul needed to sell Jesus as The Messiah. And Paul’s Messiah (here’s Paul’s genius) was the answer to “But what do we do about death?” Paul promised that belief in Jesus would allow the believer to live forever. This was all based on a strange re-imagining of strange Jewish mythology. To justify Jesus being the Messiah, Paul and the early Church fathers (picking up the myth-making where Paul left off) created a hodgepodge of texts and documents that told a muddled, confused story.

It wasn’t until the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD) that the church itself tried to make sense of its own confounding, contradictory story. That’s the problem: IT WAS ALWAYS A STORY.

It’s a little like having your tribe be hated because of something Ron Weasley said in the Harry Potter books.

Jews have had the damnedest time defending themselves against anti-Semitism because it’s impossible to argue against bullshit. Bullshit always have the luxury of being bullshit. It never has to worry about being true or real. It never has to justify itself. It never even has to defend itself. It just falls apart and blows away.

It’s a strange experience to have another person look you in the eye and insist that you and your tribe are evil and deserve to be hated, tortured, killed and reviled because of a story. Even stranger? Knowing the person looking at you with all that hate knows less about their own religion than you do.

99% of Christian churches only ever treat Jesus as a mascot anyway. He’s Ronald McDonald selling forgiveness for your sins instead of Big Macs. Jesus — if he could rise from the dead — would never stop being disgusted by what Paul did in Jesus’ name to Jesus’ own tribe.

It Really Is This Simple: By LAW, You Cannot CHEAT To Become POTUS; Therefore Donald Trump Has NEVER Been POTUS

Now, that’s just The Rule Of Law talking and what does The Rule Of Law know? That’s how Republicans think these days apparently.

To be absolutely fair about it, they’re right. The Rule Of Law is a fiction that we invented for our mutual benefit. There are lots of places on Earth where the people don’t live by The Rule Of Law — so, The Rule Of Law is not some absolute, inviolable Law Of The Cosmos. The only thing actually keeping The Rule Of Law in place as our guiding principle as our faithfulness in maintaining it.

It’s like stamina, if you think about it. You can build your stamina. You can maintain it. But stop working on it and it goes away just like that. You can’t store it. Can’t bank it.

Part of our problem — here in America: we’ve taken The Rule Of Law for granted. Those following it always assumed that everyone was following it. Sure, sure — there are criminals outside The Rule Of Law but that’s why we HAVE a Rule Of Law — to isolate those people and handle them fairly but judiciously. We never imagined, We The People, that so many of those who swore an oath to defend The Rule Of Law (that’s what our Constitution is) were committed to overthrowing The Rule Of Law in a kind of soft white Christian male coup d’etat.

The Rule Of Law says foreign interests can have no say in American elections. The Republican Party violated the hell out of that throughout election 2016. Current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy FAMOUSLY said to a roomful of Republican muckety-mucks “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump”. Pays for what, someone in the room should have asked. “Pays for what purpose?” even. Instead, then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan (per the Washington Post) “…instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

According to The Rule Of Law, Speaker Ryan’s response should have been more along the lines of “Holy shit! Guys — get the FBI on the phone pronto! We’ve got a huge PROBLEM on our hands!” But Speaker Ryan didn’t say that. No one in the room even thought anything like it. Hmmmmmmm…

The literal instant we stop following The Rule Of Law to the letter, we compromise it. When we follow it for some people but not so much for other people — that violates The Rule Of Law’s core principle. Speaker Ryan knew he was violating The Rule Of Law — that’s why they all had to agree to “keep it in the family”. Another group of criminals would call that agreement an OMERTA.

It’s the kind of agreement people do when they’ve abandoned The Rule Of Law for their own set of laws. They just haven’t had the decency to tell the rest of us. You know — THE MAJORITY.

We don’t know yet the full extent to which the entire Republican Party was compromised by Russia (and, perhaps, other countries or bad actors). We can only imagine the kompromat Russia is dangling over Lindsey Graham’s pervy head. Even before this though, the Republican Party displayed a disdainful cynicism toward The Rule Of Law. They applied its full pressure whenever they could — while ignoring all the ways they were violating the hell out of it at the very same time.

We know that the Republican Money Machine turned its back on The Rule Of Law a generation ago when it saw the demographic writing on the wall: America was not going to be a predominantly white country for much longer. By 2050, it’s estimated, white people will cease being the majority of the population. Think that doesn’t scare the snot out of conservative white people?

The hard right in this country turned its back on The Rule Of Law the instant they saw it was going to STOP being their instrument of destruction. I don’t know if they feared retribution, but they certainly feared losing absolute power (and the money that goes with it). The Republican Party morphed into The Trump Party — and The Trump Party works for Russia. Russia made Trump POTUS (he did NOT win Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Michigan legitimately — he couldn’t have after Paul Manafort gave Oleg Deripaska proprietary polling data on those three states). Even Trump’s reported behavior on election night speaks to a kind of guilty behavior. Ever since, no one has obsessed more than Trump has on his presidency’s legitimacy. Why’s that?

IF we really do believe in The Rule Of Law then Donald Trump’s presidency violates it. The fact of his presidency violates it and stands OUTSIDE The Rule Of Law. Trump’s presidency and The Rule Of Law cannot exist at the same time and in the same place.

There is no precedent for what’s happening to us. We have to stop looking to the past for guidance. If Trump violated The Rule Of Law in order to BECOME president of the United States then, by law, he never was president. Not being president, he never had the authority to do anything he did. He never had the authority to negotiate on our behalf or nominate judges.

Let’s use a metaphor that even Donald Trump would understand: A Beauty Pageant. An American presidential election is a lot like a beauty pageant. If, it’s learned after a winner is announced, that the winner wasn’t honest with the judges (as, say, Vanessa Williams was about some mildly erotic photos she’d been part of), the judges can take away the winner’s crown and give it to someone MORE deserving. Someone, say, who followed the pageant’s rules about not doing things that might undermine the pageant’s “brand”.

Vanessa Williams lost her crown — and everything that went with it. If the judges had known before GIVING her the crown, they would never have crowned her, right? They would never have given her the rights & privileges that went with it. In their minds, they were lied to. Vanessa Williams mis-represented herself.

If part of Vanessa Williams’ rights had been to negotiate branding deals on behalf of Miss America, the judges — the whole Miss America organization — would have voided every single one of them for the same reasons.

I know what I’m saying seems impossible to pull off. HOW would we undo the results of an American election? Well, as one of the wronged in this equation — as one of the MAJORITY whose rights are being threatened by a willful right wing minority — HOW CAN WE NOT? Why, I’d like to know, are we always fair beyond fair to conservatives while demanding Progressives explain themselves relentlessly. When did the press lose its mind demanding from conservatives how they were going to pay for Trump’s tax breaks for the rich?

There’s a stone cold reality staring us in the face: Donald Trump was never the legitimate president of the United States.

That fact ripples a thousand ways in a million different directions. We cannot simply ignore it. We can’t “agree to agree” to get past it. We won’t. It’s exactly like slavery — a gross insult to The Rule Of Law.

But then… The Rule Of Law is only what we say it is.

Ball’s in our court.

Dear Republicans: Once Destroyed, Integrity Cannot Grow Back; Your Integrity Is History

Ever meet anyone with 99% of their integrity intact? You can pretty much trust them — but not quite… there’s a point beyond which you know you can’t trust them — usually when things get serious and being able to trust someone is imperative.

That’s the Republican Party. Except they have way, way less than 99% of their integrity. What’s the actual percentage they still have? Does it matter? Integrity’s like a soap bubble. It is or it isn’t. Having 99% of your integrity is no better than having zero.

The Rule Of Law works the same way, too — as we’re learning the hard way. We rely on the Rule Of Law’s integrity in order for it to work. Either we prosecute everyone the same when they break the same laws or we prosecute no one and agree the Rule of Law is dead, long live chaos. Having two sets of laws — as we do in America — violates the integrity of The Rule Of Law.

When a sitting POTUS can get away with actual law-breaking — when he “gets to be” POTUS by breaking the law — we’ve gone to a place where The Rule Of Law no longer works. If we want to rectify that, we have to understand going in — just like with integrity, following The Rule Of Law means committing to it 100%. If we CAN get it back up onto its feet — and if we CAN get IT to be the “rule of the land” again, we need to make damned sure we protect it better.

Let’s start by taking the job of enforcing it out of the hands of White Christian Men.

Of all groups in this country, White Christian Men have done more to destroy their own integrity than anyone or anything else. Oh, the irony. If those men were all followers of Jesus (happily doing unto others) instead of church-goers (needing to raise money to keep their church afloat), they’d still have their integrity.

But then they wouldn’t be Republicans anymore, would they?

Republicans Defend Themselves The Way Bullies Do; It's Not A Coincidence

Listening to Trump or Moscow Mitch McConnell bray about how Democrats should have talked to their witnesses first before even thinking of sending Articles of Impeachment to the Senate for prosecution — tripe repeated via tweet by Donald Trump — one has to remember: the whole reason Democrats HAVEN’T talked to all those witnesses is because Trump & the Trump White House have refused to allow anyone to testify.

See how that works? The Republicans complain bitterly about the Democrats not “presenting” the very witnesses the Republicans are using to obstruct justice with. How can they be guilty, Republicans ask, if the witnesses who’d verify their guilt won’t testify (because the Republicans won’t let them)?

Republicans — criminals by nature — want to blame the victims of their criminality for… being their victims? I keep trying to describe this feeling — of being victimized by Republican behavior while they act as if THEY somehow are the victims. They’re kind of like a bully holding someone’s head under water — then taunting them by saying “Hey, if you want air, just say so and I’ll let you breathe.”

But, of course, the victim CAN’T say so because their head’s under water; they can’t breathe, can’t talk, can’t even resist really.

“I said,” the Bully repeats smugly, “If you want air — just tell me!”

The victim waves their hands frantically.

“I don’t know what that means,” says the Bully with a cruel chuckle, “Use your words.”

But of course the victim can’t — that’s the point of the cruelty. It’s rape behavior’s evil twin. The rape victim either wanted it or deserved it or had it coming.

Mick Mulvaney spoke Republican philosophy with bracing honesty. Don’t like the Trump White House (and the Republican party) forcing their way on The Rule Of Law, the Constitution and The American People? “Get over it”.

How rapey of him. How bully-ish. How completely and utterly Republican.