I thought the best way to introduce something new–this website–might be to begin with something old–a blog I wrote several years ago. It concerns a long-standing Hollywood tradition: the casting couch, a piece of furniture still in use today but one which achieved its peak of popularity in the heyday of the studios. In fact, at that point in time, the couch was, in many ways, the measure of a man–his success, his wealth, his power. It was a mandatory item in the office furnishings of virtually every studio head in TinselTown, and it plays a major role in my upcoming novel, Someone To Watch Over Me, a book that confirms the timeworn but true adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
For twenty years, Bill O’Reilly has been reporting (perhaps I should say interpreting) the news.
Now he is the news.
The answer is simple.
Bill committed the unpardonable sin.
He got caught.
It was an unfortunate, completely unexpected blunder on his part. He is, after all, a sophisticated, experienced man of the world. He knows how things work. His carelessness is and will remain a mystery.
As for the dozen or so accusations of sexual harassment, they are simply evidence that Bill has been upholding a noble, long-standing tradition of the entertainment world: the liberal use of the casting couch.
Now some of you might argue that Bill is in news, not entertainment, but such an argument reveals an appalling ignorance of the glorious revolution Fox brought to the world of news, transforming it virtually overnight from a matter of dull facts to provocative, stimulating, sometimes thrilling entertainment.
It began with the introduction of long blonde hair and jiggle to weather reporting and moved out in ever widening circles until, in no time at all, newsmen and newswomen were superstars—superstars like Bill O’Reilly.
As a star, Bill was simply exercising a prerogative shared by many at the top of the Hollywood and Broadway pyramids.
By making himself available to young ladies much further down the ladder of success than he, he was offering them opportunity—the opportunity to keep the jobs they already had and possibly even the opportunity to become stars themselves.
It is, as I suggested earlier, a venerable tradition that dates back to the very beginnings of theatre and film and that reached its fullest expression in the heyday of the studio system.
No one—not Howard Hughes, not Harry Cohn, not Jack Warner—was a more accomplished practitioner of the art of the casting couch than Darryl F. Zanuck.
In fact, there are even those who say he invented it!
Zanuck was devoted to his art.
Every afternoon at four o’clock, no matter how busy he might have been (and he was a busy, busy man), he would take half an hour to entertain one of the many starlets at 20th Century Fox and encourage them in their hopes for a big career opportunity.
His generosity was legendary—he shared himself (well, at least a part of himself) with virtually every aspiring actress he had under contract.
While the couch never again attained this level of perfection and institutionalization, it continued to play an important role both in Hollywood and on Broadway for decades to come.
In fact, my lovely wife Sonja was offered its comforts many times during her decade as an actress in New York.
A wide-eyed Minnesota girl who, like Gatsby, saw in the City nothing but beauty, promise and wonder, she once arrived for an interview at the office of a well-known producer who proceeded to chase her around his desk…until, breathless, she stopped…and started to laugh.
He, having lost his…enthusiasm…and realizing that she was not going to take advantage of the opportunity he was offering her, shifted course and began to tell her how much she’d like his handsome young son.
She, for reasons I’ll never understand, rejected both father and son and the big break that might have come with them.
On another occasion, she walked into the office of another big-time producer, and as she was sitting down, he asked, “Shall we fornicate?”
(He actually used a somewhat stronger term.)
She stood up, and without speaking a word, left the office.
Opportunity knocked at her door so many times, but talented as she was, she never answered it.
Then there was the case of a close friend—an actress, blonde and blue-eyed like Sonja but much better known—who was discovered by one of the best-known directors of stage and screen.
(I can vouch that she’s a hell of an actress because she has always insisted that her initial encounter with said director occurred when she was thirteen or fourteen when, according to the IMDB, she was, in fact, twenty. Okay, she fudged a bit, but she had me convinced for years. That is what I call acting!)
In any case, the great man cast her as a teenaged seductress in what turned out to be a classic play, and in his selfless attempt to prepare her for the role, he worked very hard to seduce her.
It was the quintessence of Method acting and direction, with its heavy reliance on associative memory: he was, I’m sure, simply trying to give her some memories she could draw upon to enhance her performance.
She, however, rebuffed him, and as a result of her obstinate refusal to take his direction, never worked for him again.
Though I myself never witnessed it during my years in Hollywood (possibly because I was neither blonde, blue-eyed, sexy or female), I’ve always suspected that there are still those out there working diligently to perpetuate the custom of the couch.
And now we have such sterling types as O’Reilly and his former boss, Roger Ailes, confirming my suspicion—along with Bill Cosby, who has taken the ritual to a whole new level.
In a world suffering future shock, a world reeling and writhing with unprecedented change, it’s reassuring to know that certain revered practices abide—fixed, immutable, imperishable.
If only the current custodians of the couch had had the wisdom of their predecessors—the wisdom to keep their generosity a closely held secret from the public, we’d still have Ailes sharing his fair and balanced view of the world, O’Reilly spinning his stories freely, and Cosby telling his big lies in one of his Little Bill Books for Beginning Readers.