Ed Driscoll

California Screaming

Modern Hollywood is a town known as much for its love of crank pseudo-philosophies such as est (in the 1970s) and Scientology (today) as its movies. And Cathy Seipp notes that it needs a serious lesson in anger-management and tolerance of employees currently less fortunate than those living the potentate-like lifestyles of their bosses:

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. [I can understand why Stone would feel uniquely paranoid about such a charge–Ed] Especially after he went on to say that he’d just returned from the Middle East, 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?”

What’s really amusing is when a Hollywood temper tantrum spills over to a celebrity’s audience at large.