The Endless Madness of Mel
Mel Gibson makes a strong case for the return of a Hollywood blacklist.
Not what bears the name today, an insider online database of coveted unproduced screenplays, but the blacklist as it was mid-20th century, a politically charged ignominious register of the do-not-employ. Gibson’s multi-hyphenate talents as a misogynistic, anti-Semitic, raving lunatic deserve to rank on an index of shame. His film credit should read “persona non grata.”
So why, oh why, is he still getting work? Why must we continue to endure the madness of Mel?
Last week brought yet more stunning accusations that Mel Gibson is — can you believe it? — an anti-Semite. This time from screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who was hired to pen the script for Gibson’s already much-maligned Maccabee movie. When Warner Bros. put the film on hold because of a bad script, Eszterhas, whose own father was a Nazi collaborator, pulled a Freudian transference on Gibson, in the form of a scathing nine-page missive.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that you never had, or have, any intention of making a film about the Maccabees,” Eszterhas wrote in a letter published on TheWrap.com. “I believe you announced the project with great fanfare … in an attempt to deflect continuing charges of anti-Semitism which have dogged you, charges which have crippled your career.”
Eszterhas went on to recount, in sordid detail, some rather horrifying incidents that occurred while he and his family were guests at Gibson’s Costa Rica home. He described Gibson as “wild,” “crazed” and “explosive,” and how, one day, Gibson went surfing with Eszterhas’ 15-year-old son, Nick, and told him a rape fantasy he had of killing his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Gregorieva, also the mother of his child. Eszterhas also claims that Gibson’s choice descriptors for Jews are, alternately, “Hebes,” “oven-dodgers” or “Jewboys.” The Holocaust is “a lot of horses—-,” and what Gibson really wants to do with his Maccabee movie is “convert the Jews to Christianity.”
It’s a fun read, but about as revelatory as an episode of “Real Housewives.” At this point, the only thing more shocking than the fact that Gibson’s mania has drawn him closer to Britney Spears than to Jesus Christ is the fact that his remaining Hollywood friends refuse to call him what he is: a stark-raving anti-Semite.
Last fall, when the Maccabee project was first announced, I interviewed several of Gibson’s former colleagues (all Jews). Not a single one — including Rabbi Irwin Kula, director of Clal and a consultant on the film — was willing to scarlet-letter Gibson with the definitive label. When I asked: “Is Mel Gibson an anti-Semite?” this is what I got in response:
“Mel has never, ever said anything anti-Jewish on the record. He’s never said anything against the Jews,” Dean Devlin, producer of “The Patriot,” said.
What saddened Devlin was not that his friend launched into a Jew-blaming tirade during his 2006 drunken-driving arrest, but that it made him realize Gibson’s sobriety had lapsed.
“For me it was more about being heartbroken, about knowing that something must be horribly wrong with my friend because [to say] something that outrageous, you know something’s wrong,” Devlin said. “It was clearly not in character.”
True, Gibson is an actor. But how many times must something happen for it to be considered “in” character?
Richard Donner, director of four “Lethal Weapon” movies, offered some psychoanalysis, saying Gibson had been “brainwashed since infancy” — by his giddily anti-Semitic father — but stopped short of a diagnosis. “He’s nuts,” Donner admitted. “He’s truly one of the nuttiest guys I’ve ever met in my life. He’s off-the-wall.”
Donner said he finds the Jewish community “very narrow-minded” when it comes to dealing with Gibson.
“The Jewish community has gone through hell all their lives, and [anti-Semitism has] been part of it all their lives, and I guess they’re overly defensive of it. And maybe rightly so. But my feeling is: Give somebody a chance.”
How many chances? Gibson remains gainfully employed by big studios like Warner Bros., run by Barry Meyer (one guess) because Gibson is a talented filmmaker whose films have made heaps of money and won Oscars. It is why, as Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein pointed out in his 2006 headline about Gibson’s drunken-driving debacle, “The shame is that so few say ‘shame.’ ”
And, as Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg wondered, “Why do you go to the one guy who made a movie that blames devilish-looking Jews for the murder of Jesus Christ, and who, when drunk, and possibly when sober, just lashes out at Jews with all kinds of stunning invective? Why would you do that?”
It is also worth wondering whether Eszterhas would have come forward had things not gone awry with his pending Maccabee paycheck. Gibson’s other friends in the industry — among them Jodie Foster (not Jewish, but who once told me she lights candles each Friday with her family) and Robert Downey Jr. (part Jewish) — have urged their Hollywood colleagues to forgive Gibson. Forgiveness is a nice thing — a core Jewish value, in fact — once someone has repented.
“Mel Gibson knows for sure what it would take,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “Maybe I should take a course about the Holocaust, about anti-Semitism; maybe I should visit a concentration camp, maybe I should make it a point to speak to the Jewish community, maybe I should say, ‘I want to apologize.’ ”
Hier maintains that if Gibson made an effort toward genuine repair, “A lot of Jews would say, ‘You know what? The guy made a mistake. He seems to have learned something from those lessons. Why not give him a shot?’ But Mel Gibson didn’t do any of that.”
Still, Hier would like to see Gibson make amends. “Everybody would rather see Mel do big teshuvah. But he’s had a long time to do it — the man has had a very long time to do teshuvah. And it’s never too late.”