Movieline, a new film fanzine, is deceptive. On the outside, it looks like the usual brainless celebrity mush prepared for 14-year-olds. Luckily there's just enough of it to feed the secret habits of 34-year-olds and 54-year-olds too. But inside, assuming you care something about the movies, there a good deal of razory writing on unexpected topics as well. In a special June section on screenwriters, for example, there's the haunting tale of Ernest Lehman, the man they call the J.D. Salinger of screenwriters.
That's a bit of a stretch for someone who agreed to be interviewed by writer Charles Oakley and cooperated perhaps too fully with this Movieline portrayal. But he is a strange bird, a young genius of the '50s and '60s who wrote such classics as "North by Northwest," "West Side Story," "The King and I" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Then Lehman, who had become a well-paid producer in his own right, was responsible for a string of disasters -- "Hello, Dolly!," for one; "Portnoy's Complaint" for another. So he got out of the business, and hasn't done any work since. Rich enough to have the choice, he hasn't written a screenplay in 13 years. Doesn't say he never will, just says he hasn't. He won't audition or compete for a job. Somebody just has to want him, and be willing to push him. So far, nobody has.
Also in this issue, the favorite screenplays of 20 famous screenwriters, a profile of the creepy Michael O'Donoghue, and another of Sean Young, posing in some pretty creepy pictures herself, beginning with the charming cover shot. And what does it mean when the "Whatever Happened to ... ?" department features Molly Ringwald? There's a sensibility at work here. 12 issues/$9.60. Write Movieline, 1141 S. Beverly Dr., Los Angeles, Calif. 90099-2024.
The succession of one thunderously damning review after another of Robert Caro's second volume on Lyndon Johnson -- even as the book floats in bestsellerland -- has included some pretty impressive literary swordsmanship in the bookish journals. Worth special mention are Garry Wills's short but sweetly final dismissal of "Means of Ascent" in the New York Review of Books, and Sidney Blumenthal's disinterment and unsparing examination of Caro's research in the New Republic last week (June 4). And now, Caro: The Parody in the June Washington Monthly.
Art Levine, the talented Washington satirist, has penned a droll passage from a supposed biography of Martin Luther King Jr., as a hostile, suspicious Caro might write it, depicting King's confrontation with Sheriff "Bull" Connor in Birmingham in 1963. Readers who know that Caro has been faulted for demonizing Johnson while making a saint of his political opponent, Coke Stevenson, will recognize Levine's game of portraying King as a power-hungry menace and Connor as a sweet southern grandpappy.
No doubt feeling the awkwardness of writing negatively of King, even in jest, Levine rightly lays most of the Caro syrup on Connor, "a beloved, folksy populist who harkened back to a quieter, more graceful, and, in some ways, more honest era." At the crucial confrontation, in this retelling of the tale, Connor "ordered the K-9 units of dogs to set up outside the church, in the hope that the sight of cute little dogs -- little more than puppies, really -- would distract the children. ... Then, as an added treat, he ordered his fire department to use big black fire hoses to douse them with water on this hot spring day, because there were no swimming pools in Birmingham that little black children could use."
They sound like parodies too, but the memos of the month in this issue of the Monthly are, as always, the head-shakingly real thing. The first is a letter in the World Bank's in-house magazine from a senior executive of the bank, constructively pointing out to his colleagues the relative comforts of traveling business class instead of first class on long overseas flights -- as a small but symbolic voluntary way to demonstrate commitment to cost cutting in an organization famous for its obese administrative budgets. The (once-) confidential responses that follow are the real treats, as sputtering World Bank executives queue up in their sedan chairs to accuse the letter writer of the deepest betrayal.
Test your forgiveness: What do you think of Vanessa Williams? After she was honored as the first black Miss America and then shortly "disgraced" and deposed as the first to have posed nude for a Penthouse photographer, she wasn't much in demand as an actress or model. With the help of her manager, Ramon Hervey, who became her husband and the father of her two children, she has picked herself up and become a singer, a gold-album selling, Grammy-nominated, up-and-coming chanteuse.
In this June GQ profile, Pat Jordan tells an affecting story of redemption: "Ironically, if white Americans treated her during the ordeal as a lascivious joke, a footnote to history, soon to be forgotten, blacks turned on her with a confounding fury. They simply refused to forgive her. Many were the same people who had questioned whether she had been 'black' enough to represent them in the first place. Ramon and Vanessa realized that if she was ever to clear her name with the American public, if she was ever to have a career in the arts, she had to begin with the black community."
Also in this issue of good profiles, a lively piece by Chip Brown on the "Butcher of Broadway," which is what a lot of unhappy theater people call the oft-damning New York Times theater critic Frank Rich; and another one by Jim Dodson on the last hurrah, or at least the current one, of Andy Young, who's running for governor of Georgia; and yet another by Jennet Conant on David Letterman, fast becoming the most profiled man in America.