It’s no secret the entertainment biz is rife with personalities. Big ones. Fast-talking. Recalcitrant. And quite a significant number that could best be described as having some type of personality disorder—best described as synonymous with the word “asshole.”
Some might say that these rotten eggs were a soufflé whipped up from their own over-hyped success. And that would often be true. Hand the average Joe a lottery-sized helping of money and accolades and eventually he or she begins subscribing to the myth that his own stink smells like birthday cake. We’ve all seen it, been subjected to it, or have become victim of it.
Show folk love to talk about these douchebags. The more famous and successful, the more entertaining the gossip about them. Much of the talk is pure, idle chitty-chat. On the other hand, these stories which travel from mailroom to executive suite can also serve a purpose; and that’s as a warning to those civilians—aka the somewhat normal folk—who would like to avoid run-ins with, or worse, employment by, the aforementioned scumbags.
In fact, there’s this unwritten rule. Okay, so it’s not a rule. More like a guideline that applies to friends and trusted colleagues. If you or they discover that you or they are about to climb into a work situation with a known asshole, it is expected that a friendly warning will be issued. You know the kind. A simple phone call or email or text even.
Hey. Congrats on the new gig. You do know that so-and-so has a pretty bad rep as a rat bastard and certified vessel of puss. Just thought you should know.
Like I said. It’s just a guideline. Which means it’s not necessarily followed as often as I would like. Otherwise, I mightn’t have found myself in so many scrapes with turds in three-piece suits.
Back to the chicken or the egg. I received a call some years back from a golfing pal who had recently butted heads with a particular piece of flotsam who, since having worked with me some years earlier, had gone on to scale greater and greater heights of Hollywood fame and power.
So perturbed was this friend of mine that he didn’t want to discuss the subject over the phone. He preferred his private convos to take place on the links. Right away a date was made. We met, teed it up, and while striding down the fourth fairway he brought up the subject of—what should I call him? Hmmm. How’s this? Simon Says.
“You worked with him, right?” asked my friend.
“Simon?” I repeated. “Yeah. Way back when we were both pups.”
“He’s not a pup anymore,” said my friend. “He’s the anti-Christ.”
I laughed, full of instant empathy.
“Look,” he said. “By now his reputation precedes him, right? I just want to know what he was like when you worked with him.”
“You wanna know if he was as dirty a piece of ear wax as he is today?”
“Nobody could be that big of a dick.”
“So did success and all that make him what he is?” I confirmed. “That’s what you want to know.”
“And it matters why?” I asked. “Whether he was or wasn’t always a shit heel, doesn’t change the fact that he still is.”
“He made my assistant cry,” confessed my pal. “And he destroyed a family vacation.”
“Wow,” I said.
“I gotta know. Is he for real an evil fuck or did we—or this Goddamn business—make him that way?”
This is when I told a story I have since told an umpteen number of times. It dated back to those salad days when Simon Says and I were babes in our careers. We were working together on a project when, maybe a month or so into the process, I found myself on the phone with my rep.
“So how’s it goin’?” asked my rep. “And what’s it like working with Simon Says?”
My Sherlock sense detected a tone in my rep’s query that led me to believe there was more to his question than mere small talk.
“Tell me you don’t rep Simon Says?” I asked. “Otherwise, I’d be asking why you didn’t warn me.”
“That he’s an asshole?” laughed my rep. “Oh no, no, no. I know Simon from waaaaaaaay back.”
“Way back when?”
“Did I ever introduce you to my first wife?”
“Think that was before you repped me.”
“So you don’t know that she was a school teacher.”
“You might’ve said something.”
“High school. Ninth grade English.”
“Okay,” I said.
“So if I were to tell you that I recall an entire year where she’d come from school and, I swear the first words out of her mouth—and I’m talking every damn day was, ‘That asshole Simon Says!’”
I laughed then and, as I scribble this post, I’m still busting a gut. It was so simple. Yet so concise and telling of Simon’s character. Showbiz hadn’t a lick to do with his well-endowed douche-baggery. The human scab that he was had been cooked into his DNA long before he’d crossed the threshold of the dream factory and announced himself as some kind of second coming.
It’s been eons since I’ve bumped into Simon. He has his career. I have mine, such as it is. Besides the obvious differences in our trajectories, there’s a subtler, but significant chasm between us. Where Simon never crossed a bridge he wasn’t willing to burn, I’ve been a bit more humble, temperate, and I reckon, easier to work with. As Simon’s star fades—as all stars eventually do—the long knives will be revealed and buried to the hilt into his sagging cesspool of flesh.
And I, on the other hand, might actually get my phone call returned.
- More articles by Doug Richardson
- Balls of Steel: Collaboration – The Walk of Shame
- Behind the Lines with DR: Only in L.A.
Get advice from Oscar-winning producer Edward Saxon in his mentor series,
A Producer’s Guide to Navigating Your Screenwriting Career