June 28, 2011
While the faces change out here, the roles remain the same. As Art Carney’s aging detective informed ditzy femme Lily Tomlin in the masterful 1977 film The Late Show:
Back in the 40s, this town was crawling with dollies like you—fast living hopheads trying to act tough as hell and screwing up their lives just the same way. And you know what? They did it better back then!
In a sense, they did.
While the results were all too often the same as now, the appearances were far more stylish. Today’s Hollywood scandals, were it not for the incomes of those involved, would look appropriate on Jerry Springer episodes. No glamorous nightclubs, no formal wear, no diamond-dripping starlets in luxurious love nests, no…well…no noir. There are no hardboiled dames, no George Raft-like mobsters. Instead, there are overgrown children up to no good. Today’s stars are doing their fans a terrible disservice.
That lack of style—indeed, of adulthood—is reflected in every aspect of modern Hollywood. One sees it in the Academy Awards, which in days gone by was a strictly white-tie affair. In the 60s, it dropped down to black tie. That label in turn is made now to include regular black ties, or even shirts clasped at the throat with a big black stud. Instead of Cary Grant and Lauren Bacall, we have Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. But Hollywood does not merely influence society, it also reflects it. What is lacking in today’s film industry—both in its sins and its products—is glamour. But glamour is a product of maturity, and that is something our culture at large has avoided since the ’60s. This is perhaps one reason why today’s period dramas can be scrupulously accurate in scenery and costuming but somehow woefully soulless otherwise.
So I appeal to today’s stars: If you are going to get involved in illicit gambling, don’t let it be amid a bunch of scruffy but fabulously monied post-teens playing poker in a hotel suite. Do it in dinner jackets—better yet, tails—in an elegant backroom of somewhere like the Cicada Club, with gorgeous blondes in shimmy dresses and feather boas looking on while the big-band music wafts in from the dance floor. When you are carted off to the paddy wagon, make half-hearted efforts to hide your faces; the next morning, we will see them in the L.A. Times and cluck disapprovingly at your antics. Our schadenfreude will help ease the pain of the foreclosure or eviction looming over us, or of the disastrous policy mistakes we shall read about elsewhere on the front page. That was how your predecessors helped our ancestors survive the Depression. Now more than ever, Americans need you to dress up and conduct your scandals with a touch of class.