Crisis in Hollywood

Posted: Mar 19, 2003 12:00 AM

As I write this column here in our nation's capital on the eve of a multi-billion dollar, high technology war, our security perimeter has been penetrated, and downtown traffic has come to a standstill for 14 hours because a North Carolina tobacco farmer, Dwight W. Watson, has driven his John Deere tractor into a pond on the Mall near the Department of the Interior. Mr. Watson, a flag-waving Army veteran apparently is upset about the government's tobacco subsidy program (as who amongst us is not?) and threatens to blow up his tractor. The formidable threat of an exploding tractor has overwhelmed all the anti-terrorist assets of our capital. I know our government is doing all it can, but who could have expected an insidious good ol' boy running a tractor into a 3-foot deep pond? The police are afraid that ole' Dwight has a fertilizer bomb on his tractor.

Well, of course they can detect some fertilizer, he's a farmer, for goodness' sake. But (perhaps surprisingly, I know my way around a John Deere tractor) there is nowhere to hide a large quantity of exploding fertilizer on a John Deere -- no capacious trunks or hidden compartments -- just the gas tank, which is less than 2 cubic feet in size (even on the big tractor he is driving). Given the solid quality and thick gauge steel of a John Deere, such a small explosion probably couldn't even disable the tractor, let alone threaten surrounding stone and steel buildings. The park police should just drag Dwight and his John Deere out of the pond, slap him on the wrist and get ready for the real enemies in our midst.

I don't mean to be frivolous at a deadly serious moment (well, actually, that is precisely what I mean to do -- if I don't laugh, I think I might cry -- or at least get moody). So on the Reader's Digest theory that laughter is the best medicine, I thought I ought to report on the war crises gripping Hollywood as the weekend approaches. This is Oscar weekend, and the war couldn't have come at a worse time for our Hollywood friends.

According to Variety, the bible of the movie industry, although the Academy Awards are still scheduled for live broadcast at 5:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, "The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this weekend will be going over its contingency plans." I didn't even know they had contingency plans. I don't suppose there are too many young, strapping, Hollywood matinee idols pulling their trusty shotguns down from the wall, or rushing to the recruiting office or joining their reserve units.

According to Variety, "Everyone is hoping for business as usual." (There's a surprise right there.) "But there are questions about contingency plans, such as whether the Kodak Theatre would be available at another date. ... Since the Oscarcast always has a ripple effect, a postponement would affect such things as travel arrangements (i.e. plane reservations, hotels, limos) for the participants and various audience members."

How inconvenient! In case of war, the Hollywood patriots are worried about being able to re-schedule their limo reservations. In a crunch, couldn't they just drive themselves (or have one of their professional flunkies drive them) in their backup Mercedes S600s? But it gets worse for wartime Hollywood. According to Variety's survey of Hollywood war planning: "It's one thing to have a contingency plan for a TV broadcast of the ceremonies; it's another to have a backup arrangement for a party." Oh, well, yes, sure, that's a whole other matter. How can we expect them to reschedule an apres party? Just think of the inconveniences: ordering a fresh supply of cocaine, asking the jewelry stores to loan them the fancy jewelry again, rescheduling the five days of beauty parlor prep necessary to make them look prettier than they in fact are -- and that's just for the male actors.

Keep in mind, all this Hollywood consternation is over the (for them) agonizing question of whether it is appropriate to have a glittering celebration of movie entertainment at the exact moment that our soldiers will be fighting in their chem/bio/nuke suits against the enemy. Not mentioned in the Variety story is the, in my mind greater danger to Hollywood during the first days of war, of letting those beautifully bodied, but mentally and patriotically limited stars and starlets, go on worldwide television and open their precious little mouths.