Print

The following article by Dan Gifford — with a long excerpt from an email I sent him on May 3, 2010 — appeared yesterday on the website Andrew Breitbart Presents Big Hollywood.

Dan Gifford
Dan Gifford

The writer — Dan Gifford — has won the prestigious top Emmy for Outstanding Investigative Reporting, the International Documentary Association’s top award, and has been nominated for an Oscar, among other honors. He also acts and writes.

In a prior career, he was an investigative reporter who exposed organized crime, official corruption, and financial fraud for such news organizations as The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, ABC News, and CNN. MacNeil/Lehrer credited him with being the first to reveal the looting and lying by criminals and government officials that destroyed so many banks and savings and loans during the 80s. The Houston Chronicle had this to say:

Gifford is one of the few reporters who understands how banks get plundered, how takeover predators destroy companies and how Wall Street crooks manipulate the markets. He can draw blood with a financial statement and the powers that be don’t like it.

Dan began his broadcast career while a high school student in 1965 Baltimore as a newspaper newsman, radio reporter, and disc jockey.

As an actor, Dan has appeared in well-known feature films like Contact, Mad City, and Malcolm X. His TV credits include Tom Clancey’s Net Force, The X Files, The Practice, and Mr. Show.

In his producer capacity, he has helmed Waco: The Rules of Engagement (government mass murder), The Hungry Bachelors Club starring CSI’s Jorja Fox (miscegenation), and The Jaundiced Eye (homophobic false child abuse hysteria) to critical acclaim.

New York Press on Waco: The Rules of Engagement: “It is easily the most important American documentary of the past decade.”

Variety on The Jaundiced Eye: “Gifford should be congratulated for taking on unpopular subjects for which the mainstream press has no stomach or honesty.”

A native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Dan attended school at Lynchburg’s Virginia Episcopal School, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, The Peabody Conservatory of Music and The Johns Hopkins University.

Dan served on the board of directors of the ACLU of Southern California for five years.

I’ll have an update and some additional thoughts of my own following Dan’s article. — JNS

That’s the affirmative answer to “Is there a Hollywood Blacklist?” recently posed here by Gary Graham.

It exists as certainly as political correctness and passive aggressiveness in Hollywood exist, and you know that it abounds and destroys the talented who take umbrage at George Bush jokes from the subtext of the parting “thank you for coming in” to the silence of the phone that follows.

The Black List

But today’s blacklist is different from the one publicly posted by anti-communists during the 50s. This one resides in the like-minded whispers of the leftist candor cowards who took over Hollywood’s power positions during the 60s. And it doesn’t just embrace conservatives. Even liberals can find themselves on it for an act of political indiscretion. Think what you will about that 50s list, at least it was posted openly by men. The current one is hypocritically hissed in secret by boys who need accoutrement bodyguards to visit the men’s room.

You know who you are.

I first heard about the consequences of crossing Hollywood’s prevailing liberal orthodoxy from the late film and TV director Alex Grasshoff.

Alex Grasshoff
Alex Grasshoff

His wife, Madilyn, had invited me to a birthday party at their Mulholland home where I had a chance to talk with him at length. Grasshoff was nominated for Oscars three times. When he finally won, he and his wife were so elated that they slept with the statue the first night. But the high was short lived. A few days later, Grasshoff became the first and only person to date to have the Academy take back a winner’s Oscar. His film was shown in a theater just before the official award year so it did not qualify for consideration.

That experience was a killer, Grasshoff, told me, but it was nothing compared to losing many of his best friends and Hollywood standing after he produced “The Nixon Years: Change Without Chaos.” It’s a short Republican National Committee re-election blurb that Grasshoff said was just a job he’d been hired to do that isn’t even listed among his credits. But that didn’t matter to the blacklisters. Grasshoff had aided the Republican dark side and the price was the shun and the Hollywood cold shoulder started immediately, he said.

Lifelong friends no longer called and they did not return calls. Neither did they extend social invitations or accept his. Work was more nuanced. He got some gigs directing episodes of TV series like “CHiPs” and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” but he had to beg for it and work cheap, he said. Meanwhile his big screen projects were politely dropped into those well known black holes after he was thanked for coming in — if he could get in at all. Cynical me had doubts the repercussions could have been all that bad, but Grasshoff’s story was corroborated to me several times during later years. One of those was still livid that Grasshoff had betrayed his talent and “his people.”

Writer, director Neil Schulman understands.

J. Neil Schulman
J. Neil Schulman

He says he was set to write an episode or more of the top rated “LA Law” series before penning an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times that the LAL people considered the epitome of political incorrectness. I first heard about this from Roger Lowenstein, a fellow ACLU Foundation board member, former trial lawyer who helped defend the Chicago 7 and LAL writer at an ACLU gathering in his Hancock Park home.

Roger Lowenstein
Roger Lowenstein

He mentioned no names, only that a promising young writer LAL was banking on had turned out to be a right-wing crazy and had been dropped and the word put out. They at LAL were all very “disappointed” I recall him saying. It wasn’t until several years later when I heard Neil tell his LAL experience story during a speech that it dawned on me that he was the great writing hope Lowenstein and the others had 86′ed.

But Neil is capable of telling his own story:

—–

In December 1991 I had a phone conversation with Alan Brennert, who as a producer on CBS’s The Twilight Zone had bought two scripts from me, including “Profile in Silver,” which was produced and aired on March 7, 1986.

Alan Brennert
Alan Brennert

In December 1991 Alan was now Supervising Producer on LA Law. In the conversation Alan told me they were running short of “A” stories for the series — the “courtroom” stories. The “B” and “C” stories were ongoing personal stories involving the regular characters.

Over the next two weeks I faxed Alan a dozen one- or two-line descriptions for stories. I remember one of my proposed stories was about conjoined twins, one of whom was suing the other to prevent the highly-risky operation to separate them. Another was a story of a boy who had been kidnapped and raised by another family as a baby, recently returned to his birth family, who was suing to remain with the family that had raised him. (This plot idea was later used in the 1999 movie “The Deep End of the Ocean” based on the 1996 first novel by Jacquelyn Mitchard, and starring LA Law executive producer David E. Kelley’s wife, Michelle Pfeiffer, but Alan Brennert told me Kelley had quit working in the LA Law offices as a producer in May 1991, six months before my submission. Kelley’s IMDb credits confirm this.)

After receiving this dozen story ideas from me, Alan told me the producing staff was thrilled with my submissions, and that about half of them were ideas that they hadn’t already done and were one’s worth doing. He said something to the effect that I was saving them. Since we were so close to the holidays nothing was going to happen until after the first of the year, but he assured me that he’d be bringing me in to discuss a script assignment in January, 1992.

(Some personal background here. In December 1991 my wife Kate and I were on the verge of a divorce. My last published book had come out hardcover in 1983 and my last book sales — paperback reprints of my two novels — had been in 1986 and 1987. My last sale to television had been at the end of 1986, a development deal for a TV movie for CBS that died with the six-month-long 1987 WGA strike. Kate and I had moved to Southern California from Jersey City in 1989 so I could pursue more TV and film work because I wasn’t getting any benefit from being near to New York book publishers, and in December 1991 we were working as apartment managers in Venice and our daughter Soleil was six-months old. Money was extremely tight and I was receiving financial help from my parents. There were a number of issues between us, but my lack of employment in my profession — and stress on our relationship due to lack of money — were certainly big ones. I was still in love with Kate and asked for us to attend marital counseling, which we did for the next few months. I have always believed if I’d gotten the LA Law writing job I might have been able to save my marriage. As it was, we were divorced in 1992 and raised our daughter living at two different addresses.)

On January 1, 1992, my first Op-Ed sale to the Los Angeles Times was published. It was titled “A Massacre We Didn’t Hear About.” It’s reprinted in my 1993 book Stopping Power: Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns — currently being serialized on my blog J. Neil Schulman @ Rational Review.

That afternoon — Wednesday, January 1, 1992 — Alan Brennert was holding a New Year’s celebration at his house. I attended along with many of Alan’s other friends, and this included producers and writing staff from LA Law. Many of them had read my Op-Ed in that day’s Los Angeles Times, and many of them wanted to argue with me about it, whether or not I wanted to. But I was on the spot and some of them wanted to cut me a new asshole.

A couple of weeks went by and I’d been eagerly awaiting a call from Alan to come in to the LA Law offices for the meeting he’d told me they wanted to have with me. When the call never came I phoned Alan. Alan told me that they’d decided to go in another direction with the show, and wouldn’t be needing “A” courtroom stories, so there was no reason for me to come in.

That was the last I ever heard about it from Alan; but I will also say that after that January 1, 1992 party I was never again invited to Alan’s house for another social occasion with any of his other friends and industry colleagues — and Alan never again made any attempt to hire me on any show he worked staff on.

I concluded that I’d been blacklisted but I had no proof until I briefly told this story (omitting the name of the TV show and Alan’s name) at the Liberty Film Festival where Dan Gifford was on the Blacklisting panel, and came up to me afterwards to ask me if the show I was talking about was LA Law.”

—–

And that is the way it passive aggressively goes when faded to Hollywood noir.

There’s no place to go in Tinseltown for proof of a blacklisting, as Gary Graham noted, unless you happen to be connected to the whisper network. I was for a time before committing crimes of political impertinence and still know stories I may yet tell when given permission. But for now, I must deduce new evidence of blacklisting like the rest of the disconnected from the stymied and broken careers of talented people who openly question or somehow run afoul of our dominant liberal litany.

–Dan Gifford


Addendum by J. Neil Schulman:

So, reluctantly, I emailed Dan’s article today to Alan Brennert.

Alan told me he doesn’t believe I was blacklisted, doesn’t remember reading my LA Times Op-Ed, doesn’t remember the argument about my Op-Ed at his party, and doesn’t remember telling me in December 1991 that the L.A. Law producing staff — who were desperate for “A” stories — new courtroom stories — loved my story ideas and that I’d be brought for a script assignment on one of the stories in the New Year.

Alan’s recollection — conveyed to me in emails yesterday — was that L.A. Law executive producer Patricia Green told him in January that she didn’t like any of my ideas, didn’t want to bring in any free-lancers, and that’s all there was to it. Oh, yeah. I stopped getting invited to his house for parties with other writers and producers because his wife felt like an outsider at these parties, so they stopped throwing them.

Here’s what I emailed Alan in reply:

Look, I don’t blame you for not having as clear a memory of these events as I do. It was 18 years ago. But I assure you I have a crystal clear memory of these events because at the time they were the most important things going on in my life. My career was at stake. My marriage was at stake. I was hanging on every word you said to me. I hadn’t had a job in TV since a movie treatment sold to McDermott Entertainment in 1987 that died during the WGA strike; a script sale to L.A. Law would have changed my life. So I’m not going to forget your phone call to me in December 1991 when you told me how much the producing staff liked my story ideas. I have it burned into my memory for life that you told me you were out of “A” stories and I was saving your ass. There’s no way on earth that I would make a mistake about your telling me that I would be brought in to the offices in January to discuss what you told me at the time would be a script assignment on one of these stories.

And I’m damn well not going to forget three of the L.A. Law writers (no I don’t remember their names) chewing me out loudly at your January 1, 1992 party about my LA Times Op-Ed published that same day — “A Massacre We Didn’t Hear About” that apparently everyone at your party, including you, had read, hated, and wanted to give me shit about. …

But rely on these facts. In December 1991 you told me “the staff” loved my ideas. I don’t know whether that included Pat Green or not. But you told me they all wanted me to come in after the 1st of the new year.

Then I waited, and waited, and waited, and you never called me to come in — and when I finally called you around the middle of January you told me LA Law didn’t need A stories any more and the show was going “in another direction.”

You never told me there was any problem with bringing in free-lance writers; quite to the contrary, you told me the producers were desperate for a free-lancer to bring in fresh A-story ideas — courtroom ideas.

Do I consider that you were part of a conspiracy to blacklist me? No, sir.

Did I know what you knew and when you knew it? Not a clue.

Did I think you were my friend trying to do the best for me that you could? Absolutely.

So I have my recollection and Alan Brennert has his.

Why does any of this matter, almost two decades later? Why is a story of a free-lance TV writer with only one produced script even worth bothering about?

It matters to me, because I haven’t sold a script to television or to a movie production company since 1985, and I know it has nothing to do with my not being a good enough writer.

It matters still more to me because I’m still trying to get my movie scripts produced and my already-produced movie distributed, and I’m still running into brick walls.

It matters to writers and producers who, like me, are out of the business because the people doing the hiring don’t like our politics.

It matters to you because you don’t know what you’re missing, and if you don’t like the political spin of the stories you see in network TV and studio movies, testimony like mine gives you the reason.

If you haven’t seen a TV series where big businessmen are good guys, now you know why.

If you haven’t seen an episode of a TV series, or a movie, where a private citizen with a gun stops a terrorist cell, now you know why.

If you haven’t seen a movie where Osama bin Laden is the bad guy and Americans are the good guys, now you know why.

If you haven’t seen a movie or TV series where Mao Ze Dong or Fidel Castro or Che Guevara were shown as the mass-murdering scumbags they were, or a movie about the Vietnam War (I like to call it the SovietNam War) where the baby-killers worked for Ho Chi Minh, now you know why.

If you haven’t seen a TV show or studio movie about how the scientists claiming global warming falsified their data in collusion with power-hungry politicians to create a multi-trillion-dollar economy-crippling scam that makes Bernie Madoff look like a pickpocket by comparison, now you know why.

If you have a hard time finding a movie where there are even clearly defined good guys and bad guys, now you know why.

–JNS, May 17, 2010, edited May 18, 2010


Update May 18, 2010: I phoned Roger Lowenstein today to get his recollections of these events. He has none. When I emailed him a link to Dan’s article, Lowenstein posted the following comment:

dan gifford has a wild imagination. nothing of what he said ever occurred. roger lowenstein

To which I posted the following comment immediately following:

Here’s what I know.

In December 1991 Alan Brennert told me the L.A. Law producers loved my story ideas and that I’d be brought in after the first of the new year for a script assignment.

On January 1, 1992 the Los Angeles Times published my Op-Ed article “A Massacre We Didn’t Hear About,” which told of a private citizen with a license to carry a concealed handgun saving a Shoney’s Restaurant full of people in Alabama from armed robbers (one of whom had already committed a murder) several months after the massacre of unarmed patrons at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas.

At a party at Alan Brennert’s on January 1, 1992, L.A. Law writing/producing staff argued with me about my Op-Ed.

Alan Brennert never called me to come in to L.A. Law for a meeting and when I phoned him he told me they’d decided to go “in another direction.”

We jump forward to a panel on Blacklisting at the Liberty Film Festival, where during Q&A I told this story for the first time without mentioning the name of the show or any of the personnel involved. At the end of the panel Dan Gifford came up to me and asked me if the show I was talking about was L.A. Law.

This means that Dan Gifford had an independent source other than me for knowing about these events.

Both Alan Brennert and Roger Lowenstein deny these events ever happened.

But if that’s the case, how did Dan Gifford know about them?

J. Neil Schulman

Alan Brennert phoned me today, to clarify his recollections. He told me that in January, 1992, executive producer Patricia Green left L.A. Law, and the show’s co-creator, Steven Bocho, took over as showrunner for the remainder of the season. So I wasn’t brought in because no new freelancers were being brought in.

Plausible — but only assuming that all three scripts with free-lance credits on them that aired for the remainder of L.A. Law Season 6 — through May 21, 1992 — were assigned to free-lancers before Pat Green left the show in January 1992.

Alan also theorized that someone at his party said something to Roger Lowenstein about my being a “gun nut,” and Lowenstein misinterpreted it as the reason I didn’t get the writing assignment — and simply doesn’t remember having what would have been trivial party gossip with Dan Gifford.

It’s also plausible. Figuring out who said what to whom eighteen years ago is trying to unearth a very cold case.

But since I know there were people in the business who liked my script for The Twilight Zone, that leaves me with just one more question:

Why was I never again given the chance to pitch to network television? — JNS

#


Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

Bookmark and Share
Print