NEW YORK — You’d think Peter Bart might have had enough of Hollywood, considering he’s the editor in chief of the trade newspaper, Variety, a former studio executive and the co-host, with producer Peter Guber of “Shoot Out,” a film-related talk show on AMC. But somehow Bart found the stomach to write “Dangerous Company: Dark Tales from Tinseltown,” a book of interconnected short stories that revolve around characters living in a small neighborhood in Los Angeles: a prudish woman on the ratings board, an aging actress who gets too much Botox, an executive who comes out to his superiors with mixed results. It’s not the most flattering portrayal — characters play dirty tricks on each other and make cutting observations such as, “I’m embarrassed to be in Hollywood.”
But Bart, who based a handful of the characters on people he knows, insists that he feels only affection for his creations. “I don’t see them as nasty. I understand their foibles,” he explains during an interview in his suite at the Regency Hotel while in town to promote the book and to visit his New York office (the paper also puts out a Gotham edition.) “People in the entertainment business have egos and they certainly can be abrasive, but I feel sympathetic for them — they live in a difficult environment. The poor lady who has too much Botox and loses a role for it, I sort of understand her petulance. Would I want to be on a desert island with her? No.”
This story first appeared in the December 16, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Bart has written two novels — one about a Cuban-American family around the time of the Bay of Pigs and another about a Mormon family in Utah — but he’s never written fiction about the town he knows best. “I figured if I could understand Cubans and Mormons why not try to write about Hollywood?” He’s better known for his books that analyze the industry’s mechanics, including “The Gross,” which examined the summer films of 1998. But he sees “Dangerous Company” as an equally valuable source for young people interested in showbiz. “These are the kinds of people you’re going to encounter,” Bart explains. “So be prepared and get used to it.”
The industry, Bart says, has changed so much that his latest book was published by Miramax, a company his paper covers. But he insists it’s no conflict of interest and that Harvey Weinstein, who’s “got enough fish to fry,” had no involvement in the project. “Since this is my seventh book, I don’t exactly need favors to get a book published. Just about every publishing company has a movie outlet — you have to throw up your hands and say that’s the nature of the business today.” Variety also covered his book party in L.A., which attracted an “eclectic” crowd that included Outkast, Weinstein, Sting, Michael Eisner and Jayson Blair. “Isn’t that bizarre?” Bart muses about Blair’s presence. “I haven’t seen Michael Eisner and Harvey Weinstein in one room together in a long time. Do I penalize my own paper because it’s my book party?”
Though he got his start as a journalist at The New York Times, Bart spent 17 years working as “what is euphemistically called a movie executive,” he says. “And that’s enough.”
“We made movies selfishly — ones that we were looking forward to seeing.” Bart uses “The Godfather,” which cost $7 million, as an example. “That’s the cost of craft services on ‘Bad Boys 2.’ The nature of the gamble was trivial. You could take risks and enjoy it. I would not enjoy taking the risk knowing there’s a $150 million budget and another $60 million to open the picture. That’s instantly shriveling.”
Having edited Variety for almost 15 years, Bart has no intention of going back to making movies. “I’m part of the journalism business, really, and you have more control running a newspaper,” he says. Same with writing fiction. “A short story is something that’s nicely containable. No one is going to give you notes and no one is going to say, ‘God, it’s promising, but Jennifer Aniston is not available.’”