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Jewish World Review April 6, 2001/ 13 Nissan, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

That pill, Julia Roberts -- ALL you Diana worshipers, Oprah book club fans and other members of the sheepish flock of celebrity groupies, avert your eyes. You are about to delve into an analysis of that pretty woman, Julia Roberts. Lest you hurl your Ultra Slim-Fast can my way or roll up your People magazine to beat me about the head and shoulders, go no further, gentle pop culturalists, if Julia plucks the strings of your heart.

There was a time when I was rooting for Julia. That inexplicable marriage to Lyle Lovett was evidence of unsuspected depth. There had not been such an odd couple since Miss Vickie and Tiny Tim. Marrying the quirky Lovett was an act of defiance against the tide, er, tsunami, of Hollywood's obsession with physical perfection. It was quite simply charming and sent her fans into months of speculation, which is about how long the marriage lasted.

Julia then moved from beau to beau about as often as she had her lips enhanced with collagen. Hamsters spend more time in courtship than Julia. Then the apolitical sweetheart with the multi-million dollar smile took on the Republicans and labeled them Cro-Magnons. J-Ro's Oscar hung in the balance. What better way to convince Hollywood's liposuctioned Marxists of your worthiness than dissing Republicans?

But it was her Oscar acceptance speech in which she sputtered, spurted and slighted the woman who got her to the party, Erin Brockovich, that has made me a non-fan. She gave us 240 seconds of rambling and Arsenio Hall cheers. She said it might be her only chance. Why not brevity then? What of memorable words? I've seen sergeants-at-arms assessing $5 penalties at Rotary give more moving speeches.

Julia's Oscar speech consigns her to the vast parched land of modern day stardom. There is no mask of dignity. There is only amorality clothed in the claimed honor of liberal political views. Julia is not the first star with political views, but she once had the good sense to keep them quiet. Nor is she the first actress to dupe the world with the feigned intelligence of her roles. But the others had the good sense to keep quiet and allow the illusion to continue.


But, you say, when they write the book on savvy Hollywood actresses, they will tout Julia as the businesswoman who broke the gender salary barriers. Feminists' revisionist history aside, Julia's conquest of the alleged Hollywood disparity is small potatoes when compared with women who came before her.

Mary Pickford was one impressive Hollywood broad. She began as a bit player, rose to stardom, and then, perhaps more importantly for those who believe the fairer sex is also the downtrodden one in Hollywood, finished as a mogul. Born in 1898, by 1919, Pickford had founded United Artists. With Charlie Chaplain, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffeths, she wielded knowledge and power in making deals. She didn't gush.

Joan Crawford told the Pepsi board who was in charge when her husband and its CEO, Al Steele, passed away. They needed her endorsement, she wanted their money and the once-Mildred Pierce conquered even non-Hollywood business folk.

Just weeks before Julia's victory babble, Ann Sothern, a heck of an actress and even better businesswoman, passed away at 92 She was the queen of the "B" movie in her day and then moved on to two successful television shows. She was the star of "Private Secretary," a highly successful TV sitcom that ran from 1953-57. She insisted that her series be filmed so that when she left that popular role of Susie McNamera (an act of defiance against a producer who told her she couldn't do films at the same time), she was able to sell the series for over $1 million. "The Ann Sothern Show," another successful series, was sold in 1989 to Nick-at-Nite. Wheeling, dealing and leaving producers reeling, Ann Sothern never found a Hollywood barrier she couldn't break.

Lucille Ball founded her own production company, owned her own series right through to syndication and many happy reruns with accompanying returns, and even found her way out of a bad marriage to even more earning power. Women's studies' folklore has it that Julia is the first to shatter the Hollywood glass ceiling. It is delicious irony that the women's movement touts an inarticulate gusher as example for women. Women who came before Julia had more business savvy as well as quiet dignity. Julia Roberts sacrificed both on Oscar night at the altar of ego.

Once again, the ditzy broad emerges as the role model. That acceptance speech brought tumbling in a profile not much different from the life of the unacknowledged Erin B. who got Julia there. Rather than an elegant woman wearing vintage Valentino, Julia morphed into her underlying character, the one with all the taste of a partially displayed leopard-patterned push-up bra, the enduring grace of a foul mouth, and the fleeting morality of more husbands and boyfriends than hair colors. Hail, Julia, queen of all that is shallow.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings