By Chris Ungar
"The Only Good Celebrity is a Dead Celebrity" was the catch-phrase at the Cineplex Odeon high atop the hill in Universal City where I used to work those many moons ago, (yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking; without those celebrities all us movie employees would be out of a job, but this is the kind of logic you get for $4.50 an hour). It was a slogan produced partially from poverty, partially from envy, but mostly from just plain grumping. Oh, I suppose it was understandable; not only did you have to deal with the general public, but here in LA you also have to deal with the theatre managers who think they're Hollywood directors; with the constant complaints that there isn't enough vegetarian food at the snack bar; with the projectionists who pull up in their porsches and ferraris while you're taping the zipper shut on your polyester pants. And then come the celebrities.
They were at the same time the biggest perk and the biggest hassle of the job. Let's face it, there isn't a theatre cashier out there who's paid enough to deal with the over-inflated ego of your average, pompous John Hillerman, so we had reason to complain. Yet we wouldn't hesitate to impress our friends by dropping the names of the celebrities we waited on that evening. And even though the interaction with the star usually amounted to nothing more than "That'll be (some ridiculous amount of money), enjoy the show," we always managed to make it sound as if we had bonded with that star on some deep, personal level. It was part of the fun of working at one of the premiere theatres in LA. But invariably you'd come across some egotistical windbag who would cause you to decide that Hollywood had no soul.
It never failed that some of the nicest people turned out to be the ones who are just so huge that you'd almost expect them to be jerks. Case in point: Bob Hope. Now, he didn't come out to the theatre too often, but you'd think he would expect the red carpet treatment when he did. Not so. The last time he showed up while I was still working there, he unhesitatingly took his place at the end of a long line and, while waiting, spent the time talking and joking with the others in line, even signing autographs. Now here's someone who could have gotten in free, with complimentary refreshments, great seats, passes to future shows, a foot massage, his pick of candy girls and a print of the film if he wanted it. But he didn't feel like he had to impress anyone. He was just out having a good time.
On the opposite side of the spectrum you have, for example, Danny Devito. Sure, he can play the part of the gruff, mean-spirited ogre, but he generally seems to come across in interviews as an okay guy. Well, if his actions at theatres are indicative of his personality as a whole, he's not. Fortunately, us cashiers never had to deal with him, 'cause he bypassed us entirely. He'd make a big production of sauntering up the front walk to the main doors, (to allow us nobodies to be awed by his presence, I suppose, although he never deigned to actually speak to any of us), cutting a path through whatever line happened to be in his way, and say (in a loud enough voice to be heard by those waiting) something to the effect of, "I'm Danny Devito. Open up the door and let me in." And he wasn't above arguing with the doorman if the manager didn't show up fast enough.
I suppose if you're a big enough fan, this would have some kind of impressive effect. But I've never quite understood why he (and people like him) feels that their status as actors means they should be accorded special privileges. He's a working stiff just like the rest of us, albeit his job is a bit more high profile and, some would say, glamorous. Of course, I suppose you can't blame him entirely, because the manager on duty would let him in, escort him to his seat and have an usher take his order and bring him his food, (ass-kissing is an art at the Cineplex). Devito probably figured, if it works, use it, regardless of how you have to treat other people. Does this make him evil? Should you boycott his movies? Terrorize his pets? Have him excommunicated? Of course not. But it's a good example of the kind of crap that theatre employees go through on a regular basis. As far as I'm concerned, people like those are like school on Sunday.
(One point in his favor, though. His ego seemed to be appeased by the managerial schmoozing, 'cause once he was in the theatre, we never received a single complaint about him. That alone is enough to put him one step above the non-stop talkers and food-throwers that regularly patronize the movies).
If I was interested enough to give advice to celebrity moviegoers, (or if anyone was interested in hearing it), it would be to cut the theatre workers some slack. They have to deal with all kinds of attitudes during their shift, and it's not like they're greatly compensated for it. Who knows? Maybe by being friendly, (or at least non-abrasive) you may be able to bring a small measure of cheer into what kind sometimes be an unbearably mind-numbing job.