Caught with his Worldwide Pants down

02Oct09

It’d be downright refreshing that international playboy and Jon & Kate Plus Eight paterfamilias Jon Gosselin is stepping in to end The Learning Channel’s exploitation of his children, if it didn’t have something to do with his estrangement from his wife, the subsequent truncation of the reality show’s name to Kate Plus Eight, and the possibility of his own spin-off, Jon Minus Income. The fact is, we don’t need Jon anymore. Lately, there seems to be a new story every day about a male celebrity exploiting the young people under his care.

First, actress Mackenzie Phillips came forward with claims of a decade-long incestuous relationship with her father, Mamas and the Papas bandleader John Phillips, thus casting his credentials as a papa into question. While naming her “Mackenzie” was bad enough, drugging and raping his own daughter on the eve of her wedding has got to be one of the very worst things he did, right up there with co-writing the lamented Beach Boys hit single “Kokomo”. Of course, he’s unlikely to be brought to justice for these crimes, since he’s dead.

Not so for director Roman Polanski, who was busted by Swiss police after decades of living on the lam after his conviction in the U.S. for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl, and now faces an extradition process that, though complicated, will nevertheless be easier than that of Phillips. To many, Polanski is a sympathetic figure. He’s suffered enough, they say; his mother died at the hands of the Nazis in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, died at the hands of the followers of Charles Manson (who is, oddly enough, also a Beach Boys collaborator, having co-written “Never Learn Not to Love” with Dennis Wilson). Besides, say Polanski’s fans, look at the love poetry of Martial, Juvenal, and Catullus, which prove pederasty to be an accepted part of Roman culture. It’s been thirty years, they say. Drop the charges. Forget it, Jake — it’s Chinatown. Of course, accused child-molester Michael Jackson had to wait until he was dead to receive this kind of public forgiveness, even though he was never actually convicted of any crime, unlike Polanski.

And of course, let’s not even talk about the rumours that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990. After all, even discussing the rumours that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990 only lends credence to the rumours that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990. There is, after all, no evidence to support these vile allegations, although this only makes it all the more baffling that Glenn Beck doesn’t deny raping and murdering a young girl in 1990.

In light of these unsavory stories, the David Letterman sex scandal would seem almost wholesome, if the words “David Letterman sex scandal” didn’t immediately conjure up cases of the heebie-jeebies. Though the show’s skits had always pointed to announcer Alan Kalter as the Late Show‘s resident sexual predator, this may have been deliberate misdirection, as the story broke yesterday that Dave had been the victim of attempted blackmail over his sexual involvement with members of his staff. Between this and the foiled plot to kidnap and ransom Letterman’s son, Harry, there’s potential for a list of the Top Ten Extortionists Targeting Dave.

An embarrassed-looking Letterman spoke frankly about the experience on last night’s episode, acknowledging the “creepy things” he’d been accused of doing. (Without getting into specifics, it’s pretty obvious that he likes to have Paul Shaffer watch. The question is, does Paul play that “No, no! NO! No, no, no-no-no-no!” song while it happens, or does he leave it to the girl?)

On the one hand, of course Letterman has had sex with women on his staff. He dated Late Night head writer Merrill Markoe for most of the 1980s, after all. On the other hand, his ‘fessing up on last night’s program to nailing other female staffers means he now has about a decade’s worth of intern jokes to take back.

Still, even without considering the horrifying rumours of a Jimmy Kimmel/Sarah Silverman sex tape, this is better than what’s been going on lately with the competition. (Conan: Hits head on set of late-night talk show. Letterman: Gets head on set of late-night talk show. Advantage: Dave.)

The astonishing revelation was that Dave’s blackmailer was deceased Nixon White House Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman. At least, it seemed at first that Letterman had been the victim of the dirty tricks often used against members of Nixon’s enemies list. The culprit was actually the similarly named Robert Halderman, a producer on 48 Hours, the CBS documentary/news program co-anchored by gruff, loose-cannon cop Nick Nolte and wisecracking convict Eddie Murphy.

Haldeman had lived with one of the women with whom Letterman had had a relationship, his assistant, Stephanie Birkitt. “He’s the best boss I’ve ever had,” says Birkitt in an old Entertainment Weekly story in which she talks about the time that he paid her $20 a slice to eat nine pieces of pizza. Of course, that’s not all Dave paid her to swallow.

For example, he also often paid her to swallow her pride and make stilted-but-entertaining appearances on the show. On the air, Letterman called Birkitt “Smitty”, and she called him “Mr. Carney”. In bed, that would be very strange pillow talk. While interviewing exiled Survivor contestants, she used to ask, “Did you see or touch any monkeys?” Now the grand jury is going to be asking her the same thing.

In the end, while it might be tough on his marriage, it’s hard to see how Haldeman thought that this gossip could have possibly damaged Letterman’s career. For one thing, it comes mostly as a relief to Dave’s fans that a man who’s had a quintuple bypass can still enjoy an active, vigorous sex life. If anything, it humanizes a performer who, in some moments, can come off cold, aloof, and even nasty — though this is what many like best about Dave.

And the candid, honest way that Dave addressed this personal situation last night recalls the time that his hero, Johnny Carson, looked straight into television cameras and called the National Enquirer a bunch of liars when the tabloid was reporting that his marriage was on the rocks. Of course, Johnny’s marriage actually was on the rocks, which is no surprise, since he was reputed to be a bit of a cold fish himself. But he would have been proud of Dave last night.



4 Responses to “Caught with his Worldwide Pants down”

  1. 1 hilly

    I felt horrible for Letterman, in that he was trying to make an honest and brave confession to — let’s face it — a bunch of strangers that seemed to think it was an elaborate Andy Kaufmanesque prank on them. I can’t really say that I hold a high opinion of him, but he was bluntly and refreshingly honest when he described himself as a huge mass of “Midwestern Lutheran guilt” who did less-than-wonderful things. Compare that kind of self-reflective insight to — um, really anyone else in the entertainment industry.

  2. I’ve been waiting for this write up man, what a week it has been.
    I was reading the papers these past couple of days (it’s almost a day slower here, in print) and I actually thought to myself that I can’t wait to read about all these incidents on your blog.

    I’ve not watched Dave’s confession myself but I think you pretty much just summed it all up and yes, him being cold, aloof and nasty is definitely what sells him most. While I won’t give him brownie points for only admitting to it in the face of a shakedown attempt, I still wouldn’t take anything away from him, an admission of guilt is good enough for me. I can’t say I like the way he over-laughs though during interviews, the climax of the joke has already left the room and he’s still guffawing.

    Polanski’s situation though?…hmm, I don’t know man, it’s like saying Stanley “Tookie” Williams should’ve been granted a stay of execution because he had already been reformed, was an anti-gang activist and had turned into an author of children’s fiction. Such an embarassing cop out. Maybe I’m insensitive but I certainly am having a hard time correlating the fact that his mother was killed by the Nazis and the Manson family slaying of his wife with the eventual rape of a 13 year old and why he should be exonerated because of his contribution to film. I’m all about Rosemary’s Baby but a felony’s a felony.

    Anywho, you’re a cavalcade of heightened diction arrangement sir. And an increasingly, effortlessly funny one to boot. “Caught with his Worldwide Pants down”, haha. If that doesn’t make anyone smirk, then they need to be checked for a pulse.

    Good day!

  3. I won’t give him brownie points for only admitting to it in the face of a shakedown attempt
    Why should he bother revealing this to the public if it didn’t have bigger implications? The only reason he came out with this story on his show was because he knew it’d find its way out one way or another… he felt it’d be better to have it come out on his own terms rather than sitting on pins and needles for weeks, months or maybe years, wondering if anyone was going to suddenly spill the beans about this whole complicated plot.

    I think Stephanie Burkett is rather attractive, actually. She’s witty and she handled Dave like a pro (on the air; and apparently off as well).

  4. 4 Scott

    I really like the way Dave has handled this. He hasn’t tried to deny whatever he could and make excuses for what he couldn’t the way that most people in the public eye do. His forthrightness also comes off like a big ‘fuck you’ to the extortionist. Hopefully he can work out the more difficult issue of dealing with the rest of it privately with his family just as well.


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