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Shining On the Oscars Pays Dividends

Harvey Shine is a Hollywood tragedy. Back in the early 1950s, Shine starred in a series of ill-conceived television projects that left him permanently shrouded in obscurity while those around him were propelled to superstardom.

His first talk show, for example, was titled “Just Reds” and starred a young Lucille Ball as his sidekick and a young Dezi Arnaz as his orchestra leader. The show featured only guests with red hair but, since most television sets at the time were black-and-white, Shine was forced to call it quits after only one night. Ball and Arnaz, however, revamped the show without their luckless host and went on to make television history.

David Teitelbaum, on the other hand, is a Hollywood miracle.

Dressed in a tuxedo, armed with a microphone and video camera and posing as this fictional persona Harvey Shine, Teitelbaum and two fellow film students at CalArts in Valencia crashed the Academy Awards last year and began interviewing the stars as they paraded into the Shrine Auditorium. And practically before he could click his heels together and say, “there’s no place like home,” Teitelbaum was on his way to becoming one of those stars himself.

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The comic video that resulted from the CalArts gang’s chutzpah and hilarious improvisation resulted in a flattering article in The Times last April, which in turn landed them on “The Tonight Show” and catapulted Teitelbaum, Lana Turner-style, into the world of show business. Within days, he was forced to take his phone off the hook to escape the flood of calls from agents and producers hoping to take a meeting with him to discuss his ideas for screenplays and television series.

Since then, Teitelbaum, 29, has starred in a pilot for the Fox Broadcasting Co. and is working on a series of short films for cable television’s The Movie Channel, starring himself as Harvey Shine.

On Wednesday, this time with proper credentials, Teitelbaum, as Shine, will be back alongside the red carpet at the 61st annual Academy Awards, grilling the stars for a half-hour Movie Channel special scheduled to air next month.

Harvey Shine, Teitelbaum notes, is no Mary Hart.

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“Harvey is a character who is directly responsible for the careers of all our classic comedians, but he has never gotten the credit for it,” Teitelbaum said. “He’s not bitter about it, he just goes around telling stories and anecdotes about working with everyone that he runs into.”

In the video made at last year’s Academy Awards, “Dirty Dancing’s” Patrick Swayze was seen snubbing Teitelbaum and his microphone, prompting the long-faced interviewer to turn to the camera and say, “You know, Patrick and I were in dancing school together and today he doesn’t give me two cents.”

For his first Movie Channel piece, Teitelbaum infiltrated the swanky American Cinema Awards and surprised Clint Eastwood by asking how Francis the Talking Mule, with whom Eastwood had worked many years earlier, had been able to turn the pages in his script. Teitelbaum then went on to joke with a flabbergasted Milton Berle about Julio Iglesias’ “legendary career” in the American cinema.

“He doesn’t want to embarrass the stars,” Teitelbaum said about Shine, “but he likes to ask them questions that throw them off the track, that gets them out of their preplanned rap. The end result, I hope, is that you see a glimpse of the celebrity that you don’t ordinarily see. The humanness behind the icy veneer.”

These short films, called “Laugh Tracks,” are scheduled to run between features on The Movie Channel, starting next month. “They call it filler; I call it art,” Teitelbaum jokes. Each one chronicles the career of Harvey Shine, complete with archival footage of Shine’s fictional appearances on early television--a poor man’s replica of Woody Allen’s “Zelig.”

Teitelbaum, who was an art director at an ad agency in New York before coming West to pursue his film school dreams, said he is indebted to David Letterman and his man-on-the-street silly video pieces. But he owes his big break to fellow CalArts student Jack Saltzberg, who asked Teitelbaum to play the bogus Academy Awards interviewer just hours before the duo donned their tuxedos and hit the freeway last March.

“I didn’t expect to get in,” Teitelbaum remembered. “I just went because it was the unusual thing to do and I thought we could get a funny piece of videotape out of it that I could show my grandchildren someday. It came as a real shock, first that we were able to sneak in and then when the video got as much attention as it did.

“I suppose it is a dream come true,” said Teitelbaum, who split with Saltzberg and dropped out of CalArts to pursue his TV opportunities. “It was also overwhelming and a bit strange. All these people wanted to meet with me, but they weren’t quite sure why, and I wasn’t quite sure why.”

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Teitelbaum concedes that The Movie Channel shorts and the Fox pilot--called “Invasion of Privacy,” in which he tapes his impromptu encounters with real people on the street, in offices and at such events as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony--are not quite as lustrous as having his own talk show on NBC. But the levelheaded comedian, who aspires to play other characters besides Shine, is content to allow his acting career to evolve step by step.

“Somebody once told me that the speed of your demise in this business is equal to the rate of your climb,” Teitelbaum said. “I didn’t just want to be some overnight sensation and then that’s that. I also didn’t want to be someone who didn’t work and pay his dues. I may wish I was doing my own television series already, but I am getting an opportunity to develop this character and learn what works and what doesn’t. It allows me to make some mistakes on a smaller stage.”

Teitelbaum would not say what Shine planned for this year’s Academy Awards video, but he said he does expect there will be a lot less elbow room around the celebrity entrance to the Shrine this year.

“I recommend to all young people trying to get into show business to dress up like a news crew and crash the Academy Awards,” Teitelbaum said. “And I predict there will be hundreds of little bogus crews clamoring to get past the guards this time.”


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