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Well Excuse <i> Me, </i> Mr. Crystal

Dear Mr. Crystal,

So nice seeing you again at the premiere of your new film, “City Slickers.” It certainly was your night; the audience applauded your name during the credits and roared at all of your jokes. The paparazzi cried “Billy! Billy! Billy, over here!” as you made your way up the red carpet to the Chinese theater.

So perhaps I was expecting a little too much when I approached you for a quote at the post-screening party later that night. Maybe you remember me. I was the one who said, “Excuse me, Mr. Crystal? I’m Jeannine Stein with the L. A. Times. . . .”

And before I could ask my one question for the one quote I needed, you replied, “Do I have to work now?”

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I suddenly had a flashback to July, 1989, at the premiere of “When Harry Met Sally,” when I asked you the same question and you replied, “I’m through working tonight.”

Although you grudgingly gave me a quote both times after I pretty much begged for one, I have to say I found your “Do-I-have-to-work-now?” response rather naive--or was it cynical?

After all, these were your film premieres. You were the star and executive producer of “City Slickers.” Both occasions were typical mega-hyped media events held for the sole purpose of selling the films. I was there, along with a few other reporters--at the invitation of the studio--to be the eyes and ears for readers who want to know what stars showed up, what they wore, what they said.

This was not an intimate private soiree for a few of your close friends. Photographers snapped pictures throughout the evening, and televison crews set up camp for their live remote shots. And none of us had the night off.

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I know, I know, you were exhausted from doing weeks of countless promotional interviews, talking to writers and appearing on talk shows answering witless questions about the state of comedy in Hollywood. You had to be funny, you had to be up, you had to sell.

So who can blame you for wanting one night off to be left alone, reveling in the knowledge that the picture was destined to make much more than chump change at the box office.

The thing of it is, Billy, you’ve been to enough of these things to know that a film premiere is work. If I had approached you at a restaurant or knocked on the door of your house demanding a quote, I could understand you being annoyed with me.

But let’s be honest. We all knew why we were at the film premiere.

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To be fair, you’re not the only celebrity who has played the I-don’t-want-to-work-now game. At the “Ghostbusters II” premiere, I approached Dan Aykroyd, one of the film’s stars, who uttered a variation: “I’m done working.” I wondered if there was a secret movie star time clock he had punched just minutes before that granted him a reprieve from giving quotes at media events.

And at the premiere of “Terminator 2" last week, a publicist accompanied me and a photographer as we sought out celebs to photograph. As we approached Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, the publicist turned to me and said, “You’re not going to want to talk to them, too, are you?” Nah, I just thought I’d get some quotes telepathically.

Don’t get me wrong--I like what I do for a living. But it is my job. I don’t go to a party and hang around the blini and caviar table for hours, schmoozing with Bruce and Demi and Julia and Meryl and Sly. Maybe once in a while we’d all rather be home in bed watching re-runs of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

At events like film premieres, the unstated relationship between the press and celebrities has drastically eroded over the years. Decades ago, the studios groomed stars to act civilly and answer reporters’ questions. Copping major attitude, spending the evening behind dark glasses surrounded by beefy bodyguards and punching photographers weren’t considered acceptable behavior.

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Even today, ask Kirk Douglas or Jimmy Stewart or Gene Kelly a question and they’ll smile and respond politely.

Not every contemporary star is guilty of un- mensch -like behavior; in fact, the majority of actors, directors, producers, writers, musicians and politicians understand their roles at media-heavy events.

It’s true that in Hollywood’s golden age there weren’t tabloid reporters digging through trash cans and photographers hanging from helicopters.

I know things have deteriorated on both sides. But today even publicists seem afraid of their own clients. While some will fulfill their roles as media liaisons and gladly arrange an introduction between a reporter and a celebrity, others point a shaky finger and mumble, “There he is. You’re on your own.” No employee wants to face the wrath of The Star Who Doesn’t Want to Be Bothered.

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Maybe at your next premiere I won’t tempt fate and simply not ask you for a quote. Because if I hear, “Am I working tonight?” one more time, I may answer, “Yes, Mr. Crystal, you are working tonight. Because I’m working tonight. And your fans are waiting to read about what you said at your premiere.”

Sincerely,

Jeannine Stein


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