In 2000, something astonishing happened to me.
I was running an insurance brokerage by day, setting up and servicing health, dental and disability plans for a book of clients in the private and public sectors, from around 5 to 5,000 employees. Off hours, I was writing screenplays.
For a hobby, I was doing okay. I'd sold a couple scripts, even seeing one, Blind Justice, go into production in 1992. As my very droll brother, Paul, once put it, "Not bad. Nobody's paid me a dime for playing a round of golf." (Now, to get an idea of just how droll Paul is, you need to imagine Robert Wagner in his prime, only an octave lower in his delivery)
I'd promised myself when I started writing that if I didn't achieve a very specific level of success with writing screenplays by the time I was 40, I'd hang it up and try something else. Novels, maybe. After all, everyone knows that show-business is is a young man's game, and nobody (except for Charles Durning, maybe) breaks in after 40.
In any case, things had dried up on the writing front, and I was coming up on four decades, so my promise to call it quits and hang up my spurs was fast-changing from an oh-yeah-whenever kind of thing into an uh-oh-looks-like-I'm-really-gonna-have-to-admit-I-failed thing.
Now here's the thing you need to know about us Knaufs. We are sore losers. We are tennis-racket-smashed-on-the-clay losers. We are take-all-my-fucking-chips-I'm-outta-here losers. We are fuck-you-and-your-stupid-hotel-on-Boardwalk-I'm-flipping-this-fucking-board losers.
Or, as my brother Paul puts it, "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser."
In any case, I decided to give myself a reprieve. Though I had spent literally thousands of hours honing my craft over the prior ten years, I'd spent maybe ten minutes marketing it. Rather than throwing in the towel, I decided to give it one more big shot. I decided to create a website on which to post all the first acts of all my unsold babies--sort of an online clearing house for writing samples.
When prompted to name it, I decided to go with "unmovies.com." That was, after all, what all my work was--well, at least most of it.
So up went the scripts and, cutting quickly to the chase, about a year later, I was meeting with a young producer, Robert Keghobad, to discuss developing Carnivale as the next TV project for his boss, director (and all-around terrific guy) Scott Winant.
I was now officially in The Belly of the Beast.
I should state right here that when I first started off on my Grand Hollywood Adventure, I was a socially left leaning, moderate fiscal conservative, proudly independent, ignoring party affiliations and casting my ballot for whoever I thought was best for--or, in any case, would do the least damage to--my beloved country.
Had I been born a generation earlier, I would have described myself as a Kennedy Democrat. As it was, I suppose the Libertarian tag might fit, but I've always borne a healthy suspicion of anything that smacks of an "ideology."
All that said, I was pretty much apolitical. The closest I came to studying issues was to pick up one of P.J. O'Rourke's books for a giggle or two. But then, I also got a kick out of Michael Moore's first film, Roger and Me. Politically, I was the proverbial wise-ass kid with a permanent seat in the rear of the classroom where I could safely heckle the nuns without collecting too many stripes across the back of my knuckles.
Then, on September 11th, 2001, everything changed.
I remember watching the collapse of the first tower and feeling--literally feeling the breath just leave my lungs, my chest filling with a terrible, ghastly void; a sense of distant screams in a windswept wasteland and loss loss loss oh my God all those people all those people they murdered all those thousands of people...
Though it was but seconds, it seemed minutes, many long minutes before I could draw a breath. I quietly excused myself and hurried to the bedroom to spare my young children the memory of seeing Daddy collapse helplessly into a series of horrified, aching, gut-wrenching sobs.
As soon as I'd composed myself, I rejoined my family. I really have no memory of the ensuing hours, only that my wife and I decided I should go to work, that we'd try to keep the kids calm by maintaining our normal schedules. Only God knew what the future held...
I was working my first network series gig as a staff writer on a show called Wolf Lake while Carnivale was in development at HBO.
Like every American that morning, I was greeted by coworkers in various states of shock, portable TVs turned to the news in all the offices. Over the days following the attack, like every American, I was approached by a number of colleagues who wished to vent and commiserate.
But unlike every American, my coworkers expressed little or no anger toward the terrorists who had committed this atrocity. Rather, they directed their vitriol towards American Imperialism, American foreign policy, American arrogance, American warmongering, American racism and, most of all, our American President, the evil, unfathomably stupid, idiot-Christian, bumbling Texan oaf, George W. Bush.
And what did I say?
Not a damn thing.
I was just shocked silent. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
Were these people crazy?
At one point, one of my fellow writers must've noticed that I wasn't expressing my state-mandated, required ration of Bush-hatred, and confronted me like some rabid Dominican at the height of the Spanish Inquisition,
"So what do you think?" she hissed, eyes narrowed, scrutinizing me, as if vetting me for any possible variance from the accepted party ideology, "What would you do if you were the President?"
"If I was President, I would make a speech before a joint session of Congress, demanding that Bin Laden be delivered within 48 hours to the steps of the White House--alive, dead or just his fucking head in a burlap bag, I don't care. If not, then I suggest that all you assholes in Kabul lather up with some SPF 5,000, strap on some welding goggles and take a gander to the East, because we're gonna fire a little 400 kiloton shot over the bow, so to speak. And that's where the sun's gonna rise--out there just East of your capitol, in a relatively uninhabited patch of shit you call a country. Let's call that a preview of coming attractions, shall we? Because if another 24 hours passes after the deployment of our first missile, and I'm not trading bon-mots with your boy's head here in the Oval Office, we will fire another, and this time it will be targeted to explode, oh, about 200 meters above the center of the rat-hole you call a capitol. Which is why I'm really, really glad that I'm not the President, because I'm pissed-off crazy as Hell."
Actually, I didn't say that.
Well... not all of it.
What I actually said, after a bit of hemming and hawing and averting of the eyes, was, "I'm just really, really glad that I'm not the President, because I don't know what I'd do."
(NOTE: Deliver the above in a Goofy uh-huh-yuk-yuk dopey-aww-shucks drawl to appreciate the full "Who, Me? No Ma'am!" gutlessness inherent in the speaker.)
She glared at me for a moment, as if attempting to x-ray my soul to determine whether I was a fellow-traveler, or something... else. Finally, she walked out to go write a check to PETA or shit herself over Global Warming or something. I was, for the moment anyway, safe.
Over the ensuing years, I continued to remain silent whenever confronted by the toxic, batshit-crazy, knee-jerk, anti-intellectual, when-in-doubt-blame-America Leftism that pervades Hollywood. I saw what happened to others if they spoke up or disagreed with the party line. I actually witnessed one writer, who foolishly expressed his support for the war in Iraq, set-upon and viciously berated by no less than six crew-members for almost 20 minutes straight.
That night, he found his car had been keyed in our secure lot.
Hmm... must've been a random vandal.
Incidentally, though he had a storied career, an amazing list of credits and is one of the most versatile, talented writer-producers I know, the jobs gradually dried up for him and now he can't, as they say, get arrested in this town.
Toadies in the MSM assert that there is no Blacklist in Hollywood.
And they're right.
It's not necessary because Hollywood is a very, very small, very, very ruthless town, where a few key words spoken in the right ears can absolutely wreck a career--code-words like "difficult," "high-maintenance" and "uneven." When you can obliterate a fellow professional with a few well-chosen phrases, why maintain something as crude and inelegant as a Blacklist?
How dare anyone even suggest that there's a Blacklist against conservative artists and performers?
Blacklists are for mouth-breathers.
Blacklists are for knuckle-draggers.
Blacklists are so... so... Republican.
And so I kept my mouth shut. And a funny thing happened: The longer I was forced to withhold my opinions and beliefs, the brighter they burned in me. Funny. Oppression has a way of doing that to the oppressed.
Ask any Soviet defector...
For years, I bit my tongue, nodding and making non-committal sounds while listening to the most virulently noxious Leftist spew imaginable: Explicit rape-murder fantasies directed toward Palin, Coulter, Malkin and Ingraham; blithely expressed wishes of cancer, assassination and mutilation of Bush, Cheney and Limbaugh; the snide denigration of "civilians" (i.e. anyone not in the entertainment business) in the "flyover states" (i.e. everywhere except New York and east of the Golden State Freeway--Pasadena, for instance is a "flyover state"); and, of course, the endless venomous, profanity-laced screeds against the Tea Party.
Even more shocking was the rampant hypocrisy, the endemic corruption, the casual thievery--from producers ordering custom built doors and windows for their homes from the construction department, to having their Beemers and Benzos topped daily with gas by transpo. All on the studio dime.
Meanwhile, any actress, female writer or exec can tell you that the Casting Couch is alive and well in contemporary Hollywood. And it's absolutely fascinating just how many male producers and execs time their set-visits to coincide with nude-scenes...
And forget about "diversity."
Visit a set, and you can't help but notice that the overwhelming majority of the crew is male and white. It's even worse above the line. Any bank, chain restaurant or box-store that exercised such brazenly monochromatic patterns of hire would have been sued and fined into oblivion decades ago.
And, by the way, it helps to be under 40. Or look under 40. Or at least affect the breathlessly chatty verbal affect of a 17 year old, Ritalin-amped high-school kid.
And through it all, I kept my head down. Every day, I grew more disgusted by my cowardice. But the most intolerable aspect of living under a self-imposed gag order by far was the loneliness, alienation and isolation.
Then I met Andrew Breitbart.
Andrew introduced me to others--lots of others--in the industry who shared my belief in the exquisite beauty of the American Constitution, my love for this country and my firm conviction in its exceptionalism.
Not dozens of people, mind you. Not even hundreds.
There are thousands of us.
But there are tens of thousands of them.
So we keep a low profile, quietly taking heart when the Gary Sinises, the Patricia Heatons, the Lionel Chetwynds, the Adam Baldwins achieve a degree of success so solid, so bulletproof, that they can step out into the light and openly express their opinions without fear of crippling reprisal from the Trolls. Not that they don't pay a price--imagine how much more famous and wealthy each would be if they were strident Liberals.
And God help them if they stumble in their personal lives. Safety-nets and PR shields are strictly reserved for the Obama-Loving-Fur-Is-Murder-Christians-Are-Evil-Bush-Lied-Truther-OWS-Fuck-the-Teabaggers set (if you don't believe me, compare and contrast: Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson).
I only met Andrew three or four times.
The last time we communicated, it was through Twitter. I publicly wished him a Happy Birthday. In subsequent DMs, I joked about him "dragging another Hollywood guy out of the closet." Misunderstanding me, his reply was one of concern for my professional welfare. I assured him that I was just kidding and signed off.
When he died, my first thought was, "Oh my God. What're we gonna do now?"
We are in the middle of a War of Ideas. At stake is nothing less than the principles of inalienable rights and freedom upon which the United States was founded.
And Andrew Breitbart is dead.
Since the Wilson Administration, the Socialist Left has sustained a slow, inexorable push toward a Big Government, by the Government, for the Government, by transforming a once-free people into a whining, needy nation of suckling dependents.
And Andrew Breitbart is dead.
Corrupt European and Canadian socialism is touted as a shining exemplar. Hustlers, gold-brickers, union thugs and corporate moochers have hijacked the system. Half of us pay no tax at all. The other half pays more onerous rates than those levied by Medieval Lords on their serfs.
And Andrew Breitbart is dead.
A seated President is openly demonizing our best and brightest, stoking the embers of class-envy, courting mob violence and racial animus, ruling by fiat, bypassing Congress, brazenly defying court orders, and publicly expressing admiration for the "efficiency" of totalitarianism.
And Andrew Breitbart is dead.
Such were my thoughts last night as I was having a quiet drink at the Huntington Langham Hotel. I saw the hashtag thread #IAmAndrewBreitbart and drew some cheer from it. I mentally debated whether to add to the thread and thought, "Ahh, to hell with it. One tweet. Nobody'll even notice."
Besides, I had no choice. The tag was a play on the signature line from Spartacus, and I was a writer-producer on the first season of Sparatcus: Blood and Sand. It seemed preordained.
And thusly I tweeped:
"I wrote Spartacus, and #IAmAndrewBreitbart"
I got a response. Clever stuff. Typically mindless Leftist-style zombie-chant:
"HE LIED AND HE DIED HE LIED AND HE DIED HE LIED AND HE DIED HE LIED AND HE DIED HE LIED AND HE DIED HE LIED AND HE DIED HE LIED AND HE DIED HE LIED AND HE DIED HE LIED AND HE DIED HE LIED AND HE DIEDHE LIED AND HE DIED"
Stupid stuff. A bullshit schoolyard taunt designed to get a rise out of me. Wouldn't have phased me any other night.
But last night, something snapped.
12 years of silence. 12 years of cowardice. 12 years of humiliating self-censorship. 12 years of hiding what I think, who I am and what I believe in order to protect my livelihood.
And Andrew Breitbart is dead.
It all just started bleeding out of me, white hot, 140 characters at a time. All my rage. All my indignation. Like the jetting pulse from a slashed carotid, for the whole world to see.
Then came the emails. And the Follows. 1,000 in about an hour. My jaws clenched, tears blurred my vision as I typed (as they blur them now as I type): My hero is dead. Andrew Breitbart is dead.
Long live Andrew Breitbart.