Hardball may change but arrogance doesn't

You couldn't make this stuff up, and anyone thinking of doing the movie of the week will simply have to discard some salacious tidbits as just too much.

Leaving aside the tawdry tales of two-timing spouses and what not, the parade of testimony in the ongoing racketeering and wiretapping case against Anthony Pellicano and his cronies has exposed the darker side of Tinseltown business dealings.

Yes, Virginia, they do play hardball in Hollywood — though one would like to think that the bare-knuckle tactics that have surfaced during the prosecution's case have been quietly retired as the town grows ever more rigorously corporate, and folks more wary, if not more virtuous.

But then again the activities in question don't hark back more than five or six or seven years, so I'm doubting all that much has changed. To the mini-Pellicanos out there: However distracted by Homeland Security, the Feds do eventually pick up on these things, the strictly illegal ones anyway.

Most oft heard comments about the trial over lunch this week, sometimes from the same person: "It was a different era …" and "intimidation is part of the game here. Maybe it got out of hand in a few cases, but it's on the fringes … ."

In short, old Hollywood hands are not easily shocked, and most are, naturally, quick to disavow using themselves or dealing with folks who resort to dirty tricks. On the other hand, Michael Ovitz, Bert Fields and Brad Grey can hardly be thought of as on the fringe.

However short as folks' memories will be in this instance, the light shone on a number of testifying witnesses in this trial has been anything but flattering.

Just declaring, as Ovitz did in his testimony Wednesday, that he had "no idea" that Pellicano would illegally wiretap his targets or trail them or harass them, is hard to fathom about someone who for decades calculated his every business move, and apparently those of everybody else who mattered on Wilshire Boulevard.

"I assumed that whatever Pellicano did, he did legally," a composed Ovitz told the courtroom, seemingly thunderstruck that anyone would even posit such a question. "I never instructed him to do anything illegal," a position averred by a number of witnesses in the past six weeks.

Judging by how much the Web coverage of the proceedings is being clicked on, there are growing hordes of "prosumers" with an insatiable interest in Hollywood lore, especially of the lurid kind. A lot more now in fact than in the early years of the Internet when Heidi Fleiss and her little black book of Hollywood contacts made headlines in 1994.

Hearing former uber-agent Ovitz on the stand was as telling as a cautionary tale. Once arguably the most powerful person in Hollywood, he had by the turn of the millennium moved from kingpin status at CAA, through an exasperatingly ineffective stint at Disney, to setting up a company called AMG, which quickly began coming apart at the seam.

According to the audiotapes which are part of the trial he even thought his former partner at CAA Ron Meyer was one of the folks leaking critical information about his faltering firm to the press, most notably to New York Times reporter Berney Weinraub and Times freelancer Anita Busch (the latter a former editor-in-chief at The Hollywood Reporter).

Talk about paranoia. And like so many others on the stand before him, the arrogance of turning to whatever fixer, at whatever cost, just to get things fixed — no questions asked.

It should make us all a little less starry-eyed.