Liz Smith: Mel Gibson in ‘The Beaver’ — If Only He Had A Hand Puppet in Real Life!

And more from our Liz: Katy Perry’s “diva demands” — there’s nothing new under the sun

“Hello, darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again.”

Those are the famous opening lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”

It is a haunting song — with many interpretations — and I was reminded of it while watching Mel Gibson’s new movie, “The Beaver.” This is the tale of a desperately depressed middle-aged man who retreats so far from reality and conventional therapy that he comes to use a hand-puppet — a beaver — to communicate with his wife, his children and his workplace. It only sounds funny. In fact, it is a fairly dark film, and so appropriate for Mr. Gibson.

Mel has been welcoming darkness for a long time; a hugely conflicted man who struggles with his religion, his drinking, issues of bigotry, his belief in family, the role of women in his life and in the next world, even. (He had despaired that his ex-wife Robyn would not be with him in Heaven because she does not believe the rigorous form of Catholicism that gives Mel … very little comfort, actually!)

There’s always been something manic and tragic behind Mel’s intensely blue eyes, and as the years have rolled on, he has tortured himself relentlessly onscreen; no beating, gutting, whipping, kidnapped or killed children, no dead or faithless spouse has he spared himself as a screen hero. Oh, there have been a few comedies, and he has been charming, too — “What Women Want,” for example. But Mel seems most at home when he suffers. He has aged precipitously, his offscreen meltdowns mirrored in every line and furrow. Once he was so beautiful it hardly mattered what he did onscreen; it was a pleasure to simply watch him. Now there is so much misery on that face it can be downright painful to watch him.

But with “The Beaver,” Mel’s director, costar and bravely devoted friend Jodie Foster has channeled Mel’s angst into a fascinating film. (Shot before Mel went terrifyingly off the rails in a series of secretly tape-recorded telephone rants to his ex lover, Oksana Grigorieva.) Instead of acting out with violence, Mel’s character here copes through a kind of desperate whimsy — via the use of his hand puppet. He begins to lift himself out of his depression, although his supportive wife (a lovely performance by Foster) and his belligerent eldest son (Anton Yelchin, a star on the rise) are challenged, to say the least. Mel’s commitment to his competent puppet gives new meaning to the 1990’s slang, “Talk to the hand!”

I’ve always thought Mel Gibson was a good actor. To see him breathe life and believability into his scenes with a hand puppet — with a Cockney accent! — is to see a very good actor indeed. Perhaps even a great actor. Believe me, if Mel Gibson had had an amicable split from Oksana (and a few years prior to that, hadn’t raged drunkenly about Jews) this performance in “The Beaver” would garner him an Oscar nomination.

Miss Foster directs her leading man and all the other actors superbly. The subplot with Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence melds perfectly with the struggles of the Gibson-Foster characters. (There’s also a charming tow-headed boy, the couple’s youngest son — even here, in dangerously clichéd territory, Foster manages to restrain the inherent manipulations.)

If I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Mel Gibson the man, that’s okay. I don’t know him or have to live with him or hear him raging on the other end of a phone. Or perhaps endure worse, as Oksana claims she did. But I can advise you that “The Beaver” is compelling and resonant filmmaking. If you’re interested in that, put aside your personal feelings about Mel. Interesting movies don’t come along every day.

And you know what? I hope in some form, Mr. Gibson finds peace of mind — even his very own real-life hand-puppet.

* * *

I WAS much amused over the weekend when news broke about pop star Katy Perry’s “outrageous diva demands” while she tours. The Smoking Gun website got a hold of the lengthy missive to Miss Perry’s staff as to what she wanted and what she didn’t want in her dressing rooms, her hotel suites and in her trailer.

Among her demands — rooms draped in soft cream or pink … fresh flowers, but absolutely NO carnations … certain types of chairs, lighting, soaps … pita bread … dried fruits … baked tortilla chips (blue if possible) … a jar of quality honey … salt … two bottles of Pinot Grigio. There is a full page of instructions for the drivers, including how to handle the luggage (Don’t! Security handles that), how to drive (Do it without making personal cell phones calls and without looking back at “the client” through the rearview mirror. That’s a safety tip, I’d say.) Also, no asking for autographs, no instigating conversations. (I’d say that is a safety precaution too. A few loose words with the employees end up on TMZ within seconds.)

Now, none this seemed terribly extreme to me. But the web was alive with criticism. It made me laugh. It made me think about … Miss Joan Crawford. In 1964, Miss Crawford issued a battery of instructions for those who were accompanying her on a tour to promote a movie titled “Straight Jacket.” The note, which ran several pages included all Crawford’s needs — from the size of her suite to the armed guard at her door, the type of car she is to be transported in, the pens and pencils for her endless notes, the ironing board, peppermint candies, the 100- proof Smirnoff vodka (only Smirnoff and only 100-proof!) and various other necessities. Including that the hotel maid will “stand by” until dismissed by Miss Crawford.

The instructions ended thusly: “Miss Crawford is a star in every sense of the word, and everyone knows she is a star. As a partner in this film, Miss Crawford will not appreciate throwing money away on empty gestures. You do not have to make empty gestures to prove to Miss Crawford or anyone else that she is a star of the first magnitude!”

Back in ‘64, when this was leaked to Time magazine, there was some fun had at Joan’s expense — but not much. It came and went. Just imagine in today’s world where leakage is inevitable, if Katy Perry (or Gaga or Madonna) had it in writing that they were “a star of the first magnitude … and everyone knows it.”

Those “SNL” skits would never end. There would be tee-shirts. Want a real diva? Can’t beat the likes of Joan Crawford.

Relax Katy, and chow down on those blue tortilla chips. Especially now, with hubby Russell Brand ousted from Japan, you’ll need all those little extras.

18 comments so far.

  1. avatar rick gould says:

    I certainly don’t look down on Mel Gibson and his problems. But what gets me these days is when a public figure gets caught behaving badly and instead of just apologizing, it’s followed by a rationale that actually blames other factors and people.

    In Mel’s case, it was blame the booze, the cops, the tabloid media and especially, the Ex.
    Nobody put a bottle in his hand, get in a car drunk, pick up the phone to froth at the mouth, except Mel.
    I just wish Gibson would have the humility and balls to just say I was wrong, then shut the hell up and do his job. Which he actually does quite well. But frankly, at this late date, I don’t think Mel will change and I don’t want to hear about it or particularly see his face in any form, anymore.

  2. avatar Holly Gallagher says:

    I’ve got to tell you, as one previously in the service industry, it is MUCH EASIER to know what people want before they arrive. That way you’re not running around to find Godiva chocolate or a certain alcohol. Give me a list any old day!

    • avatar D C says:

      Amen to that Holly!  Communication is the key to civilization.  Were I a star of the first magnitude, I would require that my over-the-road transportation be surrounded by Camaro’s in all the colors available driving along the same path, because I really like looking at them.  And like M&M’s, the green ones are the best!  LOL

  3. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    I think Mel Gibson without doubt is the best example of what’s wrong with Hollywood. As long as he makes money for people he will continue to be enabled by them.  “Poor Baby.” 

    And if I were him I would be more worried about whether I was even going to make it to heaven. Of course he believes in this Super Mean and Nasty Old Man in the Sky which is why he really doesn’t see anything wrong with anything he has said or done through the years. I know other “Macho Catholic Men” who believe in this same god. And I avoid engaging them even casually. I would engage a riled rattlesnake before I would engage them. 

    Atonement is a wonderful thing. But as we’ve seen with Arnold Schwarzenegger sometimes the atonement is merely a statement rather than an enlightenment. He apologized for all the people he hurt and then continued on his merry little way, didn’t he?  At least Mel Gibson isn’t a hypocrite. He really sees nothing wrong with his attitudes. Or his actions.  And lord only knows what would come out of the mouth of his puppet. 

  4. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    You know, Joan Crawford really was a STAR! Do we even have anyone like that today? People bandy about Angelina Jolie’s name, and God knows she is incredibly beautiful (but really, too thin!), but is she a “Star”? The Count prefers his movies from the ’30s and ’40s. And music from the ’50′s and early ’60s. So, while not as current as I should be, I do keep up with who’s who. So, thoughts? Who, if anyone, is a “Star” of Crawford’s caliber. And as an aside, I can’t ever watch Mel Gibson again. No amount of acting will erase all that I have seen and heard. I just….can’t.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I think “Star” was just an ongoing role Joan Crawford played. Anywhere and everywhere. Including the boardroom at Pepsi. It is not a word that those who worked with her or for her used to describe her. “Rhymes-With-Witch” seemed to be the preferred term.  Of course then we had the other ongoing role.  That of “Mother.” Helen Hayes commented something to the effect that it was the one role Joan Crawford shouldn’t have attempted. I had never seen “Johnny Guitar” last fall when it was on TMC so I watched it. But will probably never watch it or any of her other films again.  The reason why?  “Mommie Dearest.” 

  5. avatar Lila says:

    Sorry, I just have no patience for people like Mel Gibson. And why is it that such obnoxious jerks are so often described as “struggling” with religion, relationships, whatever? They are not struggling; struggle implies some kind of effort. People like Gibson do whatever they want and then act surprised when someone else reveals that they are actually a real person with real feelings, and not interested in being stomped on.

    And religion? Ugh. So Robyn is going to hell, but apparently Mel’s Catholicism gives the A-OK stamp of approval to adulterers who abandon their marriages and then abuse their mistresses? And the bigotry thing…. all very Christian, sure… But oh, yes, Mel is assured of a place in Heaven.

    I am not surprised, just… annoyed and disgusted.

  6. avatar Richard Bassett says:


    Gibson apologized for how he behaved and not really for the information of what was said. You know, Alcohol isn’t a truth serum, it IS an uninhibitor; the reason one should never text, tweet or post while intoxicated. Mel’s bigotries, prejudices, homophobia and racial slurs / insults were there long before he said them out loud. A lot of people agree with him but most don’t state it for the rest of the world to hear. This is the essence of Mel Gibson (He must be a JOY to be around with friends & family during the holiday season if he is half lit) Blaming his point of view on alcohol is obviously insincere but alcohol took the cork off the bottle. These beliefs must be ingrained in him and can be a topic of conversation in a therapeutic setting. His alcoholism can be addressed in another therapeutic or recovery program. And if he wants assistance with both issues, all of the recourses are out there. Of course, I would see another Gibson film if it interested me, but the hand puppet theme of his present film (The Beaver) places it on the: “ON DEMAND” category. I’ll watch it on paid TV four months from now. Just a personal preference. Are we supposed to believe Perry’s demands? I certainly believe Crawford’s and Elizabeth Taylor had demands of her own. I guess it comes from the need of some kind of consistency instead of always living out of a suitcase. The same items available at each location site. Yes, I guess it does denote a star of great magnitude to list off these demands but in the great scheme of things, fans and such could care less. There is a person on the ‘set’ to provide all of that. Maybe if you are not of great magnitude, you are entitled to an abridged portion of the laundry list (?) I have no idea. I’m not the person on the ‘set’ who provides these items. The list of demands is inconsequential to me. If this laundry list is real or myth, I would never be the wiser.

  7. avatar rick gould says:

    Those “riders” or “memo” lists of demands are amusing to me.

    I read Crawford’s list long ago and was hilariously piss-elegant and self-important.

    But I get it. Joan Rivers once commented that, as a performer, if you ask for nothing, that’s what you get. And that every star remembers their beginnings, every shit hole club or theater they suffered indignities, so when they make it big… that list is LARGE!

    I read once Cher recalling while playing supper clubs (before her and Sonny came back as TV stars) how depressing it was to stand in a kitchen in an evening gown, waiting to go on, hoping no one would spill food on her… I’m sure HER rider is impressive!

    That said, when Elizabeth Taylor appeared on Johnny Carson’s farewell shows, staffers were surprised that she only requested three things: root beer for Larry (who rode her down on his cycle) and water and Kleenex for herself. Unlike, say, Cleopatra, where Fox gave ET the world, on a platter…but that was a longer haul…

    • avatar Richard Bassett says:

      Since Cleopatra was a shoot that nearly lasted a year, Elizabeth asked for some luxuries…but more than that, she was put on a 3,000 dollar expense account so she could order what she wanted. Of course, she still got what she wanted but the money (along with the luxuries) came from another account, which was not deducted from her pay. Until their yacht, their main stays were The Beverly Hills Hotel, Palm Spring, Puerto Vallarta, The Dorchester (London) and the Chalet Ariel in Gstaad, Switzerland and I think, The King George Hotel in Paris. Some were homes, some were hotels and each had a different list that they listed as their necessities. I don’t know where they stayed in Rome.

      • avatar Richard Bassett says:

        *A 3,000 dollar expense account a day while filming Cleopatra

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        It’s hard to imagine “The Burtons” living out of suitcases but that’s what they did and possibly because the “Seven Months/All Inclusive” package at the better hotels wherever they were shooting was something they asked for in their contracts and was something the studios gave them. The studios usually paid for “accomodations” but not to the extent they did for the Burtons. But they had homes. She already had the house in Gstaad and kept it when she divorced Eddie Fisher and then Burton bought her a house in London, I think Hampstead Heights, and then bought her the house in Puerto Vallarta eventually buying the house next door and putting in a bridge between the two. If I recall correctly, he kept the house in London and she kept the house in Puerto Vallarta after Divorce Number One. Marriage Number Two didn’t really last that long to have to divvy anything up in Divorce Number Two although they were “intertwined” for many years through various corporate entities they set up during both marriages for tax purposes.  Should prove intersting to see what the house in Gstaad will be listed for. The house in Los Angeles was listed yesterday for $8.6 million. Basically for lot value.  None of the houses were particularly notable.  Until you looked at the walls. Lined with quite a bit of art her father assembled for her at auctions. The first of the Christie’s auctions will be in September according to some who claim to be “in-the-know.”  They will probably be the auctions of the century if not the millenium.

      • avatar Richard Bassett says:


        Elizabeth had been a nomad from the day she married for the first time in 1950 until the day she bought her estate in 1981. In the early years, it was a jump from house to house. She actually had to ask MGM to help her pay for her first home with Wilding. She also used all the money that she made as a child for down payments. She traveled around the world with Todd. Got out of America after the Fisher scandal. Back to NYC, London, a few months in LA after her near death experience, then to Rome for Cleo, Switzerland, Paris, London (The VIP’s and Becket), Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. They married in Canada; Burton played Hamlet in NYC…off to Monterey, California and Paris (for Sandpiper), London, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and back to Los Angeles for “Wolfe”. They filmed on location in Massachusetts, a few months in LA…then to England (Oxford) for “Faustus” and never lived in America again, throughout both marriages. They bought the yacht in 1967 and made The Mediterranean Sea their home. (In 1974, she may have spent a few months in America with Wynberg). In 1976, she went to Africa, Switzerland, New York, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Iran and Washington D.C., Vienna and then to relax on the Warner farm, but campaigning involved more traveling than ever before. In 1979, everything came to a halt in Georgetown, Virginia… for about eight months and she got fat. Then it was onto Broadway, and finally the LA Mansion in 1981. Her first real home. She still traveled the world but now had a base. The last few years of her life, she seldom left the mansion. What a life! I can see how living out of suitcases (unpacked by the entourage) became the norm, but so did the list of demands at each location.

      • avatar rick gould says:

        I toured the Puerto Vallarta house in the 90s after it became a B&B.
        It was surprisingly modest. As was her other homes, from what I’ve read… I think for all the treasures, ET liked being downhome and cosy.

        When I made the pilgrimage to “Gringo Gulch” as the neighborhood was called, I was thrilled to see they gave tours. My adorable late partner was amused by my antsiness, as if Liz herself might happen to pop by. Then he noted the tour wouldn’t start for 20 minutes. In all seriousness he said, “RG, we don’t want to wait that long to see their (Burtons) old house, do we?”

        I gave him my 1,000 yard stare and said,”We’re here from Michigan and THIS close to the house SHE lived in, in the city SHE put on the map. You’re kidding, right?”

        We went. The tour guide was sick that day and his substitute barely spoke English, so he nervously answered “Si” to every question asked of him by the group that had gathered.

        By the end of the tour, I was giving the tour!

        Which amused my partner vastly.

        A certain amount of possessions were left behind. Two that come to mind. That over the top swimsuit ET wore in “Hammersmith is Out.” Yikes!
        The one that really surprised me was a letter to Liza Todd from Richard…typed… there was a typewriter in his quarters. Sadly, the letter explained that he and her mother were probably staying apart. And as I recall, he was basically reassuring her in the usual manner of a parent, that it had nothing to do with her. Very touching and I couldn’t help even then wondering how much that letter would be worth.

        It was worth every penny of the 5$ I paid for the tour ;)
        My partner laughed about it all day!

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        Someone else had told me the house hadn’t been “vacated” when she sold it and I guess it hadn’t been. Odd when you think about it.  Puerto Vallarta was on the map before they arrived. The tourists just hadn’t arrived. Along with the hotels.

        The house in Los Angeles is your typical mid-century “sprawler” common in Upper Bel-Air and Beverly Crest aka Beverly Hills Post Office.  It will probably become another “tear-down” like so many others although the lot itself is not really large enough to handle another 50,000 square footer like the monstrosity that went up next to hers down the hill. The list price shocked everyone.  But then her children probably have a better sense of reality when it comes to the reality of real estate in Los Angeles than most do which no doubt pleased the broker. Real estate in LaLaLand may seem expensive but it ain’t what it used to be. It must be sad for her children in a way because it probably is the only real home they ever knew although they were in their 20s and 30s when she bought it although as I recall Christmas was always in Gstaad.  All her children seem to have found the life she never had. Private and unassuming.  In the end they are probably her real legacy. Despite the “nomadic childhoods” they all “turned out well” as they say.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        I have to add that she in a way did manage in the end to find a sense of “private and unassuming” as well and someone commented once that instead of dogs and cats and ducks and anything else that happened to show up at the back door everywhere, suddenly there were usually grandchildren everywhere. “And they’re housebroken.” 

  8. avatar Rho says:

    Just reading his name makes me ill.  I will never watch any movie of his anymore.  You can probably guess why I say this.

    • avatar Lila says:

      I’m with you, Rho.

      When the audience knows and strongly disapproves of the lead actor’s personal foibles, it can be a distraction from the film. Better to have cast an unknown than a talented pariah.

      And no matter how creative and interesting a film may be, there are other ways to spend my time.