Oscar can be an unforgiving Hollywood overlord when it comes to dealing with stars' vile antics under the influence of booze. The list is long of actors who never held an Academy Award in one hand because they clutched a bottle too tightly in the other: among them, Judy Garland, Tallulah Bankhead, Errol Flynn and Oscar's biggest loser Richard Burton (tied with his ole bar buddy Peter O'Toole). That rascal John Barrymore was never even nominated (neither was Tallulah, by the way) and said that was probably because "the Oscars are afraid I'll show up at the ceremony drunk — and they're right!"
Now Mel Gibson is not only asking Hollywood to forgive his drunk driving and juice-fueled assault on police, but his anti-Semitic tirade, too. Just a few months ago his upcoming film with an Oscar-friendly release date (Dec. 8) was on most lists of serious Academy Award rivals, but it got tossed off right after Mel mouthed off to cops one night in Malibu.
Yesterday and today he just blabbed his side of the story to Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America." Wrapping up the second segment this morning, Diane said Mel admits that he's doing this interview now so he can get it out of the way far ahead of "Apocalypto's" release.
Next up: Will Hollywood and America forgive him? Can his end-of-the-Mayan-world doomsday drama come to life at the box office? Can its Oscar hopes be resurrected? Early buzz on the pic's quality is excellent even though it's loaded with violence and spoken in an obscure Mayan dialect.
Let's look back at Oscars past.
Even before Vanessa Redgrave mentioned anything about "Zionist hoodlums" at the Oscar podium in 1977, she was so afraid of being attacked by Jewish supporters for her pro-Palestinian views that she arrived at the ceremony hidden in the back of an ambulance. After her "hoodlums" comment, it was widely believed she'd have trouble finding future film work even though what she'd said really wasn't terrible. Upon accepting her award as best supporting actress in "Julia," she told academy members, "I think you should be very proud that, in the last few weeks, you have stood firm and you have refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression."
It didn't matter. All many people heard was that "Zionist hoodlums" part and they vowed never to forgive her. But the storm eventually passed and Vanessa went on to receive two subsequent Oscar bids — for "The Bostonians" (best actress, 1984) and "Howards End" (supporting actress, 1992).
Vanessa's "Julia" costar "Hanoi Jane" Fonda had to be forgiven by many Hollywooders, too, of course, although far fewer since her liberalism was in sync with the town's credo. But after her pro-Vietnamese stunts during the war, she'd fallen out of favor with many moviegoers and thus with many studio chiefs, too. Since then Jane's apologized often for some of her anti-war stunts and was finally forgiven at the Oscars with a best actress statuette for portraying a housewife who has an affair with a handicapped Vietnam vet while her hubby is off fighting in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia ("Coming Home," 1978). It took much longer for her to be embraced widely by U.S. moviegoers again.
Not too long ago it seemed impossible that Hollywood could ever forgive Roman Polanski for a statutory rape he fled and expressed little remorse for committing. But in 2002 he pulled off that shockeroo Oscar victory as best director for "The Pianist." True, it could never have happened without his rape victim stepping forward and forgiving him publicly as she did on "Larry King Live" just weeks before Oscar ballots were due. But it demonstrated that Hollywood could forgive Roman next for shocking, selfish, insensitive behavior.
So now that Mel has spoken up publicly on "Good Morning America," will Hollywood voice support for him? That's the current cliffhanger in the World Capital of Happy Endings (for some stars, that is). Unfortunately, what was missing from Mel's comments was a humble, heartfelt plea for forgiveness directed to his colleagues and fans, Jews and gentiles alike. Instead, it seemed to me that he put on "The Pity Poor Mel Show." While acting twitchy, cocky and cavalier sometimes, he blamed the booze and revealed how ticked off he still is at Jews for raising concerns about anti-Semitism in "The Passion of the Christ."
Photos: Even if "Apocalypto" isn't nominated for best picture at the Oscars, it's such a huge production that it could be up for many tech kudos. Roman Polanski on the set of "The Pianist." Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave in "Julia." Mel Gibson in one of his several mock crucifixion scenes in "Braveheart," which earned him Oscars for best picture and director.
(Disney/Focus Features/ 20th Century Fox/ Paramount)