A few days ago I received in the mail a long-ago pre-ordered blu-ray of HICKEY & BOGGS (1972), one of my favorite private eye movies; it’s an early script by Walter Hill and stars its director, Robert Culp, reunited with his I, SPY co-star, Bill Cosby. A few years before his death, Culp was at the San Diego Con and I was able to chat with him briefly and tell him how much I loved his movie; he seemed very pleased, and would be no doubt be thrilled by the availability of the film. I haven’t watched the disc yet, but I wonder if it’s going to be hard to get past Cosby’s presence in the light of the media storm around him.
I am frankly still trying to sort out my feelings about the Cosby scandal. Based on the where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire theory, he seems to be a sexual sociopath; but the common aspects of the stories his alleged victims tell are so public, making up a new one wouldn’t be that tough. Public figures are easy targets, and I have to wonder how many famous actors and rock musicians who caroused their way through the Swinging Sixties and the sexual revolution of the Seventies aren’t just a little bit nervous right now. Do you really imagine every groupie Mick Jagger partied with was of legal age?
The best that can be said for Cosby is that he has been a hypocrite, spouting family values and peddling wholesome kiddie entertainment and telling young black men how to behave. You can’t be a pudding pitchman and America’s favorite TV dad and also hang out at the Playboy Mansion (as a married man) and not come up smelling like Brut.
It shouldn’t be necessary to say it, but women are correct that no means no, and that dressing provocatively is not an invitation to dine. At the same time, if I were the father of a gorgeous teenage daughter heading out to a party at Caligula’s place, I just might advise her that she’s putting herself in harm’s way.
Rich and powerful men – and show biz figures are often regular folks who rose (from poverty, in many cases) to dizzying heights – often think decadence is a privilege. But even if Cosby is the monster he’s being made out to be, should the court of public opinion pass the ultimate verdict? I’m just asking. When the journalistic landscape is blurred with blogs, and even Rolling Stone messes up on this very same issue of sexual misconduct (on campus), aren’t we being urged to listen to our basest instincts? Cosby has never been criminally charged. Allegations of misconduct many decades old are as unreliable as memories of that vintage.
My favorite comic strip is Li’l Abner, and I consider Al Capp a genius – a great writer, satirist, artist. But I have long struggled with the sexual misbehavior of Capp’s last years (concurrent with a shrill swing to the right in his comic strip, lessening its impact and its legacy). I dealt with this in my novel STRIP FOR MURDER, for which I’ve taken some heat as a Capp basher. I am anything but a Capp basher – he probably has few bigger fans. But he seems, tragically, to have fallen prey either to mental illness or his worst demons. Or perhaps it’s as easy (and hard) as this – a bad human being can also be a great artist.
The Capp conundrum has never stopped me from enjoying Li’l Abner. On the other hand, I can’t watch a NAKED GUN movie without squirming when O.J. is on screen. And Robert Blake was once a favorite of mine, but since the murder of his wife, I can’t watch anything he’s in. Will I react the same way to HICKEY & BOGGS? Don’t know yet.
Jackson Pollock killed a young woman and injured another when, in a deep drunken depression, he crashed his car. He killed himself, which is an artist’s privilege, but what the hell business did he have endangering one woman and murdering another? Does that make his art invalid? Does it put the splatter into his splatter paintings? I honestly don’t know.
Artists – and I include writers and film people and painters and our entire sorry breed – are all, to some degree, messed up. My wife Barb, in her wisdom, says that all an artist owes us is the art. God knows what Sinatra did behind closed doors, but oh when he was at the microphone. Bing Crosby beat up his boys, and two or three of ‘em killed themselves; but what would Christmas be without Der Bingle?
I would like to think that I will have no trouble watching HICKEY & BOGGS or episodes of I, SPY (I’ve never seen an episode of Cosby’s famous sitcom). But I’m not sure. I seem to be selective about who I forgive. Still, I come away with two things: Barb’s notion that artists only owe us their art; and my notion that the Internet is not the place to go for a fair trial.