If you want to see a picture (actually two pictures) of me wearing a really nice shirt, check out the most recent issue of Written By, the official magazine of the Writers’ Guild of America West (there is also a Writers’ Guild East, which, for some reason is separate). The issues includes an article about mentors, in which I am prominently featured. I am unable to vouch for the article, as severe character flaws prevent me from reading it. But I cannot speak highly enough about the shirt.
What I did read in Written By, which is an entertaining and informative magazine – and only marginally “Rah! Rah! For Writers!” – was an interview with writer/actress Zoe Kazan, whose movie Ruby Sparks (which she wrote and stars in) will be coming out this summer.
The name Kazan is readily recognizable. Zoe’s Zadey (grandfather) was Oscar-winning film director Elia Kazan – A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On The Waterfront (1954). Zoe’s parents are also in the movie business. Her Dad, Nicholas wrote, among other screenplays, Reversal of Fortune (1990). Her mother, Robin Swicord wrote, among other screenplays, Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). And together, they co-wrote the movie Matilda (1996).
Zoe Kazan would seem to easily qualify as a member of what I once heard a barely-scraping-by actress call “The F-in’-Lucky Club.” A young woman, (still in her twenties) descendant of a multi-generational show biz-“connected” family – how could she fail? The “Secret Of Her Success?” She was “f-in’ lucky” to have been born into the right family.
Envious people say mean things. With no evidence beyond Zoe’s last name, they immediately imagine an undeserving “no-talent” making it entirely on “family coattails.” Bitter people need to believe such things. How else to explain their own failure?
Okay, let’s get serious here.
nepotism (n.) patronage or favoritism based on family relationship.
“‘Connected’ people have definite advantages.” Is that true? Does nepotism increase one’s chances of “making it in the biz”? In general, it does.
The most obvious way is that nepotism opens doors.
“Margorie Shmeplap’s daughter has written a screenplay. Do you think we should check it out?”
“Who’s Margorie Schmedlap?”
“Elia Kazan’s granddaughter, whose parents are Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, has written a screenplay. Do you think we should check it out?”
Why, “Absolutely!”? They are betting on bloodlines. Which I shall return to in a moment. They are also more likely to check out Zoe’s screenplay, because her family knows, or at least can more easily gain access to, the person who said “Absolutely!”
“The impossible” is less so when you’re “connected.” It’s not easy getting an agent. But if your parents already have one, “getting an agent” as easy as calling them on the phone.
Let us now return to “bloodlines.” Bloodlines are real. Ask any racehorse owner who paid top dollar for a Kentucky Derby winner’s semen.
In all sports, it is noteworthy how many offspring of former players are also involved in the game, at the highest, most competitive levels. Are you telling me genetics had nothing to do with that?
I will return shortly with an exception. But I’m building an argument here, and I want to remain on track.
The third advantage of “nepotism” relates to “being around the thing you’re aspiring to do.”
This one is huge.
Example One: You’re in Toronto; you have no available role models:
Your dream of being a Hollywood writer appears entirely unrealistic.
Example Two: You’re in Hollywood; your parents are both writers:
“My parents do it. What’s the big deal?”
When you are proceeding in a vacuum, staring down a long, untraveled road, one of the toughest issues is believing you can do it.
When your parents are doing it – they’re not special, they’re Mom and Dad, and they do it every day – there is no a reason to believe you can’t.
So, “connections”, genetics, and “my parents and all their friends are in show business, there’s nothing to it” – three undeniable advantages of nepotism. The challenging thing about having a show business background is often wanting to be something else.
“A pharmacist? Why?”
When I was part owner of an “A-ball” baseball team – the absolute basement level of professional baseball – we had, for a time, a third baseman named Pete Rose Jr. Baseball fans will immediately recognize the name. Pete Jr.’s Dad, also named Pete, got more hits during his career than any player in baseball history. (The only reason he is not in the Hall of Fame is because he was caught betting on games – including games he was involved in – and was banned from the sport for life.)
Pete Rose Jr. was what is called a “journeyman” ballplayer. And not one of the better ones. A perennial minor leaguer, Pete Jr. did advance to the Major Leagues. Pete’s father played in a record-setting 3,562 games. Pete Jr. played in fourteen.
My ultimate point is this:
There’s a song in the musical Fiorello called “Politics and Poker.” Identifying the indispensible ingredient for success in both politics and poker, the closing verse explains,
“In poker and politics
You’ve gotta have
You’ve gotta have
Nepotism definitely greases the wheels. But you are ultimately going nowhere, Brother – or Sister –
If you haven’t got the cards.