Casting Questions Around 'The Black Dahlia'

Brian De Palma | Golden Globes | Tom Cruise

Brian De Palma Casts for 'Untouchables'

An inadvertent casting listing this week could have gotten famed director Brian De Palma in a lot of trouble.

De Palma and producer Art Linson — the men who gave us "The Untouchables" a decade ago — are casting a supporting role for their new film, "The Black Dahlia." Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson and possibly Hilary Swank will play the leads.

But eyebrows were raised yesterday when DePalma and Linson sent out a casting call for a girl who looks 13 to play nude lesbian scenes in the movie.

The film is based on James Ellroy's novel, which was itself inspired by the very famous and very real 1947 Hollywood murder of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, who was known in death as "the Black Dahlia."

Her naked body was found cut in half found by the side of a road, and the case was never solved.

In the casting notice from the Johanna Ray casting agency, De Palma and Linson were said to be scouting for a "Caucasian girl" who has a "street quality ... please submit young, unique and experienced girls."

The actress who lands the role of Linda Martin, her parents should know, will have two scenes. One of them will show Linda "naked in a lesbian porno film."

Although the notice insists that the young actress is not required to do anything that would give the film more than an R rating, the actress in question "should be completely comfortable with nudity."

Evidently, the nubile teens earlier submitted by managers to casting agent Johanna Ray didn't work out, since the new casting call warns: "Your previous submissions weren't young enough!"

When I called to ask if the production company was serious, a worried casting associate told me: "We're not hiring anyone underage. But agents and managers were sending us girls in their 20s who looked too old. We want an 18- or 19-year-old who can play 13 or 14, not an actual 13-year-old."

She added that earlier casting notices for the film stressed that distinction and sent them along for verification.

Later, I got another call from the production company reminding me that they were certainly not looking for an underage girl or one who looks 13, just "innocent, like she hasn't been around the block yet."

The nudity, lesbian and porno part remains in effect.

"The Black Dahlia" is an indie feature financed by Signature Pictures. No major studio is attached to it yet.

De Palma, of course, is no stranger to controversy with sex in his movies. His last film, "Femme Fatale," featured Rebecca Romijn as a lesbian cat burglar whose private tastes left little to the imagination.

De Palma is famous for using Hitchcockian riffs in his films as excuses to throw off critics. But even Alfred Hitchcock might blanch at the idea of using a 13-year-old girl, even a fake one, in the suggested situation.

De Palma wouldn't be the first filmmaker to put a young girl in a questionably sexy situation. Twenty-six years ago, Louis Malle introduced a not-quite 13-year-old Brooke Shields to audiences as a prostitute's daughter in "Pretty Baby."

A couple of years before that, 13-year-old Jodie Foster starred in the violent classic "Taxi Driver" opposite Robert De Niro. Both actresses, it should be noted, went on to have Ivy League educations and big careers.

Golden Globe Redux

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has asked me to get specific about their finances and their members. I can only oblige them.

I reported last month that the HFPA listed charitable donations of a little over $500,000 on its 2004 tax return. The actual number was $617,155.

They now claim that they gave away over $1 million. But as I've said before, I simply went by their return and nothing else.

I erred on the HFPA's side in the story last month, leaving out such vague expense entries on their tax forms as "Meetings and Press Conferences" ($77,000); "Entertainment" ($44,095) and "Other" ($22,856). The group also spent $24,000 sending "flowers and gifts" to unidentified recipients.

Mind you, all of this comes from millions of tax-free dollars paid to the HFPA by NBC to license the annual Golden Globes award show.

One member, Helen Hoehne, complained that I did not list her credits properly. Since her name was listed with the HFPA as "Helene" Hoehne, however, that was the name I checked. It is also spelled that way by the group's publicist. And, as I reported, she is indeed a member of the Los Angeles Turners, a group that specializes in fencing and singing.

Even so, a newer search through Yahoo! and Yahoo! Germany for "Helen Hoehne" yields no bylines about film, but many references to the HFPA appointing her to their group. Again, many HFPA members only exist in cyberspace as a function of belonging to the organization.

Over the weekend of the Golden Globes, I was surprised by some HFPA members' angry responses to my article.

Lorenzo Soria, the president, confronted me at the British Academy Awards tea, as well as at the Miramax party after the Golden Globes. He didn't like the fact that I'd found out he'd received a free $3,000 suit and a $350 tie from Italian designers to wear to the Globes.

US Weekly's Thelma Adams, head of the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle, wore her own dress to her group's similar ceremony this year and looked lovely, by the way.

Another HFPA member, Elmar Biebl, didn't like that I'd reported on his Web site, on which he offers to give Oscar credentials to journalists from around the world for a fee. He pulled me by the lapel when we met on the red carpet.

A female member, who later apologized, tried to have me thrown off the red carpet at the awards ceremony and pushed me. What fun!

Later in the week, at a Sundance dinner, another member cursed me out publicly and exited. It's too bad — he was one of the few HFPA members who had the proper credentials.

The group's publicist complained in a letter to FOX News that I'd spoken only to a HFPA member who'd been barred from the organization. He didn't mention names and I know of no such person. What could he or she be barred for?

I will say that at the after-parties, many movie publicists and photographers thanked me for writing the story about the HFPA.

The HFPA, in its mandate, is no different than any movie-critics' group from any major city. Like the New York Film Critics, they are shown every major film by studios over the course of a year, and are expected to vote on the movies' merits.

But the NYFC, like most other critics' groups, does not spend $543,000 on salaries or $548,000 on travel to accomplish the exact same result.

In the end, the HFPA divided its awards among "The Aviator," "Million Dollar Baby," "Sideways" and "Ray" — the very same movies that have been honored far less expensively by critics' groups, the Screen Actors Guild and the Motion Picture Academy.

Tom Cruise's Credo

Tom Cruise lives by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's 15 rules from his "Code of Honor." I know this because last week I received a copy of these rules from Cruise in a laminated frame.

The Code of Honor was the centerpiece of a fancy three-panel presentation, which included a personalized note from the country's biggest box-office star and a note informing me that a donation had been made in my name to the International Association of Scientology.

Cruise's note read:

"Dear Roger,

Please accept the enclosed ‘Code of Honor' as my gift to you and may you experience comfort and encouragement from it in your own life. Enjoy every minute with your family and friends this holiday season.

Sincerely, [personal signature] Tom Cruise."

Among the rules to live by:

1. Never desert a comrade in need, in danger, or in trouble.

3. Never desert a group to which you owe your support.

5. Never need praise, approval, or sympathy.

7. Never permit your reality to be alloyed.

8. Do not give or receive communication unless you desire it.

10. Your integrity to yourself is more important than your body.

11. Never regret yesterday. Life is in you today and you make your tomorrow.

12. Never fear to hurt another in a just cause.

13. Don't desire to be liked or admired.

Some of these would seem antithetical to Cruise's career and those of other famous Scientologists. Certainly actors thrive on praise, sympathy and approval. They obviously desire to be liked and admired. They often question career moves in public.

As for No. 12, that would seem to be the most troublesome. It's worked for Cruise so far, I suppose. But the lack of conscience is a stumbling point for me. So I accept the gift, but remain devoted to the principles of more conventional religions.