by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
October 15, 2009
SARASOTA, Fla., Oct. 11, 2009 -- I found a three-day old email a few hours after Mass tonight from Rochelle Herman, a lovely publicist here on Florida's Gulf Coast, about an event that was already in progress at a huge home on Longboat Key. It's owned by Lorraine and Larry Ziff, an insurance executive and philanthropist who is helping a Sarasota-based producer named Beau Burton of Florida Films LLC on a couple of projects.
Ziff, who reminds me of a younger Jerry Seinfeld, wanted the press to get a chance to interview a fellow named Warrington Gillette, an heir to the huge Gillette razor fortune, who is also the guy that starred in three of the earliest "Friday the 13th" movies and is attached to one of Beau's projects.
Larry and Lorraine Ziff - an actress, model and real estate investor - are also the parents of two extremely handsome teenaged sons (well, one's 18 1/2 and the older one's 20 now) who were child celebrities represented by the famed Wilhelmina Agency up to the age of 15 or so, when Matt and Adam took a break from celebrity and became full-time students at the Blair Academy, a fairly elite prep school in New Jersey. And it just so happens that one of these kids, Matt, is so handsome it's astonishing - a dead ringer for me at the same age. He starred on the Conan O'Brien Late Night Show when he was just eight. Now they're with the Elite agency, and making the grade at the University of Miami.
Larry Ziff is a very decent guy, and when you sit down and talk with him for a couple of hours you can quickly forget that he represents 60 or 70 of the biggest insurance companies in the world at a firm called Cohn Wealth Management, which guards the money of some of the wealthiest people in the world. You would never guess that such a young man has eight homes between here and New Jersey, and that he and his wife, who is a drop-dead gorgeous blonde with a warm, beautiful smile, have already given many hundreds of thousands of dollars to cancer charities - and promised $1 million more - or that Larry himself had already survived bouts with everything from Bowen's carcinoma to an eye tumor.
You would probably miss all of that, see, because of the guy cutting the cake with a long black machete, taking folks through the pages of a coffee-table book about the FT13 movies, and signing hideous masks of his famous character's face. And he is a story in himself.
Warrington Gillette, a lithe and handsome man of (a perennial) 40, lost his father, he carefully indicates, to the hands of a man who was the lover of his father's wife of 30 years, whom Gillette says confessed to the crime on his deathbed in Europe. Four or five powerful people in Palm Beach have come to him over the years and confided that his stepmother, who has not yet erected a tombstone on his father's grave, definitely murdered his dad, he says.
So, given the awful irony of the fact that as Jason, he is known as "The Slasher" and signs his masks "First To Kill!," I wanted to take the occasion of a rainy Sunday evening near Hallowe'en to ask him about evil. What I got instead, as we sat on the patio chatting in the dark with Larry filming us on his DVD as I shot The Slasher in close-up, was a frank admission that what Hollywood's violent movies do sometimes is inspire kids to kill.
Now, progressives like the people who write most of this newspaper usually believe with me that the media's right to depict pretty much whatever we care to is sacrosanct, enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the First Amendment, which says "Congress shall pass no law abridging...the freedom of the press." With my American Reporter colleagues I fought a case called Shea v. Reno all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court on that point, so it's not likely I'm going to backtrack on the principle now.
But Warrington Gillette sure gives me pause. When you ask him directly whether he believes hyperviolent films, including Friday the 13th, inspire the violence we have recently seen on the streets of Chicago, particularly among young people, he says, "I think it does." And not just via horror films, he goes on, but also through video games like "Grand Theft Auto" and even fine films like "The Godfather" that describe a way of life that doesn't really exist and doesn't fairly represent the lowlifes who inhabit the Mafia.
Instead of the usual brush-off this question gets from studio execs, he says that modern kids live a world where it's hard to differentiate fantasy and reality. Kids like that are looking for an identity in the wrong places, he says. "We have to learn to control ourselves," he suggests, and remember that art is art and life is life.
I take away from our conversation the idea that horror and hyperviolence are not uplifting. That's an easy thing to believe after Mass, on a rainy Sunday evening. It's easy to believe in the eighth house of Larry Ziff, a few blocks down from where another guest at the party, Joe Micals, played the piano at the Colony Club the night of Sept. 10th, 2001, as President George W. Bush dined a few yards away. Here it's easy to believe almost anything, and almost anything can come true.
The Ziff's sons want to see if they can make it in the movies, maybe like Warrington did. Beau Burton would love to have them in a movie he can sell at the film marketplace he wants to develop around the Sarasota Film Festival each year.
Warrington Gillette has spent the entire day at a memorabilia show in Orlando, where he signed books, photos, masks, machetes and even bottles of water from Crystal Lake, the movie's killing grounds. His face says he's bone-tired; long days have taken their toll. He says there are nightmares that come with keeping the role always forefront as he lives with the long years of aftermath. His career has been carefully and painfully etched behind his eyes.
I'd hope Larry will show his video of our conversation to Matt and Adam, just in case they might want to think twice about acting careers. Politics is another path, even if they jeer you when you win the Nobel Peace Prize. Because in the end, what matters is what you've done, as his parents did, to put a little hope in the world.
It only matters in a hard and ugly way that what you've left behind is terror and an inspiration to kill.