Hollywood Analysis: Nepotism a problem?

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Jan. 28, 2003 at 12:09 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Some critics are alarmed by what appears to be increasing nepotism in politics, but wait until they get a load of what's going on in show business.

A recent item in The Weekly Standard said that nepotism "is becoming a major issue in American life," and suggested that no one in Washington is willing to admit the problem exists in politics "because to describe it as such would insult virtually the entire leadership of both major parties."

The article called it an "absurd situation" that president George W. Bush and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- who is frequently mentioned as prospective presidential material -- are both sons of a former president. It also lamented that "the pack of possible future Democratic presidents is led by the wife of our last president."

The late writer Ken Kesey -- a recognized authority on absurdity -- once tossed off the observation that "nepotism is better than no 'potism' at all." Kesey's remark sounds more like a phrase from a jazz solo than a meaningful social observation, but it is no less inane than complaining about nepotism in the real world.

While The Standard frets that someone just waking up from a 20-year nap would be stunned to learn that GOP governors Taft and Romney are still in office, and that the U.S. Senate is still home to Republicans such as Chafee, Dole and Sununu. All this is to say nothing of the Kennedys, the Udalls and other families that have treated Democratic Party politics as the family business.

Apparently, the magazine had all it could take when Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed his own daughter to serve out the remainder of his U.S. Senate term. He vacated the seat when he moved into the governor's mansion.

Actually, the pols have nothing on the entertainment world when it comes to kids following in their parents' footsteps. Hollywood payrolls are heavily populated by the progeny of veteran performers, producers, directors, writers and technicians.

Remember the Barrymores? John, Ethel and Lionel were the most famous members of the acting family during Hollywood's golden age, and Drew continues the bloodline today.

Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage comes from a famous movie family. His uncle is Oscar-winning writer-director Francis Ford Coppola, himself the son of Carmine Coppola -- who composed the scores for "Apocalypse Now" and "The Outsiders."

Even Russell Crowe was born, you might say, in a trunk. The Oscar-winning star of "Gladiator" was brought into this world by parents who worked as caterers in the film and TV business and frequently brought him with them to sets. He landed his first acting job at the age of 6, on the Australian TV show "Spyforce."

Oscar nominee Kate Hudson ("Almost Famous") is the daughter of Oscar winner Goldie Hawn ("Cactus Flower"). George Clooney's aunt, the late Rosemary Clooney, was one of the great singers of her generation.

Martin Sheen's sons grew up in their father's business. Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen have scores of movie credits between them, and Charlie Sheen succeeded Michael J. Fox as the star of the ABC comedy "Spin City."

Oscar-nominated actor-director Sean Penn -- who lately qualifies as both an entertainment and a political figure, by virtue of his public pronouncements on American foreign policy -- is the son of the late Emmy-nominated director Leo Penn.

Hollywood nepotism is not limited to kids following in the acting footsteps of their parents.

Danny Aiello III -- the son of actor Danny Aiello ("Do the Right Thing," "Moonstruck") -- is a top stunt performer. He has worked as stunt coordinator on movies such as "Stuart Little 2" (2002) and "Coyote Ugly" (2000).

All of these Hollywood kids have at least two things in common.

One, they grew up in an environment that provided them with a leg up on "outsiders" pursuing a career in the glamorous world of show business. Two, they made the most of their opportunities.

Parents and show biz kids alike understand that regardless of how a door gets opened, the beneficiary of an insider connection is still obligated to deliver the goods. We'll never know how many children of celebrities had their chance and, for one reason or another, failed to capitalize.

The same process of selection occurs in sports. Bobby Bonds' son Barry is a future baseball Hall of Famer, while Pete Rose Jr. labored for more than a decade in the minor leagues and only played in a handful of major league games.

In sports and Hollywood, the sons and daughters of established professionals may get more opportunities than most, but if they don't measure up they're soon replaced by other prospects. If the new senator from Alaska doesn't get the job done, the voters will, in all likelihood, let her know.

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