- The Washington Times - Monday, December 10, 2001

LOS ANGELES Hollywood looks just about the same as it did two months ago tourists still wander Hollywood Boulevard gawking at the tiny tarnished stars in the dirty sidewalk and buying overpriced cheap souvenirs.
Trucks still rumble down residential streets carrying incongruous cargo bits of living rooms or complete Italian restaurant interiors destined for remote filming locations. Star watchers still crowd the streets across from premieres, hoping to see famous faces.
But America's cultural capital has changed since September 11. Police and private security guards now crowd premieres and award shows, searching cars and forcing even the stars through metal detectors. Movie studios now hunker down behind a maze of concrete barriers. And the tourist-driven economy of Los Angeles has sagged significantly.
"It's been awful," said Raubi Sundher, owner of the famous wax museum on Hollywood Boulevard and the nearby Guinness Book of Records museum. As a group, Hollywood business owners "try not to get down business is what it is, and we try to make the best of it together, but there's a lot of people who don't have the margins we do and don't have the resources to survive an extended period of drought, for lack of a better word."
Even with the opening this month of the vast new Hollywood and Highland hotel and retail complex, he said, business is still way down.
"There's a lot of doom and gloom," he said. "That's one thing we really can't buy into, being a tourist destination. We have to keep the smiles on and provide a good experience for those that do come."
Oscar Arslanian, owner of a Hollywood-based marketing company and head of a group that promotes Hollywood, said the area is doing better than other parts of Los Angeles but mainly because of the increased local business generated by the Hollywood and Highland project downtown.
"The world is not coming to Hollywood right now. Hotel occupancy rates are very low. The international travelers, or even national traveler, are not coming right now," Mr. Arslanian said. "That totally dropped off. But what we are getting is a lot of local traffic. I think it has been cause by all the publicity and hoopla about Hollywood and Highland opening. The town seems to be doing OK."
Although the terrorist attacks of September 11 took place 3,000 miles away, there is a sense of nervousness in Los Angeles. The city seems keenly aware that it is symbol of American culture and therefore a tempting target for anti-American violence.
Hollywood is "wary and cautious," said Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America. "We're the most high-profile industry in the world and people are wary and cautious. We don't know where the terrorist cells are. I think many people are anxious about flying. But I think as time goes on all this will melt away, and we will get back to normality whatever the hell that is."
Just two years ago, the FBI foiled a major plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium celebrations. One of the men accused in the plot was convicted just weeks after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
The City of Los Angeles alone has spent more than $11 million on extra security, according to one report.
Southern California officials have struggled to secure landmarks that they once consider safe. The state highway administration has banned cars from stopping on the shoulder of I-5, the largest highway along the West Coast, as it passes a few hundred yards from the San Onofre nuclear power plant south of Los Angeles.
Because of its exposed position in a narrow strip of land between I-5 and the Pacific Ocean, and next to a popular surfing beach the nuclear plant is a major security headache. It is not uncommon to see Marine Corps helicopters from nearby Camp Pendleton buzzing over the plant's twin spheres.
The entire entertainment industry has responded to the terrorist threat with an unprecedented level of security barricades, ID checks, helicopters buzzing overhead and LAPD officers on guard.
"I think all of the studios are still on high alert because, you know what, they represent the culture of America and, although it seems like the terrorists really wanted to go for the military and the financial, the third part of the triangle is the culture," said former Hollywood Reporter editor Anita Busch.
"I remember going through the Fox lot and there's just this maze of concrete you have to go through," she said. "You drive by Warner Brothers and there's concrete barriers albeit painted so it kind of blends in with the studio."
So sensitive are the studios that they will not discuss their security arrangements.
"We've gotten a lot of calls of this nature since September 11, and each and every one is met with the same response: We're not going to discuss our security measures in the press or anything related to them," said Jasmine Medatian, spokeswoman for Paramount.
Hollywood insiders say the companies have canceled public tours, reduced public access to live TV tapings, and stopped renting out their lots for private parties once a major source of extra income.
The stars themselves seem jittery. Movie premieres and award shows normally must-have tickets have been strangely empty, Mrs. Busch said. Only in recent weeks have the theaters once more been full.
The Los Angeles Times reported this week that the stars and studios have shut down access by free-lance photographers the infamous paparazzi who made a lucrative living snapping shots of stars. According to the paper, the photographers are setting aside their competitive instincts to organize a "celebrity photographer" association to issue credentials and guarantee access behind the new security barriers.
Gossip columns, meanwhile, have been full of amusing but anonymous anecdotes of famous stars who now refuse to fly, hire special mail-opening services to avoid the threat of anthrax, or even build sealed rooms in their Beverly Hills homes to protect them from chemical warfare.
But the most astounding change in Hollywood may be in its attitude.
"I think there is an overriding feeling of patriotism," Mrs. Busch said. "Hollywood is really wondering what it can do to help the war effort."
Mr. Valenti strongly agrees.
There is "a sense that writers directors, actors, agents publicity people, lawyers, craftsmen, artists want to do whatever they can to help their country."
For example, the A-list cast of the new movie "Ocean's Eleven" traveled Wednesday to a U.S. base in Turkey to entertain British and American troops supporting the campaign in Afghanistan. The travelers include stars George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and Brad Pitt.
The Sepember 11 attacks "really made us appreciate again what we have," Mr. Pitt told ABC News. "It's basically reminded us of these freedoms."
Los Angeles officials briefly toyed with the notion of painting the famous Hollywood sign red, white and blue for Veteran's Day. They dropped the plan only after homeowners complained about the aesthetics and argued that the patriotic color scheme might make the sign a prime target for terrorists.
Mr. Valenti, a Hollywood fixture for more than three decades, brokered a meeting last month between studio heads and senior White House adviser Karl Rove. Industry leaders agreed to help create pro-American "messages" that could be broadcast to nations around the world.
"We were talking in this meeting about messages, trailers in movies, visual and radio messages that would be sent around the world that we would put on television stations and radios, wherever we can find a place to put them, which speaks about what this is all about," Mr. Valenti said. "This war is not a war against Islam at all. This is a war against people who defile Islam and murder innocent people."
Another change has been Hollywood's attitude toward violent entertainment. In the immediate aftermath of September 11, studios delayed the openings of some movies, including "Collateral Damage," a $100 million Arnold Schwartzenegger film, fearing the public would be skittish about such violent fare.
Other producers trimmed terrorist-themed scenes, such as a scene from the TV show "24" that featured an explosion aboard an airliner. The Hollywood media report that the changes go far deeper into the pipeline of movies and TV shows yet to be produced.
Reportedly off the table, perhaps forever, is "Deadline," a planned project by James Cameron that featured the hijacking of an airliner. Also in question is "WW3.com," a movie featuring a Boeing 767 crash in New York.
"There were certain things with certain themes that were put aside immediately, so there is self-censorship," Mrs. Busch said. "No studio chairman can look at you with a straight face and say yeah, we're going to greenlight a project about terrorists. It's just different what they greenlight and don't greenlight. It's subtle; it's the responsible thing to do. I think they're acting much more responsibly."
No one is willing to predict how long this "kinder-and-gentler" Hollywood will last, but many people seem to approve.
"To me it's refreshing, it really is to see that politics as a whole all of a sudden got relegated to a lesser priority in terms of what the bigger cause was," said Mr. Arslanian. "I think people are looking at the big picture right now and being very responsible about it."
The new outlook has also muted the industry's formerly strident political tone. Hollywood is an unabashedly liberal and Democratic enclave. Hollywood strongly backed Al Gore and was disgruntled about George W. Bush's narrow election.
During the Afghan campaign, however, Hollywood Democrats have been reluctant to criticize Mr. Bush, and some have even grudgingly credited him with responding quickly to the September 11 attacks.
"It doesn't bode well if you're a big-time Democrat and liberal," Mr. Arslanian said. "That's taking a back seat right now to what the country's needs are. It's refreshing to see."
Mr. Valenti, a Democrat and former aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, warned that the quiet on the political front should not be seen as a permanent shift to the right by Hollywood.
"They weren't rallying around a Republican administration they were rallying around a president elected by the people, they were rallying around their country," he said of the executives who met with Mr. Rove. "Everybody in that room was an American first and everything else after that."
But newfound patriotism will not turn Hollywood into a propaganda machine, Mr. Valenti said.
"Absolutely, we want to do whatever we can to help our country, but there can be absolutely no mention of content in movies," he said. "That's verboten, that's off the table, that's not a subject for discussion. That is not the role of a government in any form."

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