- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

NEW YORK — By coincidence, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" an unorthodox biopic about the TV game-show mastermind Chuck Barris opens today, a week before the premiere of "The Recruit."
The latter film is a self-confessed work of fiction about how the CIA recruits and trains covert agents. "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" is how to put this?
"Confessions," directed by George Clooney, is agnostic about its subject's absurd, almost certainly fictional claim that he, Chuck Barris, the geeky host of "The Gong Show," was also a decorated CIA killer.
"The CIA assassination stuff, I'd like to just talk about that for two seconds," Mr. Barris says at the beginning of an interview at a New York hotel.
Yes, by all means, let's talk about the "CIA assassination stuff."
At 73, Mr. Barris is weathered, but the outlines of his younger visage are still there. The shock of hair looks familiar, except it has faded completely to gray.
Gone is the outsize bow tie of his "Gong Show" days. Today, he's dressed casually but smartly in jeans and a brown corduroy jacket, wearing stylish round glasses.
Gone, too, is the gawkiness that seems to vanish with youth. He is old now, and there is dignity in oldness. He looks almost like the literary grandee he candidly wishes he were at this stage of his life.
Chuck Barris a coldblooded killer?
So he claims in his 1984 memoir, from which the Charlie Kaufman-penned screenplay was adapted. While chaperoning winners of "The Dating Game" to Helsinki, Berlin and other Cold War-era hot-button cities, Mr. Barris claims, he killed 33 enemies of the United States.
"When I wrote 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,' it was one of the many times I was at an all-time low," he says.
It is 1980. His TV career, which included the creation of innovative game shows, including "The Dating Game" and "The Newlywed Game," is finished.
The feature film he directed and co-wrote with Robert Downey Sr., "The Gong Show Movie," flops. "It came and went in a weekend," Mr. Barris says.
"That same weekend, I went down to Philadelphia to see an ice hockey game the Rangers were playing the Flyers and they put my name up on the scoreboard," he says. "They booed 16,000 people booed. I couldn't understand why."
So he checks into the Wyndham Hotel in Manhattan for a month and starts composing "Confessions."
It sells poorly and is forgotten quickly. Another flop.
Still, he says, "It was totally a catharsis for me. It was just to get rid of this anger. My feeling was, you get crucified for entertaining people, and at the same time, you get medals and presidential citations for killing a man."
That's as far as he'll discuss his CIA dealings; those two seconds are up.
"What I wrote then, I left there. When I don't talk about CIA killing or any of that stuff, it's because I choose not to," Mr. Barris says. "I don't mean to be stubborn or be a bad interview, but that stuff I'm just not going to talk about."

The clue to Mr. Barris' bizarre claim can, perhaps, be found in those simple recollections.
A very ambitious Jewish kid from Philadelphia, Chuck Barris became a famous millionaire, but one gets the sense that he would trade all the money and notoriety for, well, a little respect.
By the time "The Gong Show" which prefigured "American Idol" in concept and execution hit the airwaves in 1976, Mr. Barris was reviled by TV critics, who dubbed him the "king of schlock" and rebuked him for dragging television into a moral and artistic gutter. (They had not yet beheld Jerry Springer.)
"I just was real bad on that criticism stuff and couldn't take it very well," Mr. Barris says.
Add to that a burning desire to be a novelist a serious writer, a true artist.
"My 'Walter Mitty' dream was to go to the south of France and write like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway," he says. After "Confessions" was published, Mr. Barris and one of his female "Gong Show" staffers Robin "Red" Altman, his eventual second wife moved to St. Tropez.
"I went to France to write the 'great American novel,'" he says. "It never happened." (His 1974 novel, "You and Me, Babe," sold well but was no critical favorite.)
Mr. Barris all but admits that he is man of real, but limited, talents and vaulting ambition, a man who is approaching death with a sense of restlessness of failure, loose ends and wasted hours.
In the prologue to his "Confessions" memoir, he included this epigram, written by Iris Murdoch: "God, how time has passed. How can a whole lifetime pass so quickly with so little done?"
"I think my legacy will be: 'Chuck Barris, He Finally Got Gonged.' You know, it'll be on the tombstone," he says. "I think I'll go down being associated with 'The Gong Show,' which is, in a way, kind of sad."

It's not quite time for tombstones yet. He beat lung cancer recently; he married for the third time and is living in New York again; Miramax Books has reissued his 1984 memoir.
With "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" opening at the box office today, Mr. Barris may yet experience the biggest hit sorry, that's probably not the best choice of words of his life.
The CIA, famous for its public posture of neither confirming nor denying various allegations, dismisses Mr. Barris' claim out of hand.
"Prima facie, on the surface of it, [Mr. Barris claim] is so absurd, so idiotic. There is no truth to it," says Chase Brandon, a CIA official who consulted for "The Recruit."
Mr. Barris' claim may not be intended as literal truth. The "CIA stuff," as he likes to call it, is more than likely Chuck Barris the aspiring novelist at work: a postmodern literary device employed for a dark morality tale.
Mr. Clooney, who plays Mr. Barris' CIA recruiter in the movie, puts it this way: "I wanted to be able to tell the story, true or not. And I wanted to be able to say: I think it's a really fascinating story if it's not true that someone as successful as Chuck felt the need to write that story."
"I know that he has an amazing imagination," says Drew Barrymore, who portrays Penny, a partly fictional longtime girlfriend of Mr. Barris'. "I don't know what to believe. I don't want him to have hurt anybody, obviously. So, in that way, I hope it's not true."
Mr. Barris frankly doesn't care, in the end, if people believe him.
"All I want them to be is entertained," he says. "If the picture is accepted by the public as a commercial success, then I know that, basically, they liked it."
Truth, schmuth.
The guy who gave us reality TV is perhaps manipulating reality one last time before he goes. If it means that Chuck Barris can die as something more than the "ayatollah of trasherola," why not tell a little white lie about killing a few communists?
No one really gets hurt, right?

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