Long before Mel Gibson’s racist, sexist rants to girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva went public, I had been a victim of Mel’s, in a way.
Gibson’s fans seem to be surprised at his transformation from legendary action hero to belligerent drunk. Yet, throughout his decadent decline — from making 2004’s “Passion of the Christ” to slurring Jewish epithets at police officers during a 2006 DUI arrest to his latest, perhaps most damning tirades — I remained nonplussed, even gleeful about his downfall. Fourteen years ago he had crushed my dreams.
As a 10 year old, I got a role as an extra on “Ransom,” a big-budget Hollywood production starring Mel Gibson and Renee Russo and directed by Ron Howard.
My dad, however, poured cold water on my obvious excitement:
“I heard Mel Gibson is an anti-Semitic ass,” he said.
“What’s anti-Semitic?” I asked.
“He hates Jews like us,” Dad replied.
“Lee, watch your language. I’m sure Mel is very nice,” Mom said.
“Who cares about him anyway? I’ll be in it,” I boasted.
The next morning at 5 a.m., I was picked up by a bus with cushy white leather seats and taken to Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, where a huge science fair scene was set up.
Between takes I wriggled out from behind the set and sneaked over to where Mel Gibson paced in front of a huge green screen. An assistant was running behind him with hairspray and a comb, trying to hide his bald spot.
“Excuse me, Mr. Gibson, can I please have your autograph?” I asked in awe.
Mel looked down at me in disgust before responding.
“I’m going to lunch. I’ll be back in four hours,” he said, blasting me with liquored breath. His bloodshot blue eyes swept over me like I didn’t exist before he stalked away.
I recalled my father’s warning, fearing Mel had smelled my Hebrew blood. Had seen that underneath my pancake make up and borrowed designer clothes, I was a poor Jew from the Lower East Side.
“Nazi,” I shouted at his back. But he never turned around.
That was the last movie I worked on. Of course, Gibson’s drunken dismissal years ago is nothing compared to the mess of anger and debauchery his life has become in the past few days. I was not the focal point for his racist rage, just an anonymous kid whose dreams didn’t matter. Stardom, celebrity, self-worth, the success stories I had woven in my childish fantasies were casualties of his caprices.
I don’t want to star in movies anymore, turned off by the headline-pumping smoke-and-mirrors machine Hollywood is, building up larger-than-life icons on screen who inevitably unravel their own impossibly good publicity. I’m just thankful Mel’s stereotype promoting, tyrannical reign has ended.
Royal Young just completed his debut memoir, “Fame Shark.” Follow him at Twitter.com/RoyalYoung