Are You Ready for Your Close-up, Mr. Trump?
By Merrill Lynn Hansen
I have been filled with emotion since the events of January 6, and the violent mob takeover of the U.S. Capitol Building. As I watched in real time that afternoon, I knew that a horrible kind of history was being made that day, and that it was our country’s President, Donald J. Trump, who not only had encouraged the violence, but likely was enjoying it.
In the days that followed, Trump was silenced for the first time in five years. The U.S. House of Representatives issued its Article of Impeachment and Trump became the only U.S. president to be impeached twice. Trump was banned from his beloved Twitter, which had featured not only very prominently in his courtship of conservative Republicans, but more importantly, in his mutual love affair with the very people FBI Director Christopher Wray in September 2020, described as “the greatest threat we face.”
But, unbeknownst to me, at the same time that the Article of Impeachment was being drawn up, Trump was facing a crisis that apparently mattered far more to him than the possibility that he might never be able to hold government office again, let alone run for president in 2024. Trump learned on January 19 that SAG-AFTRA (the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), was starting disciplinary proceedings against him, for inciting the January 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol, and for "his antagonism of the union’s journalist members and disregard for the values and integrity of the union.” Trump was notified that he might be barred from ever reapplying for a membership.
Not even Lindsey Graham, or House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, would be able to convince the SAG-AFTRA board members that Trump was the greatest film and television star our country has ever been honored to have grace the screen (or that he never intentionally tried to endanger any journalist who printed something truthful about him).
What the soon-to-be-former President perceived as a deliberate and vexatious act by SAG-AFTRA was more than he could bear. Without the ability to immediately tweet about what a bunch of losers they were, Trump had to make his anger known by memorializing his usual T witter fit in an actual letter. Being a private citizen apparently has not humbled Trump, or diminished how petty and thin-skinned he is. In fact, the only fairly significant change I noticed, was that he may have had someone type the letter who knew how to use spellcheck. Presumably, that individual had to keep a straight face when he or she saw that the letterhead Trump used on February 4, after his term ended, had the presidential seal on it.
I laughed for the first time in a month when I read that Trump had written to SAG-AFTRA’s president, Gabrielle Carteris, and in an attempt to embarrass her, wrote, "While I am not familiar with your work, I'm very proud of my work on Home Alone 2, Zoolander and Wall Street." He mentioned two or three television shows and referred to The Apprentice, his reality TV show, as "one of the most successful shows in television history.” Does Trump not know that I Love Lucy has been shown around the world every day since the 1950s? And does he really think that "You're fired" is as well-known as "To the moon, Alice,” or even "Yabba Dabba Doo”? I’m not sure how many people know that Trump “fired” Dennis Rodman, and Meatloaf on his television show, but the immediate world knows who Marcia Brady is.
When I read that Trump wrote of his pride in having appeared in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, I recalled that in the scene where Kevin, played by McCauley Culkin, asked him where the lobby was, Trump, appearing as himself, pointed his finger and said, “Down the hall and to the left”. I had occasion to see that scene when Trump was campaigning in 2015 to be the worst president in our country’s history, after Marco Rubio had made fun of Trump’s “small hands.”
Rubio was of course insinuating they were a sign that Trump had another “small” body part (a fact that was confirmed by porn star Stormy Daniels in her book about her affair with Trump). I couldn’t help but notice his small hand and stubby finger. Hmmm. As it turns out, Trump’s movie career and television career (as illustrious as he thinks it was) only existed because he demanded that he be given a cameo in every movie a director wanted to film at one of his properties. (Many of those went bankrupt and were eventually sold, but never mind that.)
I don't know why Trump's performance in Home Alone 2 was snubbed by the Academy, which instead honored Al Pacino with an Oscar for playing an alcoholic blind man who could dance the tango in Scent of a Woman. But to my surprise, I later learned that Trump himself was actually in a scene in Scent of a Woman, which he didn't mention in his letter to SAG-AFTRA. Knowing Trump, the snub by the Academy couldn't possibly have wounded him as much as the cut inflicted by Martin Brest, the director of Scent of a Woman, who literally cut Trump's scene with Al Pacino out of the movie.
Brest needed a permit to film at one of Trump's properties, and issuance of the permit was conditioned upon Trump's demand that he appear as himself in a cameo, and that Pacino say, “Hello, Mr. Trump. (It was very important that his name be mentioned.) Actor Matt Damon later revealed that Brest and the crew knew ahead of time that they were going to take an hour, film Pacino saying “Hello, Mr. Trump”, so they could get the permit and then cut the scene. “Hoo Ah.”
Apparently, in his letter to SAG-AFTRA, Trump also forgot to mention that his scene in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, was also cut by director Oliver Stone, because of his “absurd” demands. Among Trump’s requests, received on the first morning of shooting, was that he be filmed “under warm golden lighting” to accentuate his “warm golden skin” and “defined jaw line.” He demanded that the cinematographer “shoot Trump face to camera,” to avoid his left hair part, and he requested his own monitor, so he could see himself. (“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”)
But the Trump scene that bothers me the most is a scene that was not cut. When Trump had a small part in 1996 in one of my favorite shows, The Nanny, he insisted on a line referring to him as a millionaire to a billionaire be changed. Of course, it’s very possible that at that time, he was neither.
Trump ended his “you can’t fire me, I quit” letter to Carteris, with a not-so-surprising "I no longer wish to be associated with your union. As such, this letter is to inform you of my immediate resignation from SAG-AFTRA. You have done nothing for me."
The Actors Guild responded to Trump with a crisp two-word letter: “Thank you.”
Several days later, on February 6, the SAG-AFTRA board announced that they passed a resolution denying any potential readmission applications by Trump.
"Preventing Donald Trump from ever rejoining SAG-AFTRA is more than a symbolic step," said Guild president Carteris. "It is a resounding statement that threatening or inciting harm against fellow members will not be tolerated. An attack against one is an attack against all."
The SAG-AFTRA’s board did something that the Senate impeachment proceedings weren’t able to do. They got him to quit! I long to hear Trump say those words (or preferably put them into a letter), so I can say, THANK YOU, Mr. Trump!!!!!
Although the twice-impeached-but-never-convicted former president is convinced that his greatest screen achievements are what he bragged about in his letter to SAG-AFTRA, he will FOREVER be remembered for his starring role in the videos shown by the House Managers at his trial. Those will be a part of our nation's history, unedited. (Oops, he wasn't filmed using "warm golden lighting" to accentuate his "warm golden" skin and "defined jaw" in the videos of him telling a mob to march to the Capitol Building to Stop the Steal...)
Merrill Lynn Hansen is a legal assistant, living in West Bloomfield, Michigan. She describes herself as a frustrated writer, who wishes she could be Nora Ephron (when she was alive), if only for a day. She is a news-, political- and FB-junkie, a combination that requires a constant reminder that she needs to take deep cleansing breaths when responding to people who don't agree with her.