Mel Gibson and acclaimed screenwriter Joe Eszterhas are at loggerheads over a project in which they were to collaborate. Eszterhas has accused Gibson of wanting to abuse his participation in the proposed movie about 160BC Jewish mercenaries as a way of clearing his anti-Semitic problems.
The allegations were exposed in a fiery letter written by the screenwriter to his would-be producer, Mel Gibson. The nine page missive claimed that Gibson never truly had plans to produce the film titled “The Maccabees”. Eszterhas instead wrote that Gibson was trying to deflect anti-Semitic charges that have dogged him for a long time and are threatening to stall his career.
Joe Eszterhas, himself a Jew, has had a colorful career that has been filled with dramatic personal incidents. “Crossbearer”, a book about him that was published in 2008 describes that he had a throat cancer medical scare in 2001 that led him to review his life. He devoted himself to his Catholic beliefs and moved back to his hometown in Cleveland to be with his wife and family. His Hungarian father was also a pro-Nazi activist who had alleged war crimes investigated by the Justice Department. His script of “The Music Box” loosely tells this family story. Joe Eszterhas’ most famous scripts include “Flashdance”, “Showgirls” and erotic film “Basic Instinct”.
The letter to Mel Gibson is filled with angry statements by Eszterhas and quotes from conversations shared with the “Passion of the Christ” producer. Eszterhas says that Gibson was repeatedly acting “wild and crazed” using racist terms regarding Jews and termed the holocaust as a sham. The letter also sensationally describes Mel Gibson’s threats to an ex-girlfriend, Oksana Gregorieva. Eszterhas says that Gibson called Jews “hebes and oven-dodgers”.
In a swift rejoinder, Mel Gibson has branded Eszterhas’ accusations as “utter fabrications”. On his part, he says the conflict stems from the writer’s “terrible” script that had been rejected by the Warner Bros production studios. He confesses that he did lose his temper at Joe during one of their meetings as they prepared the script. However, he says that he immediately issued a written apology to Joe Eszterhas. He goes on to graphically describe how he and Warner Bros were astonished at the quality of work submitted by the writer. He says “I have never seen a more substandard initial draft or such a significant waste of time.”
Mel Gibson, who never specifically touched on the accusations of anti-Semitic statements leveled at him, denies that he intended to use the Maccabees project as a platform for salvaging his reputation. His letter states that he has been developing the project for over a decade and that it came to public knowledge about eight years ago. This is a further threat to his long career. He begun as an unknown actor in Mad Max having motor replacements for his motorcycle to being a superior director in Passion of the Christ.
Others have joined in on the conflict. The founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Marvin Hier, has given support to the allegations made in Eszterhas’ letter. He has been an outspoken critic of Mel Gibson’s Maccabees project also saying that it could be a way of Mel Gibson demonstrating his contriteness.
Despite these concerns, says Eszterhas, he continued with the work and took two years of research and writing to develop. But Gibson maintains that the writer had nothing to show after 15 months “at his expense and that of the Warner Bros studios”. Given the fiery character of these two, we have much more to see in this incident.