An unusual phenomenon has been sighted in the Hollywood hills, a rare beast that many people thought extinct, if it ever existed at all. It's the sight of somebody in the US film industry Going Too Far.
In a town where hyperbole is like oxygen and zillions of studio dollars are spent in promotion, the sight of someone puffing their work, their views or their personal loveliness is hardly unusual. So hats off, I suppose, to the actress Melissa Leo for managing to pitch the LA Academy into a furore of tut-tutting because she put glamorous pictures of herself in Hollywood trade papers.
It's a long-standing tradition that, around Christmas time, the producers of the year's biggest films advertise them in the trades under the rubric "For your consideration..." In other words, "Please vote for us, oh lovely Academy members." The ads are accompanied by a round of TV interviews with the films' stars and directors, photo-shoots with the former, chin-stroking pieces about the latter, all carefully stage-managed by producers and their friends in the media. But when Ms Leo – who has already won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors' Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role playing Mark Wahlberg's mum in The Fighter – seized the initiative, it was considered an unprecedented cheek. The two adverts, showing her looking glamorous in a plunging black frock and regal in a long white fur coat, were accompanied by the word "Consider..."
They make no mention of the movie, or of the team who made it, or of Mr Wahlberg, or his co-star Christian Bale. Just Ms Leo showing how gorgeous she is (rather more gorgeous, it must be said, than the raddled old boot she impersonates in The Fighter). She said, having failed to get invited on photo-shoots of TV chat shows, "I just took matters into my own hands," and paid for the ads. "This entire awards process," she recklessly continued, "to some degree is about pimping yourself out." OhMiGod. You could hear the reverberations right across Beverly Hills. "Oscar nominees... usually comport themselves with a modicum of class and restraint," said MovieLine , tartly, "not show up on Academy voters' doorsteps, desperately busking for tips." Studio gossips primly called her self-promotional impulse "unseemly", as if film actresses seldom gave a thought to personal advancement. Studio mutterers hinted that Ms Leo might have blown her lead as shoo-in for the Oscar.
Because she was tactless? Because she broke the Academy rulebook? No – because she broke ranks to complain that, at the age of 50 and with some excellent reviews in her scrapbook, she still wasn't a Hollywood A-lister, recognised on the red carpet, invited onto the talk-show carousel and snapped for the cover of Vanity Fair. It was the cry of a successful actress who isn't, for some reason, having it all, and whose name isn't, inexplicably, on everyone's lips. She feels like a slightly faulty product on the Hollywood production line – and she's gone and embarrassed Hollywood by pointing it out. And that, I fear, in the canyons of movie stardom, is Just Not Done. Which is why the cameras will be focusing, in especially tight close-up, on her indubitably handsome face this Sunday night.
Sarah Brown has stepped straight out of Manderley
I met Sarah Brown years ago when she was plain Sarah Macaulay, PR girl and co-founder of Hobsbawm Macaulay. She was, for a PR, rather scornful of lowly journalists and I didn't warm to her. But the personality that emerges from the pages of her memoirs, Behind the Black Door, published next week, is surprisingly winning, sweetly self-effacing and human. She presents herself, through several rather good anecdotes, as a bit of a chump on the world stage. In Number 10, she ushers Rudi Giuliani's wife into a crockery cupboard. At Chequers, she entertains Prince Andrew by showing him the death mask of well-known royalty fan Oliver Cromwell. She discovers that the fancy gift she's ordered for Nelson Mandela has been replaced by a box of chocs and some No 10 tea. She faints just before meeting Prince William. She bemoans the status of WPM, or Wife of the Prime Minister, because, "I have no exact status and a terrible suspicion that at any moment a great mistake will be made by ME!"
As I read her book, I felt I'd heard that voice before – nervous, shy but plucky, trying to fill the shoes of an illustrious predecessor – and finally I realised. It's the voice of the unnamed girl who marries Max De Winter and takes over the running of Manderley, the palatial house, in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. She feels similarly intimidated and, initially, hopeless. But is there a bitch-from-hell Rebecca figure in Sarah's book? She can be glimpsed in the early chapters, when Sarah talks about dealing with offers of free designer dresses. There are rules that govern MPs' wives gifts, she says, "not to mention the moral aspect of using your position to grab freebies". Mee-aow.
Now we know what really happens when in the chair
When lying back in a dentist's surgery, staring at the ceiling and trying to ignore the agony and boredom of a root-canal treatment, I've sometimes worried if the funny noises behind me means the dentist is doing something he shouldn't. Having read about the alleged behaviour of Matthew Walton, the subject of a hearing at the General Dental Council, my suspicions seem justified.
Mr Walton, it seems, regularly flashed V-signs behind the backs of patients who annoyed him or talked too much. Apparently he was an enthusiastic passer of wind from both ends, complained about his victims' bad breath, swore like a docker while extracting teeth and, when faced with a sufferer from a council estate, would demand to see a wallet before he went any further.
The hearing, which is considering numerous charges of "inappropriate behaviour", heard that Mr Walton "did not have patience". He's unlikely to get many if he loses the case.