News Column

Great Moments in Hollywood Nepotism

June 3, 2013

Barry Koltnow

It is not a particularly popular holiday. In fact, you've probably never heard of it. It doesn't appear on many calendars.

But today is "Take Your Son, Wife and Brother-in-Law to Work Day."

Will Smith is celebrating the holiday with the opening of his new sci-fi movie "After Earth," which co-stars his son Jaden and was produced by his wife Jada Pinkett Smith and her brother Caleeb Pinkett. Director M. Night Shyamalan may be a distant cousin, but we doubt it. Apparently, Will's 12-year-old daughter Willow was not interested in writing the movie.

We're not picking on Will Smith. He's just the latest movie star to use his clout to spur familial job growth.

This is a town with its own theme song _ "Hooray for Hollywood Nepotism."

I'm not sure when it started, but I suspect there were family members on the first silent movie ever made. I'm pretty sure that family predates the first time a producer's bimbo girlfriend appeared in a movie.

In honor of the holiday, we thought it might be appropriate to pause for a moment to remember the sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and cousins who have made Hollywood the family reunion capital of the world.

Before we get to "Great Moments in Hollywood Nepotism," it's only fair that we present a defense of nepotism.

While it's true that many of these family members couldn't find real work without help from their relatives, there have been many nepotistic beneficiaries who have had successful careers in their own right, and therefore do not deserve to be ridiculed in a column like this.

A perfect example is Michael Douglas. Being Kirk Douglas' son did not win him an acting Oscar for "Wall Street," although his producing Oscar for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" may have been assisted a bit because dad owned the film rights to Ken Kesey's novel. Michael may have done great work in producing a best picture winner, but he never would have gotten in the front door without his father.

There are some who would have you believe that genetics plays a significant role in the success of certain second-generation movie stars, but it's difficult to conclude whether it's the genes or the family connections that matters most.

Were Will and Jada's kids born terrific actors, or did they learn to be terrific actors by being on movie sets all the time and observing their parents and their actor friends?

Ponder that question while we take a nostalgic tour through "Great Moments in Hollywood Nepotism."

1. Tori Spelling seems pretty grounded for someone born into billions. She has written books, and starred in her own reality series, but please don't try to tell me that she would be anything but another wealthy L.A. matron if her father, Aaron Spelling, had not cast her as Donna in "Beverly Hills 90210."

2. Tony Goldwyn, one of the stars of the TV show "Scandal" and the villain in the film "Ghost," has one of the most famous names in Hollywood history. He is the son of a movie producer and an actress. His brother is president of a major movie studio. But those connections pale in comparison to his grandfather, who was movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn (the "G" in MGM). Goldwyn once told me a story about the time he drove to MGM for an audition. He was an unknown actor, and the security guard wouldn't let him drive on the lot because he didn't have a pass. The young actor pointed to the sign above the gate and informed the guard that the "G" was his family name. The unimpressed guard made him park on the street.

3. Unlike his lazy brother Charlie Sheen, who took the easy route and borrowed his father's well-respected professional last name, Emilio Estevez took his family's real last name so no one would think that he was using his familial connections. If you believe he didn't benefit from his family, then you might be interested in a bridge I'm selling.

4. Keenen Ivory Wayans is the product of a modest upbringing. He was forced to start an entertainment dynasty on his own. His four younger siblings (Damon, Kim, Shawn and Marlon) needed only to jump on their brother's coattails and enjoy the ride. No one is denying the talent of the younger siblings, or even the more than 20 members of the next generation of Wayans who are in show business, but let's not kid ourselves.

5. Elle Fanning is one of the best young actresses in Hollywood ("We Bought a Zoo" and the upcoming "Ginger & Rosa"), but no one might have noticed the Georgia peach without her older sister, the freakishly talented Dakota Fanning. Elle got her big break playing a younger version of Dakota in the film "I Am Sam."

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Barry Koltnow: bkoltnow@ocregister.com

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