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Wise Guys

Miramax wrote Wise's ''Gangs'' Oscar endorsement. A PR man working for both the studio and the Academy wrote the tribute that turned into an ad that angered Oscar voters

Gangs of New York, Leonardo DiCaprio | 'GANGS' WARFARE Will a dubious ad harm the film's Oscar chances?
Image credit: Gangs of New York: Mario Tursi
'GANGS' WARFARE Will a dubious ad harm the film's Oscar chances?

Not only did Miramax solicit former Academy president Robert Wise's endorsement of an Oscar for ''Gangs of New York'' director Martin Scorsese, but a publicist hired by the studio wrote it for him as well, the Los Angeles Times reports. Last week, Wise said the essay, initially published as an op-ed article in the Los Angeles Daily News, had been ghostwritten by his own assistant, Mike Thomas. Miramax had republished the 500-word tribute as a newspaper ad, angering many Oscar voters (who saw it as flouting Academy rules) and Scorsese himself, and possibly costing the film the votes of Academy members who hadn't yet mailed in their ballots.

According to the Times, the actual author was Murray Weissman, a publicist working on the ''Gangs'' Oscar campaign. Both Thomas and Millicent Wise, wife of the two-time Oscar-winning director (''West Side Story,'' ''The Sound of Music''), denied that Thomas wrote the testimonial, and Millicent Wise said her husband approved Weissman's text and submitted it verbatim under his name. Wise himself declined to comment.

The ad angered current Academy president Frank Pierson, Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson (''Rain Man''), and other Academy members, who believed it to be a violation of Academy rules soliciting members to reveal their votes. Pierson told the Times last week that some members even asked for their ballots back so as to strike Scorsese's name from the list, but he said that submitted ballots will not be returned. (All ballots must be mailed by March 18.) Even Scorsese was unhappy, with his publicist telling the Times that he was unaware that what seemed to be an unsolicited tribute from a friend would be used as an ad on his behalf.

Miramax has since yanked the ad, saying in a statement that it was unaware that it might be seen as offensive or rule-breaking. However, if the endorsement did violate the rules, Weissman should have known. He's an Academy member himself, and he serves on the organization's public relations branch executive committee.

Originally posted Mar 17, 2003