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Mel Gibson: Man Overboard?

An anti-Semitic tirade against a Jewish police officer during a traffic stop in 2006. And now, in 2010, reports of a profane misogynistic rant against an ex-girlfriend during a custody fight over their infant daughter -- a rant that includes the "N-word." Four years ago, film historian Pat McGilligan, biographer of pioneering black director Oscar Micheaux, told me, "The movie industry and movie fans accept all sorts of flaws and stupid behavior, but abusing people and practicing or espousing racism and anti-Semitism finally disturbs most Americans, and should. Maybe it will disturb people at the highest levels of Hollywood, then filter down."

Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, who had worked with Gibson on "The Passion of the Christ," told me at the same time, "If producers think they can make a movie with him that makes $300 million, I suspect they will."

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Well, after six years off the screen, Gibson was back as an actor and in fine form in "The Edge of Darkness" (above), though the movie didn't break the $100 million-mark worldwide. Many of us were looking forward to seeing what he did under Jodie Foster's direction in "The Beaver," due out later in 2010. But it's hard for a performer in a mass medium like movies to shake such a horribly tarnished image and connect afresh to the audience.

It's too bad Gibson didn't listen to the advice director Phil ("The Right Stuff") Kaufman offered in '06: "Mel Gibson's a talented guy who's taken to doing harmful things... . He should shut the heck up and he should stick to what women want, not what bigots want." Alas, "What Women Want," his giant romantic-comedy hit, came out over a decade ago. With Gibson, there's nothing to laugh about, right now. His biggest hope to escape a one-way ticket to palookaville may be that late-night comics turn his behavior into punch-lines.

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