In March 2013, shortly after Ric Menellos’ death, writer, Richard Brody, published two articles in The New Yorker about Ric. Brody’s source for the first piece was James Gray, who co-wrote two films with Mr. Menello. The source for the second article was Rick Rubin, who employed Mr. Menello on a number of music video/film projects and was a friend from NYU. Unfortunately, both articles contain factual errors that were later identified by several of Ric’s closest friends and family, but virtually ignored by Brody. I worked with Ric throughout his lifetime, including working with Rick Rubin and Ric at Def Jam, and produced and/or photographed most of Ric’s music videos. I also authored over ten screenplays with Ric. I was in charge of cleaning out Ric’s apartment. I had the only key, and admitted only four close friends who wanted to help. The clean-out took three days. I was there throughout so it’s odd hearing all these rants about what was there and what it was like. Still, Gray’s conjecture and hearsay remains, and a person or the people who were actually there are ignored. Why is that?
It seems that Brody had a clear agenda to defame Ric right from the start. His piece focused solely on the negative and failed to capture Ric in any way, either creatively or as a human being. Brody repeatedly turned a blind eye to fact, preferring instead to present endless conjecture from people whom, in one case, saw Ric in person, maybe five or six times over 10 years, and another who hadn’t seen him in three or four years and rarely spoke with him. I have access to all of Ric’s personal belongings, writing, emails and photos. I was in direct communication with him for most of his life. I was with him for four hours a day before his untimely passing. In defense and in rebuttal, we created http://www.ricmenello.com as a place where those who knew Ric could share their personal stories about him. I also took the time to add missing or ignored facts to his Wikipedia page. To me and those who knew Ric, what is presented in both The New Yorker pieces consists mostly of people speculating about Ric’s personal life and offering conjecture about things that can easily be explained.
James Gray was a business partner and friend of Ric’s, but not a close or intimate one. He knew little about Ric’s personal life, as is evidenced by his commentary and by Ric’s own writing and personal conversations with me. In fact, Gray and company, led by Adam Dubin (who, oddly, was never asked to comment or offer his opinions) did help Ric through various parts of his life and that fact should not be discarded. Asking Gray to comment on Ric’s life was a horrible mistake that has left a totally negative impression of Ric that is far from the truth. He had no business trying to define someone he didn’t understand. Ric was not a hermit or a loner. He was always surrounded by people. Any real friend of Ric knew he was an outgoing person with acquaintances far and wide that he talked to and (in many cases) saw on a daily basis.
These articles have caused a great deal of pain to my family and Mr. Menello’s friends since they came out. Ric’s close friends, family and associates responded to the character assassination in the New Yorker via more than two dozens of online comments that exposed the articles’ inconsistencies and falsehoods. Unfortunately, these comments have disappeared, leaving all the mistakes and allegations in the article undisputed. I don’t know whether this was the work of Mr. Brody or the New Yorker webmaster. Either way, it has left a gross distortion of reality unchallenged and defamed the reputation of Ric Menello. We cannot allow this to continue. Although Mr. Brody did revise the articles, they continue to convey a negative and false portrait that is void of any understanding of Ric’s life and work.
I bristled at the thought that the second article’s title was retitled In Memory Of Ric, which is offensive to me and is nothing like a tribute or a memory piece. I understand that people like Brody may think they are above criticism, but by eliminating the well-deserved negative feedback to his article shows him to be a cowardly hack journalist who can’t admit or take responsibility for his mistakes. He should stick to film criticism and leave character profiles alone until he understands how to do proper research to distinguish fact from conjecture and hearsay. Worse yet is ending each article with some positive offhand comment is like pouring perfume on a garbage dump.
Hopefully, our work here will provide an accurate counter-point to Brody’s shoddy, inconsistent writing. Ideally, there should have been a third, fact-based article that challenged the offending material in the previous pieces. It’s beyond Brody’s skills to do that so we will republish and expand on all the rebuttals to his articles beginning with the first by his close friend Mel Neuhaus.
When Brody drops dead which couldn’t come quick enough for me. I will be sure to send in my own investigative team to do an expose of his worthless life. I will be sure to fill it with all the conjecture I can. It’s the least I can do for a human being of so little substance.
Mel was one of Ric’s closest friends. They attended NYU together and remained close throughout Ric’s life. When Ric re-located back to Brooklyn, he moved several blocks from Mel’s apartment so he could be close by and they saw each other almost every day. They resumed after many years their special all day Sunday screenings at Mel’s house that continued up until Ric’s passing. An incensed Mel was the first to issue a rebuttal to the original Brody piece. It was one of many that poured in from family, friends and business associates that pointed out the glaring errors and gross misrepresentation of Ric in the articles. We will continue to add to these rebuttals in protest to the original articles by Brody.
Mel’s Original Rebuttal to the original Brody article appears below for the first time in its entirety:
A LOAD OF STEAMING CRAP!
Oh, James, James, James…James of the ego that would shock both Norman Mailer AND Donald Trump! It really IS all about YOU, isn’t it? Oh, gosh, how you took this frail, homeless crazy man who had a wee lick of writing talent…and helped him out…Gave him that “Let’s put on a show!” big break…all out of the kindness of your benevolent heart. Because you’re such a sweet, generous individual…Jeez, the entire Hollywood community must have been gagging on their lattes yesterday when they read your revolting revisionist masterpiece of shameless self-promotion (in the wake of a tragic death, no less)!
First and foremost there is your description of his decrepit existence – his pathetic savant lifestyle resembling something out of The Jungle (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle – and not the Cesar Romero movie about the woolly mammoths). You get what I’m saying? You know, Ric being a transient whose only saving grace could be mined when one mentioned cinema. Truth be told: Ric, contrary to your asinine assessment, wasn’t a rain man…he was a renaissance man. Ric was a voracious reader – well-versed in a myriad of subjects. While the movies were his great love – Menello, at any time, could be engaged in lively discussions on theater, painting, literature, music (especially the evolution of filmmusic and opera), architecture, world history and more. An early screening of Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73 fascinated him to the extent of his researching the weapon in question…which led to his interest in the overall history of weaponry going back to the ancient world. When we watched a Blu-Ray of Zulu, a movie we both love, Menello would pay precise attention to the rifles, explaining their origins to me…He could tell you the difference between a dirk, a dagger or any other blade, including the entire arsenal of Japan – dynasty by dynasty. At a party, he could hold various conversations simultaneously (which I saw him do). He could effortlessly segue from a discussion of The Three Sisters to The Three Stooges (which I also saw him do). When he embraced French cinema, he taught himself the language so that he could access books and articles on his favorite directors that weren’t available in English editions. He was likewise (up until his death) engaged in similar exercises relegated to Japanese linguistics. Hardly the personae of a helpless, feeble vagrant (and, by the way – were you making this Lower Depths garbage up as you were going along? If not, who fed you this manure? And how DARE you use it to ruin a wonderful artist’s reputation!!!).
Which brings us to you, James Gray.
For years, I and others were witness to your utter disrespect of Ric Menello. How you would call him on Sundays, holidays – when he was a guest at special events. When I heard that Ric always told you where he would be, that he wasn’t to be disturbed…and you STILL violated his privacy with your inane and often hateful banter, I, my wife, our mutual friend, Ellen and others became enraged. You were preying on his gentleness to not cut you off…You had to exhibit some sociopathic control over him – the you-can-run-but-can’t-hide syndrome: “I am SO important – I will call you when I want…” I once asked him why he put up with this. He calmly explained that on one occasion when he going to spend a holiday at his Uncle Pat’s, he turned his phone off. That night, when he returned home, there were 15-20 screeching agonized messages: “Where ARE you?!! Why won’t you answer me?!! I need to talk to you? CALL ME.” My response was, “Who are you, Heathcliff?” to which Ric replied, “No kidding – I thought he was going to have a heart attack. So I promised that from now on, I would always let him know where I was going to be…and to keep my phone on.” “Unless he’s paying you a retainer, this comes under the heading of abuse!” Ric shrugged, “Look, it’s not always going to be like this…”
Since I was present during dozens of such interruptions, I can offer a more accurate depiction of your working relationship. A for instance: When Ric told you that he would be at my place from early afternoon to early evening, it was a given that you would call – no doubt hoping on interrupting a movie in process (which you inevitably did), usually phoning around 2:45-3:00 PM…Ric would sigh, turn to me, my wife, our friend Ellen, and say, “I gotta take this.” Of course we knew who it was. A typical exchange would go like this:
R: What’s up?
J: I came up with a new line for the next scene.
R: Why? It’s not necessary. Its fine as it is.
J: But I love it.
R: Doesn’t matter. In the context of the script progression, it’s totally unnecessary. It violates the narrative structure.
J: I don’t agree.
R: Hey, do what you want – but you’re wrong.
J: Why do you say that to me?
Menello would then explain script writing 101, 2, 3 and 4 to Mr. Gray…using colorful examples from previous works by Wilder, Ben Hecht, Moliere…sometimes going back to Greek theatre!
J: But it’s a GREAT line.
R: Not in context. If you change it, it’s repetitive, because you’ve already discussed that previously in Scene (whatever the number)…This means we have to go back to the earlier dialogue and change that line…It also means that you’re revealing a key point way too late.
J: But I like it.
R: (deep breath) Look, I’ve written a million lines that I loved, but had to throw out because they didn’t fit in with the rest of the structure. Some of the best scenes I’ve ever written were tossed for the same reason. Save it for another time.
J: I don’t understand why you’re being so unreasonable…
R: Because up to this scene, we’ve fine-tuned the entire script: it’s tight, it’s great, it works! If you do this, we have go back and make changes where none are needed…and the original line plays perfectly…
J: Well, can you come up with an alternate?
R: We don’t need an alt…(SIGHS)…Look, I’m in the middle of something now…I’m not going to rush into this. I’ll call you back later…
J: You promise me? You got to…
R: Yeah, but it’ll be late.
J: I don’t care.
R: Okay, I have to go…
J: You’ll call?
R: Yeah. (clicks off; turns to us; GRINS; in a perfect Zero Mostel/The Producers VOICE): Next time, NO director! (then, in a ten second pause, scribbles a line – no doubt an alternate – in his loose leaf pad…which he’ll provide to Gray later on, probably at around 3AM our time).
Again, James – are you still sticking to your role as the saintly movie maven taking pity on an unstable, wretched individual by tossing him a bone? Seems like it’s the other way around to me; by that I mean it appears that you needed Menello more than he needed you – a prediction that your subsequent post-Lowlife career will soon reveal. Which brings us to our homage to Ric and your final collaboration; you have now been officially re-christened James “Lowlife” Gray. Long may you knave!
You see, as evidenced, those close to Ric knew the real story of your rocky working relationship. We witnessed the phone abuse, the threatening to not pay him a penny, the conspiring to NOT get him proper representation so that you and others could take advantage of his considerable abilities for peanuts. These are but several points that immediately come to mind; if pressed, I can come up with a full ten thousand (does that number ring a bell?)…
And Brody – you’re an IDIOT! Apparently, The New Yorker has dispensed with all that useless fact checking stuff. I was at that Quiet Man screening (which, BTW, James called Ric at approximately twenty minutes into the movie. Ric angrily clicked the phone off and turned to me. I raised my hand, shook my head, and whispered, “Gee, I wonder who!”). You and Menello engaged in a conversation that lasted, oh, about all of two minutes – the majority of which comprised your anxious desire for any news of Low Life (and by that, I mean the director). That said, mortal attributes aside, I am admittedly greatly impressed by your apparent Shazaam super powers, specifically your X-ray vision – the only viable manner in which you could have determined (under the layers of clothing) on that raw, wintry eve that Menello had swollen ankles!
You two SO deserve each other!
New York City
Mel also did an interview with Glenn Kenny on March 9th in an effort to offset the damage done by the articles as well as to show another side of Ric that was seemingly trampled on in the Brody pieces.
The interview can be found here: Remembering Ric Menello, A Conversation With Mel Neuhaus