February 27, 2014

The National Enquirer inadvertently funds Philip Seymour Hoffman literary prize


440px-Philip_Seymour_Hoffman_2011Batten down the hatches and hide your kids, hide your wife, because the end of the world as we know it is here: The National Enquirer is funding a literary prize. Not on purpose, of course; that would be a mass of irony too great for even the largest Russian novels to contain. Instead, the origin story of the Philip Seymour Hoffman “Relentless Award” for playwrights adheres quite closely to the supermarket salacity one might expect from the publication.

In the wake of Hoffman’s death, The Enquirer published an article claiming that his long-time friend David Bar Katz had called the tabloid up, and admitted to being Hoffman’s lover, cocaine buddy, and enabler who had freebased the drug with him the night before he died. Bored housewives everywhere were shocked to learn that none of this was true—about as shocked as the The Enquirer claimed to be that this caller was not the real Mr. Katz—after he filed a libel lawsuit against the tabloid and its publisher.

As reported by The New York Times, Katz’s lawyer Judd Burstein took issue with the tabloid’s claim of an “honest mistake,” saying, “It sounds ridiculous. They did a search and found someone named David Katz who appeared to be the son of David’s father. They asked, ‘Are you the David Katz who is the playwright?’ They believed him. He sounded distraught. They couldn’t believe that someone would be so callous to say, ‘I’m the real David Katz.’” In sum: though their journalism may be terrible, no one can claim that they didn’t enquire.

Where this story deviates from the norm is that it actually turned into something worthwhile. Katz considered where Hoffman might want the money from the settlement to go, and decided to form the American Playwriting Foundation. The foundation plans to award $45,000 each year to a worthy unproduced play, as selected by a panel including Katz, Eric Bogosian, John Patrick Shanley and Jonathan Marc Sherman. As for why this is a fitting use of the money, Katz explains, “[Hoffman and I] had talked so often that it’s a tragedy playwrights can’t survive being playwrights—about how nice it would be if you could make your rent and still have an occasional steak.”

In addition to the undisclosed amount of settlement money (“enough for the foundation to give out these grants for years to come,” says Burstein), The Enquirer was required to purchase a full-page ad in The New York Times for space to make a really shameful public apology, suggesting that, even in death, the great Philip Seymour Hoffman is still relentless in pursuing artistic truth and poetic justice. His relentless drive is of course the inspiration for the name of this award, though one can’t help but see it as a comic dig at the tabloid as well—“Phil was relentless,” Katz could say, giving a subtle wink and suggestive gesture to the camera. “Although he may be gone, I’ll never forget all the invigorating time we spent together.”