Photo: Greg Allen/REX USA.
Toothy Tile was my first. One summer, I found myself a 16-year-old intern at a post-production house during a massive SAG/AFTRA strike. No actors meant nothing to assist in post-producing, and so I spent three months arranging bagels for bored staff, alphabetizing the lunch-menu folder, and falling headfirst into the kind of Internet binge that only a teen with no responsibilities and unlimited access to Diet Coke can pull off. Within weeks, I'd discovered Ted Casablanca's column, The Awful Truth, and the endless, seductive black hole of blind gossip items. That's how I met Toothy.
Ted liked to litter his weekly gossip column with occasional "Blind Vice" items featuring damning secrets of the Hollywood elite. In order to protect himself, and E! Online, from litigation, Ted gave each character he featured a whimsical pseudonym. Emma Uh-Oh dabbled in meth. Cruella St. Shackles was faking her pregnancy. Morgan Mayhem traded sex for synthetic heroin — in rehab.
A few of the stories caught my eye, and I kept up with the commenters trying to untangle Ted's byzantine maze of clues. For all his splashy, secret tales, he was achingly cryptic when it came to pointing the reader in the right (or very wrong) direction.
In May 2005, a new character emerged. At the time, he was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. His girlfriend was equally famous and adored. And, it was all a sham. The Internet was rife with blurbs on homosexual stars who took opportunistic partners in order to maintain an on- and off-screen hetero-heartthrob persona. A miserable outgrowth of a stagnant prejudice, it's what kept roofs over the heads of gossip columnists for decades.
But, Toothy was different. He wasn't sneaking off for casual flings and coming home to his clueless girlfriend. According to Ted, his relationship was open to all but the media. Somehow, he and his "secret" partner had managed to craft a ruse, allowing them to be out in real life, but maintain consistent evidence of heterosexual relationships with women (who were as active as any in keeping up this pretense for their own financial or career gains). At one point, Ted revealed there was even a baby in the picture.
Ted's own intense interest was so clear in his writing that readers instantly latched on — no one more than I — and Toothy became the topic of chatter on blogs and columns all over the Internet. Gawker tracked the evolution of Toothy. Rival columnists called Ted to the mat. A whole new blog called Waiting For Toothy became the home base for devotees to gather and pick through Ted's clues. Toothy was all but revealed in less than a year. According to the blogs, the gossips, and everyone with a commenter handle, Toothy Tile was Jake Gyllenhaal.
The tide turned to further public outing of Toothy/Jake and a worldwide virtual game of connect the dots began. As the blogosphere grew, so too did the world of blind items, and I began to expand my "research." There was Lainey, Blind Gossip, and the ever-seductive Crazy Days And Nights, all of which generated tantalizing blinds at an exponentially growing rate. Crazy Days even offered a batch of revealed items twice a year, on 4th of July and New Year's Day. It is a fact that I once spent an entire day of a summer vacation in the French countryside inside, in the dark, on my laptop, devouring a batch of these revealed items. That was the first time I really began to feel the hate side of this love-hate habit.
By my mid-20s, I'd begun to suspect that perhaps (and it was a big "perhaps") blind items weren't the best use of my time. Even more worrisome, what if they weren't all true? The implication had always been that because they were anonymous, all the facts must be facts. But, when you're reporting incriminating gossip, protected from all repercussions, wouldn't it be easy enough to exaggerate? Or even just lie? I looked back over the archives of my favorite blind-item sources, and estimated that, according to these numbers, nearly everyone in the entertainment industry had a scandalous past, or secret lovechild, or swimming pool of methamphetamine in their backyard. I realized it didn't add up. As an aside, I'd just like to say that I did actually graduate from college.
Now, I'm not naive enough to believe that every Hollywood marriage is perfect, all starlets are drug-free, and there's absolutely nothing weird about Tom Cruise leaping all over Oprah's furniture. But, that still doesn't mean we should believe everything we read — whether it's in People or on Blind Items Exposed.
With blind items, the fun and the evil are one in the same. They're seductive and juicy and often wildly cruel. The percentage of made-up blinds is impossible to calculate, but beyond that lies a much more insidious problem: These items allow a culture of ignorance and prejudice to continue. Right now, a gay actor playing a leading man is still an anomaly and even alarming to many audiences. That's as much our fault as the industry's. Does Jake Gyllenhaal have a long-term partner with whom he shares a home and child? I don't know, but if he does — so what? Then again, if the headline was "Jake Gyllenhaal Buys Groceries With Husband, Drives Home," would as many readers click on it?
After all, why must every heartthrob be straight? Why can't a child star grow up and make some mistakes? If you had picked up a tabloid to read about "a legendary actor who's girlfriend kicked him out to keep his drug habit away from the kids," would you have felt sympathy or fascination? And, when you later heard the news about Philip Seymour Hoffman, what would you feel then?
I can't honestly say that blind items no longer intrigue me. Every now and then I find myself browsing through Crazy Days And Nights, just to look up and find that an hour has passed. But, reading them now makes me less curious about the subject than about the person who deemed someone else's personal crisis as "clicky." It makes me wonder more about what might be true and what's likely a fabrication. More than anything, it makes me wonder why this story is any of my business.