Why Did Julia Snub Erin at the Oscars?

Writing in the March 26 Washington Post, Sharon Waxman points out that Julia Roberts, in accepting her Best Actress Academy Award, forgot to thank the person whose name is also the title of the film Roberts won for. Yes, despite her charming defiance of the time limit for acceptance speeches (“Turn that clock off, it’s making me nervous”), America’s sweetheart forgot to thank the real Erin Brockovich, who these days goes by the name Erin Brockovich-Ellis. Brockovich-Ellis’ name also failed to come up in Roberts’ backstage follow-up Q and A with reporters.

Probably Roberts just forgot. But Chatterbox wonders whether somewhere in the back of her mind there was some vague sense that Brockovich-Ellis’ moral luster has dimmed. In the movie, Brockovich, a penniless paralegal, extracts a $333 million settlement out of the rich and evil Pacific Gas and Electric Company because its compressor station has poisoned the good people of Hinkley, Calif., with a toxic chemical called Chromium 6. Today, of course, PG&E is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, California is running out of electricity (all those California television sets tuned last night to the Oscars couldn’t have helped), and nobody in Hollywood gives a good goddamn about Chromium 6. Beverly Hills was hit with a blackout last week, the Times of London reported, “just as thousands of agents, producers and directors were sitting down to lunch. Chefs at Debbie’s on Wilshire Boulevard were forced to read food orders in the dark and customers left in irritation at the slow service.” They can vent their rage on PG&E if they like, but as Paul Krugman observed in the March 25 New York Times, there’s evidence that the California power crisis is at least partly caused by market manipulation from PG&E’s suppliers. Krugman cited a report from the California Independent System Operator, which controls the state’s power grid. Chatterbox thinks it must’ve been this one, which estimates that in January price gouging boosted PG&E’s real-time energy costs by 63 percent. Although PG&E plays the victimizer in Erin Brockovich, PG&E looks more like a victim in the real-life drama currently unfolding in California.

Plus, there’s that odd business with Brockovich-Ellis about mold. Remember the $2 million bonus that Julia Roberts gets at the end of the movie? According to a March 8 article by Andrew LePage in the Sacramento Bee, Brockovich-Ellis used it to buy a $1 million house in Agoura Hills, Calif., from Tom Selleck’s brother Robert. Now she says she’s suffering various respiratory and other ailments because the house is loaded with mold. She’s spent $250,000 attempting to fix the problem. Some might argue it would be simpler just to sell the house, but that would deny Brockovich-Ellis the opportunity of suing Robert Selleck, which is what she’s doing. This might arguably be good material for Erin Brockovich, Part Two: Affluence and Its Discontents. But Chatterbox doubts Roberts is likely to think so.

[Update, 2:30 PT: Apparently, Roberts just forgot. Click here  and scroll down to the audio clip, “Julia Roberts forgot to thank Erin Brockovich” and you can hear it from Roberts herself.]