Joe Eszterhas on His Book, ‘Heaven and Mel,’ and His Mel Gibson Ordeal
He was asked to write the screenplay for a Mel Gibson film about the Maccabees. Then, he said, things went crazy. His new book, Heaven and Mel, is available now on Kindle. In a Daily Beast exclusive, the screenwriter explains why he wrote his explosive new tell-all—and why he’s now seeking police protection.
I don’t believe he ever had any intention of making a film about one of the most glorious moments in Jewish history: the story of the Maccabees. I think he used my reputation as a protective umbrella. I had been awarded the Emanuel Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award for writings about the Holocaust in Hungary and I had written two films condemning anti-Semitism (Betrayed and Music Box). I had even done a fundraiser for the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles.
I put my heart and soul into my screenplay about the Maccabees for deeply personal reasons. My father, whom I loved, was accused by the Justice Department in the early ’90s of war-crime activities in Hungary in the ’30s and ’40s. I believed that writing a powerful film about the Maccabees would ease the burdens of my father’s sins.
My heart was broken when Mel Gibson cynically never even responded after I sent him my script.
I had learned by then, working closely with him, very personally, that his anti-Semitism was at his core, inherited from his father, a Holocaust denier. Mel loved his father, too, and stayed loyal to his father’s abhorrent beliefs. I turned my back on my father and his beliefs: my loyalty is to the 6 million dead.
Mel’s hatred of Jews, I discovered, is so deep that he views the story of the Maccabees, the inspiration for Hanukkah, as a “prefiguration” of Jesus Christ. I devoutly believe in Jesus Christ, but he has nothing to do with the Maccabees—a Jewish story, not a Christian one.
I hoped against hope as I wrote my script that its power and sense of triumph would overcome Mel’s hatred. But I realize now how foolish I was. I put the dunce cap on my own head.
As Mel said to me, he wanted to make a movie that would “convert the Jews to Christianity.” The script I wrote for him had nothing to do with Christianity. It had to do with the oppression and persecution of Jews, with echoes to the Nazis and to the present day.
In the course of our work together, I saw a side of Mel that frightened me. I saw a truly ugly, terrifying, and violent explosion at his house in Costa Rica that caused my wife to sob and my 15-year-old son, Nick, to take a butcher knife from the kitchen and sleep with it under his pillow.
While Mel and I worked, he often spoke about killing his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, and he told my teenage son a graphic, sexual snuff-film fantasy about stabbing her to death.
The sordid violence of his threats, combined with the physical violence of two explosions I witnessed, is the other reason I wrote my book.
I came to the conclusion that Mel Gibson needs immediate psychiatric treatment and medication, or someone will get hurt: probably Mel, but possibly Oksana, or an innocent Jewish person who wanders into his field of vision.
My book isn’t a hatchet job. I lean over backward to be fair to the man, but I saw sides of him that most people never see ... and everything I saw is in my book. It is a tell-all, but a tell-all on different levels. It is about fathers and sons, God and the Devil, sexual obsession, and guilt. I think that, finally, it’s about values and choices.
While I was working with Mel Gibson, I saw many crucifixes and guns around his house. That twisted juxtaposition—crucifixes and guns—troubles me.
Since my issues with him became public, I have received viciously anti-Semitic hate mail (I am not Jewish) and death threats from his supporters. I have asked our local police department to take extra measures to protect my family’s safety.