There were differences.
She had a dead chimp. He had a live water buffalo. She had an Isotta Fraschini with leopard-skin upholstery. He had a Suzuki van. She used tuberoses.
He used Avena syrup, an herbal Viagra. She liked Champagne and caviar.
He liked Coca-Cola and Pepsi. She had a script. He had a Koran. She had a white telephone. He had no telephone.
But the similarities were striking. The faded murderous glamor queen and faded murderous terror king relied on drivers to negotiate their relations with the world. Married multiple times, they were both ensconced with lovers half their age in high-priced villas that shut out the world, vainly looking at old videos of themselves and primping, hoping for spectacular comebacks that would wow their fans.
Instead, Justice pounded up the stairs.
Maybe it's because I watched the videos of Osama bin Laden released by the Obama administration while staying at the Sunset Tower Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. But seeing him holed up in his room, looking pathetic with white beard and blankie, gazing at himself on screen in his heyday, Osama was oh so Norma Desmond (with a dash of Woody Allen in Bananas). "I am big," he might have sneered. "It's the thumb drives that got small."
The CIA is playing mind games - both with al-Qaida, trying to show its slain leader as a pitiable figure, and with Pakistan, sending a message that we may have even more information than we do and that double-dealing Pakistanis had best cooperate because they could be embarrassed, too.
I don't think we need to worry about inflaming al-Qaida. They come pre-inflamed. But the CIA's propaganda message is a bit mixed. On the one hand, Osama seems risible, an old man with a clicker trapped in a dorm room. On the other, intelligence sources have said that the cloistered, swaddled bin Laden was still a threat, plotting more transportation cataclysms here. Pitiable or potent? Make up your minds.
When U.S. officials wanted to scare the world about the Soviet threat, they would show surveillance shots of missiles. But now, in the age of technology and terror, the dire threats come from much more homely adversaries. They can emanate from the nondescript third floor of a house in a picturesque hamlet in Pakistan.
Just because bin Laden didn't look like a Bond villain stalking around some elaborate lair didn't make him less of a threat.
The monster's myth-making and video-star turns are over. Now Hollywood will have its say. There's probably someone right this minute pitching Bravo on The Real Housewives of Abbottabad.
The inside track goes to director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, the pair who won Oscars for The Hurt Locker, a movie about a bomb-defusing team of soldiers in Iraq that was so tense you thought your head would explode.
Boal, who lived in New York and went to ground zero on 9/11, has covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a journalist. He and Bigelow began working on a movie about the hunt for bin Laden in 2008 - at a time when President George W. Bush and Hollywood suits had put the terrorist leader on the back burner.
"After the lack of appetite when we were raising money for The Hurt Locker, Kathryn and I thought it was not a bad sign that we were doing something that people were not interested in," Boal said dryly.
Studios shy away from making movies about unpopular wars we're still stuck in, but Boal, who lives here now, disagrees.
"Why wait?" he asked. "I might be retired by the time we get out of Afghanistan. Don't you want to live in a world where artists mix it up in the culture in a timely way?"
He knows, however, that mixing it up about Osama can be dangerous, and is conscious of "the security ramifications."
He and Bigelow optioned a book written anonymously by a Delta force commander at Tora Bora, where Osama slipped away in 2001. And about a year ago, Boal learned that the hunt for Osama had intensified.
Then the Navy SEAL Team 6 dropped from the Pakistan sky. And now the duo, planning for a 2012 release, have an exciting ending and excited financiers.
"We've certainly been getting more calls from studios," Boal says wryly. "We were charging ahead with a movie that ended in Tora Bora with bin Laden still alive. Now we have a definitive ending."
He said he's been surprised by some of the reaction on the left against the Navy SEAL unit taking out bin Laden, noting: "The debate about whether there should have been a trial feels a little bit like looking a gift horse in the mouth."
Osama is ready for his closeup. But it's going to be less flattering - and more final - than he intended.
© 2011 New York Times News Service