A humorous take on Hollywood society in the 90s. Originally published monthly in Venice Magazine.
You need to be a hyphenate in Hollywood in order to survive. I’ve become a poet / producer / writer / director / teacher / businesswoman / journalist.
It was not my ambition. It happened to keep me from going crazy while waiting to make sense of living here in the style I wanted. I didn’t want to remain obscure or poor. I wanted some power. Not over anyone, but just enough to get a good table and have artistic freedom. Which meant I wanted access and influence, get enormous amounts of money, have more opportunity than I could handle, hire lots of people to keep the world away, get to say how lonely it is at the top and how hard it is to find peace of mind. I came to Hollywood to be a filmmaker. Martin Scorsese is to blame for this desire. He wiped me out with Mean Streets.
I started out in the “Industry” as an executive. I needed a job. For several years I cast shows and movies for Norman Lear. That was before I moved on into writing and producing television. Lear taught me about comedy and integrity. I was amazed how he could walk away from projects because he didn’t believe in them. I wanted to be that honorable and rich. Of course he made an enormous amount of money in the golden days of television when most middle class had no alternative programming. There was a fortune to be made in syndication. He did very well, but I think he always had a need to be responsible. I was attracted to him and the idea of broadcasting because I had a passion for making sense and history. I also loved rock and roll, art, new scenes, pop culture and people who broke the rules and tried new styles. I loved the theatre so I directed.
September had its usual end of summer rush of activity. Lots of charity and society mix and mingle at this time. In three consecutive nights I went to a rap concert, a dinner on “freedom”, and the MTV Video Awards. Tolerance and opposing censorship were the prevailing themes. The right to be wrong.
The rap concert featured one of my favorites – Queen Latifah, who I think should be the star of a sit-com, which I hope to do with my partner in comedy crime, writer-producer Anne Beatts. Anne (who is a virtuoso hyphenate) and I are in the process of hanging out with the Queen who says we are “fly”. It’s a different vibe hanging back stage at a rap show than it is at a rock concert. First of all there aren’t any real musicians since rap is done d.j. style. Instead of pretty groupie girls hanging around there are posses for the different groups. The most intriguing posse was covering Public Enemy. They had strong vibes, not a lot of smiles. Very serious attitude. Some of the guys looked like young Malcolm X’s. Rap is an amazing force in our society. One think I noticed at the concert was that the most enthusiastic people in the crowd were 10-year-old white boys. Rappers are heroes to young people. Kids are getting a lot more than Flavor Flav looking like a berserk timekeeper. Digital Underground doing the Humpty Dance with inflatable dolls reminded me of David Lee Roth, who did that years back and wasn’t considered obscene. I guess when black men get hot and throb on stage it’s too wild a thing to take. There was a lot of tension around the Greek Theatre. At least 50 mounted and 100 foot police were ready and waiting. I left before the end of the show thinking that something could happen but I knew it already had. Rappers have challenged music and the future.
The next night I went to a meeting of young concerned adults at Doug Ross and Bruce Toms, who run Evolution Film & Tape and are activist-producers. My friend Seth Kaufman, artist-songwriter took me as his guest. A group of friend-associates got together to have dinner and share their thoughts on “freedom”. A lot of the crowd were members of Young Artists United, an organization committed to addressing issues. Judd Nelson, Sara Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr. are members. The idea of young people meeting in a living room to have a human experience seemed a lot like the 60’s without the cynicism and drugs. Everyone who came brought along a writing on “freedom”. There were readings of Nelson Mandela, Franklin Roosevelt and many personal writings and experience on the subject. I admit I was moved and even shared a poem. The food was good and I was flattered when one of the board members of Young Artists asked me if I’d like to join. I told her I already was a member of Show coalition, which is not known for its youth, but certainly for its commitment.
The MTV Awards was the next night. I wore a cat suit, thigh high boots and a short jacket. I mention my wardrobe because it tells you why I like this award show. It’s a “cool” event. I’ll admit the party on the Universal lot was too much this year. Too many invitations and getting in was insane. I got pretty tense as I was pressed forward through the sea of entry. It felt like they invited at least 1000 more people than last year. Billy Idol, Don Henley, Sinead O’Connor, Aerosmith, M.C. Hammer, Janet Jackson, were winners. I guess they came to the party. I hope they didn’t have to go through the same squeeze. I kept looking for a VIP area, but had to give up because my toes started to cramp. The boots were a good fashion statement, but too insane for walking around at night. I wound up going back to the car barefoot.
I didn’t name drop a lot, which is what the publisher wanted, but I promise next month I’ll take along a pen and pad to write down the names of the people I saw on adventures all about town. By the way for a different taste of entertainment try Poetry in Motion at Cafe Largo every Tuesday night. My partner in poetic crime, poet-actor Michael Lally, and I have been orchestrating this event for two years. Lots of poets, actors, musicians, writers, friends and hyphenates get together. It’s a chance to get out with the word. There’s a log of conversation and maybe a little bit of truth in a town where “hello” can be a lie.
Every once in a while I think about the cultural anthropological problem of living in Los Angeles. This usually happens when I’ve been disappointed by someone who said, “lunch,” and didn’t’ mean it. I call this phenomena anthropology because when you study a culture you realize people behave a certain way based on the standards of the society not on personal morality or rudeness. Society is beyond our control, but we are compelled to try. In the meantime using a theory makes it easier. This way I believe I’ll run into someone who still carries the memory of their former culture and we will understand each other.
When I first moved here from New York city by way of the Bronx I was wounded on a constant basis by what I called people full of shit. It was hard to adjust to having people say things they didn’t mean and me believing what they said. I couldn’t help myself. If someone said they would “call you,” back East, they meant it. Or if someone said, “I love you,” it meant more than passing enthusiasm. I was stunned by the insincerity and the inconsistency. I initially though this meant that people were corrupt, but it really meant they were speaking a different tribal language. We’re way out of Africa.
What I loved about the Little Prince was remembering that what is essential is invisible to the eye and that if you told someone you’d be there by six you meant it. Th Little Prince would have hated L.A. It’s a place where “now” is everything and later is never. So here I am in the middle of October feeling that autumn is going to happen any minute, but the hot winds blow and suddenly it’s summer. Maybe it’s the weather that causes this confusion.
In spite of these concerns I got out and about town. By keeping active I find pockets of triumph over the yearning for connection. One of the events I attended that brings home these feelings is the Rape Treatment Center luncheon. They help and treat victims of violent crimes with care and conscience. Nothing could be more necessary when a person is brutally violated. Gail Abarbanel, who runs the Center, is one of my heroes. This year the stars of China Beach were the celebrity hosts. Norman Lear, Peg Yorking, Sherry Lansing (who was also a hostess), Victoria Hammel, Jackie Smith, Kelly McGillis (who was honored), Susan Dey, Corbin Bernsen, Dana Delaney, Jeff Kober, were just some of those who attended. It we a sea of sweet faces sweating under the noonday sun beneath a tent at Ted and Susie Fields’ home which is the old Harold Lloyd estate. What a spread! What a life! What an important day!
I think that billiards will be a big social event this winter. It’s been a scene in New York for years. Now that more and more women in spandex are playing pool, it’s getting sexier and better lit. There are pool halls all over town. I went to a pre-opening of a new billiard parlor. The Hollywood Athletic Club on Sunset Boulevard is refined and elegant. They serve dinner and there are 41 pool tables. The crowd was dressed from suits to jeans. A nice mix in age. I saw Britt Ekland and her husband Jim McDonnell of the Stray Cats. Joe Strummer from the Clash was at the bar. I was so bad that we lost, but I like leaning on the table and watching the scene.
Went to the Gathering of the Tribes concert at the Pacific Ampitheatre. Got to spend time with my pal Queen Latifah. Sinead O’Connor in a long flowing purple scarf was there just to hang out with Latifah too. She came on stage at one point to say hello during Latifah’s set. The Queen was great. She addressed the mostly white audience with her message of tolerance and peace. Ice T dissed the Indigo Girls by walking through the audience through their set. The Girls noticed and I’m glad to say mentioned it. Backstage was the usual buzz of sad eyed girls and boys. A few Hollywood friends dropped by. Drew Barrymore and her boyfriend Leland Hayward were there looking terrific. Musically the day went from fold, to rap, to rock and roll. It was an odd eclectic musical event.
One Saturday night I went over to Roxbury on Sunset. It was completely nuts up on the Strip, but around Roxbury it was even more insane. It is a hot scene. I waited to get in for a while. The guest list was behind the ropes and the guy holding it was hard to reach. When I got into the club I was told I had to wait in line to get upstairs. I did. Then I was told I had to wait in another line to get into the VIP room. I asked who was around. No one, I was told, but I would have to wait to see if my name was on the list. They couldn’t find it. I left. It was much a do about nothing. I guess I had the best part of the experience. I got in.
Every columnist has a stringer. Someone who attends an event on your behalf. I have an Emmy Award winning one. Anne Beatts went to the 30th Anniversary of Motown. She told me it was an amazing show and party. It was a tribute to African-American culture. Debbie Allen, Terrence Trent D’Arby, Robert Guillame, Robert Townsend, Heavy Mo Dee, Marla Gibbs, Patti LaBelle, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Mary Wells, Whoopi Goldberg, Smokey Robinson, Sinbad, Denzel Washington, Keenan and Damon Wayans, Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, The Boys. I almost forgot. Michael Bolton was in the show doing a duet with Patti LaBelle. I wonder if they knew he was white, when they booked him. No matter, he has an amazing voice. But something was missing. There were no Jacksons, no Diana Ross. It could have been a perfect show.
By the way, I’m doing a concept/poetry show at Cafe Largo, called Confessions of a Coffee Addict, on November 11 and November 18. It’s more than words. Till next month. I mean it. I’ll be here. I will. I’m not going to make an excuse that it’s a cultural thing.
I’m counting down the days to the end of 1990. I start early. Why wait till the last minute if you can begin looking forward to the next 365, when everything seems possible? I had the greatest hopes last year at this time: Eastern Europe was unfolding, the Wall came down, the Soviets became our friends, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and my partner, Anne Beatts, and I had finished dour second comedy script for pilot season. The 80’s couldn’t have ended better! I’ll admit I was concerned that this newfound freedom might not be enough for nations who were getting a chance to shop till they dropped for the first time in several decades. And I wasn’t 100% about how our scripts would be received. You never know whit world events or show business. Still, this time last year everything seemed possible. Now there’s a recession and we’re waiting to find out if we’re going to war before or after Christmas. I suppose war has certain romance for some, even in this atomic age, but somehow the Gulf Crisis doesn’t seem very romantic. There isn’t even a place for our soldiers to mingle or fall in love! Out in the desert, young Americans are watching long-robed men blast rock ‘n roll in their expensive cars as women walk by in veils and the price of oil soars.
Here in Los Angeles I’m sussing out the impact of this drama and the recession on our nightlife. This is not a political or social study; it’s just a way to reflect on some ideas while I tell you about how I spent the last month all about town. Having heard that the club and restaurant business was down, I went out with my friend Peter Lepore who is about to open a great new blues supper-club, Fleetwoods (yes, of Fleetwood Mac fame). He’s been researching eateries even though he and his brother Ernest already have a great kitchen at their boutique Italian place, Bravo, in Santa Monica. We went to some of LA’s best known and finest restaurants: L’Orangerie, Chay Brasserie, Eureka, Gaylords, City, and Tommy Tang’s. They were all doing fabulous business. I tried the vegetable plate in each place; I must say they’re all hip to the fact that people are eating less and less meat. Nowadays, everyone serves vegetarian gourmet dishes!
You couldn’t tell by the crowds in these places that there was a problem with the economy. And fast-food joints are doing better than ever; the dining decline seems to be hitting the mid-range places. Good old middle income gets hit again! We are losing the center of our lives and may wind up living in the extreme. Very rich or very poor. Just like the Depression. Whoops! I wasn’t supposed to say that. It’s not official, but neither was the recession two months ago.
I went to photographer Herb Snitzer’s opening of Jazz & The Movement II at Verve Gallery. His art captures jazz greats and political images. Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, as well as Jesse Helms and the American flag are among his subjects. Snitzer’s work makes a strong statement about the impact of jazz and the fragile nature of our freedom today. The event itself was laced with live jazz on the mezzanine. Verve’s owner, Bill Goldberg has been successful in integrating art and music at his gallery. The crowd which poured out onto Melrose Avenue included members of Manhattan Transfer, Lionel Richie, David Sanborn, Horace Silver, Jamal Wilkes, Hubert Laws and Maxine Wilden. This powerful show runs till the end of the year.
Last month I reported on my aborted attempt to get into the VIP room at Roxbury. I was asked to try again. Who could resist? It’s still the hottest club in town. As Bobby, the security guy, said to me, “Who doesn’t come here?” This time I was led in and treated very well. I met several owners and spent time talking to Elie, who told me about his previous success running parties at Helena’s and his expensive real estate ventures. No sign of an economic setback here. As I entered the VIP room, heads turned to see if I was somebody. Everybody turned back around. I guess I don’t mean very much in a room of this sort, but when Arsenio Hall came in with his crowd, everybody froze for a split second. My friend Tony Bamin, who used to help with Poetry in Motion when it was at Helena’s, is in charge of the room. He’s excellent at this sort of mix and mingle sport. I’m impressed when someone can remember who’s who and be so consistently nice while keeping the scene cool. Lately, Sylvester Stallone has been coming by. So has Prince, Kiefer Sutherland with Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Sean Penn, Tia Carerre, Chad McQueen, Paris Vaughn and Joel Silver. Sting and Don Henley dropped by, but left after a few minutes. After the fight, Buster Douglas came in and bought $5,000 worth of champagne. Roseanne Barr was there with her love, tom Arnold and remarked, “You charge $18 for three drinks!”
Stephen Bishop’s birthday party was a blast. I got to see friends, play pool and eat some great Mexican food. Stephen put together the best tape of music to entertain his guests who included John Lovitz, Terry Garr, Tracey Reiner, Barry Josephson, his brother Dennis and other friends and fellow songwriters. Stephen had a mariachi band come by, who sang his hit, On and On, mariachi-style. The party was a mutually heartfelt experience. Getting together with friends and family is still the best way to spend time. It will endure as it always has in spite of whatever we have to face in the future.
I know we really are in another chapter of American history. It was pretty reserved around the Christmas tree this year. I knew something was up when I could get from Fairfax Avenue to La Cienega in no time at all. In past years I’d sit for twenty minutes cursing the Beverly Center. This year there was even ample parking. It’s hard to tell if it’s a phase, a lean period to equalize the effect of our overindulgence. Or else it’s going to get worse, and those of us who remember the affluent society will speak of the good old days, when you could dream of having it all without being a member of the ruling elite. If you wanted to be anything, even a celebrity real estate tycoon with a publicist, you could. Donald Trump and Lee Iacocca became authors with a philosophy and made the cover of Time magazine during this era, while the government cut back on the arts, education and programs for the elderly, the sick, and the poor. Maybe redefining what we value and what we worship is the ultimate sobriety for the end of the millennium.
I felt the effect of these changes even more when I went to New York last month. The hard, cold facts are on the streets. There’s crime and homelessness all over town. It’s even uptown on Madison and Park Avenues. New York doesn’t ever let you forget what’s going on. Walk a block – live a week.
I moved to LA from New York over a decade ago. In time I’ve come to love LA but still miss those New York nights. Wouldn’t it be perfect to live in LA by day and Manhattan by night? Back in the 80s I was in a near burnout state from all the places and people. This last trip had me going but I found that Morgan’s Hotel, where I stayed, had a mini-gym and I liked getting up early so I could keep up with my physical fitness routine. Sometimes I am amazed by the way I’ve turned compulsive behavior into dedication, commitment and discipline. This is another effect of “the times they are a-changin’.”
I went to New York on MGM Grand Air, which may be the airline of the ruling elite. It’s just like first class used to be, but with more aisle space. Liza Minelli and Damon Wayans, several agents and movie producers were on board. It was like being at Spago’s, but better – we were going to end up somewhere.
I went to the new supper club, tatou, where all the celebrities are dropping in. Prince recently had his opening night party there. The VIP area upstairs was once a belly dancing room for the Shah of Iran. It’s very uptown-well dressed, thin, aspiring. That night I also went downtown to Marylou’s. This 9th St. eatery is a popular hang for Jack Nicholson and friends. It’s a mix of casual beautiful people and local Village types. Then I went uptown to Columbus, which seems to be a traditional drop-in if you’re in the industry and in town. This is where the famous and infamous and the wannabes, go low profile while they try to keep their eye on the door. Who wants to be seen facing a wall?
I went to Boys’ Harbor, a community school in East Harlem, with my partner Anne Beatts to do research for our most recent project. Boys Harbor was launched 50 years ago by socialite activist Anthony Drexel Duke to help inner city kids. Since then the agency has helped over 25,000 young people. Lonnie Williams, who is the executive director, took us around. He’s an amazing spirit who can go from street smart to scholarly. He told us that the kids need to be noticed, touched; to feel they are visible and loved.
The next day it was off to East Orange, New Jersey to visit Queen Latifah, who’s working on her next album. We got to hear some cuts. Latifah’s going to draw an even greater audience with this effort. It’s more than rap. I also went to a party for agent Risa Shapiro with my pal, casting director, Sheila Jaffe, Eric Roberts, Kelly Cunningham, D.W. Moffett, Peter Gallagher and Laurie Metcalf. Poetry In Motion is now bicoastal. Michael Lally and I had a successful evening of readings at Tommy Tang’s in Tribeca. Justine Bateman, Judd Nelson and Dennis Christopher dropped in to read with some cool local poets. We’ll be in NYC once a month (next reading Jan. 7). In the future I hope the names of other poets will attract as much attention as the actors/writers. In the meantime Poetry in Motion continues every Tuesday night in LA at Cafe Largo.
On the flight home I was glad to have Moon Zappa for company. We talked about love and destiny. As the luxury flight landed, interest rates had dropped even further and there was no diplomatic break in the Gulf situation which was described, “as an atmosphere of war.” I looked out the window and prayed for a peaceful New Year. I hope it worked.
Just before the Persian Gulf War broke out I went back to New York for another Poetry in Motion event with my partner Michael Lally. It was a huge success. Kael Brown and Karen Allen read with the other NY poets. I came back hopeful that if we could gather together near the end of the millennium to hear poetry we might avoid military force in the Middle East. As Congress voted on whether to support the President I went to Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs. For years I’ve been getting away to this jewel of a spa which has been a hideaway for many stars including Madonna, Nicholson and recently, Meryl Streep and Carrie Fisher. I stayed in the Al Capone Suite, which I finally found out, old Al probably never slept in. I decided it was sexier to believe that the bullet hole in the mirror was made by Capone than by the owner who started the rumor. That weekend in particular I needed a fairytale. A few days later reality hit and everything changed.
The start of Operation Desert Storm was tough on my social life. I had to cancel a date when the war broke out and then another date had to be rescheduled because of the attack on Tel Aviv. I know where are lives on the line and the world will never be the same, but being single during war is much worse than being single during peace. What’s a girl to do? Life’s mundane matters are harder when there’s a techno-nightmare just a remote control away. It looks like the odds that a woman over a certain age is more likely to get shot by a terrorist than get married, isn’t so ridiculous.
I became obsessed by the news and even feared the extreme. I was thinking about doomsday predictions – Nostradamus, Armageddon, Jeanne Dixon, etc. Coverage, coverage, coverage. It’s live from the front, 24 hours. Sort of like an all night convenience store with no real food to eat. Who knows what’s happening? But careers are being made. Peter Arnett, John Holliman, and Bernard Shaw from Baghdad were amazing. They became as important as the events they were reporting on. Arthur Kent on NBC is definitely my favorite. He’s very cute. I wonder if he’s making Tom Brokaw nervous.
Finally my news addiction needed a rest so I ventured out and about. First thing I did was visit a holy person who came to LA to help and comfort adults and children with AIDS. I met Arlo Gutherie there adding his love and support. The experience energized me and gave me some well-needed inspiration for the coming days.
From there I took off for Stringfellows. The doorman told me that on the first night of the war there were only 100 people at the club. Recently Sinead O’Connor, Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and Sylvester Stallone had dropped by. The night I was there, Dionne Warwick was having her birthday party. Stringfellows, originally of London, is a private club, but if you make dinner reservations you can get in.
The place is all 70’s disco neon complete with butterflies, mirrors and waitresses in tutus. It’s a money crowd. Lots of guys looking like Vanilla Ice or stockbrokers from Geneva on leave from their angst and losses. I ran into Bruce merit, trainer to the stars. He’s worked with Jody Foster, Nicholas Cage, Sally Kirkland, Rene Taylor and took nine pounds off of Joe Bolagna. There wasn’t much talk of war on the dance floor. In fact I didn’t hear any mention of Scuds, Patriots, or air superiority all night. I didn’t hear anything about poetry, politics or human kindness, but then life goes on in different ways for everyone. And dancing never killed a soul.
The next day I took a long bike rid down the coast with Justine Bateman. We went as far as Redondo Beach and for a little while there were no special bulletins, no speculations, just surfers stalking the waves and the sun shining.
I also attended Robert Longo’s opening for his Black Flags exhibit. A room full of mournful American flags. What timing. The show is at Linda Cathcart Gallery on Colorado in Santa Monica all black and bronze. He calls these flags: Give us back our suffering, Freedom by any means, Malcolm X. Robert Longo gave us art as spectacle. Now he give us art as introspection. He was a major force with his huge installations, videos, live performances and awareness of the corporate peril. His art in the 80’s was big business and he became a great tycoon/guardian of the culture. It’s 1991. I found Robert in a gentle mood. We talked briefly but sweetly. I couldn’t help thinking about New York ten years ago when our spirits were wild with big ideas and we felt invincible. It’s 1991 and Robert is going to live in Paris and other artist friends (i.e. David Salle) are moving to California. Time is everything. I wonder how art and poetry and life will be live d in the next few months. AS we move into the 90’s real, red white and blue flags are raised half-mast. They are more harrowing than Robert Longo’s frozen black figures full of grief and rage.
As of this writing I’m awaiting the end of the war. It may be over by the end of this column. Thousands of Iraqis are turning themselves over to the Allies as the troops move towards Kuwait City. Meanwhile everywhere in California the fashion is red white and blue flag with occasional yellow trim. The American way has never been more comfortable or stylish. When I see the flag these days there are moments when I feel like I did when I was a little girl all proud, ready to believe we are right, absolutely without a doubt, the only answer, the best, the bravest. But I’m not that child anymore and have witnessed many secrets, lies and promises broken. The politics of war continues to confuse and upset me. The momentum turns the conflict into force majeure. It’s out of control. Man-made earthquake, tidal wave, electrical storm. Why does one situation get us to refrain and another to attack? This year’s friend, next year’s “just cause.” Looking back at Vietnam, I’m not sorry I took a stand against that war, but I am sorry I shunned the soldiers that went there and came back. This time I didn’t join a peace march, but I valued the idea of peace more than ever. The world’s too small to be playing military games in the night. But I also knew I didn’t want to wear a veil or go without a full tank of gas. And Hussein was not a good candidate to win a popularity contest. I saw one staged telecast on the streets of Baghdad while he was accompanied by some armed guards. Only a dozen and a half people jumped around and kissed his hand. I was sort of embarrassed for him. Maybe a mustached dictator whose name starts with the letter H and inflames the masses with words like swords is vexing to subconscious memory.
At the beginning of February I slept a lot and gave up on the news. It was too much of a laser and military report show. My dear friend Mark Harris who packages television programs had his second big bash in less than two months. This time the event was held at the Bel Age Hotel for his 50th birthday! Henry Jaglom, Cindy Gibb, Sam Denoff, Steve Verona, Gail Ramsey, Liz Sagal, John Slan, Paul Seigel, Anson Williams and bobby Columby were among some of the guests.
A few days later I went to the opening of Fleetwoods, a new elegant blues supper club on Santa Monica blvd. It was a great party and I have high hopes for this new night scene envisioned by Peter Lepore. Mick Fleetwood is the man above the title. He wanted a place to hang out with some of his friends. He played a set and mingled with John McVie and John Mayall. Rod Steward and his model/wife, Rachel Hunter, came by. Bobby Brown, Terence Trent D’Arby, Katy Sagal, Gary Busey, Anne Beatts, Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker all mixed it up while eating some of the best pastries, and excellent food prepared by Jean Francoise, former chef at L’Orangerie. Support your local Blues club. America needs to love its grass roots as much as it’s troops.
Valentine’s Day was spent at Matteo’s with children’s theatrical manager Suzanne Schachter and a couple of guys. We watched Gene Barry drink coffee and Tom Selleck eat pasta. We waited on the rumor that Frank was going to drop by. The room glowed in red leather and red light. It was a heart-felt night, but not “blue eyes” in sight.
I went back to New York City to do another Poetry In Motion event at Tommy Tan’s in Tribeca. Michael Lally and I greeted old friends from the Lower East Side who read side by side with Hollywood. Patty D’Arbanville and Alec Baldwin dropped by to read. Alec’s poem about the war was powerful. I was invited to hang around the Grammy rehearsal at Radio City Music Hall. I caught Tracy Chapman practicing her acoustic keyboard tribute to John Lennon. Imagine was never more beautiful than there in the dark hall with that sole figure and her tender voice. Wilson Phillips, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan and Bette Midler also rehearsed that day. To rehearse the event for the cameras, cards are put in the seats with the names of people who will be at the show. I enjoyed wandering around in the sea of musical chairs. I thought opera singer Kathleen Battle seated next to The Eurythmics was a curious choice. I sat in Bonnie Raitt’s front-row seat because I know and like her. It was the most popular seat during rehearsal. After the Grammy show I went to Tatou for the RCA party. I spotted Lisa Stansfield, Bruce Hornsby, Kool Moe Dee, Jeff Healy and Michael Hutchence. I also got to see Neil Simon’s new play, Lost In Yonkers and then got to tell him how much I liked it afterwards at Ian Schrager’s new Paramount Hotel. It’s got a great kids room which I checked out for future consideration. Returning to LA was a breeze. There were no long lines at the airport, no heavy traffic, a row full of seats to sleep in, and early arrival. Maybe the airlines can keep things running this smooth and easy when the war is over.
I’m at the end of this month’s entry and the war goes on. Iraq has withdrawn from Kuwait. Operation Desert Storm moves north. Next month I hope to be writing about all the post-war parties I’ll be invited to. See ya.
In between music videos and late night movies, the troops come home. In between stories of a civil war in Iraq and police brutality here at home, another family is reunited. I had a feeling there would be a lot of celebration, but I never felt it would be so overblown. It’s gotten out of hand. I mean how many times can we see this before we go completely numb. Meanwhile there are several hundred thousand men and women still over there. I’m afraid that experiencing this media loop leaves me as detached as seeing violent crimes rerun morning, noon and night. The home video of LA Police beating Rodney King was initially horrifying until it was played over and over. There should be a quota on how often certain stories can be replayed so they don’t lose their impact. If media is the power of this age than programming is everything.
During this month, Johnny Spain, former Black Panther and his wife, photographer Elisabeth Sunday, came by to visit me. They are an incredible couple. An inspired team. I remember talking about soul mates with Elisabeth several years ago and she telling me that she knew hers existed but the present had not caught up with the future. She met Johnny a few weeks later. Known as one of the so-called “San Quentin Six,” Johnny had just been released from prison after 22 years. I suppose some soul mates are sometimes former cellmates. Johnny read some of h is writings from solitary confinement at our Tuesday night Poetry In Motion series. A totally transformed man, Johnny Spain’s story is a healing. Oliver Stone is going to direct a film about Johnny’s life.
What is Glenn Close up to? I saw her twice last week having power lunches at the Daily Grill. First with Laura Dern and James Brooks, then with Woody Harrelson and various agency suites. Matthew Broderick and Helen Hunt were chowing down with Bruno Kirby. The staff says Bruno comes in two to three times a week. One Sunday night Terri Garr, Susan Dey, James Wood, Gena Rowlands were in, but not together. Bette Midler, Spohie and Martin eat there a lot, together. Forget Spago’s for spotting stars.
I went to the 1,000 episode of The Bold and the Beautiful party out in Malibu. Great food and a great view. The executive producers Bill and Lee Bell created this soap opera and the very successful, The Young and the Restless. Their daughter, Laurlee (a perfect soap opera name) acts in the show and their sons, Bill Jr. heads business affairs and Bradley writes for the show. It feels real Mid-West even though they live like Beverly Hills royalty. Sorta like the life you see on a soap opera.
There was a big bash for Stanley Kramer at Roxbury, which also held an Oscar party. Kramer who has had 85 nominations and won 16 Academy Awards was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Foundation for The Performing Arts. Some of his great films include: The Wild Ones, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, On the Beach, Ship of Fools, Inherit the Wind, Champion, High Noon. Get the picture. This guy’s one of Hollywood’s great filmmakers. President and Mrs. Gerald R. Ford presented the award and Marine Guards played. Milton Berle kept everyone entertained for hours.
Oscar night was a blast. I usually watch with friends at home and we just cut up the competition. But this year I dressed up and hit Sunset Boulevard with its lines of limousines and crowds of fans. There were four parties. No way I could get in to Swifty’s party at Spago’s, but I did go back to Roxbury, where Eli Samaha looked real proud of this first Oscar Party. Sitting by the “Boys” room I met a man who knew Sylvester Stallones’ mother and had lots of pictures of him and her. I was seated up on the main dance floor for dinner and viewing where I rubbed shoulders with: Mario Van Peeples, Richard Grieco, Sally Kirkland, Raul Julia, Edward James Olmos, Patrick Dempsey, Beau and Lloyd Bridges, Drew Barrymore, Gregory Peck, Maximillian Schell, Cyd Charise, Ester Williams, Charles Durning, Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Tyne Daly, Lynn Redgrave, Delta Burke and Gerald McRaney. Joni Mitchell hung out in the jazz club downstairs while upstairs Stephen Stills, Mickey Dolenz and Krystine Haje chattered by the bar. In front of the big screen Jayne Meadows, Steve Allen, Milton Berle, Fred Travalena, and Martin Landau watched the proceedings while U.S. Marines, invited as special guests mingled in formal dress. Also on hand: Herbie Hancock, Connie Francis, Gene Simmons, Lorna Luft, Stephen Bishop, Buddy Ebsen, David Hasselhoff, Beverly Johnson; and finally Connie Stevens, Shadow Stevens and Stella Stevens.
The Academy Awards is also an important anniversary for me. I stopped smoking 6 years ago on this night, and promised myself that I wouldn’t smoke again until I win an Oscar and then only one smoke, a big cigar. Or if I had a baby boy. Well I didn’t win, yet, but I did have a cigar! Next month I may take Benjamin Ethan Brandstein out about town with me. Till then I’m grateful for the rain, the end of the war, that Dances With Wolves won best picture and the miracle of life.
I make a living as a television developer. These days, I am becoming a rare breed. After several seasons of trying to get a television series on the air, I’m still in development with five comedy scripts and two pilots. I’m also faced with the reality that the abundant market I was nurtured on is fast fading. Network television is shrinking and is just another switch on the remote control. It’s not even about choice. It’s so easy to go from station to station until you find a minute here and there. There’s something for everyone, even in other languages. My work has never been more challenging. While I wait to see what the next season looks like without my input, I try to second-guess the market’s future needs. I also remain hopeful that my ideas and passion will stay fast as economic reality continues to spread over our lives. The bottom line is that there’s just not as much money being moved around at the networks. With all the new choices, including video rentals, and the tight money mood, I’m doing what any developer does: speculate, take risks and wish upon a star.
While the TV business sorts itself out and the famous Katzenberg memo circulates around town, I’ve been out, too. This last month was an eclectic mix of fun and good causes. I went to see the Pet Shop Boys at the Amphitheater. It was a pretty extravagant stage show for three songs with a lot of symbolism that I didn’t get. Boy, I really miss musicians on stage. This is pop music as art event, except that it’s more art than pop for my taste.
I also went by City Restaurant for drinks. Still a favorite spot, and the vegetarian plate is the best. I saw Sharon Gless and Barney Rosenzwieg while discussing the future of sketch comedy on PBS with my partner, Anne Beatts. I also went by the ever so fabulous Asylum for dinner. This is “the place”. Almost impossible to get into this fuss. It works if you like being asked by the valet if you have a reservation before they’ll take your car, and if you like a security guard/host checking to see if you name is on the list before you can get by the velvet rope at the door. Inside, it’s baronial and glowing. I’d say this is art as restaurant. Very unusual decor. It’s faux marble 21st century style with creative plumbing supply fixtures. The food is an unnamed cuisine that I will label for the moment “post modern” food. This is an adventure in dining with the challenge of getting a reservation and getting through the front door. You either have to be someone or want to be someone to eat here. I had a good time, but I didn’t see any stars to mention, though I heard that Scott Baio and Al Burton were there a few nights before.
I went to the HAMAS cocktail hour at Ma Maison Sofitel. This organization for Hispanics in the media had a terrific opening night with and enormous crowd and salsa band. Julie Carmen and Robert Beltran attended before the screening of their film noir Kiss Me Killer. Over the next few days, there were seminars and conferences on the problem of perception and programming for one of the largest audiences in the world. There isn’t a single Hispanic sitcom on television and most Hispanic characters are depicted as criminals and domestics. A few of those unproduced scripts that Anne Beatts and I worked on were about Latino family life. We feel more than ever we’re onto something. From there, I went to a party at The Four Seasons Hotel for Comedy Television (CTV). AT curbside I saw one of the biggest Hispanic stars, Edward James Olmos. I almost told him that he should be at the party up the street. Inside I saw Alan King, Weird Al Yankovitz, Paul Provenza, Edie Adams, Robert Downey. I’m hoping this network makes it. The last time I saw this crowd was last year when they started the MTV-HA network. The next day, I saw the biggest comedy star of all in the lobby of ICM – Eddie Murphy. I almost told him that he should have been at the party the night before.
I got back to NYC for another whirlwind monthly poetry reading of Poetry In Motion at Tommy Tang’s. We’re a hit. WE even got dissed in the New Yorker! Ally Sheedy dropped by to read. I went by Saturday Night Live and hung out backstage. Michael Bolton was the musical guest and Steven Seagal was the host. He insisted on never smiling in order to be bunny. There was a cool party afterwards, and as usual I went everywhere and did everything in a matter of days.
Went to see several plays, including I Hate Hamlet with Nicol Williamson, who was magnificent, Advice To A Caterpillar with Dennis Christopher and Ally Sheedy, and a great one man show Mambo Mouth starring John Leguizamo. Back to LA and the special screening of Our Sons with Ann-Margaret and Julie Andrews who attended the benefit for The Los Angeles Shanti Foundation. Shanti services those affected by life-threatening illness and their families. They have been around for eight years and came about as a response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The do great work ensuring people that they are not alone, and help make a difference in the quality of life for their clients. Our Sons is a touching film about the effect of AIDS on two mothers with very different backgrounds. It will broadcast on ABC. IT reminded me once again why I wanted to work in television and that good things are still possible in my business.
It’s Summer in Los Angeles. You can tell by the late sun piercing through the clouds. This is a seasonal phenomenon. It’s actually moody in the mornings. In summer I wake up in LA and sometimes I think it’s Autumn in New York. The day of the solar eclipse, the sun hadn’t yet burned off the dew in the basin. The day of the earthquake it was overcast and gray. For a place called sunny California, it’s a surprise to find that the sun doesn’t shine bright till noon. There is also this sameness to Summer, Spring and Fall. I’ve lived here for over a decade and I still get confused which time of year it is. I’m glad I grew up on the East Coast so I could know what seasons are. I miss all of them except for Winter – which is the other reason besides the “business” that I stay here. I hate cold. Cold weather makes me feel deprived: it’s psychological. As a kid growing up in the Bronx there was never enough heat in the radiator to warm the fifth floor walkup apartment where I lived. So Winter in Los Angeles is always comforting. I reel rich and safe. But I miss the rest of the year; leaves turning, flowers blooming and the long evening shadow walks.
I know LA has more environmental changes like the Fall fires and Winter floods, but it’s not like the East with it’s more interesting wardrobe changes. Fashion is so much more important if you have to go through four different possibilities. I can buy Summer sale clothes to war all year round in LA. I have sweats from 1980 that you would think I bought last month. The casual style hasn’t changed. And if I want to go formal, I just put on a string of pearls and I’m dressed up. I also own a pair of jeans, a large selection of t-shirts and basic black everything else. This month I put on one of my best outfits: t-shirt, short bicycle pants, ankle socks, black oxford shoes, and an Armani jacket and went out to some clubs and openings.
I wanted to see what a younger crowd was into during the Summer months. See the real action. I asked Taj Johnson, one of the stars of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, to hang. Friday night just before he went back into production, we planned to go out and about with some of his friends. Now Taj isn’t a typical teenager. In fact, he’s 20 and mature. So the evening wasn’t very different from the one I would spend with my own peers. But then my peers are of like mind, not age. Anyway, we started at 10pm. (This is the big difference hanging out with a younger crowd: they can eat later.) We went to dinner at Kate Matilini’s. A great baked potato. I like this place with its private booths; the discreet way you can come and go. I saw Bruce Springsteen and his wife Patty there with Steve Van Zandt and Bruce Hornsby. The waitress told me she was tipped very well. As they were leaving, Milli or Vanilli came in.
After dinner, we went to the China Club to hear The Ohio Players. They were as amazing as they were over a decade ago. Ran into Stephen Bishop and filmmaker Bill Fishman. For Taj and his friends, the evening was just starting. They were off to the clubs. I was exhausted and realized there is another big difference hanging out with a younger crowd: they can stay up later.
The following night, I went to see the closing of Philip Littel’s show at Theatre/Theater. I think he is Los Angeles’ best kept secret. He is a great theatrical cabaret performer. His songs, which he writes with Eric Cunningham, are profound, moving and funny. Because a couple of his band members were late, he broke out some champagne in the lobby. He’s also got style.
I went by Cafe Largo for an acoustic music showcase and saw music industry biggies, Elliot Roberts and Ron Vance. I don’t know whom they came to see, but I promised to get up to the Coconut Teaser for an ASCAP showcase to see the Kathy Fisher Band. Those guys should have seen her.
Later that week I was at the opening party for M. Butterfly. The after theater crowd at Roxbury included: stars Philip Anglim and A. Mapa, playwright David Henry Hwang, also Red Buttons, Tia Carrere, Mark Harris, Dustin Nugent, Lani Kazan, Wendy Jo Sperber, Neil Patrick Harris and Pia Zadora.
Finally, I’ve been spending a lot of time with poets again. Lots of readings all over town including Poetry In Motion, which has moved to Roxbury every Wednesday night. If you come by, you can buy The Hollywood Review, which is a collection of writers who have read with Poetry in Motion over the last three years. It’s a celebration of poetry. Something for those hazy, crazy mid-summer days to come.
Power! Who’s got it? This is a town that thrives on it. Power moves in waves of people. Each decade, more or less, a group of people control the scene. Then one day it’s a new group and the old guard passes away. But by then they have a great retirement fund and a place in Vermont or Santa Barbara. When their influence is over they can get away and live well. Sometimes they try to make a comeback, but it’s usually too late. They have become obsolete, too old and have no friends in power. In the meantime, while you’re in control you’ve got to do business morning, noon and night. Over meals, tennis, fundraisers, even games. One very powerful group of players in the television game gets together year after year to play charades. I wish I could get an invitation. I’m really good at “sounds like.” In the meantime, I go out to places that are known for making you feel powerful. All you need to do is make a reservation. This past month I went out for power breakfasts.
Early in the morning you can see the suits with the “trades” under their arms walking into the right spots all over LA. I got up early and went out to see who was having what, where. Campanile next to LaBrea Bakery is on the map. The new trends in LA these days are bakeries and self-service coffee, but Campanile is supposed to be a great deal den. Not the morning I was there, but I did have a great granola and cappuccino for which I had to get myself and pay an extraordinary amount of money for.
Another morning I went to Hugo’s with comedy writer/actor Marvin Bravermin and noticed Bobby Coumby and John Sykes talking about the record business. This place used to be thick with fame but it was pretty quiet. Down the street there’s Cafe Latte, which everyone is calling Hugo’s Jr. It’s got the same menu and is reputed to be owned by the real Hugo’s son. I’ve been there many times with Robert Downey Sr. It’s getting more and more popular and is competing with the Farmers Market, which is home to writers and actors. I saw Paul Mazursky there. This crowd is casual and there’s lots of talk and laughter. I’m not sure how much business is getting done, but it’s got charm and low prices. Another hangout in the morning, but one doesn’t get the vibe it’s for the let’s make a deal crowd, is King’s Road. One of the best breakfasts in town in a cafe setting right next to a newsstand. It’s actually a scene. Lots of great looking guys and gals with scripts in hand, but it’s getting too crowded and you can’t make a reservation. There’s a bench out front so you can wait and watch the motorcycles ride up. If you’re not up to waiting, there are two other places like it in the neighborhood: Who’s On Third and the Authentic Cafe’s Bakery, which also has benches out in front. By the way, these benches are showing up everywhere these days. What does it mean?
I heard the Four Seasons Hotel has a good power breakfast. They even have a Japanese selection. I was supposed to meet Todd Bridges there. I cast him in Diff’rent Strokes way before he became infamous. Unfortunately he didn’t show up so I contented myself with The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety which is available for free as you enter. I overheard three men talk about a three-picture deal, but I didn’t recognize their accents. I like the elegant setting and the great Vivaldi recording.
The Polo Lounge and the Beverly Hills Hotel with it’s phones and private booths has the reputation for being “the place,” but the morning I was there it was dead. I mean they aware full but I didn’t see a soul whose name or position would impress anyone reading this. The food was expensive and boring. They served traditional egg dishes and white toast, but it’s still pretty, all pink and green.
I was about to give up the idea that powerful people start their day with a hearty business meeting, but then I went to the Bel Air Hotel. Wow, I am glad I went. Not only one of the most beautiful hotels in the world, but his was where the power elite are meeting. Tom Pollack, David Brown, Lee Rich, Alan Dershowitz and Henry Kissinger were inches away from each other. There were agents, studio executive (Columbia Television), and managers. This room had the fewest women, but very nice flower arrangements, crystal and china. I got that rush of being around power. I wanted some too. It’s contagious. I can’t wait till my circle of friends and I come into it.
Breakfast aside I also got out to some great events including Jimmy Webb’s show at the Cine Grill at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. He was sensational. He is a national treasure. Fellow songwriters Henry Mancini and Burt Bacharach dropped by. Carol Kane and Michael Feinstein were also in the audience.
I also was a judge at the Stand-Up Comics Take A Stand finals to benefit United Cerebral Palsy which will air on the Family Channel this fall. Comics, Chris Raine, Jack Thomas, Doug Benson, Geechy Guy, Jason Stuart, Piper & Tupper, Tim O’Rourke, and Bill Fox competed. The event was hosted by: James Stephens III, Pat Corley, Joe Regalbuto, Joyce DeWitt, Joel Murray, Rip Taylor, Allen Garfield, Dick Sargent, Dawn Wells, Scott Valentine, Elinor Donahue, Gary Owens, Phil Hartman and the fabulous Sally Kirkland. Geechy Guy won Hollywood’s hottest new comic. Not that he has the taste of power I wonder where he’ll go for breakfast?
In the past month it’s a fact that the United States has become the last superpower. While the Soviet Union tries to sort itself out of the past and realize it’s new economic future, the U.S. stands alone. With a national debt of $3.5 trillion (that’s a lot of zeros) the U.S. is the leader of the new world order. We’ve got the most power and the biggest hole in our pocket. This is the first time in history we didn’t finance our own war. During the Persian Gulf War we raised $54 billion from the allies. We received $33 billion more than the war cost. Not a bad profit. Maybe we should change the motto on the dollar to “In God We Trust” to “Have Gun Will Travel.” I hope our leadership doesn’t consider this mercenary position too seriously. We are on the verge of bankruptcy, economically and morally if the government doesn’t look at the reality of the situation and solve the bigger problem – the structure of our internal affairs is a mess. All great empires fell when they were spread too thin fighting wars all over the globe and not paying attention to the needs at home. Well, that’s enough verbal demonstration with the consequences of history.
In a more playful tone, last month was by far the most fun I’ve had all summer. I went to all my neighborhood coffeehouses. They are everywhere. It used to be the corner bar but with sobriety on the rise there’s a cappuccino on every block. In close proximity there’s Homemade, Kings Road, Who’s on Third, Brasserie, Mani’s, Ourand Outang, Cafe Java, Cafe Mocha, The Whole Experience, The Mission, the Living Room, Big and Tall Books, to name a few. They’re not hangouts for the stars, but they soften the image of LA: art, cigarettes, coffee, poetry readings, acoustic guitars, people sitting in old beat up furniture reading People Magazine. LA is the new center of bohemian life in the U.S. It is a strange world, David L.
I also went to two anniversary parties. The first was for Edie Baskin and Peter Fey. They shared the event with Margaret Shendel, who celebrated her birthday. Richard Baskin, Barbara Streisand, Steven Bishop, Howard Koch, Steve Tisch, Michael Meyers, Terry Garr, Ian Le Fren, Denise Crosby, Jeffrey Lynne and Steven McDonald were there. I also ran into friends I hadn’t seen since the early ’80s when they dropped out of sight to recover from over excess. It was nice to see we had survived. Everybody looked fit and better than ever.
The other anniversary party wasn’t a conventional affair. It was Janice and Eric Garnder’s tenth and they redid their vows. Little Richard was the minister of honor and Todd Rundgren played the wedding march. Phil Spector played the Anniversary Waltz on the accordion. Also there, were Kay Sagal (very pregnant), Peter Falk, John Mayall, Dana Carvey, John Lovitz, David Felton, Anne Beatts, Judd Nelson, Drew Barrymore, Roseanne and Tom Arnold, Michael Des Barres, But Cort, Allie Willis, Alan Hunter, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, Pamela Des Barres, Mark Harris, Trudy Greene, Cassandra (Elvira) Peterson, Steve Verona, Joe Davola, Michael Meyers and Steven Bishop (again). I left early to get ready for a flight to New York so who knows who else showed up.
If it’s September it must be the MTV Awards. This was the sixth show and the first time I went as press. Never again. I had the worst pass. It was some horrid lime green affair which only allowed me access to some insane tent where I could experience a three ring circus of interviews and paparazzi. They served massive amounts of cookies and prepackaged sandwiches. I’m glad I ran into poet/Ringling Sister, Pleasant Gehman. We got to see the plus in being as far behind the scenes as you can get at this rock ‘n roll highlight of the year. She introduced me to Miss Armed Forces, who was Kim Basinger’s body double and Julia Roberts’ legs in Pretty Woman. By now you know who won and lost and heard about Prince’s buttocks and Pee Wee Herman’s courage. But just along side the Amphitheater there is a scene of posing and schmoozing with passes of many colors and attitudes. I crashed for a short while in an area that I guess was sort of important. The served melted brie and salsa dip. I noticed Whoopi Goldberg, James Brown, and John Bon Jovi. Cindy Crawford was running around grabbing interviews in a long silver lame dress with an entourage of camera, sound and hair person. Dennis Hopper Pauly Shore and his girlfriend (who won my vote for most outrageous outfit/best body), Lenny Kravitz, Spinal Tap, Steve Tyler, and everyone else and their friends who gave an award, got an award, or had the right color to remain in this restricted area. I was spotted by some ex-FBI type guard who sent me back to the press tent. It was all very military-strict. Very scary in an absolute clean cut friendly manner. Next year I’m sitting in the audience again. I prefer being distanced from the experience. It’s what a rock ‘n roll video event should be – a show.
Till next month, with hopes of a new and better world order, see ya all about town.