St James Club.
I had come to LA on a sales trip. I was new to the business and still trundling door to door with my Revolver Turntable. Los Angeles in those days had many high-end audio stores catering to the whims of the rich and famous; before computers and cell phones, people bought a lot of Hi-Fi.
For this trip, I was staying at the St. James Club in Los Angeles. My friend Alexis Arnold (now sadly deceased) from Naim Audio liked to stay there, and for a lark (an expensive one), I decided to book it for a couple of days.
The St. James Club was in a renovated art deco building on Sunset Boulevard. It was built in the 1930s and known as the Sunset Tower, and for a time many famous actors and gangsters used to stay there. It declined in the 1980s, but was restored to its former glory and re-opened in the late 1980s as the St. James Club–again an upscale hotel, again a mecca for movie stars.
I had an appointment to do a demo of my turntable at a famous store (name deliberately forgotten), and was to talk following a demonstration of a well-known amplifier and its well-known designer (both names deliberately forgotten). We were both meant to speak for around 20 minutes. After listening to this bozo lecture for around an hour the audience and I were going crazy. He droned on about this capacitor or that transistor.
“I love this product so much I could talk about it all day, but, if anyone wants me to shut up? Just say the word,” he actually said.
From the back of the room came this loud retort, “Shut up!”
Everyone turned to see who said it and I, not at all embarrassed, returned their gaze and smiled. Someone started to clap, and then everyone joined in. That’s when I began talking about my turntable.
The next day after checking out and waiting for my car to come, I asked the bellhop if anyone famous was staying at the hotel. He said, “Aren’t you a famous English actor?”
I smiled, gave him a tip, and drove off.
The Post Ranch Inn.
The Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur is serene, calming and discreet. It features yoga in the morning, stargazing at night, spa treatments galore and a fabulous restaurant. It’s the sort of place you would take your mistress. I took my wife.
The inn sports a massive heated infinity pool. It is set in the edge of the cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and when the light is just right, the edge blends into the haze of the sea. My wife had gone off to the infinity pool and I decided to sit and read. Also reading nearby was a man in his mid thirties. Ever friendly, I started to talk to him. He was a bit surly but we chatted amicably for a while and then when the conversation lagged, he left and I continued to read. A few minutes later, my wife came over to me laughing. She said that standing in the pool was an attractive woman whose partner eventually joined her.
“Are you having a good time?” the woman had asked her partner.
“I was until that asshole started talking to me,” he had said.
My wife started laughing again.
“That one!” the man had said, pointing to me.
”Rita, you gotta come down and see this.”
We were staying for a few days at the terribly chic Mondrian hotel on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. This was 2002 and the hotel always smelt of fresh paint. Apparently, very early every morning someone applied a coat of white paint to the lobby walls to maintain that “look.”
One evening while hanging out in the lobby I heard a commotion and saw a line forming. There were photographers, press people and paparazzi. I joined the line out of curiosity and I was not disappointed: It was Liza Minnelli’s engagement to David Gest.
And there was Martin Landau and Michael Feinstein and Nancy Sinatra, wearing that really stupid hat she wore in the sixties (it did her no good). And there was Rodney Dangerfield and Larry King and Loni Anderson and Buzz Aldrin and Janet Leigh and Eve Marie Saint and Carroll Baker, and then this heavy-set, older woman appeared with a walker.
“That’s Esther Williams,” someone said, and my heart sank. Esther Williams? The star of all these ridiculous swimming movies in the forties and fifties? She looked so encumbered.
Someone said Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor were coming but they didn’t show up (Later I heard that they were at the party but entered via a different door). And then the main attraction appeared, Liza Minnelli and David Gest. His hair and eyebrows were dyed black and he had so much plastic surgery on his face that I had trouble focusing on it. Everyone was hugging and kissing but the levity seemed artificial. Maybe it was seeing all these aged actors, or maybe something else I sensed, but this was not a joyous event. We waited until the hubbub had subsided and went out for dinner. When we returned, the party had ended and there was Liza and her mate, in the lobby saying goodbye and they both looked miserable.
Their marriage lasted just over a year.
Many years ago after inheriting some money we decided to visit France and stay at La Reserve in Beaulieu-sur-Mer. It is a magnificent hotel–ornate, located a few miles east of Nice on the road to Monte Carlo, and overlooking the Mediterranean. The rooms are lavish and ours had a wonderful view. When I first visited the south of France as a teenager I spotted this hotel and dreamed that one day I would stay there. Now that I was here, I did have some issues.
The day we arrived, the Internet wasn’t working so I walked into town to an Internet café. It was summer and I was wearing my usual: a polo shirt, shorts, and sandals. On my return, a man (who turned out to be the owner) looked me over and snarled in the most condescending tone,
“Monsieur, can I help you?”
More than a few of my fellow guests were annoying. There was a large Russian family with an entourage of about a dozen souls. They were noisy and crass; one of them was an American woman who was constantly on the phone booking first class airline tickets for this group. Then there was a very pretty Englishwoman with two annoying, spoiled children. She was there “for the summer.” In conversation when we told her of this lovely cafe in the town square where we ate breakfast she asked, “Do they take reservations?”
One morning in the lobby, I heard a woman talking with the Concierge.
“I am not happy.” She was wearing gym clothes.
“I’m sorry madam. What can I do to help you?” asked the Concierge.
“I like to practice ballet in the morning and the ballet barre in your gym is 5cm too high. I want you to lower it.”
The concierge probably wanting to murder this woman, smiled politely and said, “I’ll see what I can do.”
These were not my people.
The prices in the restaurant were outrageous. A club sandwich, white bread, turkey, bacon and mayonnaise was 60 euros ($75), but it did come with a handful of potato chips. Breakfast was 90 euros ($112). Because of these stupid prices we would walk into the town square and sit in one of the outdoor cafes and order a coffee, baguette with butter and jam and sometimes a croissant. Sitting there looking at the outdoor market and smelling the scent of bougainvillea was sheer paradise. One morning, seated next to us was a woman with a bandaged finger. She spoke with an English accent. The bandage was large and I asked her what had happened. She told me that she had caught her finger in a car door and this brute of a French doctor had painfully removed the nail. I winced when I heard this, having experienced this myself.
“I’m so sorry to say this but sometimes when the new nail grows in, it’s not perfect and that has to be removed also,” I said.
“You’re a doctor, aren’t you?” she said, eyeing me.
“No,” I replied. “I’m a bullshit artist.”
“No, no,” she said, “I know a real doctor when I see one.”