Anxious to get away from a day of bad news, I retreated to that shrine of wealth and Hollywood make-believe, the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was their big day. The hotel was holding a reception to honor being named an official Beverly Hills landmark, and also to open the time capsule buried at the hotel 20 years ago when a major renovation project was begun.
The hotel and I go way back.
I got to stay there in the late 70's when I was sent across the country by Rolling Stone to interview Dustin Hoffman for a story when "Kramer vs. Kramer" was about to open. I was smitten, mainly by the idea that I really didn't belong there but no one seemed to notice. I was eternally grateful that my true identity was never discovered. Then, in 1980 I arrived in Los Angeles from New York to work at the Los Angeles Times. The move was an experiment and I only expected to last a year at best, sure I would miss my beloved Manhattan. I remember being intrigued by some Los Angeles oddities: palm trees, blatant ostentation and the fact that in Beverly Hills you could put a penny into a parking meter and actually get some time for your money.
One of my favorite activities to aid in adjusting to my new city was to frequent the Beverly Hills Hotel. To me, that place epitomized Hollywood and, as Joni sang, its "star-making machinery". It represented a world so far from my own. I would never aspire to that lifestyle — the jewels, the outfits, the valet parkers, the assumption that you deserved to be catered to. It was the height of pretension, but I realized that, despite my very modest working woman's salary, I could pretend, and they would welcome me as one of their own. I could afford breakfast in the Polo Lounge, and people — and celebrity — watch for free. Like a true New Yorker, I could find street parking on the east side of the hotel and walk through the lush California gardens to breakfast. I could invite some other working-class stiffs for a drink in the Polo Lounge after work and pig out on lovely silver bowls of free guacamole that were placed on your little cocktail table as if you belonged there, no questions asked. I could have myself paged by the bellhops that still walked the aisles of the Polo Lounge simply by calling from the pay phone down the hall, and return to my table to impress my friends before my name was called. I could be a poser and who knew how many of the people sitting by my side were doing exactly the same thing?
As I descended the stairs to the Crystal Ballroom where the reception was held, all those feelings came flooding back. I was greeted by a phalanx of cocktail-bearing waiters in the hotel's signature crisp white jackets. They smiled warmly and offered drinks. Another set of hosts and hostesses proffered the elegant printed progam of the event's activities. Everyone nodded in welcome. The thick carpets and upholstered chairs absorbed the noise of the crowd's chatter. You were enveloped in the blanket of quiet and elegance under hugely ornate chandeliers, and I could feel the weight of the day's sad events disappear into thin air. In that ballroom, the outside world mattered not one whit.
With a little bit of pomp, a video from 20 years ago when the time capsule was put together, was shown. The aging stars of the day were captured there: Milton Berle, Tony Curtis, Charlton Heston. Each had a contribution to put in the capsule and today, each of those contributions was accounted for: Milton Berle's Cuban cigar, Heston's video of "America the Beautiful," a cocktail napkin signed by Curtis.
While the hotel is still the place of choice for many of Hollywood's big machers, things have changed a bit. The event I attended included few real celebrities. Dionne Warwick was the top biller, donating her newest CD for the new time capsule. All the other donors were business people, travel agents and such whose work lives and personal lives became intertwined with the hotel over the years.
The three employees who have worked at the hotel the longest were honored. All of them began their work lives there in their teens and have made a lifetime of serving the famous and not so famous who have walked through the hotel's doors.
Before everyone moved to the patio for drinks and hors d'oeuvres, the time capsule was closed. One item, for me, seemed sadly out of place. A digital photo album montage would be unearthed 20 years hence with images of today's very real world: Syria, Libya, gas prices and other reminders of modern society. I felt betrayed. In this beautifully constructed world of make believe, it just didn't seem right to have the real world intruding where it clearly didn't belong.
Photo: Iris Schneider