Confessions From The Last Great Era Of Hollywood
Before social media, reality TV, cell phone cameras, and bottle service, Los Angeles was one girl’s paradise…
My nephew, Cal, is currently in Los Angeles as a WGA writer, SAG actor, and bonafide multi-hyphenate and yet he still regularly laments that he could experience Hollywood the way I did, in the 90’s and 2000’s. He moved to LA as a bright, young upstart and landed on my Malibu couch just in time for one of my beach house summers. That was the year that Adrian Grenier from Entourage was my roomie and I hooked Cal up as his in-house Hollywood Hills bartender, even though he didn’t know how to make a drink. He still gets a far away look in his eye when he mentions how being tipped with women’s bras was better than any money he actually made on the job. Those definitely were the days and I would have never had the success in my future career had I not experienced them and made the friends I still have now. Here’s some reasons why…
Ahhhh, the Formosa Cafe. Across the street from Jones. Late nights in LA were never as good as NYC because everything “closed” at 2 AM, but if you knew the owners of these joints, you never really had to leave. This was the spot for my 21st birthday party, which I have been celebrating the 20th (and 21st, and 22nd…)anniversary of ever since I hit my 40's. Way before cell phones, there were polaroids, your only real chance to get a great photo and look at it almost instantly. You had to wave it around a bit and eagerly await the blurry arrival of the beginning of something magical and you’d holler out a cheer and call everyone over when you got a good one. I’ve dragged these polaroids through both my divorces and moves from one side of the country to another and back again and there is never a time when I open the box of treasure that holds these items that I don’t immediately smile and feel exactly the way I did when I first saw it. I can’t remember ever looking at an old Instagram post and feeling the same way. Nobody ever turned down a polaroid among friends, no matter how wasted, or how famous they were because we all somehow knew they would always be held somewhere for safekeeping.
2. The Playboy Mansion
Before there were seven girlfriends and reality tv cameras, being invited to the Playboy Mansion was the most coveted invite and getting one as a regular citizen represented almost near impossibility. My guy friends would beg me to find a way to get them past those iron gates and up that long driveway to single man’s Nirvana. (who am I kidding, every man’s Nirvana) I have had a long history, both personal and professional, with not only Hef and Mary and the whole team, but with the house, which was truly the star of the show. I first experienced the mansion at 19 as a guest of their legendary New Year’s Eve party two weeks after my arrival to the city when Hef still had one Mrs Hef. She disapproved of my date and dragged me into her office to ask how old I was and lecture me about falling in with the wrong crowd-all while standing in front of a life-sized naked photo of herself taking up an entire wall. Years later, I ran into Hef with the whole harem at The Opium Den-another golden era of Hollywood staple, and he remembered me instantly and had me write my home phone number and address on a cocktail napkin. Being a “personally invited by Hef” guest allowed me extra privileges like being on the permanent list to come over for any of the small events and I was able to bring up to two friends with me to all the big ones (women only of course). Although I’ve read some of the memoirs that included tales about all of the debauchery, all I ever saw was a lot of old men, a lot of famous people, and an unbelievable number of beautiful women. Later, as a Hollywood publicist, I represented them for their celebrity pictorial outreach and negotiated Paris Hilton’s deal. She is a very savvy businesswoman. They really did treat everyone like family once you were in the fold, I even took my daughter over for the Easter egg hunt one year, and I was sorry to hear it sold out of the family. Anyone who had the chance to be there has a story they will never forget.
3. Vincent Gallo
Nobody screams full send 90’s like Vinnie Gallo. Love him or not, it is hard to find anyone from any era in Hollywood who had more style or swag-or who was more genuinely themselves than he was. One of his many quirks was whenever we were photographed publicly by professional photographers, he refused to look at the camera. But whenever a friend or one of us took photos together on our own camera, he was warm and smiling straight into the lens. He gave zero fucks before anyone even knew that was a thing. He was always fearless about what he believed in and especially his art and I absolutely adore him to this day. He was a fierce defender of women, one of the few men I can say that about. When I left a low paying PR job as a single mom, he bought me a computer to help me start my business. I paid him back every cent when I became successful. There’s nothing worse than someone who doesn’t pay back a debt except maybe someone who makes a big show of it, so I put it in an envelope and left it at the front desk of his condo high-rise on Sunset Blvd. When he called me to say he wasn’t cashing the check, I told him it was a huge deal to me that he did and so he did-he understood integrity. He had some interesting ways of supporting my newly minted endeavor… One musician that will remain nameless who at the time was looking to make a name for himself was introduced to my by Vincent. We had a couple of dinner meetings with some of his friends but no retainer ever materialized and he spent most of his time flirting and bragging about himself. Cut to several months later, I get a panicked call at midnight, at home, from said musician. It seems that Vincent had gotten wind of his lack of professionalism and knocked on his front door at a very unreasonable hour to tell him “I didn’t introduce you to Valerie so you and your friends could hit on her, I introduced you to her to hire her because you said you needed a publicist. So you’re going to go get your checkbook and write her a check right now or you’re going to have a problem with me.” He did offer to write me a check but I declined, not someone I wanted on my roster. Vincent was also one of the few people to defend women against predator Harvey Weinstein back then and it definitely affected his career. I never felt he got enough credit for not just his talent and his support of women, but for his honesty in a town who’s currency is lies and exaggeration. We spend too much time taking people down for what they’ve done in the past but zero notice goes to the good ones that actually stood up when it wasn’t chic to do so. Vincent was one of those good guys, and it is really a loss to film that he didn’t receive the recognition or the career that he deserved.
I often wondered what happened to private plane photos before Instagram, until I found an old box with photo CDs shoved down into the bottom with the magic words VEGAS written on it. I don’t even have a way to load a CD anymore but luckily Amazon has an answer for that and I was happy to dig up this gold with an outdated dvd loader I’ll never use again. Worth it! Maybe I’m just partial to this period of time in Las Vegas because I had so many amazing clients there. The Palms Casino, Ghost Bar, The Maloof Money Cup, and even the UFC. I spent many nights nursing a single cocktail and babysitting guests as the “celebrity host” for The Palms every other weekend when my daughter was with her dad. This weekend was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had in Sin City. The celebrity recognition age range walking through the casino with John Stamos from Full House and Matt Stone from South Park looked something like moms about to faint over Uncle Jesse and their teenage sons losing a limb trying to get the word “Kenny!” to make sense to their parents. I’ve had to rescue huge actors from the men’s room busted by security with a little recreational ‘booger sugar’ because people forget casinos take drugs and their gaming licenses very seriously. (Just do them in your room like everyone else, please.) I’ve had the pleasure of hosting the entire cast of Oceans 11-yes Brad Pitt and George, et all. But probably my most favorite guest, the coolest girl I’ve ever met, is Eva Mendes. Not only is she about the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen in person, she’s the funniest and most down to earth hang, ever. When I helped her to her table at the opening of the Playboy Club, her coat caught on the bottle of grey goose and knocked all the glasses and everything spilled out onto the floor. Horrified she said “Did my big ol Cuban butt just do that?” When I told her no, absolutely not, she was physically perfect and couldn’t possibly have a body part that would do such a thing it was actually just her coat, she responded “Well underneath my coat is my big ol Cuban butt!” She’s the only woman Ryan Gosling could have wifed up that I can live with. Nobody deserves to be with anyone that good looking so it makes sense they are together.
5. The Whisky Bar
I saved the best for last. If you know, you know. This tiny bar in the lobby of the Sunset Marquis was the single greatest spot in Los Angeles for many, many years. Almost impossible to get in, with space for barely 100 guests, and a legendary recording studio in the basement made for the world’s most exclusive two hour hang. Nobody arrived before midnight and everything closed at two so you had to take it to the rooms if you wanted to keep it going. I’ve had a lifelong love of sleep and a policy that nothing good happens when you can’t let go of the party, so I have missed more than my fair share of crazy times at this spot, I’m sure. Rande Gerber has always known how to get down and this was his greatest accomplishment up until Casa Migos Reposado. The one piece gray catsuits the waitresses wore. The booths and the outdoor patio. Duke at the door. Wendell (RIP). One of the waitresses walked into their legendary single stall unisex bathrooms (they only had two so you were guaranteed to see some strange parties coming in and out while you waited) only to see Slash holding up a little person under each arm so they could do blow off the bathroom counter. She didn’t care because she dated his drummer. That’s the kind of spot it was. This is another 90’s dream project that needs a documentary. Something like what they did for The Comedy Store on Showtime would be so great. I can already imagine getting the old gang back together again. Everyone has more stories they’ll never forget and its one of my favorite things to reminisce about the good ol days when I run into the old regulars, ironically, usually on Instagram.
I’ve got stories that could fill books from this time period but maybe I’ll save the rest for my own someday, I’m definitely writing one. The friends I have that know me from this time will always stand by me, no matter how hard anyone tries to come along and say the know otherwise. We know what people are made of from this time, because you couldn’t fake it with a filter, photoshop, or cosmetic procedures. They saw you in real life, not on Google or Facebook. The beautiful human being I raised by myself during these years is better than a resume, she speaks to my work ethic and ability to overcome huge obstacles before there were hashtags or side hustles, or paid posts. With all the 90’s nostalgia going around, its fun to drop back into time and think about when things were simpler. When you had to check your messages from a pay phone when you were out. When all you had to do was be cool and fun to get invited. When people made eye contact and had conversations. Traffic was normal and nobody knew what a homeless encampment was. TV shows got cancelled, not people. When you didn’t have to worry that everything that happened last night was going to live forever. A time when we all thought we would too.