Stardust memories

In honor of the Oscars, I’m reflecting on my four years living in L.A. (1996 – 2000) and covering the film industry for Premiere Magazine, the now-defunct movie magazine for film lovers.

[Warning: this blog post is looooong.]

I met so many great stars (and regular folks) through that job — my first real writing job out of journalism school. I didn’t know how good I had it. I had moved to L.A. in August 1996 with no job lined up and knowing no one. I just wanted to work in the movie business somehow — maybe as a script supervisor or at a production company. To pay the bills, I was working at Nine West in the Beverly Center — to this day, the worst job I’ve ever had. I made it to October when I just called up and quit one day.

I got the job at Premiere the same week, through a cold call to the West Coast bureau in Santa Monica, on the infamous Bundy Drive of O.J. Simpson fame. I happened to get a fellow Midwesterner on the phone (thanks Max Potter) who told me about an unpaid internship they were looking to fill. He gave me the internship which turned into an editorial assistant job by Christmas. Over the following three years, I visited movie sets, attended weeknight screenings and covered dozens of premieres and red carpet events, including the Oscars, Emmy’s, Golden Globes and Independent Spirit Awards. I was 22 years old and on my own —  no spouse or kids to get home to. The rest of the staff had been doing it a while. They were over it, and too senior to go out weeknight after weeknight to squeeze into the press corps behind the ropes of the red carpet. Meanwhile, I was happy to.

Because this was before iPhones, I have precious few photos from all my experiences. Here are a few:

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{Here I am interviewing Brad Pitt at the post-premiere party of The End of the Affair at Jimmy’s II Restaurant in Beverly Hills / Century City area on December 2, 1999. The End of the Affair was directed by Neil Jordan, who Brad had worked with on Interview with a Vampire. Brad had just finished filming Snatch with Guy Ritchie. This photo was mailed to my office a week after the party. A professional photographer had snapped it. Pretty awesome that he took the time to send it to me, in retrospect. In case you’re wondering, Brad was a nice guy. Very present, interested and locked in — i.e., not looking around for someone more important to talk to. I always found the bigger the star, the more focused and kind they were.}

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{My first selfie? It was on the way to the Golden Globes in 2000, during the 3 months I worked for Us Weekly, a miserable job. I must have had a regular disc camera… I can’t remember. I do remember that shirt I’m wearing was like $20.}

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{In Santa Monica near the pier with my mom, when she visited L.A.}

I had worked at Premiere for two years before I got to cover the Oscars. It was a tough ticket and my boss usually covered it.

I know I covered the Independent Spirit Awards a couple times — and it may have been 1997. The Spirit awards are held in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica on the Saturday before the Oscars. It’s much more laid back. I remember talking to Ed Harris, Mary Louise Parker, and Cameron Diaz and seeing Alec Baldwin. Everyone is just running around having fun. I remember having a ribeye and bloody Mary in a nearby hotel restaurant with one of my co-workers afterward. I was always ravenous after covering events.

The first time I covered the Oscars, it was the 70th Academy Awards on March 23, 1998. That was the year of Titanic, Good Will Hunting, As Good As It Gets and L.A. Confidential.

When I say I covered the awards, I should clarify: I didn’t attend the actual Oscars ceremony inside the Shrine. But I did have press credentials to the Governor’s Ball, one of only a few reporters allowed in. Premiere was very well-respected and trusted among the publicity folks. And our West Bureau Chief, Anne Thompson, was and still is a sort of grande dame of Oscars. If the Oscars ceremony is a wedding, the Governor’s Ball is the reception immediately following. From there, everyone goes to after-parties sponsored by Vanity Fair, InStyle, Elton John, and the studios. My lovely co-worker Sean Smith and I divvied up the passes to those after-parties. That’s when my work really began.

Highlights of the night for me: talking to Matt Damon at the Governor’s Ball right after he won best screenplay for Good Will Hunting (just like Brad, a nice guy) and talking to Greg Kinnear at an after-party after he won for As Good As It Gets. Greg = also a super humble and nice guy.

The following year, I covered the 71st Academy Awards on March 21, 1999 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown L.A. I borrowed a beautiful beige gown and Jimmy Choo heels from Pam in the magazine’s Advertising department. I even have a photo of myself with Sean just before heading downtown (I would watch the first part of the show in my apartment and then head down to the Governor’s Ball when it was nearing the end). But I can’t find it! Maybe next year…

The 1999 Oscars were all about Shakespeare in Love, Saving Private Ryan, Life is Beautiful and Elizabeth. It was the year of Gwyneth Paltrow’s famous pink gown and Roberto Benigni walking on the backs of chairs in the theater when he won.

That year, I covered the Miramax after-party at the Polo Lounge in the storied Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. A couple things I remember about that night: my driver’s side door on my shitty Toyota Celica was broken, so when I pulled into valet, I had to get out through the passenger side; Gwyneth Paltrow was there holding court at a table and I lingered like a vulture for a very long time before giving up; I met Kevin Costner, who had brought his daughter as his date; and on my drive home, I saw a lone coyote run across Sunset Boulevard, near the deserted UCLA campus.

That year, I really wanted to just watch the show from home with a bowl of popcorn like I had done for so many years back in Ohio. That was kind of the beginning of the end.

The following year, 2000, I was in San Francisco on Oscars night. I had quit my job at Premiere for a job at Us Weekly that quickly fizzled out, and was planning to move back to Ohio in a few days’ time. I remember walking around San Fran (I had never been and wanted to check it out before moving home) and being beside myself that I wasn’t watching the Oscars — and being ASTOUNDED that anyone would be out instead of at home glued to the show. At that time, I still believed the world revolved around Hollywood.

Once home, it took many months to shake that. I was like a recovering Hollywood insider. I couldn’t stand to talk about movies or hear other people talk about movies. As if they knew anything.

First Red-Carpet Interview

Winona Ryder (The Crucible)

Biggest / Most Memorable Stars Interviewed at Premiere Parties

  • Brad Pitt (The End of the Affair)
  • John Travolta (Mad City)
  • Dustin Hoffman (Mad City)
  • Nicole Kidman (Eyes Wide Shut)

My Teen Idols, Interviewed

  • Olivia Newton-John (annual Women in Hollywood luncheon; she complimented me on my black Banana Republic pantsuit. I’ll never forget it.)
  • Rob Lowe (Austin Powers)

Stars Interviewed at the Oscars

  • Matt Damon (the year he won for writing Good Will Hunting, at the Governor’s Ball)
  • Tom Hanks (at the Governor’s Ball)
  • Kevin Costner (at an Oscars party with his daughter)
  • Greg Kinnear (the year he won for As Good As It Gets)

Strangest Interview

Gene Simmons (at a party I was covering for InStyle Magazine, a freelance gig)

Interview I Had to Literally Run Down

Jim Carrey, at the height of his career when he was the first actor to earn a $20 million payday

Stars Who Didn’t Look as Good in Person as They Do Onscreen

Hugh Grant (sorry Hugh)

Stars Who Look Better in Person Than They Do Onscreen

  • Sandra Bullock (stunning)
  • Michelle Pfeiffer (magical)
  • Jeff Bridges (more leading man, less The Dude)

Sit-Down Interviews That Lasted an Hour or More

  • George Clooney (on the set of O Brother, Where Art Thou?; charming, funny but also a lot more everyday than you might expect)
  • Jeff Bridges (in his hotel room, doing press for Arlington Road and I was sick as a dog, coming down with the flu)
  • Ashton Kutcher (I think it was a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Sunset Boulevard)
  • Peter Facinelli (some lunch place in the valley)
  • Lisa Kudrow (some lunch place in Beverly Hills)
  • Vincent Perez (in the Hotel Peninsula’s beautiful dining room, for I Dreamed Of Africa)

Stars Interviewed on a Movie Set

  • Peter Berg (Very Bad Things)
  • Kevin Bacon (Hollow Man)
  • Charlize Theron (The Astronaut’s Wife)
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Haunting)
  • Liam Neeson (The Haunting)
  • Lindsay Lohan (The Parent Trap)
  • Natasha Richardson (The Parent Trap)
  • Dennis Quaid (The Parent Trap)
  • Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween: H20, one of my all-time favorite scream queens from one of my favorite movies ever, the original Halloween)
  • Geoffrey Rush (The House on Haunted Hill)
  • Josh Hartnett (Halloween: H20)
  • Paul Walker (Joy Ride)
  • Steve Zahn (Joy Ride)
  • Leelee Sobieski (Joy Ride)
  • Clint Eastwood (Space Cowboys)
  • Matthew Lillard (Spanish Judges)

Other Interesting Women I Interviewed

  • Drew Barrymore (at the annual Women in Hollywood luncheon)
  • Eva Marie Saint (one of Hitchcock’s leading ladies!)
  • Debra Hill (she produced most of the Halloween movies)
  • Cindy Crawford (she was at the same party where I saw Madonna)

Memorable Interviews at Premiere Parties

  • Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic; again, what a nice guy)
  • Jerry Seinfeld (Sour Grapes)
  • Harrison Ford (Air Force One)
  • Jared Leto (Gattaca)
  • Uma Thurman (Gattaca)
  • Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth)
  • Vince Vaughn (Return to Paradise)

Most Memorable Stars I Saw at Events But Didn’t Interview

  • Madonna (tiny, like so many of them)
  • Robert Deniro (it was at the premiere for Ronin and when he entered, the entire room got quiet, like the Queen of England had arrived)
  • David Schwimmer (I was staring into space and when I re-focused, he was doing that hand-wave thing you do to people, like, “Hello? Earth to reporter?”)
  • Chris Farley (I passed him on the stairs of a premiere party and he asked me if I had a boyfriend)
  • Bruce Willis & Demi Moore (at the G.I. Jane premiere; they were such a gorgeous power couple)
  • Jennifer Aniston (tiny with a golden tan)

Stars Who Waited Me Out

  • Gwyneth Paltrow (at the Oscars after-party, the year she won for Shakespeare in Love)
  • Ben Affleck (some premiere party I don’t remember)

 

The Biggest One That Got Away 

Tom Cruise (he was holding Nicole Kidman’s hand while I interviewed her on the red carpet of the Eyes Wide Shut premiere. He was being interviewed by some other red carpet reporter. This was right before they broke up.)

Stars I Thought Were Jerks

Billy Zane (at the Titanic premiere) and Winona Ryder (she apparently had some long-standing beef with Premiere magazine)

The Biggest Stars of the Era That I Never Even Caught a Whiff Of

Julia Roberts

Two dinner hacks

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Here are a couple super-easy dinners this week.

On Sunday evening, we grilled chicken breasts and made salads with random stuff from the fridge: broccoli roasted in the oven at high temp, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and some homemade creamy cilantro dressing.

Later in the week, Barrak brought home a Whole Foods cheese pizza and topped half of it (the grown-up half) with a mixture of sautéed spinach, garlic and shallot and dabs of goat cheese.

Before and After: Dishwasher 

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Our slightly more than 1 year old (just six months out of warranty) Samsung dishwasher door broke a few weeks ago. Barrak had to jam it closed with a whiffle-ball bat against a chair any time we needed to run it. Now after many frustrating phone calls to Samsung, it’s finally fixed! That qualifies as a home reno, no? And while not as much fun as new bedding, it’s still a wonderful thing to have a working dishwasher again.

Before and After: Bedding

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We’ve had this Pottery Barn quilt on our bed on and off for 8 years. We bought it as a splurge when we put our Clintonville house up for sale in 2008, to “stage” the bedroom. I love the happy colors and whimsical pattern, and that the quilt is reversible (the other side is a groovy ’70s floral). It’s become really soft over the years, too. So soft in fact that it’s ripped in several places. So, it was time for new bedding.

To me, an all-white bed is the standard in a chic bedroom. In 1997, when I was living in L.A., my chicest (and most blunt) friend Jordana stopped by my one-room apartment to give me decor advice. The first thing she advised was to replace my shabby chic floral duvet cover with a simple all-white one (she also strongly advised against the fuzzy toilet lid cover and matching toilet-hugging floor mat that I thought created a finished look in the bathroom).

Her words still loom large in my mind. Nearly 20 years later, it’s still a chic look — although they’re showing it with striped, brightly colored bohemian pillows and $600 Moroccan wedding blankets (see Amber Interior Design for examples).

With two young kids and a bulldog, the all-white look just didn’t seem practical for us.  How about light gray instead? First I tried a gray Belgian linen duvet cover from Pottery Barn with some brightly colored pillows from West Elm to make it pop. But, it didn’t really pop. So it all went back.

Next, I tried the Malibu patchwork quilt from Pottery Barn, thinking it would give me a southern California look. I guess I was basing that on the name because once I got it on the bed, it was more like the cot coverings you’d see at Camp IWannaGlassaWaWa.

So finally, I landed on this.

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I’m so happy with it. It looks and feels super-soft and luxurious. And Barrak likes it too. He isn’t one of those HGTV husbands who lets his wife make all the design decisions. He definitely has opinions and tastes and actually has a great eye for design, color and balance.

My favorite elements are the white quilt and Moroccan pillow. The lady at Pottery Barn didn’t think the Moroccan pillow matched the rest but it was an important checkbox for me — a nod to the $600 Moroccan wedding blankets they’re showing in hip southern Cal abodes.

The key is to layer patterns and textures, and mix and match your pillows, which takes a pretty penny. To get that big puffy look in the Pottery Barn floor sets, they actually stuff TWO duvets in their duvet covers!

Except for the duvet itself (just one), which is from Bed, Bath and Beyond, I got this bedding from Pottery Barn using a 15% off code.

I think it would even better if we had a headboard but that’s for another time.

Stay tuned for more home improvement makeovers!

Two great February recipes

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I love classic hot spinach-artichoke dip with crackers or baguette slices, and usually make it for sports-centric viewing parties — although I do recall plowing through a dish of it while binge-watching Downton Abbey a couple winters ago. This year, I made it for the Super Bowl. Reliable and so good. It also reheats nicely as a (rich) side dish throughout the week with steak or chicken. I used Alton Brown’s recipe and doubled it.

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These are baked prosciutto egg cups. I tore the recipe out of Rachel Ray’s magazine years ago and have made it quite a few times for Barrak. He loves them. You only need 4 ingredients. So easy. You lay slices of prosciutto in each cup of a muffin tin, then crack an egg in each cup. Drop in some fresh mozzarella, garnish with fresh basil and bake for 15 minutes. The prosciutto acts like a basket. This year, I made them for Valentine’s Day. They were ready on the counter when Barrak came back from the gym. I didn’t have fresh basil but they were still very good.

Our family lullabies

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{Mag’s constellation globe night-light from Land of Nod}

I’ve sung lullabies to both my kids since they were newborn babies. Now they’re 8 1/2 going on 13 and 5 going on 6, but they still ask for songs every night. “Two songs, mommy,” they say like they’re ordering up two meatball subs. I have a terrible singing voice but they don’t seem to mind.

Greta loves Lullaby by Billy Joel (she calls it “Goodnight My Angel”) and Magnus always asks for Hit the Road to Dreamland (he calls it “the Land of Nod song.”)

Here are some of our other favorites:

  • World’s Greatest by R. Kelly (and covered by Will Oldham)
  • Golden Slumbers by The Beatles
  • In My Life by The Beatles
  • Blackbird by The Beatles
  • You’ve Got a Friend by Carole King
  • Harvest Moon by Neil Young
  • Unknown Legend by Neil Young
  • Baby Mine by Alison Kraus
  • Hush, Little Baby
  • All Night, All Day
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Earth Angel, usually followed by Soldier Boy (a ’50s theme!)
  • The first verse of Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall (I can’t remember the lyrics after that)
  • Beautiful Boy by John Lennon
  • Que Sera Sera by Doris Day
  • Rockabilly Lullaby (Rest My Little Mermaid) from The Backyardigans
  • Angel Dream (No. 4) by Tom Petty
  • (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman by Aretha Franklin (Greta likes when I do the ‘bah-OOP’s)
  • Silent Night
  • The River by Joni Mitchell

Big yawns ensue (usually mine).