Sunday, September 9, 2007

Giving in to the 'celeb thang'

So you thought I’d regale you with a personal account about who was there and what they wore? You know what I’m talkin’ about: the no-cameras-or-recording-devices-allowed Oprah-Obama bash and the pre-cursor luncheon at Nancy “Obama Mama” and Larry Koppleman’s beach house. Can’t. Didn’t go—no press invited, and rumor has it that even CBS was denied access —but I can tell you that the sold-out (final tickets sold as late as Thursday) lunch party at the Koppelman’s raised almost a quarter of a million dollars: 100 folks at $2,300 a pop = $230,000. And I did have a couple of spies on hand who helped me with this report.

Nancy also sold another forty to fifty tix to Oprah’s party. Rumor has it 1,500 people were in attendance. That's another $3.45 million for Obama.
The Koppelmans had private security at their gated community (not to mention another nearby crush of people at Miramar beach for Melissa Crawford’s wedding); the East Valley Road entrance, as well as Santa Rosa Road route to Oprah’s had our men in uniform keeping the press at bay.
My first “Deep Throat” source at the Koppelman soiree shared some thoughts regarding the new face of Democrats in Santa Barbara. Firstly, a little history of local Democratic fundraisers:
“Frail and elderly Santa Barbara Democrats remember the bad old days, desperately trying to raise money and interest in the latest suicidal candidate running against a well entrenched Republican. The parties always featured the same, dear, old ladies serving cookies and punch — these were the days before wine — and the same three or four dozen elderly ACLU stalwarts in attendance, donating their ten dollars to meet the candidate. The latest, eager lawyer, or mayor, or teacher who was going to be swamped at the polls by a Teague or a Lagomarsino or a Holmes. There were a few early triumphs: Pat Brown came by in 1958 and was our governor for eight years. Then we paid $20 to meet Jimmy Carter. Finally, Gary Hart and Jack O'Connell became the new face of Santa Barbara Democratic politics. The dear ladies switched to Trader Joe wines and the donations went up to $20 or even $50 to meet Michael Dukakis.”
Then our spy brings us to present day affairs:
“In 2007, even Democrats own beachfront land and drive Porsches. On September 8th, the smart ones avoided the mob of thousands at the megabash for Barack Obama at Oprah Winfrey's estate and attended an earlier private party at a beachfront home in Montecito where they would actually be able to shake the candidate's hand and ask him a question (after donating $2,300). Anyone expecting to see the familiar faces, of the dear ladies and ACLU stalwarts, would have been disappointed. Even Congresswoman Lois Capps was a bit taken aback by the crowd of friendly, yet unfamiliar faces. Now and then a name tag would trigger recognition--a producer, a writer, that guy in that show.
“Then the senator arrived and worked his way through the crowd, smiling, confident, with the upbeat aura of a man whose campaign would be at least two and a half million dollars richer by the end of the day. The greatest moment: he began a perfunctory hello to the stunning Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and then did a creditable Hollywood double-take. 'Heyyyy! I know you!' and the room collapsed in laughter. Every word of his speech was predictable. Universal health insurance, schools, the mistakes of Iraq, and so on. But the senator put a professional spin on what could have been a tired old set piece.
“His ideas sounded as refreshing and inspiring as if he had just thought of them. He was preaching to the choir, of course, but he left to go to Oprah's leaving behind a crowd of middle-aged, prosperous, powerful persons now bursting with the ardor of teenage rock star fans. One distinguished woman whispered to a friend, ‘Right now, I think I'd kill for him.’ Her friend confided what she would like to do for the candidate, and they pealed with laughter.”

On to Oprahs (not): A traffic report and more..
All fired up and ready to go?
While Deep Throat was sipping on white wine and downing canapés, this intrepid reporter drove the 101 towards Earl Warren Showgrounds, the official parking lot for Oprah’s event. Traffic was backed up from the Las Positas exit for a few miles to the south. Passed a few blacked-out-window limos both on the 101, as well as, earlier, heading up San Ysidro Road.
After scouting out the roads, entrances and traffic situation for Oprah’s findraiser, I thought I’d see if I could hear Stevie Wonder playing since I missed his recent “epic” concert at the Bowl. Sometimes it pays to live in a place a long time and know where to sneak around. While a handful of reporters camped out on beach chairs on East Valley road waiting for a glimpse of whoever, yours truly, high tailed it to a blissfully lonely spot to practice a little bit (but nearly enough) of Gonzo journalism.
Most importantly, I first stopped by Gelatoria Goia to pick up a pint of ice cream to take home. While there, a fella with two lovely young daughters, tipped me off to the Santa Rosa Lane closure, which I checked it out, before using my own secret route I had in mind.
I hightailed it over to the head of a certain walking trail where the political rhetoric vibrated through the Bushes, er, I mean ancient California oak trees. Can I tell you what B.O. said? Most of his speech was inaudible from my vantage point, but I did catch a few words and a rash of “America’s.” (No offense intended by using Barack Obama’s initials, but B-O’s wife Michelle did announce that her husband is “stinky and cranky in the morning” last week).
Who didn’t I see over the garden hedges? Celebs in attendance including Sidney Poitier, Forest Whitaker (got to meet him at our film fest), Chris Rock, Dennis Haysbert, and Master P.
Heck, why would I want to stand next to Cindy Crawford, Linda Evans or, egad, Halle Berry, who was not there, by the way…
At the VIP dinner for 150 under the garden tent, another spy reported that Oprah sat between Poitier and Baby Face, Steadman was at the other end of the party. The four-course meal, catered by Mollie, of Mollie’s Trattoria, was served at the same time to one and all, with two waiters for each guest in attendance. Moet Chandon Champagne flowed as well as Italian wine. Sadly, no local varietals were poured for the guests.
Also, expected but not attending, according to my source, were Will Smith (another nice guy I met at the SBIFF) and Jamie Foxx.
I should have remained at my secret spot to hear Stevie Wonder’s five songs played before dinner wafting over the hedges, but my straciatella (chocolate chip) gelato was melting!
The tunes got the crowd (which included director’s Robert Zemeckis and George Lucas, as well as rapper Master P) up and dancing, but everyone went home by 10 p.m.
I happen to like Obama. But after his visit this weekend, I cannot honestly say much about him, as I never met the man. But I certainly felt the buzz.
I’d like to think that Oprah, in the long established tradition and spirit of philanthropy in our town, might consider opening her gardens to benefit not only her political picks, but some area non-profits, as well one day. Direct Relief International would be an obvious choice.
In the meantime, Magic Johnson is hosting a reception for Hillary at his L.A. manse on Friday. The game is on.
All fired up and ready to go?

Now This I Can Afford
I bought a fun item for $2 at imagine, the gift shop in Montecito’s upper village: a campaign style button that reads: “01.20.08”. That’s Bush’s last day in office. Should have had ‘em for party favors at the Obama events…as well as the matching baseball caps.
“The store is running low,” owner Billie Vrtiak told me, when I ran in to her last Thursday at the Downtown Art Walk, but she has more on order for both her downtown and Montecito shops.

Ellen’s Mom
The first time I met lovely Betty DeGeneres (a.k.a. Ellen’s mom) was when I started talking to her dog Bingo. On a second occasion, the three of us were walking toward the beach, and I introduced myself as Leslie; she said she was Betty.
I recognized her (as she had been memorably polite at a Hollywood magazine newsstand a while back) but I didn’t say anything initially.
However, I warned her that I was a reporter and not to tell me anything she didn’t want the public to know after she let her “full” identity be known (though she was wearing a “Ellen DeGeneres Show” vest which, she later admitted, she’d forgotten about, noting: “Ellen says I shouldn’t wear this!”). Since then, I’ve respected her privacy.
But Betty will be having lunch at the Four Seasons Biltmore next week on behalf of the Teddy Bear Foundation, and you can join her. I want to encourage folks to come out and meet the cancer survivor/featured speaker. Betty will be signing copies of her new book, “Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughter Journey.” I tried, unsuccessfully, to borrow a copy from the public library, but Tecolote, apparently, has the book in stock, should you want to read it.
The Teddy Bear Foundation mission is to ensure that children with cancer receive the undivided comfort of their parents during the treatment and recovery process by providing financial aid for rent, mortgage, utilities, and car payments, as well as other supportive services, to middle and low-income families.
For more information, tickets, $175/each, reservations for Tuesday, September 18th event, contact Marni Rozet at 563-4740 or visit

The Last Gossip for Awhile I Hope
Spotted at the Santa Barbara Polo & Tennis Club ‘round the tennis courts, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher; cougar Carol Burnett and her husband Brian Miller, (25 years younger!) at San Ysdiro Ranch’s Plow & Angel. Speaking of age differences, I used to see Steve Martin once in a blue moon at Pierre La Fond in the upper village, but no sightings since the comedian/author/playwright married Anne Stringfield last July in Los Angeles. Apparently the duo got their wedding license in Santa Barbara.
The 62-year old Montecito’s new wife is 34 years old and a staff writer for the New Yorker. Wonder if she will keep her day job?

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