Lean on Me

I met Nancy Davis a few years ago when she was here in town selling her jewelry – jewelry she’d designed and manufactured. I forget who introduced us. A mutual friend.

Nancy Davis at her suite in the St. Regis in 2003

She was staying at the St. Regis. I went over to her room. She’s very matter-of-fact friendly from the start. She has objectives. This day it was to show me her jewelry and, consciously or not, sell me on it. Her method is matter-of-fact friendly.

I ask a lot of questions but Nancy Davis is one of those people who can provide the answer before you ask. She’s an executive. She can tell a good story too. She is a good story.

First of all, she has Multiple Sclerosis. I say first of all because when she told me I was looking at a very healthy looking, deeply energetic, driven young woman telling me she had a degenerative disease and had had it for more than ten years. That’s an interesting story, right before your eyes.

Then she told me, among other things, that she’d started a charity Center Without Walls to fund research, and holds a benefit once a year out in Los Angeles, called The Race to Erase. That’s to raise money to fund the research to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, or MS as it is referred to. She got Tommy Hilfiger involved. He sponsors it. She invites all of her Hollywood friends – and the Davises had a LOT of Hollywood friends. And they raise millions every year.

From all this, she told me at the time, researchers were finding more and more about treating MS. In the meantime she had a jewelry business and the money she raised from it was going towards MS research. And she takes care of herself. Exercise, drinking lots of water, eliminating certain toxins from her diet. Discipline; discipline talking.

Nancy Davis and Ken Rickel at their Bel Air house in 2004.
A selection of jewelry from Nancy Davis' Peace and Love collection from January 2004.

The next time I saw her was at her house in Bel Air. JH and I went over one day to photograph her latest jewelry designs. It’s always interesting visiting Hollywood personalities who live in Bel Air because their lives are so identifiable to the mainstream notion of Hollywood affluence on one hand, and otherworldly on the other. In the parking court in front of the house might be a Bentley, a Ferrari and a Ford SUV. All pristine and shining. Oh, and maybe a VW. Belonging to the friend of one of the kids. I’m not saying that’s what was in front of Davis’ house. But it was something like that. The house: big stone mansion. Inside lots of light, lots of glass; hundreds (literally) of photographs in silver frames of all shapes, sizes and eras. Famous people in the photographs. And Ms. Davis and her family members.

Meanwhile there’s a lot going on in the house. Staff, dogs, children (sons in their late teens, early twenties), husband, phones ringing. And Nancy Davis at the center of it calmly laying out her jewelry on tables and chair seats so that JH could photograph them.

You quickly forget that she’s got a serious degenerative disease that when she was diagnosed the doctor advised her to go home, go to bed and stay there. And let the world wait on her until she wasn’t there to wait on anymore. Some doctor, no? Since then, she gave birth to a daughter.

Which brings us to last night, at the Tommy Hilfiger store on West Broadway and Broome in SoHo. Nancy Davis was having a book party, hosted by her friend Mr. Hilfiger, for her new book: “Lean On Me; 10 Powerful Steps to Moving Beyond Your Diagnosis and Taking Back Your Life.”

The place was mobbed when I arrived about seven. Mr. Hilfiger was standing just inside the door looking like an ad come to life. It such a strong image. I don’t think I’ve seen him more than once or twice in my life but it’s a face out of Grant Wood or Norman Rockwell.

Jack Rich with Joan Collins and Percy Gibson
Jan Miller
Tommy Hilfiger and Nancy Davis

A moment later Nancy came through the crowd. I took a picture of her and Tommy H together. They were waiting for “Access Hollywood” to arrive. How very L.A., you say? Well, the authoress is very camera/image/publicity conscious. It runs in the family. Her parents moved to Los Angeles from Denver in 1980. They were literally unknown in the community but only after a very few years they were the reigning couple of Moviedom, living in an enormous mansion and giving million dollar holiday parties with a guest list of the biggest stars in town (and out of town). It helped that Mr. Davis bought 20th Century-Fox and the Beverly Hills Hotel, in the meantime. Made for perfect razzle-dazzle in a town of shine and surface. Nancy had her parents’ taste for the lifestyle. It delivers the social jolt -- a big fish in a very large small pond of other big fish, some of whom are big movie stars. That’s where this author of a book dealing with dreadful diagnoses appears to come from.

I moved through the crowd and lo, speaking of Hollywood, who should be standing there before me but Joan Collins and Percy Gibson. Joan is Hollywood. Even when she isn’t. A hard working actress, ballyhoo’s daughter, possessor of one of the longest lasting careers, Joan Collins is keeping herself prepared for her next great role. She’s one of those people who thinks like Nancy Davis: find a way to do it and do it.

Collins and Gibson are off to San Francisco (I think they said) for the Dynasty Reunion. After which they head for England where Joan is going to tour doing her one woman show throughout the provinces, after which it’s back here to Canada playing opposite Linda Evans in James Kirkwood’s play about two “mature” stage stars, “Legends.” We exchanged a few words and they left Tommy Hilfiger’s store to go uptown to the premiere of Basic Instinct 2.

Davis’ book. I started reading the book the other day. I frankly didn’t intend to read it because there are a lot of books ahead of it, for me. But I took what I intended to be a perfunctory look so that I could at least tell the author I’d read some of it. However, I’d forgotten about the author: she tells a good story. You get drawn into her situation the same way you can get drawn into a very dramatic mystery. Without intending to.

I’m not giving anything away when I tell you the 10 Steps because they’re not recent discoveries. They’re simple. It’s the mastery of them that’s hard.

Click image to order

Step One: Embrace Change
Step Two: Fear Less
Step Three: Never take No for an Answer
Step Four: Find Your Dr. Right
Step Five: Build Your Health Team
Step Six: You Are What You Ingest
Step Seven: Let’s Get Physical
Step Eight: Explore Alternative Therapies
Step Nine: Tame the Health Care Monster
Step Ten: Give Back.

They give all of us, in good health or not, something to think about.

Leaving Tommy Hilfiger’s (Access Hollywood had arrived and Davis and Hilfiger were yakking to the mike), I ran into Jan Miller. Miller is one of the most successful book agents in the publishing industry. Health, self-improvement, health, how-to-fix-you-head-and-achieve-your-dreams books are Miller’s territory. Books that sell millions of copies. She works out of Dallas and here in New York. She told me she was Nancy Davis’ agent. Figures. They’re meant for each other. They’ve got a book that’s hot; a book with something we all need to know and to think about.

March 28, 2006, Volume VI, Number 51


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