After three long years of Covid imposed cancellation, our return to Hearst Castle Preservation Committee Benefit Weekend felt perhaps more glorious than ever. But first, a little stop in LA.
In contrast to the Castle, my dearest friend Leslie Klotz’s West Hollywood digs are sleek, sexy, low slung mid-century modern. Populated by Leslie and her three dappled daschunds, Brinkley, Rumplemayer and Luther, it buzzes with animal love.
Leslie runs Celebrity Relations for the ASPCA. This day, she was busy working on appealing to Governor Hochul to shut down New York pet stores as California has done, with heartfelt help from Edie Falco, Nathan Lane, Sir Patrick Stewart and many others.
When she came up for air, we spun around, dining with Kathy and Rick Hilton, Anne Hearst McInerney and Jay McInerney and Blaine Trump and Steve Simon at the superb Felix in Venice, then dragged some of same to a little dinner in my honor, back at home.
I shared the evening’s honor with Blaine and Steve who are moving back East after a summer in LA with her son Christopher, his wife Katie and their new baby Rowdy. I also shared the honor with Ann White (Wimbledon white jumpsuit — remember) whose birthday it was. Ex-NYer Rob Haskell and Brett Williams joined, with The Getty’s Tim Potts, filmmaker Lauren Lake, Palm Springs Hobie Sheeder and Madison Offenhauser, and Howard Sherman and Sela Ward.
Sela and I took to the skies the next day with Anne and Jay, leaving urban, modern life far behind. We early birds (the weekend began the next day) were treated to a small dinner at The Senator’s House, George and Phoebe Hearst’s home, the parents of William Randolph Hearst who built the castle from 1919 to 1943.
The Hearst family-owned corporation still has a 83,000 acres of ranch, vineyards and this historic home. Lucky guests have stayed there and only slightly less lucky guests have stayed at the Bunkhouse, where cowboys lived, just across the road. Delicious, authentic Mexican food was served up, the wine was perfect, but we consumed all in moderation knowing there was a looming itinerary ahead of us. Sela Ward and I tucked into The Cavalier, essentially a motel, but smack on the beach with killer views from every room and a goofy, darling little ’60’s restaurant.
Anne’s forever friend, and Foundation trustees chair Remar Sutton, co-founder of The Cronkite Project and its affiliate FoolProof, which teaches kids financial literacy and healthy skepticism, organized a little hike under the mile-long Pergola trail, built high enough for WR to ride his horse in his tall fedora.
We were joined by Remars pals who, like him, have homes in Tortola, and were part of our Cavalier Crew — Sara and David Stemler from Kentucky, Alison and Steve DeNure of Toronto (he of kids programming empire, including my personal faves, Teletubbies), and Shamra and Brian Strange of Montecito (where they are opening an already buzzed out hotel and restaurant, Mattei’s Tavern, an old stagecoach stop).
We trekked along the Pergola trail ending in the long ago abandoned zoo, which once housed lions and polar bears. When the Castle closed, the animals were relocated to sanctuaries and other zoos, except for the aoudads and zebras who escaped and whose descendants cohabitate happily with the cows. Anne forgot to tell me this, and while I was driving to town, I almost left the road catching a glimpse of my first zebra in the field.
We picnicked at the top of a mountain, surrounded by the crazy views that never leave you on the Santa Lucia Mountain range. But blow dryers beckoned as we had to ready for the big do, that evening.
The theme was Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball.
We climbed La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill) through the chill gray fog which broke miraculously as we arrived at The Castle. Cameras popped, lights dappled across the castle façade and everyone there felt a little like Greta Garbo and Clark Gable and their kind who once graced these same terraces almost 100 years before.
It should be noted that Alison Mazzola and her remarkable event team didn’t miss a trick. Seamless, seemingly effortless (hah!), everything was in place, including the extra masks that many of us forgot. We swirled around the lower terrace then convened in WR’s private theater where Jay introduced two well edited films to remind us of the glamorous history of this very spot.
Dresses were hiked and guiding arms found as we descended steps to Casa Grande’s Main Terrace for dinner. Brewer-Clifton and The Feminist Party’s superb wines flowed and Wolfgang Puck served a dinner that even this sophisticated crowd swooned over — local crab with Yuzu avocado mousse and caviar was a particularly big hit.
Jay welcomed us and likened this place to Olympus. I felt it. There were no bad seats. The Tobin family of San Francisco, claimed largest representation. Patriarch Joe, President of The Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation, was joined by lovely Dede Johnston, son Joe Jr; Poppy Brittingham, daughter Taylor, fab sis Kit who left a little early to greet her new horse, sister Trish Tobin Kubal and husband Larry, and scribe cousin Sally Fay.
Anne’s oldest friends the Berubés were out in force: Papa Michael, sparkling Katrina, and sons Ben and Max. Also, Anne’s dearest, Greg Hampton and wonderful daughter Cary, all in from Anne’s hometown, San Francisco. Danielle and Ronald Bradley come from Middleburg every year.
Mary Jameson joined for the first time and remembered her stepmother Eva Gabor, when asked how she felt about getting older, replied, “I only know one word that begins with ‘O’ and it’s orgasm.” Peter Thomas Roth wouldn’t miss this event, and generously improves all of our faces via his skin care products in the gift bag, waiting in our rooms. And Sela Ward toasted the evening and her talented son, Austin Sherman whose album had just dropped and was already on Apples list must hear music.
We made a much-needed constitutional to The Neptune Terrace overlooking the pool lit with its alabaster statues, where dessert was served and the All Star Jukebox band beckoned. Even people who swore they wouldn’t, danced, till the wee-ish hours.
Saturday sprung upon us with myriad activity options: Tennis on WR’s courts; Western horseback riding of course along the coast; animal tracking; Elephant seal viewing — familiar to me as they mostly flop around and grunt, as many of us do on the beach, or our choice, Goat Yoga.
Goat Yoga is basically yoga with hooved friends. We down dogged and communed more deeply with nature with goat friends weaving between us. The finale was the goat who jumped on our backs while on our hands and knees. I collapsed. Only in California, though I did love the little demons.
Lunch was served at The Bunkhouse, designed by Julia Morgan, who designed The Castle as well as more than 700 other homes, churches, hotels and civic and commercial buildings. Victoria Kastner, Castle historian and author of Julia Morgan: An Intimate Biography of the Trailblazing Architect, told us much more during lunch.
Next up, a Castle tour also with Victoria, who for more than 30 years has served as The Castle’s official historian. The castle was closed for us, and, short of tucking in under the percales in WR’s (and Marion’s) boudoir, we felt right at home.
We trotted down the hill to the Neptune Pool where a fair number of hearty souls dunked. I enjoyed the warmth of the Neptune Pool royal blue towels, necessary, even on a dry body.
Considering the rapidly cooling weather, I perused my scant clothing options for the evening’s Rockabilly Cowboy Cookout. Aha! Channeling Scarlett O’Hara, I saw cozy possibilities in my bedspread runner, which happened to match my dress. No one was the wiser, and I was warmer.
At The Hearst Ranch Dairy Barn (really a big party space for the cowboys gatherings) we were greeted by vintage cars as shiny and groomed as the guests. But as I was in a bedspread, I hightailed into the barn where a rousing silent auction fueled by more Brewer-Clifton and Feminist Party wines reached record highs.
I coveted and lost, a compelling Roberto Coin bracelet, donated by founder Peter and Martha Webster. Remar Sutton’s Royal Denmark sold twice, a Huntsman jacket, vintage wines, and many other luxurious necessities were claimed so we could settle into dinner. Free range, sustainably raised Hearst beef was coupled with local produce. We were serenaded by and eventually danced to our favorites, The California Cowboys, who were joined by an Elvis impersonator — always a comforting reminder that you are not the goofiest person in the room.
Handsome and recently married Randy Hearst Harris (to the divine Paula) gave a toast on behalf of the Junior Associates, and reminisced: “I remember growing up at the Castle, roasting marshmallows, swimming and playing in the woods, where the grownups (well, Michael Berube anyway) would hide and growl at us,” at which point Michael gave a replay of his wild boar squeal, “See, they do exist.”
Sunday, we sadly dispersed, some going north with a stop in Carmel or Big Sur, others dropping in to campy and charming neighbor, Cambria, and still others dropping south through Santa Barbara towards L.A. We East Coasters faced a little fog resistance and thought for moment, we might be stuck in San Simeon. Stuck in paradise. I prayed for more fog.
Photographs by Presley Ann Photography & Jean-Pierre Uys