Changing subjects and changing times

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A view of the Long Island Sound from Baiting Hollow, New York. Photo: JH.

Monday, August 19, 2019. Sunny and partly cloudy weekend in New York with temperatures up in the 80s along with humidity yesterday. But not the oppressive heat that knocks the energy out of you. My gauge is my A/C. When it’s unbearable, I turn it on. When it’s just very warm, I open my terrace door and turn on the Vornado. It’s very comfortable.

Jeffrey Epstein continues to be the news. And Ghislaine Maxwell, first revealed last week to be staying with a friend in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, was seen instead (and photographed) at an outdoor table of an In-And-Out Burger in Universal City, in the San Fernando Valley. From the East Coast shores to the West. 

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell (Photo: Joe Schildhorn/PMC).

It’s easy to understand why she might be “missing” or “hiding.” But like so many other aspects of this page-turning detective story, it’s odd, or at least hard to understand why she would venture out in public especially as out-doorsy as LA, if she’s “hiding.” I mean, not even a wig or dark glasses and she’s probably the most famous face in America at this moment. I guess she’s not hiding after all.

Same news cycle we’re reading that Mr. Epstein even spent a few hours with a woman. I didn’t read the details so I don’t know who the woman was. He also, it was reported, spent most of the day with his lawyers (before he reportedly hung himself). Maybe the “woman” was one of the lawyers. 

Then there were more announcements about his “autopsy.” There have been several versions of the story of his prison activities and demise/disappearance, which contradicted an earlier story. Are reporters just making this stuff up? Now you see it, now you don’t?  

It’s magic, until it’s not, and the world may never know. What we can probably be sure of, is that we’ll never see Jeffrey Epstein again. The boy from Coney Island who crossed over the bridge to the biggest casino of all where the wheel of the game kept stopping in his favor. Until it didn’t. 

To change the subject: have you noticed the daily raft of emails from political candidates from top to bottom, asking for a donation from a faithful follower? We need more, we need more. Who doesn’t these days? 

I get ten or twenty of these every day. From all over the map. And both parties, plus political “activists.” Who’s getting the most moola? There is a lingering suspicion that some of the candidates are in it knowing they won’t win but at least they’ll have the campaign funds and the higher public profile. 

Then there are all the emails about whether or not you like DJT and if you don’t, would you … Contribute to keep up the fight? You begin ask yourself, what’s this cash needed for? More than a year before the election. 

Louis B. Mayer and Lorena Danker shortly after their marriage in 1948.

Changing times. The years-long campaigning is new. I’m reminded of a campaign announcement back in December 1979 when I first moved to Los Angeles. It was made exactly ten days before the election year. 

I had been invited last minute as an extra man to a black tie dinner dance upstairs at the Bistro restaurant in Beverly Hills. 

It was an annual pay-back party that the hostess Lorena Nidorf gave at holiday time every year for about 200 of her friends. Lorena came to prominence in the film community as the second wife of Louis B. Mayer — once the “king” of the town. She was also well liked by everyone. I was replacing Robb Wolders, husband of Merle Oberon, who had died suddenly three weeks before. 

I had moved out there less than a year before to make a career as a (working) writer. I knew very few in the industry, although I knew who a lot of people were because they were famous. On this night I went basically as a stranger to a room full of strangers.  That’s okay; it’s often interesting to watch the crowd. 

There was a cocktail reception before. It was the crème de la crème of the industry in those days. Cary Grant, Gloria and Jimmy Stewart, Anne and Kirk Douglas, Frank and Barbara Sinatra, Felicia and Jack Lemmon; plus many prominent businessmen as well as film directors and producers with their wives in a room full of famous friends. 

It was awesome as well as awkward to this first timer. I knew no one — except the hostess. And yet I knew a lot of people I’d been aware of most of my life. It made for a feeling of not knowing what to do. So I watched.  I noticed that when they entered the reception room, they were immediately greeted by our hostess. But right after that they made a bee-line directly across the room to speak to an impeccably coiffed, white-haired Laguna Beach version of Eleanor Roosevelt. 

Tanned and wearing a multi-colored pale silk chiffon long dress, she was warm and gracious in her greetings, and clearly the most important person in a room full of VIPs. She had the presence of a First Lady of the world. She was Dorothy Chandler, the widow of the late publisher of the Los Angeles Times, and the mother of the then current publisher Otis Chandler. The Chandlers were among the early families who developed and built Los Angeles. The Times  was only one of their important properties. Dorothy Chandler was the social empress of all Los Angeles, and was more than an influence. The big boys in the entertainment industry always listened to her.

Dorothy Chandler with Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Courtesy of The Music Center Archives/Otto Rothschild Collection.

So, in my solitude at this Hollywood gala, I decided to — with my vodka on the rocks — go over and stand back to back with Mrs. Chandler. That way I could hear what these “important” people were talking about. There were enough people around us that it looked as if I were just dawdling in the cocktail crowd.

It was December 21, 1979. That date is important to the dawdling story of that night. Because among those guests who ambled up to pay their respects to Mrs. Chandler were Ronald and Nancy Reagan. 

That same morning in the Los Angeles Times there was a small, one paragraph item reporting that Ronald Reagan was considering throwing his hat into the ring for President in 1980 ten days before the election year. 

“Where’s the rest of me?” — Ronald Reagan in Kings Row, 1941.

He was a favorite hero of mine when I was a kid at Saturday matinees. He was solid and kindly; the good guy. I even saw him in that film where his character loses his leg and wakes up from the anesthesia asking: “Where’s the rest of me?” which he later used for the title of his memoir.

So there was this movie hero, many years later, standing only three or four feet away from my eager ears talking to the very powerful Dorothy Chandler about newspaper editorials and foreign policy. I had no real knowledge of him as a politician, nor had I heard his speeches. I knew he was a very popular governor of the state of California. His wife Nancy was another favorite of mine when I was a kid in those movie matinees. 

In this glamorous location, in a roomful of real movie stars and household names, the man was now 65 — which was considered “old” at that time for a Presidential run — and well groomed in the movie star’s image. The face was kindly as was the voice. His head bobbed slightly which I took to mean “too old.” 

I was reminded of seeing one other Presidential candidate in the flesh — John F. Kennedy at a political rally held at midnight in Lewiston, Maine in October1960. He was on a campaign tour throughout New England. I remember his words, his voice with its stentorian kindness, and the power that emanated from him. The man talking to Mrs. Chandler upstairs at the Bistro was not my experience of a potential Presidential candidate.

It so happened that in the same edition of the LA Times that day, there was an editorial criticizing President Jimmy Carter for not allowing the deposed Shah of Iran into the country for medical attention (he was suffering from cancer). Carter’s decision was based on his negotiations with the Iranian mullahs in getting release of the American diplomats who were being held hostage by the so-called Revolutionary Guards. 

Ronald Reagan in his quiet, certainty thanked Mrs. Chandler for the Times’ editorial, adding his strong agreement with her paper’s editorial board. Frankly I had not been impressed with that day’s editorial, or Mr. Reagan’s seconding of it. Nor was I impressed by his presence as “Presidential.” I remember writing to friends back in New York telling them that the guy would never make to the White House. 

Over the years living out there I learned much more about Ronald Reagan the man and the candidate as well as the movie actor as he conducted his role in office. His political career was not an accident, nor was it only because he had powerful men (the so-called Kitchen Cabinet) behind him. He was a highly driven pro whose greater ambition to be a movie star was not realized, but was subsumed by a greater ambition which he naturally pursued with even greater success. 

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