PETER BOGDANOVICH SNAPS THE CUFFS OF HIS starched lavender shirt out from under the sleeves of his dark blue denim jacket and adjusts the jaunty purple apache scarf tied around his throat. The director, most famous for making The Last Picture Show, and most notorious for his romance with murdered Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten, is in the passenger seat of my car, parked in front of the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. He's got a new film to promote -- his first in nine years -- and has agreed, at least in principle, to lead me to some of the landmarks of his past life here in Los Angeles. But at the moment, he doesn't feel like going anyplace.
"I like the Peninsula Hotel. Let's just stay here," Bogdanovich says in a tone that has just enough hope in it to be only half-joking. Time to step on the gas and drive.
If he's reluctant to venture out, he has good reason. For Bogdanovich, 62, who moved to Los Angeles from Manhattan in 1964, this is a city full of memories, most of which fall into two categories -- tragedy or scandal.
It was a scandal when the onetime $600-per-article contributor to Esquire hustled his way into a feature-film career and then promptly left his wife of eight years, producer Polly Platt, for The Last Picture Show blond starlet Cybill Shepherd. It was a tragedy when his next girlfriend, Stratten, was viciously murdered when she was only 20 by her estranged husband, who then committed suicide. Bogdanovich's subsequent marriage to Stratten's much younger half-sister, Louise Hoogstraten, was a scandal wrapped in a tragedy.
Given Bogdanovich's relationship mileage, it's somehow fitting that our first stop is the art deco building on Sunset that is now the Argyle hotel but was once the Sunset Tower, home to stars like Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, and in its day touted as "Hollywood's Most Distinguished Address." Bogdanovich and Shepherd lived here for about two years.
"We rented a seventh-floor apartment in the back," he says, squinting through his trademark tinted tortoiseshell glasses. "It was an exciting time for me. A new life. But I was also sad because of my daughters, and I felt bad for Polly, too." He glances across the street at the Continental Hyatt House, which dredges up such a painful memory he actually winces. "I stayed there for a few days when I first left my wife."
We make a screeching U-turn and head west on Sunset toward Bel Air and the 7,000-square-foot Spanish-style mansion that Bogdanovich bought when he and Shepherd wearied of high-rise living. At the time, Bogdanovich was one of Hollywood's new kings -- a former movie geek turned Oscar-nominated director who, along with Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and just a few others, led the way in the early '70s to a new kind of filmmaking. He acquired the A-list life and he didn't want to let go. The Bogdanovich rendered in profiles past is a total egomaniac with a compulsion for reminding folks he was on a first-name basis with Hollywood legends. After he filed for bankruptcy in 1997, the Los Angeles Times depicted him as a flat-broke dandy who wore $323 blue clogs and tooled around town in a Mercedes in order to keep up appearances. What his press clippings neglect to capture, though, is that he has a nice, parched way of delivering an anecdote and enjoys performing on any stage -- even one the size of a car seat.
"Talk about a one-man show! He should be on Broadway!" says Shepherd, marveling about how her ex-boyfriend (and still close friend) has always been able to hold forth on any topic as well as impersonate his directing heroes like Howard Hawks and John Ford. Ford was Bogdanovich and Shepherd's neighbor when the couple lived in Bel Air, and if Shepherd were to do her own impression of the great Western director she might emphasize other things. "We'd go visit him. He was kind of bed-ridden at the time and had nothing on but a little hospital gown and a sheet over him. He liked to flash me."
FROM THE TIME BOGDANOVICH WAS A LITTLE BOY in Manhattan, he wanted to hang out with guys like John Ford and Orson Welles. The brainy son of Borislav (a post-impressionist painter) and Herma Bogdanovich, he compiled index-card critiques of every movie he'd see, a habit he maintained until he was 31. While other kids were playing stickball in the street, young Peter was getting Method-y at Stella Adler's Studio of Acting, and he made his professional debut at the American Shakespeare Festival at 16. After catching Citizen Kane at the local movie house, however, he was moved to switch from acting to directing.