Appearances: What Would Warren Do?

WHO CARES ABOUT JESUS? THE REAL BUZZ AT LAST WEEK'S Beverly Hilton gala put on by Jesse Jackson was What Would Warren Do? Warren Beatty, that is.

This was the reverend's combination 61st birthday party and annual awards dinner for his Rainbow/PUSH organization. Six hundred attendees -- from trade unionists to corporate moguls as well as a healthy contingent of the Hollywood left -- paid $250 a plate (10 to 20 times that amount in some cases) to come ogle each other and see Ray Charles perform.

I was along as escort for columnist Arianna Huffington. She was being given Jackson's Woman of Conscience Award, and Beatty was scheduled to introduce her. At our table, writer Roy Sekoff, producer Lawrence Bender, Bill Maher and his Amazon-sized date, plus Laurie David and Kimberly Shlain, the wives of Larry David and Albert Brooks, could only speculate whether Beatty would actually show. And what exactly would he say? This event, after all, was taking place just as Congress was voting for Dubya's war on Iraq.

To be fair, Beatty gives generously of his time and makes himself available for a surprising number of low-profile political fund-raisers. But he's also capable of pulling impromptu disappearing acts. Two years ago during the Democratic Convention, I helped Huffington organize the Shadow Convention, and Beatty -- who said he might say a few words on opening night -- never showed. Later, the notoriously mysterious actor said something about losing track of the time in the shower.

It was now 8 p.m., more than 30 minutes into the Jackson program. Huffington was about to be given the award, and there was still no sign of Beatty. Fortunately, everyone's favorite uncle, Stanley Sheinbaum -- accepting the Courage Award from Jackson -- stretched out his remarks long enough that the piano started tinkling behind him. And when Beatty's name was finally called to introduce Huffington, he seemed to materialize onstage out of nowhere.

And what did Warren say? We'd heard he was furious -- livid, really -- over a recent New York Times piece in which reporter John Broder had gone to Sheinbaum's Brentwood home to see former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter make a presentation to a mostly Hollywood crowd. Beatty had been in attendance, and Broder's piece said that the actor's response had been "measured, almost circumspect." The piece was loaded with Beatty quotes obviously chosen to depict him as reticent -- if not outright chicken -- to speak out against the coming war. No wonder Beatty was pissed.

Clad in a gray Armani ensemble, Beatty began by doing one of his favorite shticks -- acting somewhat disoriented, like an absent-minded professor. But skillfully, without missing a well-timed comic or dramatic beat, he lauded Huffington, saying he never believed she was a conservative, even when she said she was. For a moment, it seemed as if he was going to wind up punting on the war. But then, a sudden sharp transition. A hush fell over the audience as Beatty turned serious and opened up a double-barreled attack on Bush and the Congress. Referring twice to "our new and unparalleled American domination of the world," he called the congressional vote of war authorization "an act of political expediency" and pure "careerism" by both parties. "Is this a preventive war to create peace?" he asked. "Or preventive war to build empire?"

The overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal crowd roared its approval. Beatty looked pleased to have set the record straight. And as quickly as he appeared in the room, he seemed to vanish as soon as he left the stage. --Marc Cooper

CRUSHES: Jake for All

OVER DINNER AT THE KITCHEN IN Silver Lake, the subject of Jake Gyllenhaal came up. Immediately, Heather, a lesbian, said this about the actor who seems to be in everything this year: "I would fuck him in an instant." She said it again for emphasis, looking across the table at her girlfriend, Molly, for confirmation. Molly nodded. She too would fuck Jake Gyllenhaal. These are not women who make gender exceptions lightly. Heather is very butch, and proud of it. Molly thinks men are boring and has no interest in sleeping with them.

Heather explained: "When Jennifer Aniston comes up to him [in The Good Girl] and talks about his having eyes and lips like a woman's, that's it. You can't focus on anything else for the rest of movie."

She did not need to tell me about his lips, by the way. But I thought it was just me and a billion other straight women. If Heather and Molly can't help themselves either, just what is the extent of Jake Gyllenhaal's appeal? Does it extend to gay men too? To other lesbians? Even to straight men? Can Jake Gyllenhaal be stopped at all?

I sent out a mass e-mail asking the crucial questions: Do you think Jake Gyllenhaal is hot? Would you have sex with him? The replies came so fast I couldn't keep up.

Tim: "He's pretty hot -- in Lovely and Amazing he had that wide-eyed, testosterone-fueled sexual sincerity thing down pat. But if you hadn't asked the question, I don't think I ever would have thought about switching teams for him."

Sarah: "I realize I spend a good deal of my idle time -- on the freeway, or peeing -- trying to figure out whether I'd have sex with him. I can't decide whether he turns me on or not, but I think the fact that I spend so much time thinking about whether I'm attracted to him means that I'm really attracted to him."

Cassie: "Absolutely [I would have sex with him]. He's really attractive but in that way that makes you feel like it's a personal discovery, and he seems like he needs a girl to help him along."

Natasha: "I do not like green eggs and ham."

Mike: "Maybe I do want to fuck him. He has that dangerous thing, but he's more likely to hurt himself than you. You feel like something could happen with him. You think, 'Something could happen to me when I'm with this person.'"

Colin: "I think he has the 'boy in high school you never got to fuck on the overnight band trip even though you were both drunk and clearly wanted to' appeal. But the alienated thing only goes so far for me."

Dennis: "I do not want to fuck him, but I completely understand his appeal. He is dark and brooding and unsmiling, and there is a segment of the population -- be they straight, gay, bi, transgender or questioning -- that absolutely cannot resist a sourpuss with great hair. It's people exactly like Jake Gyllenhaal who have been getting in my way since I hit puberty. Of course, he must be stopped, but you can't stop someone who isn't doing anything. JG could stand on a street corner and chew gum and someone would find him attractive. As for me, I wish him well. Chew away, Jake! Chew away." --Nancy Updike

SKIN DEEP: The Waxer

"I WISH I'D LEARNED ABOUT WAXING when I was younger," she says, running her hand over the stubble on your thigh and waiting, it seems, for you to ask when she learned the art of removing hair from the crotches of women's bodies.

"Not until I competed in beauty pageants, at 19," she answers when you do ask. Her statement is impossible to ignore, coming from who she is now at 36 -- tall and thick-waisted, with a florid, pretty face and a brown unkempt ponytail. Hers is a job where she is so not in the spotlight that to seize your attention, she chatters nonstop.

She tests the temperature of the wax on her wrist and tells you that she won local pageants, moved up to state competitions, and "probably would have won California but my dad was very religious."

Another bomblet of information that, in another social situation, would set off a conversation. But in the tiny Beverly Hills salon treatment room -- which is barely big enough to hold her, the waxing unit, and a toweled table to hold you, naked from the waist down -- it becomes clear that this session is not about you.

She mentions her many siblings, the fights with her father, the spankings and the dogmatic inflexibility in the house. "My mother, she never talked back to him. She was weak," she says as she smears warmed honey wax on your groin and barks out a laugh. What she says is perversely fascinating, but also, you realize, a fevered monologue from someone both livid and impotent to do things over, to reinstate order. This she can do for you. For $65 and 60 minutes, she can make you -- or the genital representation of you -- hairless, youthful and perfect.

The talking continues, a wave of words that modulates between giddy and narcotic.

"I won't wax until I get a date!" she suddenly announces, then straightens up. She says she's "bored" by her job, tells you about past employers and a sketchy-sounding lawsuit and the trouble she's having with her car.

"Turn over," she says, and proceeds to wax the back of you. She tells you about the book she wants to write, "a coffee-table book about skin-care advice for the average woman," and that she's been dictating her thoughts into a tape recorder. She is spreading your cheeks, and the truth is, you appreciate the effort she is going to, though you sense that each wax-and-hair-covered muslin strip she pulls from you scrapes something from her soul. Still, you are selfish, and begin to think of your boyfriend, and whether he will notice how smooth you've been made, and whether he will like it.

"Hey," she says, loud enough to startle you. She's detected your reverie; there will be none of that, not on her time. She tells you to turn back over.

"For your next appointment, I can sculpt you, like this," she says, drawing a vague heart shape on your pubic region. But her eyes are far away. Once you are dressed, she walks you to the lobby, gives you two business cards and with her hand on your arm asks if you want to make another appointment. And you'd like to tell her, but you sense that seeing her again will be like seeing a friend constantly in crisis, and you don't know if you want to pay for that, or if you can take it. You tell her ä you'll call. She nods and, with a bottle of cold water in one hand, lumbers back to the treatment room to wait for her 3:45.

--Nancy Rommelmann

THE BIG PICTURE: L.A. Exposed

OVER THE PAST TWO WEEKS, THE Polaroid 20 x 24 camera, a sort of Alice in Wonderland version of your childhood Land camera, was in residence at Pix, a camera store in what could be called Pho-Ho, the photo district just south of Hollywood.

"You're gonna trip out, Babe," Alejandro Saavedra told his fiancée, Mezhjan Hussainy, as they posed for the mammoth cam in a stark backroom at Pix. The portrait session was a surprise that the modelesque Saavedra popped on his statuesque betrothed. "He told me to get dressed for a premiere," Hussainy said. She wore flowy black slacks and a lilac halter that matched her eye shadow.

The 20 x 24 camera -- an experimental prototype built in 1976 to demonstrate a new film stock -- is indeed "event" photography. It stands 5 feet high and weighs 235 pounds. Red-vinyl bellows heave out from a Victorian-looking brass-and-wood apparatus, and the photos it produces -- glossy, rich-looking prints measuring about one and a half times the size of this paper's center spread -- command their own star presence. No wonder it became popular among art photographers, including William Wegman and Chuck Close.

For this shoot, Tracy Storer, the 38-year-old owner of the camera (normally kept in San Francisco), was the director as well as the technician. He looked at the couple's image, which appeared upside down on the back of the camera. He circled the camera, pushing levers and tweaking the lens to adjust the focus and exposure.

"How's my collar?" Saavedra asked. "Does it look tight? I always sweat in suits."

"Nah, you can't see it," assured Storer.

Pix didn't exactly have folks waiting in line to use the camera, but one artist came in and did 10 prints of people's mouths as they were laughing; another shot floral still lifes. Storer's own portraits of Pix employees and customers will remain on display there until December.

"You really have to love it -- or yourself -- to appreciate their brutal close-ups," one photographer said.

Standing on the left side of the camera, Storer clicked the cable release and then began the exciting, nerve-racking 70-second process familiar to anyone with a Big Swinger. He guided the print out of the camera and set his Timex Ironman watch. He wiped off excess developer goop from the sides of the poster-size print, then cut the whole thing from the roll of photographic paper with a box cutter, and held it up, waiting for the beeps from his watch. At the electronically appointed time, he peeled the print from the negative and presented it to the couple.

"Look at the detail, Baby," Saavedra beamed.

"I have a zit," she moaned.

Saavedra shook his head and looked at the photographer. "Dude, I'm stoked."

--Laurie Pike