Offer They Can Refuse

Let’s say someone wanted to give you $1 million for something really important. This $1 million could save you $100 million in the long run. Would you take it? Not if you were the Los Angeles Unified School District, apparently.

If this all sounds perplexing, consider that the offer is from county Supervisor Gloria Molina, to jump-start the stalled Belmont Learning Complex, a project to which none of Newton’s laws or any other rational principles has ever applied. Belmont, you’ll remember, is the half-completed high school, west of downtown Los Angeles, whose construction atop a shallow oil field was belatedly recognized as an environmental risk. The school board canceled the project early this year after aborting its own safety study of the site, exacerbating a massive districtwide classroom-space crunch.

At a March school-district meeting, in the presence of district Chief Operating Officer Howard Miller and four of the seven school-board members, Molina offered $1 million to resume the safety study. Miller, who earlier had concluded that fixing the site would be hopelessly expensive, and that the high school would never receive state construction funds, evinced little interest. But Molina continued to press, and finally got an audience — with a low-level staffer. In a recent letter, the staffer set forth conditions for accepting the free money, including a demand that Molina provide more than the promised $1 million if necessary.

Molina, in turn, wanted the district’s help in getting her $1 million reimbursed from state funds. After all, she has other expenses to worry about, including the burgeoning county liability from the Rampart police scandal.

That’s your problem, she was told. “The Board of Education has no jurisdiction over this issue and as such has no authority to dictate the distribution of the proceeds from the State Assembly,” wrote Russlynn Ali-Conner, staffer for school-board President Genethia Hayes.

“That is an issue between the Assemblyman [Antonio Villaraigosa] and the Supervisor and is not within the Board of Education’s purview. Accordingly, this contingency will not be a term considered by the Board of Education.”

While technically correct, Ali-Conner’s analysis disingenuously failed to acknowledge the enormous clout of the school district’s lobbying operation in Sacramento. But no big deal: The only thing at stake is a $200 million project that could serve 5,000 desperately crowded students.

—Howard Blume

No Mas Latin Lovers

Despite the current hype for all things Latino, no male screen icon from Mexico has managed to break in as a Hollywood star since Anthony Quinn and Ricardo Montalban, whose best work is 50 years old.

For decades, some of Mexico’s greatest screen idols, such as Jorge Rivero and Fernando Allende, tried without luck to become the next Valentino. Despite some successes, their work went almost unnoticed by mainstream audiences.

Eduardo Yañez wants to change all that.

Currently co-starring with Jamie Foxx in Held Up, a Trimark Pictures comedy feature that opened citywide last week, Yañez hopes to be the first actor from Mexico since Ramon Novarro — the silent-era 1920s rival to Valentino — to become a Hollywood heartthrob. The problem is, he may be too much of a hunk.

In 1996, Yañez left his cozy niche as Latin America’s biggest male soap-opera star to work full-time trying to crack the Hollywood film industry. A Spanish-speaker, he developed a monklike devotion to learning and developing fluent English in months. But in an ironic reversal of fortune, Yañez, who is immediately recognizable in the Spanish-speaking community, has been forced to compete for small roles with actors who are mostly unknowns. His vast credits in Mexican telenovelas and feature films — including a 1994 Emmy for his lead role in Telemundo’s Guadalupe — mean nothing in Hollywood.

And the rugged good looks and athletic 6-foot-3 build that helped him become a superstar in Mexico have worked against him, he said. Casting directors often looked for less attractive Latino male actors to play small roles.

“They’ve told me that they are looking for someone who is not as tall as I am. Or who doesn’t look like me,” Yañez said. In other words, for the stereotypical short, sombrero-wearing character, rather than the Valentino-like Latin lover.

But that hasn’t stopped Yañez. He was Theresa Russell’s lover in Wild Things. And he is making the most out of his latest role in Held Up as Rodrigo, a smalltime hood who, while robbing a store, also ends up abducting the character played by Jamie Foxx.

“I see this role as a big chance, the biggest I’ve had since moving to Hollywood, for which I’m grateful,” Yañez said. “At this stage, it’s either sink or swim for me: And I think I’ve learned how to swim.”

—Joseph Treviño


For more information on Yañez and his current movie, see or http://

Question Authority, Virginia Slims Style

“I love being surprised almost as much as I love being surprising.” This “not-so-secret” message is written inside the side seam of a putty-colored pencil skirt, one of the J. Crew/Pottery Barn knockoff items in Virginia Slims cigarettes’ new spring “V Wear” catalog. Released May 1, and available at local 7-Elevens and other retail outlets, the catalog offers Virginia Slims customers trendy premiums such as drawstring pants and a Nehru-inspired tunic jacket for buying certain quantities of cigarettes (smokers mail in UPC bar codes from their Virginia Slims packets to redeem their prizes).

Launched in 1993, Virginia Slims’ “extended brand” catalog program, as it’s known in the business, has long drawn fire from antismoking activists, who say it encourages binge smoking and tobacco use by teens. Past “V Wear” offerings have included a tough biker jacket, sunglasses and black-leather backpacks.

“The tobacco companies have been doing this sort of thing and much much worse for 50 years now, while 3,000 Americans a day are dying prematurely due to tobacco-related diseases,” said Kalle Lasn, editor of Adbusters advertising watchdog magazine.

Other Philip Morris brands with point-redemption catalogs have included Marlboro, Merit, Benson & Hedges, Parliament and Cambridge. Much of Marlboro’s merchandise had the brand name written on it, thus creating millions of walking billboards.

Virginia Slims is more subtle, hiding its slogans within the fabric design or seams of its catalog wear. The advertising messages, including “Express Yourself” and “Flaunt Your Uniqueness,” equate individuality with smoking. In the words of one posting on the chickclick Web site, Virginia Slims tells the female smoker “to ignore the voice of your friends, your family, the surgeon general, and LISTEN TO THAT CRAVING, that tiny voice that tells you ‘Screw everyone, I want a cigarette,’ which is great, if it’s your tiny voice that’s talking, but when it’s Philip Morris’ little voice, you better think twice.”

The V Wear catalog carries the Surgeon General’s Warning: “Smoking by Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, and Low Birth Weight.” Now, this is one of four messages tobacco manufacturers are required to post on a rotating annual basis under the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965, according to Damon Thompson, spokesman for Surgeon General David Satcher. OffBeat couldn’t help but wonder whether the warning makes smokers think that the only women who have to worry about sticking a Virginia Slim between their collagen-enhanced lips are those in a family way. But perhaps we’re being too deconstructive here. “Virginia Slims has a long history as a women’s cigarette brand, and our advertising campaigns have always been about the empowerment of women,” said Philip Morris USA spokesperson Kati Otto. I am woman, hear me cough.

Edited by Gale Holland

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