Set Em' up, Buddy

The grand opening last week of a Bristol Farms gourmet grocery at the former home of Chasen’s restaurant in Beverly Hills promised to bring back a little bit of the lost glamour of old Hollywood.

“Bristol Farms has gone to great lengths to preserve the classic grandeur of Chasen’s,” the upscale deli’s news release on the event said. “While the restaurant closed its doors in 1999, its spirit has not been lost.”

OffBeat was a bit skeptical, but decided to take a chance on reliving the glories of Tinseltown’s heyday. But wandering through the aisles of baby Japanese eggplants and salmon and dill Brie while watching a Marilyn Monroe look-alike scarf down a California roll, we just couldn’t seem to feel the magic.

That is, until we spotted comic Buddy Hackett in the back of the store, holding court from one of Chasen’s original red-leather booths. “Can we sit down?” OffBeat’s pal asked the living legend, a regular in the days when Alfred Hitchcock and James Cagney commanded their own banquettes, and Ronald Reagan proposed to Nancy. “Sure,” said a subdued Hackett. “But we are going to have to save some room for my wife.”

Slightly standoffish at first, Hackett was soon fielding OffBeat’s flurry of questions like the pro that he is. “What was Jackie Gleason like?” OffBeat threw out. “Jackie Gleason was quite the character,” smiled Hackett. “I remember when we had dinner together at Chasen’s. He rented a private room for just him and I. He used to call me Pally Boy.”

“What year was that?” OffBeat squeaked.

“I know that it was before he died,” Hackett deadpanned.

“What else?” we asked eagerly. “Tell us another story?”

Hackett recalled performing a comedy routine with Zsa Zsa Gabor. At one point, he accidentally fell face first into her capacious breasts. “It reminded me of a mineshaft,” he said.

Then there was the New York musical he appeared in with a bunch of “broads” across the street from a theater where Marlon Brando was performing. One day, Brando insulted the lead actress by telling her she had bad breath, so they fired him, Hackett recalled. Brando spent the rest of the day hanging with Buddy and the girls.

It was nearing midnight when Hackett’s wife signaled it was time to leave. She offered to wait in the car while he finished one last story, again about the great Gleason. As a struggling performer, Gleason ran a long-standing tab at a Philadelphia restaurant, Hackett said. When he made it big, Gleason returned to the restaurant and asked the owner how much he owed. Nineteen thousand dollars, the owner replied. Gleason promptly pulled out a wad of bills and paid up in full.

As OffBeat walked Hackett to his car, he surprised us by planting a big wet one on our lips. When we telephoned later to go over a few details of the conversation, Hackett asked, “Which one were you? The one who kissed me? I still remember that one.” Chasen’s may have morphed into a yuppie deli, but with Buddy Hackett as your drinking buddy, old Hollywood still lives.

—Christine Pelisek


As we all learned last week, the false election-night call that George W. Bush had won the presidency was made by none other than Dubya’s first cousin John Ellis, working as a top election analyst on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel. Now comes another report of shenanigans from the conservatively skewed Fox network — this time by a top anchor who is accused of trying to run down the competition — literally.

Fox’s Shepard Smith, 36, was arrested Friday, November 17, after police said he struck another reporter with his car in an argument over a parking space. The reporter, local cable-news freelancer Maureen Walsh, 39, was saving a space for co-workers in the crowded media parking lot across from the state Capitol in Tallahassee, where the Florida election count was under way, when Smith pulled up and yelled at her to move, police said. When Walsh refused, Smith shouted an obscenity and “hit the gas,” police Sergeant Edwin Maxwell told the Tallahassee Democrat.

“He just ran into her with the car. She fell up on the hood,” Maxwell said. Then, Smith “finished parking, slammed the door, said something else nasty and walked across the street to get on the air with Fox.”

Walsh was treated and released at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital for bruises on her knees and legs, police said. Smith was later arrested and charged with aggravated battery with a motor vehicle, a felony, the St. Petersburg Times reported. He was released on $10,000 bond from the Leon County Jail.

Smith once worked for Fox News Edge in Los Angeles, as well as the syndicated tabloid TV show A Current Affair and an NBC local-news affiliate in Florida. He has a bit of a reputation as a hothead; working at a bully-boy network apparently does little for the disposition. Fox spokesmen are declining to comment on Smith’s arrest, just as they have refused to explain how Ellis was out alone on the call for cuz, when all the networks were working from pooled election data. (The other networks soon followed Ellis’ lead, but one has to wonder whether the calls were made independently, since as we now know, Bush’s “victory” was anything but certain.) But even by the usual low standards of media boorishness, Smith’s conduct seems a bit much. But apparently not enough to discomfit the “We Report — You Decide” network. As of Monday, Smith was back on the air. Ellis’ status is reportedly under review, but at press time there was no word of a firing. In light of the Ellis and Smith fracases, we’d like to suggest a new Fox News slogan: “We Distort — You Get Out of the Way.”


Spotting a youth smoking-prevention ad from Philip Morris on the back of Harper’s magazine last month, OffBeat wondered if the tobacco giant was beginning to crack under the pressure of billion-dollar court settlements and public animosity.

In the middle of a meandering, full page of copy, the ad said that the cigarette maker has “dedicated significant resources — over $100 million last year — toward initiatives” to reduce underage smoking. In the next sentence, however, the ad went on to say, “We are spending another $100 million against these initiatives.”

Our first thought was typo, but a Philip Morris spokesman said no. “Identical,” he pronounced the apparently conflicting statements. When pressed, he amplified: “The second sentence says the same as the first, but perhaps not as clearly stated.”

Now, we’d have been happy to pass the whole thing off as bad copy-writing. But then we learned of a spate of other eyebrow-raising reports on ambiguities in Philip Morris’ much-publicized campaign to stop kids from smoking.

Earlier this year, distribution of Philip Morris anti-smoking book covers was halted in several states after students complained they contained subliminal messages promoting smoking. Philip Morris also invoked a special Big Tobacco “anti-vilification” clause to have two anti-smoking TV ads yanked from the air. Funding for the ads came from a $1.5 billion education fund set up as part of the $246 billion that’s being paid by the tobacco companies to settle health claims by the states.

The first ad had two teenagers entering the lobby of Philip Morris’ New York headquarters carrying an oversize briefcase marked “Lie Detector,” which they announced they wanted to deliver to the marketing department to clear up any confusion over whether smoking is addictive. In the second spot, a throng of teenagers pulled up in front of Philip Morris’ headquarters with an 18-wheeler and began to unload hundreds of long, white sacks marked “Body Bag.” One of the teenagers shouted at the building through a megaphone: “Do you know how many people tobacco kills every day?”

“We felt that they are not consistent with the focus and mission of the American Legacy Foundation,” the group that is running the education program, said Carolyn Levy, Philip Morris’ senior vice president for youth smoking prevention, about the censorship effort.

We don’t know what this all has to do with the confusing copy on the Harper’s ad. But we do know that Philip Morris, which controls 50 percent of the U.S. cigarette market, is well aware that in-your-face TV ads are the best way to stop teen smoking. And that namby-pamby print manifestoes have proven ineffective in stopping cigarette use by one of the company’s key target markets.

As Catherine Caylor Vose of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids put it on a recent National Public Radio program: “They could reform their marketing practices. They could agree to FDA regulation of tobacco. They could put — you know, instruct people to put cigarettes behind the counter. There are a whole range of things they could do. Instead, they’ve chosen to launch one ad campaign after another to try to make the American public believe they are a new and reformed company, while conducting business as usual.”

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