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Sterling Silver

L.A. Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling is known for giving big to local charity. No surprise, then, when ads appeared in the L.A. Times last month congratulating him on receiving the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Dennis Day Memorial Award. Signed by such bigwigs as KCAL’s general manager and the L.A. City Council president, the ads saluted Sterling "for his generosity to the MDA." But would a responsible charity really expend its resources touting a supporter?

Of course not. Says MDA director Joan Rovegno: "We never pay for advertising." Instead, it turns out, Sterling himself — along with various supporters — picked up the tab.

A real estate magnate and one of L.A.’s richest residents, Sterling has never been shy about promoting his own plaudits; in recent years he’s advertised honors received from Vista del Mar Orphanage and the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America. The bulk of the recent Times display — more than a dozen ads, up to a quarter-page each and purchased at the $233-per-column-inch charity rate — was taken up by Sterling’s name and/or likeness. Several ads boast a mug of Sterling twice the size of an accompanying snapshot of MDA spokesman Jerry Lewis.

If the MDA fund-raising dinner where Sterling picked up his prize is any indication, his faith in his own star power is at least somewhat reality-based. Well-wishers included District Attorney Gil Garcetti, Police Chief Bernard Parks and City Council President John Ferraro. And Sterling supporters at the Friars Club of California (Sterling’s a member), the MGM Grand and the L.A. Kings are all claiming credit for footing the Times bill. Sterling declined to talk to OffBeat, but his assistant assures us that "he ran those ads."

Whatever the funding source, the jolly good fellow got a bit carried away in his latest media blitz. Several of the ads name Sterling the MDA Humanitarian of the Year, an award that actually went to philanthropist Robert H. Lorsch. And while the UCLA Medical Center is said to "honor" Sterling, OffBeat couldn’t find anyone, including the center’s spokesman, who had even heard of his award.

One thing is certain: The MDA is grateful for the $350,000 that Sterling’s bash brought in. It’s just that the blast from his trumpet won’t go away. The ads, Rovegno says, "were a bit overwhelming."

—Greg Brouwer

ALTAR EGO

 

People were wearing so much black a priest would have gone unnoticed. From a religious viewpoint, the conversation was a little impoverished, of course, but then you couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying. Too many people. Too many tongues wagging at the same time in a limited space throbbing to the bass ’n’ drum. And what could one say? "You look beautiful"? The answer to that could only be, "But of course I look beautiful, darling, we all look beautiful. That’s why we’re here!"

They were the People of the Look, and they were gathered together in their mourning clothes at the Fahey Klein art gallery to view Peter Lindbergh’s photographs of Kristin Scott Thomas, Marion Jones, Monica Seles, Franziska van Almsick and Helena Bonham Carter while simultaneously celebrating the First Coming of "Alter Ego," Tag Heuer’s new sports watch for women (price $1,295). It was an ad campaign in an art gallery, and who could say whether the ad was in the art or vice versa? It didn’t seem to matter. People weren’t looking at the photos. They were looking at each other or at Tag Heuer spokesperson Helena Bonham Carter, spiky and hard in a dark, very beautiful dress. She obviously hadn’t been eating much, and she didn’t smile. But she was wearing the watch.

A waiter, clothed from head to toe in black, edged through the crowd bearing a tray of canapés only slightly larger than communion wafers. Another waiter followed, offering crimson cosmopolitans that shimmered in a dazzle of white klieg lights. OffBeat stood to one side of the gallery, taking notes.

"Are you done with that?" a waiter asked, pointing at OffBeat’s pale-green apple liqueur, at the bottom of which a bloated raspberry lay dead.

"Uh, no, I’m not."

"Oh, you want to keep nosing it?"

"Yeah, I guess I do," OffBeat replied, after a moment’s hesitation. Nosing it?

"Isn’t that a fountain pen?" someone asked, pointing a manicured digit at OffBeat’s throwaway writing instrument.

"Uh, yes it is."

"Don’t see too many of those these days."

"No, I guess you don’t."

And that was about it for conversation. Obviously, you were supposed to come with friends. There was little to do but study the photographs and ponder the mystery of why publicists and actors should go round dressed like scholars or rabbis or dark, brooding poets who’d happily go blind if it would fix the last two lines of their sestina. And of course there was the watch, on view at various small shrines around the room. OffBeat made sure to pay homage.

But now the president of Tag Heuer was inviting Helena Bonham Carter to join her on the podium. "If anyone’s listening!" Helena began, straining to make herself heard above the jabbering crowd. No one was. "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" she ordered, leaning into the microphone. Half the people present stopped talking. Then the star of Wings of the Dove launched into her little speech. "All I can say is I’m very happy to be wearing this beautiful watch. Now my friends won’t be complaining that I’m never on time . . ." Blah blah blah . . . "Thank you very much."

To applause, Helena stepped down from the podium and was escorted from the gallery. Her face was so rigid with makeup it might have been a mask. She looked like a person who, in the pursuit of money and fame, had just entered a new zone of unreality — and knew it for what it was.

—Brendan Bernhard

Pass the Fast, Hold the Mustard

 

The fight of USC cooks, servers and maintenance workers to win job security in their contract took a new form this week: the pass-it-on hunger strike. On May 10, a number of the workers, together with their union leader, Maria Elena Durazo, embarked on a five-day hunger strike, coinciding with USC’s commencement week. All by her lonesome, however, Durazo kept fasting for the following six days, at which point the fast was passed along to downtown Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, who fasted for the next three days and then passed it along to L.A. County Federation of Labor chief Miguel Contreras, who fasted for two days. (Contreras is Durazo’s husband: Does this 11-to-2 ratio of days fasted by respective members of this family tell us anything about the household division of labor in cooking? In dishwashing?) Contreras then passed it to actor Martin Sheen. Others who have lined up for at least one day of principled non-eating include Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and City Council members Jackie Goldberg and Richard Alatorre.

When he headed the county employees union back in the mid-’90s, Cedillo devised a bargaining strategy wherein different units of county workers would stay off the job on different days; he called it "Operation Rolling Thunder." He has moved on, it seems, to Operation Rolling Hunger.

—Harold Meyerson

SEX, LAWS AND VIDEOTAPE

 

While cruising Sunset Boulevard on a recent night out, OffBeat took in the seedy sights. Shady figures loitered on street corners, while scantily dressed women purposefully strutted the sidewalks. Amid all this urban activity, where was Vice?

OffBeat found the answer in a small art space on Pico Boulevard, where West L.A. Vice Unit officers had been nosing around for weeks, finally intimidating local painter/performance artist Gloria Heilman into canceling the second of two experimental pieces on human sexuality.

Self-Portrait: Men Loving Men, which was scheduled for May 22, was intended by the artist, known as Heilman-C, as an onstage sex performance with optional audience participation. She had planned to videotape the evening’s encounters for a documentary similar to her Self-Portrait: Women Loving Women, which screened at the American Cinematheque. But shortly before the event, Heilman says, she buckled, "due to an impending threat of the event being shut down by the LAPD and potential arrests." Heilman says Vice officers appeared at her Blue Studio, then phoned her regularly, fishing for any sign that she might be venturing into the legally sticky area of adult entertainment. Finally, Heilman says, they told her they had a search warrant for the night of the show. "My work deals with sexuality, and a lot of people don’t like to see men together," Heilman says. "They want to prohibit my freedom of speech."

Vice’s Sergeant Doug Wade says there was no search warrant and that his unit didn’t threaten to shut down the event. "It was entirely friendly," he insists. "She was anticipating audience members getting up onstage, a big, free, love-in kind of thing. We were just warning her to use discretion." Wade assures OffBeat that his officers were merely checking to ensure that Heilman wasn’t charging admission or selling alcohol. Vice also warned Heilman that guests would have to sign a consent form for watching sexually explicit material. "We just said, ‘If these things aren’t done, we can’t let you do this,’" Wade says.

As for the search warrant, Wade says there was no need for one because "several of the guys were planning on attending the show." Not to fret, boys. Heilman tells OffBeat she plans to reschedule the performance. "These shows," she says, "they push a button."

—Deborah Picker


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