Tucked away in Holmby Hills, not far from the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Wallace Neff–designed home of CAA managing partner Bryan Lourd is thoroughly tasteful — none of the furniture or decor in the rooms screams for attention, though you can’t help but take note of the paintings by Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari as you walk through the front door. This is the kind of place you could hang out all day listening to jazz albums on the record player set up in the living room. But not on this Wednesday evening. Three hundred people are packed inside the one-level house, waiting for Michelle Obama, who is in Los Angeles tonight on a whirlwind visit with stops for interviews on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and with Latino radio personality Eddie “Piolín” Sotelo.
Outside on the backyard patio, surrounded by palm trees and green bushes, model-handsome bartenders and waiters in white shirts, black skinny ties and black slacks pour drinks and pass around plates of olive-tapenade-topped seared tuna and Asian dragon noodles to the crowd, here for what the Obama campaign describes as an “LGBT reception.” It is one of two fund-raisers she will appear at this evening. In attendance are actresses Helen Hunt, Salma Hayek and Reese Witherspoon, as well as several prominent openly gay men, such as fashion designer Tom Ford, movie producer Bruce Cohen and the Abbey owner David Cooley. Lourd himself, who’s also openly gay (his life partner is Bruce Bozzi Jr., executive vice president of the Palm Restaurants Group), was called away from the house for business at the last minute, so Kevin Huvane, another CAA managing partner, has stepped up as a replacement host of sorts and greets the guests as they walk in.
Around 6:15 p.m., Obama arrives in her motorcade, which consists of two black SUVs (one of which holds the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate), a number of motorcycle officers from the California Highway Patrol, at least two CHP cruisers and another two or three minivans filled with Secret Service agents and campaign staff. Later it’s explained that the motorcycles block all traffic at upcoming intersections and, regardless of a green or red light, the motorcade stops for nothing. It makes for quick traveling in a congestion-filled city like Los Angeles, but it’s also an important security measure — the most difficult target to hit is a moving target.
Obama meets first in a special closed-off outdoor area with blue-wristband-wearing VIPS — the famous people and the people who raised $25,000 or more for the Obama Victory Fund. A sudden round of clapping bursts out around 6:30 p.m. from the VIP area — Obama has probably just finished a short speech.
Now Huvane appears with Obama before the larger gathering. “In a city of stars,” Huvane says, giving Obama the respect normally saved for an actress who’s just won an Oscar, “we have the biggest one right here.”
Flanked on either side by Secret Service agents wearing suits and ties, sunglasses and small earpieces, Obama takes the podium. She looks very trim and is dressed in a purple tank top with a purple floral skirt and black high heels.
Obama tells the crowd how she’s just come from a taping of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where she brought her daughters, Malia, the oldest, and Sasha, and treated them to a surprise — the Jonas Brothers were appearing on the show, too. It was a dream come true for Malia. “When I told her,” Obama says, “tears welled up in her eyes.” Malia subsequently talked with one of the Jonas Brothers for quite a while, her mother reports.
Around the same time that Obama delivers her remarks — she tells the gathering that she and her husband think that the anti-gay policies of the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be repealed — Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is preparing to accept her vice-presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, where she will mock Barack Obama’s work as a community organizer in Chicago. Michelle Obama, speaking before Palin takes her own stage, seems to know the governor will come out swinging.
“What you learn about Barack from his choice [of vice president] is that he’s not afraid of smart people,” she tells the crowd. Whether intentional or not, a good part of the audience interprets the line as a preemptive strike and chuckles. Then she moves on to her husband.
“All I’ve been trying to say the past nine months is that Barack has a gift,” Obama says, “and he’s willing to share it.”
Obama wraps up her 20-minute speech with a big promise: “Not only can we have Barack Obama as the next president of the United States, but we can change the world.”
Fifteen minutes later, after shaking hands with many in the crowd, Michelle Obama is back in her motorcade, heading for the Beverly Hills home of actor Samuel L. Jackson. In that VIP room, Magic Johnson, Barbra Streisand and Scarlett Johansson await.