They arrived in Rollses, Bentleys and Jags, the 1,200 people who crowded into the Beverly Hilton Friday for the Los Angeles Police Historical Society’s Sixth Annual Jack Webb Awards, a charity banquet named for the actor who played Joe Friday on the TV series Dragnet. Men costumed in vintage uniforms representing the LAPD in its various historical incarnations secured strategic corners of the Hilton’s lobby, while LAPHS staff tended to displays of old badges and memorabilia, including a thick wooden club autographed by cops who had helped serve and protect the shipping and warehouse owners during L.A.’s 1934 harbor strike. In one hall a silent auction progressed, with items including a Ronald Reagan Inaugural Plate (starting bid: $100) and, oddly, Basso fishing lures (starting bids: $5).
The LAPHS’s primary goal is to raise money to complete the transformation of an old Highland Park police station into a museum and community center. Not unexpectedly, the prospectus makes no mention of dioramas depicting the Rodney King beating or the shooting of handcuffed detainees by members of the Rampart CRASH unit. The night was, as entertainment columnists like to say, a star-studded affair, featuring an ad hoc alliance of Establishment figures from Hollywood and downtown gathered to honor the likes of Richard Riordan and his wife, Nancy; Dianne Feinstein; Jay Leno; Dennis Franz; Clippers owner Donald Sterling; and the evening’s producer, Arthur Kassel, and his wife, Tichi Wilkerson Kassel.
These were people who supported their local police, who backed the badge and just said no. TV cops Erik Estrada, Angie Dickinson and Adrian Zmed were there. So were former LAPD chiefs Ed Davis and Daryl Gates, mingling with Joseph Wambaugh, Bill Maher and Jack LaLanne, as well as cuff-linked priests and the owners of tow-truck companies (potential police contract holders). Chief Bernard C. Parks almost seemed naked out of uniform during the main photo op, while ex–Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton appeared overdressed in a sparkly, body-fitting blue dress. Benton, the star of Hospital Massacre and Deathstalker 1, carefully explained to reporters why Los Angeles needs to support its police in this time of scandal, then introduced fellow badge-backer Gloria Allred as her friend. The photogenic pair were soon joined by pals Charlene Tilton and Denise Brown (Nicole Simpson’s sister).
Just then, Dick Riordan arrived, wearing the expression of a mayor whose police force is facing its biggest corruption scandal in the department’s history — only that morning the L.A. Times had reported that fallen cop Rafael Perez had told his interrogators of a Rampart Division–run CRASH pad where the boys in blue had partied down with prostitutes. The new era of Perez-stroika was barely alluded to throughout the awards ceremony. It wasn’t until long after the baked cod and salmon, during the white-chocolate LAPD badges and star-shaped ice cream, that producer Kassel made a glancing mention of “the stupidity and criminality” of a few on the force.
All in all, it was a curiously apolitical evening and refreshingly old-fashioned, too, as exemplified by this chestnut from actor Red Buttons’ long litany of jokes: “I attended a reunion of kamikaze pilots whose motto is, ‘We may be yellow, but we’re not schmucks.’” There were a few disappointing dropouts: Feinstein couldn’t attend, but presenter Kelly Lange made up for the senator’s absence by rubbing her face with the trophy and purring, “This is such a wonderful award!”
DOWN AND OUT IN WEST HOLLYWOOD
Carole Meyers was tossed out of her West Hollywood apartment this month for failing to pay a rent increase of — ta-dum! — $12.08. That’s right, not $120.08, or $1,208, but 12 bucks, the price of a Saturday matinee. “I was punished by the death penalty of evictions,” said Meyers, an actor who had lived in her $1,200, three-bedroom home for 14 years. And she’s not the only one to have been ousted.
Many tenants in Santa Monica and West Hollywood are finding themselves out on their ears for minor lapses thanks to the Costa-Hawkins bill; so say tenant lawyers, renters organizations and public officials. Effective January 1, the measure by state Senator Jim Costa (D-Fresno) and former Assemblyman Phil Hawkins (R-Bellflower) gutted rent control in Santa Monica and West Hollywood by permitting unlimited rent hikes when apartments become empty. The measure gives landlords an incentive to drive renters out on flimsy pretexts. And drive them out they have. Hal Cronkite, director of the city of West Hollywood’s Department of Rent Stabilization, said that more than 1,400 units in WeHo have been vacated and reoccupied since January, a projected increase of about 12 percent over the year before. The new tenants are paying, on average, 23 percent higher rents. Before Costa-Hawkins, annual rent hikes were held to a 15 percent ceiling.
“A lot of tenants are more or less walking around with bull’s-eyes on their backs,” said Larry Gross, executive director of the Center for Economic Survival, which has seen eviction complaints double from the previous year. “A lot of times we see landlords trying to fabricate different types of reasons for eviction. And tenants fall victim to their ploys all the time. They get evicted on small technicalities.”
When Meyers received a rent increase notice for August, she mistook it for her usual annual rent hike, which wasn’t due until September. After she failed to fork over the extra $12 in August, her landlord served her with a notice to pay. But she was on location in Ireland and responded three days late. Beverly Hills Municipal Commissioner Gerald Rosenberg later ordered her evicted for non-payment.
Officials say they have heard reports of other landlords claiming they never received renters’ checks, enforcing long-ignored no-pet policies and taking advantage of Russian immigrants’ shaky English. Cronkite advises tenants to arrange for friends to witness them submitting their checks. It’s too late for Meyers, who is staying at a friend’s house till November. She fears she won’t be able to afford a new place in West Hollywood. “A lot of people are being witch-hunted out of apartments because landlords can get twice as much as they did before,” she said sadly.
THEY’RE AS CORNY AS KANSAS IN AUGUST
Spurned by Wall Street and reeling from legal lashings — including a Florida court decision presaging a gargantuan punitive award for smokers — Big Tobacco has finally gone bonkers. At least that’s all we could figure after listening to the voice-mail message at Brown & Williamson (No. 3 in the industry, makers of Kool and Lucky Strike cigarettes) this week.
“Now that it’s just us, there’s something that we, Brown & Williamson Tobacco, would like to tell you,” a somewhat oily voice intones, after preliminary questions aimed at making sure that OffBeat is an adult (nominally) and a smoker (not for years). “It may be a little soon but, well, it just feels right.” (A lone piano begins plinking mawkishly.) “We, the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, are in love [pause] with you. Yup. You heard right, B&W Tobacco is in love. [The voice sings it out.] We’re a giant corporation, and you make us feel like a little kitten. Thank you [pause] lover. By the way, the other tobacco companies hate you and think you’re ugly. They told us so.” B&W spokesman Mark Smith says the message is “just to do something fun,” and not to appeal to irony-loving kids, as critics have charged. The number is (800) 578-7453.