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I am waiting to interview a man who has been taken into Cedars-Sinai hospital for heart surgery. This is not a hospital, it is a hotel. I’m eating a bagel in the lounge, where a grand piano mechanically recites “Memories”. There is a gift shop, selling Cedars-Sinai bags and pillow cases. The staff look like hotel porters of the Viennese, Hotel Sacher variety. A doctor – a beautiful woman who could well be an actor between scenes – tells me she loves my tie. “Why thank you,” I say. Actually, I’m the best-dressed person in Los Angeles. Formal attire is turning up wearing clothes.

Los Angeles has inspired a mini-freak out in me. I haven’t been eating and have shed pounds. My hair is un-kept and huge, sitting on my head like an agitated cat. I saw a photo of me at a party for a producer and I looked like a German lesbian dressed for the admiral’s club.

I’m catching LA’s worst disease: self-delusion and paranoia. One moment I think I’m Tolstoy reborn; the next I’m a talentless hack from Siberia. That’s the problem with a town where everyone is on the make, where status is never secure. It’s a land of a thousand opportunities and a million disappointments. What do people want from me? What am I supposed to give to them? Have I been nice enough, or should I actively try to be nasty – and thus define myself as an egotist with talent? Funny or bland, sexy or neutered, fast or slow, English or American; it’s impossible to tell what this hungry city wants. Yet I see that fear in everybody’s eyes – the fear that you’re not connecting (and we must connect!), that you’ve said something wrong, that you’ve blown your one opportunity to make it, that the person you sat next to on the bus MATTERED, and that after all this there is… nothing but the inadequate reality of everywhere else.

(We are all like that here: vegetarian zombies. Some people in the Cedar-Sinai lounge are cancer patients numbed-out by Morphine, some are actors. They all have the same blank, frightened expression.
Is that doctor who liked my tie a real doctor, or Sophia Coppola in disguise? Five days and just three bowls of oatmeal and I’m thinking… am I thin enough for you? Is it the tie you like, or me? Do you want the tie? Have the tie. “Take the fucking tie, Sophia.”)

 

One way to escape the madness is to go to the Beverly Hills Hotel. The Bevs, as the locals call it, is a big pink marshmallow. It is impossible to tell what shape it is supposed to be, as it softly conquers the bloc in all directions. Somehow, we always seem to enter from the basement. The inside is mint green, with waves painted on the walls. The downstairs bar is where wealthy joggers and expensive hookers go for brunch. Walk up the stairs and you’re in a brothel designed by Bertie Bassett: plump strawberry cushions with candy stick frames and chocolate-colored furniture. The lobby is full of squabbling rich tourists who are angry about the fact that they didn’t realize no one stays at the Beverly Hills Hotel anymore. Fat Russian kids run amok; men in tennis shorts sit smoking on the step.

The Bevs is a secret known only to a small clique of neurotic artists that drink tea in the splendid tearooms on whatever floor has undulated to the Earth that afternoon. There are one or two Republican Lounge Lizards of the old school (“Well, of course, Betty Ford was too busy to be President”) and a bankrupt businessman nursing a water. The piano tinkles and the gentle laughter of pretty women in hats laps at the ears. Our waiter is called Greg and he might be a standup comedian because he keeps telling us jokes about Los Angeles traffic. We order tea for three and a Negroni. He takes the order, tells a gag, and is never seen again.

The set that hangs out here is extravagant. We occupy a half-donut sofa piled high with tortilla chips and sugar cubes. There is Lenora Claire with her amazing red hair, Jamie Ruddy who makes movies about Jewish gangsters, two writers, the crypto-academic Rupert Russell, me in linen and bowtie, and a man in dark glasses who just tagged along and never says a word.

What is different about these people is that they are unusually contextualized in their thought. Hollywood writing is very two-dimensional and functional: you could make a movie about Henry VIII here without even knowing that he was English. That’s not a criticism, it’s just that ideas are presented for their immediate relevance rather than their intellectual quality. People are into pandas right now, so let’s animate Henry VIII as a talking panda.

Imagination unloosened from facts is liberating, but it also accounts in part for the paranoia I feel in Cedars-Sinai hospital. My qualifications (and I have hundreds) are grounded in facts, but those facts are useless unless they serve the purpose of entertaining people. Smart is better than clever here – fluidity and flexibility are encouraged. What I have to offer is not important in itself just because it comes from Cambridge University. It must suit the purposes of those oligarchs who work for Universal or Paramount, who decide (with the toss of a coin) what is fashionable and what we all really want.

The Bevs Set is a bit better read. They are inclined to point out to producers that Columbus wasn’t black even if Will Smith is, or that the Queen of England is a woman. It’s pleasant to come and discuss movies as art with a theory and a structure, not just a camp artifice. We discuss music in Argento, blondes in Hitchcock, MTV in Stone, sex in Truffaut. And we swap tips on how to get ahead. Here’s a goodie: whenever you go to a meeting, demand something unusual to establish your authority. One of our number once walked into a room with a producer and immediately asked for a Kiwi fruit. She wouldn’t even talk to the people in there until it arrived, moist and pre-peeled on a white china plate. The result: a three movies deal and a better parking spot.

 

Back to fear and loathing in Cedars-Sinai. The piano is now being tuned by a Mexican with a handle-bar moustache. The stomach clenches and the bitter taste of green tea give me the sensation of being on a boat. I look hungrily at my phone. Will Robert Redford ever return my call? Is there any more I can do to impress him, to make him like me, to earn the right to call him Robert? The phone rings. It’s one of the Bevs Set.
“I’m in Wendy’s in Westwood. I think Ivana Trump is on the next table.”
“There’s a Wendy’s in Westwood?”
“Yeah.”
“How does Ivana look?”
“Well, I guess you don’t dress up for Wendy’s.”
“No.”
“Even in Westwood.”
“Yeah. I have to go. This doctor just said that she likes my tie. She could be a director or something.”
“Go for it.”
Actually, I just need to bring up that bagel.