[BEVERLY HILLS, CA]
Sid Luft and his wife, Camille, at The Ivy restaurant in Beverly Hills,
frequented by stars and nasty birds.
The Ivy restaurant in Beverly Hills is a favourite haunt of Hollywood
stars. This particular day, Billy Dee Williams is at the next table and
Jane Adams of Frasier fame (she's Mel, Niles' second wife) is at the table
behind me. "I saw you on Frasier," I hear Billy Dee tell her
excitedly. Across the street, J. Lo is shooting her music video with boyfriend
Ben Affleck in tow.
But my lunch date isn't new Hollywood. He is as old Hollywood as you can
get. I am meeting Sid Luft, the former husband of the late Judy Garland,
father of Lorna, and a Hollywood legend himself, having produced Garland's
hit movie A Star Is Born, still on the list of the top 100 movies of all
time. Sid just turned 87. When he walks, he walks stiffly, and when he
drives, it's a 25-year-old brown Mercedes Benz. "I'm taking it with
me when I go," he insists gruffly, "wherever the hell that will
Luft isn't the most popular guy in Hollywood these days -- there's a rumour
that he tried to sell Judy's Academy Award, a definite no-no in this town.
It's a rumour he denies.
Wife Camille is with him. "This Judy thing is everywhere," she
complains. "You can't get away from it."
I've got to admit she's right. During my stay in Hollywood, I see Judy's
image on every street corner. Garland is Hollywood and Sid, like Judy's
fans, never did let go. "How could you?" he says. "She's
larger than life, she envelopes me."
Even now, Luft is hanging on to Judy for dear life. "I've been working
on a project," he tells me. "It's called the Judy Garland Event."
Luft has painstakingly restored a 100-minute, two-act presentation featuring
Garland and powerhouse duets with daughter Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand,
Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and other classic stars. The event will showcase
rare, recently discovered performances in high-definition digital projection.
In the show, Luft focuses on what he calls the "triumphs" of
his years with Garland: "Carnegie Hall, The Chicago Opera House,
San Francisco's Curran Theatre, Toronto's O'Keefe Centre and Radio City
Luft, who was profiled positively in estranged daughter Lorna's best-selling
book and resulting screenplay Me and My Shadows, says, "This show
will blow you away ... but I need the right guy to produce it."
The right guy, he tells me, is none other than Canadian legend Norman
Jewison. Jewison did some of Judy's best television shows, Luft adds.
"He's the one who should be directing this series. But I don't know
how to get to him."
While Sid considers this dilemma, another more acute problem develops
during an otherwise pleasant lunch -- a persistent bird insists on dumping
all over our table, and us. I've never seen anything quite like it really.
Doesn't the winged terror know this is a very exclusive, expensive place?
Why isn't he wreaking havoc on some stinking fishermen's wharf somewhere?
I mean, really! A hastily raised umbrella does little to discourage the
combative bird, who insists on coming at us from all sides.
After a well-directed missile hits a bull's eye on my latte, that's it,
we get up to leave -- to the tune of US$250 (remember, this is only a
lunch). Obviously, no money off for bird dung and, to add insult to injury,
the establishment has the nerve to charge for my tainted latte. Although
I'm not paying (the Lufts insist), I complain so loudly that even Billy
Dee is looking uncomfortable.
"I'm on to something with this show," Sid tells me, completely
unfazed by the bird poo. The bird swoops and hits Luft's jacket. "Big
deal," he says, not bothering to wipe it. People must get used to
taking crap in Hollywood, I think.
Still focused on Judy and his project, Sid says, "Just wait and see
how big this will be. As Frank Sinatra said shortly before his death,
'The rest of us will all be forgotten -- except Judy.' " With that
final thought, Luft hobbles to the car, the bird crap clearly visible
on his sleeve.