Born to Spend


HE STOPPED TREATING HIMSELF TO FINE WINES AND spirits a decade ago. Then, around the time he signed a $14 million-a-year contract with CBS, David Letterman gave up his beloved Cuban cigars. Nowadays, to keep his weight down, he eats one meal a day. His office at the Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan is big but mostly barren—as is the converted barn in Connecticut he returns to each night. Never mind that he has established himself as the Johnny Carson of his generation and even gotten a gig as the host of this month’s Academy Awards; Letterman doesn’t allow himself the luxury, it seems, of realizing how rich he really is. Standing recently on the deck of co-executive producer Peter Lassally’s cozy $1.2 million beachfront spread in Malibu, Letterman took in the breathtaking ocean view—and sighed. “I wish I could have something like this,” he said.

“Dave,” Lassally told his boss. “You can.”

Letterman can be excused if he looks both ways before becoming a land baron. Gone is the era when Richard Burton could inspire unalloyed awe and admiration by bestowing the 33-carat, $305,000 Krupp diamond (valued at $4 million today) on his then wife Elizabeth Taylor. Celebrities today are expected to be less ostentatious with their wealth and more socially conscious in how they dispose of it. Some, too, may be just plain worried about winding up like Kim Basinger: beautiful but bankrupt. In the Hollywood of 1995, people think twice about their spending—often just before charging down the aisles at Gucci with as much abandon as Taylor in her prime.

Who can blame them? When Demi Moore can get a reported $12.5 million for Striptease, a movie that begins filming in September, and Tom Hanks can clear $30 million for Forrest Gump, Hollywood’s biggest stars have never had more money to burn. It’s like “being a drug addict,” Melanie Griffith said about one recent shopping spree, during which she bargained hard to get an antique Lalique perfume bottle, marked at $14,000, for $7,500. And sometimes a star can feel like a 15th-century Turkish pasha. According to divorce papers that Roseanne filed in July of last year, last summer she and then bodyguard Ben Thomas took a 2½-month vacation in Italy and Spain that cost $183,000.

The beauty of being rich, of course, is that you can throw caution to the wind, leave your coupons at home and even—yes!—go food shopping when you’re hungry. Cher recently picked out a $15,000 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail motorcycle, then had it customized with $15,000 worth of stainless steel and aluminum extras. Heather Locklear, on a single shopping spree at Arte de Mexico in North Hollywood, filled the rustic retreat at Lake Arrowhead, Calif., where she and her new husband, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, spend weekends. “I just went ‘That! that! that!’ and hoped it would fit,’ ” she said. Her favorite find: a $900 chandelier made from naturally shed deer antlers.

John Travolta has long embraced the grand-scale spending of old-time Hollywood. Through career ups and downs, the actor has flown his wife, Kelly Preston, and their 2-year-old son, Jett, around the country in one of his several airplanes—including a $30 million Gulf Stream II Jet—and maintained a sumptuous mansion on a secluded island off the coast of Maine, where cooks, nannies and maids attend to the family’s needs. But Travolta sees no reason to apologize or cut back. The public, he says, doesn’t resent a former working-class kid from New Jersey “living out [his] dreams.” Moviegoers, Travolta believes, “don’t want you to be humble.”

Producer Aaron Spelling has never been afraid to display the wealth he has derived from TV hits such as Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place. In 1983 he paid more than $10 million for land on which sat the home once owned by Bing Crosby. He tore the house down, then spent nearly $40 million building a 52,503-square-foot, 123-room palace complete with bowling alley, a room devoted exclusively to wrapping gifts, a gym and four bars. This is the home where Spelling and his wife, Candy, treated 21-year-old 90210 star Tori Spelling and her younger brother, Randy, 16, to a life of gold plumbing fixtures and, on Christmas holidays, snow manufactured on site.

Cash tends to make some people collectors—and what the stars amass in their spare time says something about their personal definition of cool. “I can’t justify spending 20 grand on a truck,” Brad Pitt told Premiere magazine. “But on a Tiffany stained-glass window? If I could one for 20 grand? I could completely justify that.” Jerry Seinfeld owns eight Porsches. But the driveway at his house isn’t any noisier than Jay Leno’s. The Tonight Show host owns pricey classics including a 1955 Buick Roadmaster, a 1932 Packard and a 1909 Stanley Steamer.

It’s not just the boys who return to toys after reaching millionairehood. Consider Demi Moore‘s dolls. Several replicas of the British Royal Family, a custom-made Barbie and a $6,000, 31-inch version of herself posing pregnant on the August 1991 cover of Vanity Fair make up but a part of her menagerie. Where does she keep such an extensive collection? Not in any of the three homes that she and husband Bruce Willis own. Instead, her dolls, reportedly worth more than $1 million, reside in their own three-story Victorian house, which Moore spoiled and fell in love with while riding her bicycle in Hailey, Idaho, in 1991. Soon after, Willis bought Moore what he calls “the doll house,” valued at nearly $600,000, and presented it to her as a gift.

Willis himself collects hunks of Hailey (pop. 4,000), where he, Moore and their daughters Rumer, 6, Scout, 3, and Tallulah, 1, live in a $2 million, six bedroom home. In the past several years, the actor has purchased up to $8 million worth of commercial and residential property in Blaine County, which includes Hailey and Sun Valley. In addition, he has been remodeling a restaurant, a movie theater, an office building and a minimall in Hailey’s downtown. “My kids are going to grow up there,” he told the local Wood River Journal. “I just wanted to make it a little nicer.”

Kiefer Sutherland no doubt had the same motive when he bought a stately brick mansion in L.A.’s Hancock Park two years ago. At first, says a real estate agent, Sutherland growled, “I hate it.” Eventually, though, the actor looked around—and paid $1.2 million. He then spent $500,000 on renovations, including the installation of an antique electric chair. A year later he put the house back on the market. Current asking price: $1.4 million.

Sometimes celebrities shop stranger than the rest of us do. A few days before her wedding to union leader Lyle Trachtenberg last October, Whoopi Goldberg tore through a favorite clothing haunt on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. The actress took several floor-length dresses, worth a total of about $2,000, into the dressing room and came out a few minutes later. She would take the lot, Goldberg said—provided they were chopped down to mini length. “She knows what she likes,” says a saleswoman. The store promised to make the alterations to her satisfaction. In any case, she has said, “I never return anything.”

Of course, it’s easy to be spontaneous and creative when you’ve got the income of an Oscar-winning actress—or a world-famous model. “I’m going to buy that statue!” exclaimed superwaif Kate Moss recently while shopping at Sarajo, an ethnic art and knickknack shop in New York City’s SoHo. The artwork in question was a two-foot-tall alabaster likeness of a Hindu deity.

“It’s like 1,200 bucks,” protested one of Moss’s girlfriends.

“I don’t care,” said Moss. “I love it!”

Many celebrity shoppers ask for—and receive—special favors. Last year, for his mother’s 74th birthday, Steven Spielberg got the Neiman-Marcus store in Beverly Hills to-open after hours so she could have a private shopping spree. (She chose a vest and a jean jacket.) And when Jane Fonda decided to redecorate a house on the 130,000-acre ranch in Montana where she and billionaire husband Ted Turner live, she arranged to have Gazebo Antiques in L.A. open an hour early. Then, says co-owner Hal Halverstadt, “she bought bunches of stuff—about $16,000 worth in half an hour. But she would not pay what the items were marked. We had to give her a discount. She’s a smart shopper.”

Last January, when Madonna wanted to participate in an auction at Christie’s in New York City, she requested a private preview and made her bids by phone. (Her spoils included a marble torso from first century A.D. Rome that cost her $310,500—small change for the collector who last year paid nearly $2 million for Tamara de Lempicka’s painting Adam and Eve.) Art remains a hot item for Hollywood’s top echelon. “In a profession that carries with it the susceptibility of being considered an airhead,” says Art & Antiques magazine contributing editor Patrick Pacheco, “art gives a certain gravitas, depth by association.” Madonna, Steve Martin, Richard Gere and Jack Nicholson are among the stars whose multimillion-dollar collections of Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and other world-renowned artists could stock a small museum. “The only thing that truly separates us from being totally bestial,” said Sly Stallone, who has covered the walls of his $8 million mansion in Coconut Grove, Fla., with paintings by Diego Rivera, Botero, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol, “is that we have a sense of the aesthetic.”

We are also the only mammals who drive cool cars. The jalopy du jour in Hollywood these days is the Hummer, the seven-foot-wide all-terrain vehicle first seen carrying troops in the 1991 Gulf War. Base sticker price? $40,000. But fully armored, and with a CD player, it goes for $57,000. Arnold Schwarzenegger started the craze three years ago when he bought a Hummer four-passenger wagon. He now has five of the so-called Hum-Vees with which to make his way down the mountain from his $6 million Pacific Palisades estate. Fabio has since jumped on the wagon (which can take on a 60-degree incline and ford water up to 24 inches deep)—as has Andre Agassi. Why would anyone covet a vehicle that gets about 11 miles to the gallon in city traffic? Says one happy Hummer saleswoman: “They’re great during the mud slides.”

If something can be considered sensible—or supportive of family values—money becomes no object. Three years ago, Michael J. Fox had a $50,000 pond put in next to his $500,000 home in Cornwall, Conn., so he could fish with his 5-year-old son Sam. Spielberg too is a devoted dad. The director lives on an $11.9 million estate in Pacific Palisades with his wife Kate Capshaw, and their children Sawyer, 3, Sasha, 4, Theo, 6, and Jessica, Kate’s 18-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. (Spielberg’s son Max, 9, lives part-time with his mom, Amy Irving). The house has an ice-cream fountain and a well-stocked video library. Across the yard is a private movie theater complete with candy and a popcorn maker. In the circular driveway, where the family’s nine cars come and go, Spielberg has installed a traffic signal for the safety of the kids.

All things considered, there may be only one problem, from a celebrity’s point of view, with spending one’s money: It’s tough to do it anonymously. Julia Roberts—who has a weakness for Comme des Garcons dresses, which sell to the public for $800-$1,500 a pop—particularly dislikes public attention. Maybe that’s why in 1993 her then flame of three weeks, Lyle Lovett, was the one to run out and choose the $2,000 Rei Kawakubo tank dress she wore at their last-minute Marion, Ind., wedding. (Impulse shopping—of all kinds—seems to suit Roberts. After all, she canceled her carefully planned $500,000 wedding to Kiefer Sutherland in 1991. Not all was lost, though: Her four attendants walked away with $425 Manolo Blahnik shoes Roberts had purchased for them.)

Last month, left to fend for herself at Nana, a moderately priced Manhattan shop that specializes in hip-hop and grunge chic, Roberts kept one eye on the try-on mirror and the other cocked for unwanted intruders. Clearly she knew what to expect: Down the block, at another store, Oblio, a paparazzo sprang from a dressing room. Says a woman who works there: “He started snapping, and Julia just ran away.”

Ah, well, shopping isn’t always such an ordeal. On one particularly satisfying adventure, Roberts managed to buy a bracelet from a street vendor—and bargain him down from $15 to $9.


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