The downpour stopped a few hours ago, but the wind whipping over the Santa Monica freeway is still crisp and cool. “Nothing looks as great on videotape as Hollywood after a rain,” says Robin Leach, peering through tinted glasses and tinted limousine windows. The high-fizz host and executive producer of TV’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous—the name sounds even more familiar if you scream it to yourself in a high-pitched Cockney accent—is just back from a trip to Anguilla and is heading for dinner at Spago. “First stop, Judith Ledford’s apartment!” Leach calls to the driver as he flips down the vanity mirror to check his tie. Ledford is a 30-year-old blonde who recently bounced from TV’s A-Team into a role on Dallas, and she and Leach, 45, have been “mutually mushy,” says he, for the past four months.
A few minutes later Ledford slinks into the back seat and the couple continue on their way. At Spago, Leach is led to a choice table and immediately starts to scan the suppertime crowd. “Hey, see Candy Clark and Jeff Wald? Pretty hot and heavy item,” he crows delightedly. It is Leach, however, who is tonight’s centerpiece. “Robin! Robin! It’s us!” calls Lois Hamilton, wife of corporate financier Charles Knapp. Miami Vice actress Saundra Santiago, seated at a table next to Dynasty’s Linda Evans, comes over and plants a kiss on Leach’s balding head. “I’m so bored in Miami,” she wails, hinting that she just might accept if she were invited to appear on one of his TV shows.
Leach orders two bottles of Louis Roederer Cristal ($110 each), dips a pudgy finger into the champagne and playfully dabs it behind Ledford’s ear. He’s suffering from jet lag, he confides to the maitre d’, and probably should be sending out for toothpaste and a bed. Voilà! Moments later a tube of Gleem arrives on a pizza garnished with red caviar. Leach beams. “I love Los Angeleeze!” he chirps. “If I ever stop hopping the globe, I just might decide to settle here.”
Not as long as there are frequent flier plans, most likely. As host of Lifestyles, the newer Fame, Fortune and Romance and the all-new Runaway with the Rich and Famous, Leach now logs about 200,000 miles of travel each year—and piles up a $45,000-a-month American Express bill—to bring the world pictures of Adnan Khashoggi’s gold bathroom fixtures and actress Maud Adams’ personal fixtures, draped in a bathing suit during a sun-splashed visit to the Amalfi coast. Leach appears at about half of the on-location shoots; the rest, as well as the formidable logistics required for three TV shows, are managed by a 240-member bi-coastal staff that knows who’s boss. “He’ll rarely yell at you about you,” says an employee. “More often he’ll scream at you about someone else. Then you have to tell them he’s furious with them.” “He’s not easy to work for,” says another, “but he’s someone I admire. He’s good at what he does and bad at putting up with those who aren’t.” Adds the first employee: “He never uses the intercom. He just yells in that voice. It carries quite well.”
That Voice (Leach’s glitzy subject matter, combined with ardent pitchmanship, makes him sound like a barker for Tiffany’s) has become his TV trademark. “Broadway bonanza!” it screams. Or “Mogul with a Midas touch!” Or “Pamper those pounds away!” “It’s the personification of Fleet Street headlines,” says its owner, referring to the gossipy London tabloids for which Leach once worked. “They scream in print, so I scream in person. As a viewer, you cannot be passive about it.” Some viewers, and reviewers, are actively negative about the Voice and the shows. Leach argues that Lifestyles isn’t journalism but “reality programming”—as opposed to acknowledged fiction, such as Dynasty. Leach also believes that the popularity of his shows has prodded Barbara Walters and programs such as 60 Minutes to pay more attention to the lifestyles of their subjects. “Every time I watch a Walters special,” he says, “I see her walking with a famous person through their home. It is the same thing we do on our show.”
Leach is smart enough to see Lifestyles’ silliness. A self-made man, he also is unapologetic about its content or about his own clear enjoyment of the Rodeo Drive life. One of two sons of a Harrow, England, factory worker, he began stringing for a newspaper at the age of 14 on the theory that one way to escape poverty and boredom was “to write about things that weren’t poor and boring.” Even in his earliest writing, a year spent covering garden shows, he showed a passion for superlatives: “I would always focus on the biggest squash, the biggest cauliflower.” He eventually became a columnist for the London Daily Mail and later turned his pen to celebrity gossip. He came to the U.S. in search of riches in 1963, co-founded a rock magazine that failed and wound up writing a gossip column for the tabloid National Star (now Star). In 1981 he began working for Entertainment Tonight, which he came to believe focused too much attention on the business side of Hollywood. “It used to greatly aggravate me that we would be able to do wonderful interviews in people’s houses, and we would never see the chair that they were sitting in,” says Leach, who in 1982 approached ET’s creator, Al Masini, with the idea for Lifestyles. A year later he was off and running…into Cher’s shoe closet, Larry Hagman’s hot tub and Diane Sawyer’s bedroom.
Leach estimates that he spent only 18 days last year at his three-bedroom Connecticut home, but seems content to live the life of a Louis Vuitton vagabond. He was married once—he has three sons, ages 17 to 21—and doesn’t think he’ll marry again. “I don’t know when I stopped thinking about it, but somewhere I did,” he says. He admits to having had “a lot of lady friends—I’m very social when I’m on the road,” but says that maintaining any long relationship is difficult because of his schedule. Still, Ledford says she’s “gaga-gone” over him. “He can do the whole Hollywood thing so well, but the man is completely different from what you see,” she says. “He is truly unpretentious, sensitive and attentive a million times over.” And a bundle of love, to boot. “We spent Christmas together,” says Ledford, her voice dropping dramatically, “and didn’t leave the house for nine days.”
Hmmm—sounds like a line from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. So does Leach’s assessment of his unique calling. “Nothing,” he says, with a wink, “gets my journalistic juices flowing more than a seaside chalet, the mention of a private jet or room service in St.-Tropez.”