If the California sky suddenly gets dark with birds again, don’t blame Alfred Hitchcock. This time the perpetrators will be John Ingraham, 35, and partner Gary Mortimer, 38, who own Pyramid Birds, an exclusive, expensive and expanding West Hollywood purveyor to the stars.
Barbra Streisand parted with $40 to present Jon Peters with a pair of albino budgerigars, but that’s near the bottom of the line in the newspaper-carpeted showroom the proprietors call Parrotdise. The “Cadillac,” says John, is the yellow-naped Amazon parrot like Stefanie Powers’ beloved Papuga. The Rolls is the hyacinth macaw, $17,000 per pair, but these days most celebs, says John, are buying parrots—”the more vibrantly colored, the better. People also want big birds—big and cuddly.” Indeed, prices are proportionate to docility (a friendly Amazon might cost $1,000 more than a cranky one), but of course, Hollywood has always put a premium on all species programmed to say yes.
John and Gary also find their clientele easy prey for the status options, including a “shampoo and set”—actually a spray bath—at $14.50. Upstairs, in the aviary, groaningly known as the Parritz Hotel and Spa, is where Robin Williams boards his Amazon, Cora, when he’s out of town. In the works is the new Parrotfanalia line, including 14-karat play bells at $150.
There is a charm school, too, with tuition as high as $250 a month and grads like Fred Astaire’s albino cockatiel, Pat. The curriculum? Well, manners, above all else. “We try to teach them to behave,” says Gary. “They’re like little children. They can get bratty. You have to keep them in line.” John agrees: “If you try to hug and kiss a big bird who’s not tame, you’re going to bleed.”
Musicality is another Parrotdise plus. Steven Spielberg bought an Amazon that had learned how to whistle the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. John and Gary also make house calls, starting at $35. They recently drove to Malibu to clip the nails of the cockatiel owned by Flip Wilson’s son, Kevin.
Neither of the Pyramid executives came to the Coast to make it in the bird biz. The Iowa-born Gary, an aspiring singer, was working as a bartender in West Hollywood’s Studio One where John was a waiter. John, a Rhode Islander whose previous jobs included real estate sales, happened to receive an albino cockatiel from a friend. “One thing led to another,” he laughs, and eventually they were sharing a one-bedroom apartment with 50 parrots in a “no-pets-allowed” building. “First it was a hobby, then an obsession which in turn led to the business,” continues John. Even now the partners nest upstairs in the doorless Parrotdise with their 400 feathered friends—kenneled or for sale.
Or even for rent. One sideline is providing birds for TV shows (What’s Happening!!), album cover shootings (George Benson, Tony Orlando) and bar mitzvahs (at up to $1,500 the flock). Obviously, life for the partners in Pyramid Birds is not without flaps. As Richard (The Waltons) Thomas, who found his beloved double yellow-headed Amazon, Pavarotti, on the bottom of its cage, puts it, “They’re great until they die. Then what do you have—$1,400 worth of feathers?” For all their success, Gary confesses: “If anyone had told me a few years ago I’d be doing this, my only thought would be: They’ve freaked out.”