Sweetheart, You've Arrived!

Svery great city has its signature sound. In New York it’s the blare of traffic. In Venice it’s the romantic slap of water against stone. In Hollywood it’s more elusive, a high-pitched thrum of fear, a nagging turbulence of envy. Perhaps it rises from the tire hum of Porsches driven by actors on their way to the unemployment office (30 percent of the members of the Screen Actors Guild had zero earnings from film and TV jobs in 1989). Maybe all the cellular phones create an edgy vibe—producers making deals from (only the best) restaurant tables, psychiatrists ministering on car phones equipped with call-waiting.

“You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood,” observed comedian Fred Allen, “place it in the navel of a fruit fly and still have room for three caraway seeds and a producer’s heart.” Filmland psyches are as bruise-able as the bananas that grow in Bel Air backyards. Fortunes reverse faster than governments in Bolivia. So no wonder everybody is alert to even the smallest nuances of personal prestige. How do you know that you have truly made it—or, having made it, that you’re still on top—in a business where the rudiments of status can shift like the San Andreas Fault, sending tremors through feet of clay? Here’s a short list of leading indicators:

You’re Johnny’s first guest: You know you rate if you get to sit in the chair next to Carson on The Tonight Show, ambling out soon after the monologue. If you’re a legend, like Bob Hope and George Burns, you don’t have to hang around and slide down the couch along with Ed McMahon and the animal act. You’re allowed to take an early fade. Ultimate juice: being so B-I-G that you can repeatedly refuse to appear on Tonight, like Paul Newman and Robert De Niro.

You get good phone: Almost nobody (okay, maybe Kevin and Michelle) gets through instantly when they call the top enchiladas. You can gauge your status by how soon you are called back. The same afternoon—you’re mahvelous, especially if the party calling back is a studio honcho like Fox’s Barry Diller or a superagent like ICM’s Jeffrey Berg. Best bicoastal phone: if Disney Studios head Jeffrey Katzenberg—a notorious early riser—calls you back before 9 A.M. New York time. Worst phone: “Hi, I’m one of Mr. Katzenberg’s assistants. How can I help you?”

You get good table: For the likes of Meryl Streep, James Woods and producer Sherry Lansing, one of the six booths in the interior Loggia section of the Polo Lounge is the only site for a power breakfast. Regulars who know which side their cinnamon toast is buttered on send gifts to longtime maître d’ Bernice Philbin.

Dinnertime at Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s temple of California cuisine, the 10 tables lining the window overlooking Sunset Boulevard are le must for such stars as Roger Moore, Dabney Coleman and Lethal Weapon producer Joel Silver. Everyone needs a reservation. “If someone [meaning Someone Heavy] calls on short notice,” says maître d’ Jannis Swerman, “I’ll say, ‘Can you drive slowly?’ ” The most coveted culinary real estate at Morton’s is the highly visible table by the French doors to the right of the entrance, favored by dealmakers like CAA chief Michael Ovitz and MCA’s Lew Wasserman. Says a screenwriter-regular: “Anywhere else is Siberia.”

You are what others eat: Dave Davis is an artist whose medium is chopped liver—also corned beef, pastrami and red onions. Those happen to be the ingredients of the Glenn Ford, one of the gargantuan sandwiches Davis created at L.A.’s Stage Deli, which he manages. Davis bestows sandwiches on the upwardly mobile, and tries for a statement in each bite. The Roseanne Barr, for instance, is a battlewagon containing two pounds of meat and costing $12.75. The Goldie Hawn, on the other hand, is a simple aria of chicken salad. But fame can he pickle, er, fickle. The Carl Reiner became the Rob Reiner, and soon Davis plans to rename the Glenn Ford for a more contemporary star: “Maybe I’ll call it the Winona Ryder. I want to meet her.”

You’re pampered: If flower bouquets and fruit baskets await you in your hotel room, you’re holding your own. Ditto if the studio sends a stretch limo (with TV and bar) to pick you up for a meeting and if food (on china) is served at the summit itself. Better still: if they call first to ask what you’d like to eat.

You’re like family: Blood is thicker than contracts. You’re molto in if honchos invite you to hang out at their homes, on their yachts, at their ski lodges or anywhere else where their families are present.

You no longer have to audition: Once you become a prime property—à la Annette (The Grifters) Bening, Jason (After Dark, My Sweet) Patric and Nicole (Days of Thunder) Kidman—you usually read privately for the director. Top-drawer stars like Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin and Cher normally don’t even do that. They merely schmooze with the director to see if they make music.

Sometimes, of course, an established star will offer to screen-test for a type-breaking role: Glenn Close, saddled with her Earth Mother Big Chill image, competed to play the Fatal Attraction madwoman. Because casting directors were leaning toward Harrison Ford or Kevin Kline, Patrick Swayze volunteered to show them that a dirty dancer could be convincing as a haloed yuppie banker in Ghost.

You call the shots: When, like Cher on Mermaids, you get to hire the people who would normally hire you—like the director—you’re in the catbird canvas chair. Cher displayed even more muscle by changing horses in midstream. She helped nudge two Mermaids directors out of a job before Richard Benjamin passed muster.

The pinnacle of power is to be a Jack (Nicholson) of all trades. While Nicholson’s The Two Jakes (he starred and directed) slumbered at the box office and Eddie Murphy’s Harlem Nights (he wrote, produced, directed, starred) was a critical bomb, not all vanity projects are in vain, viz., Kevin Costner’s starring-directing-co-producing triumph, Dances with Wolves.

You get good title: Billing is an infallible guide to pecking order. Meryl Streep was considered more bankable than Shirley MacLaine in Postcards from the Edge, so her name came first in ads and posters. Director Francis Ford Coppola topped Pacino et al. in The Godfather Part III ads, and Robert De Niro led Robin Williams on Awakenings posters. Naturally, your agent wants your name above the title, but if your name is part of the title consider yourself awesome. It helps if your last name is a verb—some ads for Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder read, “Cruise like Thunder.”

Inverse chic: waiving any billing in ads whatsoever, like Robin Williams in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Debra Winger in Made in I Heaven. “It’s reverse snobbism,” says top entertainment attorney Peter Dekom. “Some very major players are saying, ‘I don’t want credit.’ ”

Your entourage can fill a plane: Your Meganess will need a personal hairdresser, a personal trainer, a personal astrologer, a masseuse, a makeup artist, a publicist, a business manager, an agent and a six-pack of gofers. Your personal assistant needs a secretary to keep them all straight.

Few stars can match Eddie Murphy for sheer number of factotums: as many as eight to provide around-the-clock services like door opening, chauffeuring, bodyguarding, check paying and plain old yea-saying. Such courting adds up. During the making of Coming to America, the Murphy mob was paid over $460,000 in salaries, per diems, hotel and travel expenses.

You forgo a sidewalk star on Hollywood Blvd.: There are already 1,932 bronze-and-pink terrazzo stars imbedded in the pavement, and the galaxy expands by about a dozen a year. Although there is a modicum of selectivity—director Blake (JO) Edwards was submitted by his PR firm “at least three times” before he made it, confides a Walk of Fame official—almost anybody with $4,800, a connection to city hall and a willingness to attend the implantation can get a star. Among those too cheap, busy or, most likely, too secure to have bothered: Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood and David Letterman.

Climbing the greasy pole of celebrity is difficult work; staying there requires nerves of brass and the ferocity of a rabid fox. But no matter how you play the game, the long slide down is painful. Finally you notice…

You’re beginning to slip: If your movie career is heading toward the porcelain facility, you can try to revive it by doing TV, like former big-screen idols Burt Reynolds (Evening Shade) and Ryan O’Neal (GoodSports).

You’re deep in the avocado dip if your agent can’t get you into one of the cubicles on The Hollywood Squares. Next stop, advertising: Captain Kirk and daughter for Oldsmobile, Lyle Waggoner for tooth whitener and Chad Everett for male potency pills. If you’re basement-bound, you can forget about returned phone calls, good tables and personalized studio parking spaces. As Hollywood publicist Stan Rosenfield puts it, “You know you’re on the way out when you phone your mother and she says, ‘What is this call regarding?’ ” See you at the strip-mall opening in the Valley.

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