Monthly Archives: January 2020

The Luncheon Society/Mike Dukakis–Looking ahead to the 2020 Presidential Election/SF–Fior d’Italia/January 17, 2020/LA–Napa Valley Grille/February 28, 2020

Each year since 1999, The Luncheon Society season usually begins with gatherings in LA and SF with former Massachusetts Governor and 1988 Democratic Presidential nominee Mike Dukakis.

Happy to be free of Boston winters while teaching at UCLA, we usually have a January gathering in Westwood’s Napa Valley Grille for a great group of people.  Because Mike and Kitty have grandchildren in San Francisco, we are often able to schedule a gathering on a Friday afternoon.

The Basic Dukakis Message to any candidate. If you’re going to run statewide in Massachusetts, there are 2182 voter precincts. The candidate needs to appoint a precinct captain for every precinct. Each Precinct Captain needs to appoint 6 assistants who live within the precinct. He will warn that you cannot have Labor or other groups come into your precincts days before the election for any desired effect. These people need to live in the precinct, and they have to be in sustained contact with the voters for weeks and months before Election Day.

Elizabeth Warren and Duval Patrick, two people who had never run statewide, heard that speech in the Dukakis living room in Brookline.  They took it to heart and both won their elections.  In the case of Warren, who was looking to unseat popular US Senator Scott Brown, polls showed that they were running neck and neck on Election Eve.  However, once the votes were counted, Warren found herself with a solid seven point win.  In the end, as Dukakis sees things, a solid grassroots campaigning can add 5-7% to your election tally, enough to turn a nail biter into a solid win.

Great story.  Years ago, we had a Luncheon Society with Dukakis and he underlined the importance of a strong ground game. An unnamed political operative around the table took issue with his approach.  He said, “Governor, in California it’s just too hard to walk precincts.”

Dukakis stopped him in mid-sentence and said, “Look, I walked precincts while the Boston Strangler was on the loose—now that’s hard!”

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Flashback/The Luncheon Society/Jane Goodall DME/Marin County– Left Bank Restaurant/ April 17, 2004.

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Dame Jane Goodall can tell a very good dirty joke and the erudite nature of her British accent only highlights the punchline.

Thanks to a friend who served as a board member of Jane Goodall Institute (, we were able to meet with her in Marin County after a lengthy back and forth correspondence which took place during fall and winter of 2003, we were able to coordinate with her calendar for a wonderful Luncheon Society gathering that took place in April of 2004.

Now let’s get to the dirty joke. When Dame Goodall entered the private dining room, she was wearing dark sunglasses not because of the California sunshine but because she visited her doctor for a procedure on both eyes. After experiencing some discomfort, doctors discovered that there were organisms wandering around on the surface of her eyeballs and thankfully with the right regimen of antibiotics, she was eventually able to beat back the illness.

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Karen Bartenstein with Jane Goodall 2004

Jane said that one doctor mentioned that the organisms looked like a couple of copulating bugs, so she replied, “So you think I have a fucking bug problem?”

A millisecond later, when people realized that Dame Jane Goodall, knighted by Elizabeth II, winner of the Kyoto Prize, the Hubbard Medal, and a whole host of other awards could effortlessly drop the “F Bomb” too, the room erupted in laughter.

In time she would fully recover.

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The Luncheon Society/ Ash Carter and Sam Kashner “Life isn’t Everything; Mike Nichols as Remembered by 150 of his Closest Friends.”/Manhattan– The Capital Grille; November 11, 2019/Los Angeles—Napa Valley Grille; November 20, 2019

An up close and personal portrait of a legendary filmmaker, theater director, and comedian, drawing on candid conversations with his closest friends.

The work of Mike Nichols pervades American cultural consciousness―from The Graduate and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Angels in AmericaThe BirdcageWorking Girl, and Primary Colors, not to mention his string of hit plays, including Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple. If that weren’t enough, he was also one half of the timelessly funny duo Nichols & May, as well as a founding member of the original improv troupe. Over a career that spanned half a century, Mike Nichols changed Hollywood, Broadway, and comedy forever.

Most fans, however, know very little of the person behind it all. Since he never wrote his memoirs, and seldom appeared on television, they have very little sense of his searching intellect or his devastating wit. They don’t know that Nichols, the great American director, was born Mikail Igor Peschkowsky, in Berlin, and came to this country, speaking no English, to escape the Nazis. They don’t know that Nichols was at one time a solitary psychology student, or that a childhood illness caused permanent, life-altering side effects. They don’t know that he withdrew into a debilitating depression before he “finally got it right,” in his words, by marrying Diane Sawyer.

Here, for the first time, Ash Carter and Sam Kashner offer an intimate look behind the scenes of Nichols’ life, as told by the stars, moguls, playwrights, producers, comics and crewmembers who stayed loyal to Nichols for years. Life Isn’t Everything is a mosaic portrait of a brilliant and original director known for his uncommon charm, wit, vitality, and genius for friendship, this volume is also a snapshot of what it meant to be living, loving, and making art in the 20th century.

Luncheon Society Flashback TBD

The Luncheon Society/Stephen Kinzer “Poisoner in Chief Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control”/ San Francisco—Fior d’Italia; October 4, 2019/Los Angeles—Napa Valley Grille; October 12, 2019

The bestselling author of All the Shah’s Men and The Brothers tells the astonishing story of the man who oversaw the CIA’s secret drug and mind-control experiments of the 1950s and ’60s.

The visionary chemist Sidney Gottlieb was the CIA’s master magician and gentlehearted torturer―the agency’s “poisoner in chief.” As head of the MK-ULTRA mind control project, he directed brutal experiments at secret prisons on three continents. He made pills, powders, and potions that could kill or maim without a trace―including some intended for Fidel Castro and other foreign leaders. He paid prostitutes to lure clients to CIA-run bordellos, where they were secretly dosed with mind-altering drugs. His experiments spread LSD across the United States, making him a hidden godfather of the 1960s counterculture. For years he was the chief supplier of spy tools used by CIA officers around the world.

Stephen Kinzer, author of groundbreaking books about U.S. clandestine operations, draws on new documentary research and original interviews to bring to life one of the most powerful unknown Americans of the twentieth century. Gottlieb’s reckless experiments on “expendable” human subjects destroyed many lives, yet he considered himself deeply spiritual. He lived in a remote cabin without running water, meditated, and rose before dawn to milk his goats.

During his twenty-two years at the CIA, Gottlieb worked in the deepest secrecy. Only since his death has it become possible to piece together his astonishing career at the intersection of extreme science and covert action. Poisoner in Chief reveals him as a clandestine conjurer on an epic scale.

The Luncheon Society—Manhattan/Joyce Carol Oates and how artists should resist in the Age of Trump/The Capital Grille/September 27, 2019