Category Archives: About

The Luncheon Society/Michael Goldfarb and the story of Jewish Emancipation/San Francisco-Palio D’Asti/October 29, 2010

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Can a group, defined solely by its religious affiliation, transform into the intellectual and social leaders of their time?  Can they do it within three generations? In Michael Goldfarb’s sprawling history of European Jews, Emancipation, the answer is yes.

Until the eve of French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, Jews of Europe were marginalized by society, segregated in ghettos, and denied the basic rights of citizenship in their native lands.

It is astounding that from 1482 until 1796, all of Frankfurt’s Jews were housed in a squalid neighborhood called the  Judengasse, which directly translated means Jewish alley or Jewish street.  They were herded there by an edict from Emperor Frederic III and the ghetto gates were locked by the city burghers on nights and weekends. Even as these populations grew over centuries, they remained sandwiched into the same small plot of real estate. This was the way of life in cities and rural areas throughout Europe.

In a story that remains largely untold, Goldfarb grabs the reader at the eve of the French Revolution and guides them through the next 125 years until the dawn of the First World War. In less than three generations after Emancipation, a young patent clerk named Albert Einstein was poised to revolutionize Physics, Sigmund Freud created psychoanalysis, and the Rothschild family created a global manufacturing and banking empire that spanned Europe.   Continue reading

The Luncheon Society Flashback/ Dr. Steven Squyres and the 5th anniversary of the Mars Rover landings/January 2009/ Morton’s Steak House Beverly Hills

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Folks, this was a piece written in May 2009 by an old pal and LA writer Blair Tindall and it captured the essence of The Luncheon Society when we celebrated the 5th anniversary of the Mars Rover landings in Beverly Hills back in January 2009. Blair is probably best known for her memoir Mozart in the Jungle, which captured the harrowing life of the free-lance artist trying to make a career in the music business.

One Night at The Luncheon Society/Blair Tindall

“The best conversations always happen after the second glass of wine,” laughed Bob McBarton as he strode into Morton’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills and began leaving a thick pile of biographies at each seat. 

Collated and stapled, they detailed the diverse backgrounds of thirty members of The Luncheon Society  a private assemblage of people with almost nothing in common, except their love for the lost art of conversation. They gathered to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the landing of both Martian Rovers on the Red Planet with Dr. Steven Squyres , the mission’s Principal Investigator, leading the conversation. 

Waiters served cocktails as unlikely alliances emerged between scientists, politicians, lawyers, entrepreneurs, actors, writers, and academics alike. A concert cellist who designs chips for Microsoft discussed the state of filmmaking with a major film archivist in Southern California.  Several attorneys found themselves talking with two men who sent unmanned spacecraft to the surface of the Moon during the early 1960’s that paved the way for those first steps by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.   Space architect John Spencer, who helped design parts of the International Space Station,  walked though his plans for to recreate the Martian surface in the Nevada desert to the Senior Counsel at MGM as well as a West LA political activist who raised funds for President Obama, long before he emerged on the national scene.  Vanity Fair writer Cari Beauchamp, who nursed a well-deserved cocktail after receiving great notices from her biography of Joe Kennedy’s Hollywood years, regaled tales from the hurly–burly days of the mid 1970’s when she served as Jerry Brown’s Press Secretary to a pair of wide-eyed entrepreneurs and a doe–eyed UCLA law professor. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Sebastian Junger, best selling author of “War” and “The Perfect Storm”/SF-One Market Restaurant/May 24, 2010

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One of the great things about The Luncheon Society ™ is we can take a seminal issue and look at it from a variety of angles and perspectives in a conversational tone. 

This is what The Luncheon Society is all about.  It’s especially the case with the current military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Former Secretaries of State George Schulz and Warren Christopher gave their own individual thoughts on the statecraft behind the decisions to invade.  William Perry, former Secretary of Defense under Clinton, worried that the movement of assets from Afghanistan to Iraq would harm the mission against the Taliban in the long-term. Paul Rieckhoff, Craig Mullaney, and Phil Carter wrote at length to give us their viewpoint of the soldier in the field.  Journalists like Ahmed Rashid, Christopher Hitchens, Jonathan Alter, and The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer chimed in on the political lay of the land as well as the use of torture. Ambassador Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame joined The Luncheon Society on several occasions to discuss being unmasked as a CIA operative as political payback. Janis Karpinski spoke of abu Ghraib and Dan Ellsberg compared the secrets of the battlefield that so often papered over in times of war. More will join us in the future.

Sebastian Junger’s War. With that in mind, we especially pleased to sit with journalist and writer Sebastian Junger, who while not writing for Men’s Journal, The National Geographic or Vanity Fair, pens books and articles about people with dangerous jobs. Most are familiar with his work about the fishermen aboard the Andrea Gail, as well as the Coast Guard’s efforts to save them, which were detailed in his book (which later became the movie) The Perfect Storm . In fact, his description of what takes place when a person drowns is one of the more harrowing reads found in non-fiction.

In his new book titled, “War,” Junger follows a small group of soldiers for a better part of a year into one of the most distant outposts in Afghanistan. Junger steers clear from the political and burrows down into their daily lives.  It’s backbreaking and dangerous stuff; Junger spends a great deal of time discussing the stresses and intense pressures that come with combat. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller/LA-Chez Mimi/May 13 2010

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It’s an amazing story, one of those great tales from the early days of Rock and Roll. 

In 1956, Mike Stoller took his wife to France for 3 months.  After wandering around the countryside in late spring and early summer they return home on the Italian liner, the  SS Andrea Doria. It was the largest, the most spectacular, and safest of all of the Italian liners.  As Mike and his wife crossed the Atlantic, he purchased a copy of A Night to Remember, a best-seller by Walter Lord and considered the definitive reading on the sinking of the Titanic.

At 11 pm on July 26th, the Stockholm, a smaller passenger liner, crashed into the Andrea Doria and it began to list starboard and take on water. So instead of reading about the Titanic in Walter Lord’s book, he is actually living it. He thought, “That’s it; I’m a goner and I’m going down on the Titanic just like all of those poor souls who perished at the bottom of the Atlantic.” 

However, the crash took place off the coast of Massachusetts in a heavy shipping lane and within a short period, there was a massive effort to rescue the passengers before if sank to the bottom of the Atlantic 11 hours later.

Mike Stoller and his wife were rescued and they met Jerry Leiber at the dock in New York.  Leiber brought a full set of dry clothes for both Mike and his wife and once he made sure that his friends were okay, he exclaimed, “You won’t believe this, but Hound Dog  is a #1 hit!” Stoller was taken aback and said, “You mean Big Mama Thornton’s version,” who did it in 1953?  “No,” Leiber replied, “Its Elvis Presley.”  “Elvis Presley?” Stoller replied incredulously, “who’s that?”

Watch Big Mama’s version.  She simply whacks Elvis with big ol’ purse of hers. Look for a young Buddy Guy on that video. Nobody messed with her.


Stoller had been out of the country and had not seen the explosion of “Black Music” that was recorded by White Artists like Elvis.  In the span of 12 hours, Mike Stoller went from the brink of death to superstardom. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/”French Women Don’t Get Fat” author Mireille Guiliano/SF-Palio D’Asti/May 7, 2010

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Not every topic discussed by The Luncheon Society ™  needs to be weighty; in fact many of our best gatherings surround unexpected delights.

For example last year, writer Ayelet Waldman joined for a conversation after her column  in the New York Times set off a firestorm because she loved her husband more than her children. A year or two earlier, Bob Hass, the former American Poet Laureate spoke about his new set of poems, Time and Materials, which would win the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Mireille Guiliano took a backhand comment and created several New York Times best-sellers. Years ago when asked how she could dine out nightly without putting on any weight, she simply replied, “Well, French Women do not get fat.”

With that staircase rejoinder, a literary franchise was launched.

In 2004, Mireille published “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” which was a lifestyle book that explores the four basic food loves, freshness, variety, balance, and always pleasure.   Janet Maslin of the New York Times noted, “Ms. Guiliano turns out to be eminently level headed. She combines reasonable thoughts about nutrition with a general endorsement of joie de vivre, and her tone is girl friendly enough to account for the book’s runaway popularity.”

Since then she has published three more books on the joie de vivre that the French (especially French women) bring to their daily lives.  They include French Women For All Seasons, Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility, and her latest, The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook. Each has done well and her initial book has been translated into 37 languages after spending a good deal of time atop The New York Times.  Her writing has resonated with those who are turned off after reading through forests of yo-yo fad diets, where the weight often returns with a vengeance.  Although counterintuitive at first blush, Mireille recommended bread, Champagne, chocolate and romance as key ingredients to a balanced diet and joyous lifestyle. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Congressman Alan Grayson on Healthcare/LA-Napa Valley Grille/April 24, 2010

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For Congressman Alan Grayson, the current representative from Florida’s 8th congressional district, Sam Rayburn’s cardinal rule of “to get along, go along” has little use to him. Instead Grayson has charted another path, freely speaking his mind on healthcare, Iraq, Afghanistan as well as other items on his mind. He is a man in a hurry.

An Unfiltered Progressive. Last year during the heat of the debate on healthcare, Alan Grayson suggested that the Republican alternative was thus: Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”

The partisan response was swift and white hot. Some Republicans demanded that he apologize on the House floor.  “I would like to apologize,” he said. “I would like to apologize to the dead.”

Stating that 44,789 Americans die each year due to their inability to get healthcare insurance, the Congressman continued, “That is more than ten times the number of Americans who died in the war in Iraq, it’s more than ten times the number of Americans who died on 9/11. It happens every year. I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven’t voted sooner,” he said. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Gov. Mario Cuomo/Blue Fin (Dinner) /February 19, 2010

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We started the evening where we began lunch; The Blue Fin Restaurant in Manhattan’s Times Square.  Unlike lunch, our private room was no match for the dinner rush outside, but things quieted as people left for Broadway plays and musicals, which began promptly at 8 PM.

Regardless, the exterior din was well worth the wonderful crowd we had inside that room that evening; a number of folks came from Los Angeles to see both Cavett and Cuomo. As for me, I found myself sitting between one of my favorite writers, Gay Talese, and former supermodel Carmen Dell’Orefice, who could (and should) run a finishing school on how people are supposed to behave. It just does not get any better than that.

I think we will put something together in New York so we can gather for a nightcap (or two) after experiences like these.

Rather than describe the dinner in great detail, I will let Governor Cuomo’s gracious words speak for themselves. 


We were invited by Bob McBarton to respond to the question: “Has political bi-partisanship completely broken down in the nation’s Capitol because ideological purity too often replaces intelligent collaboration?”

It is a vital question that every day becomes more serious.  Most recently it was focused upon by Evan Bayh. I believe I have had some experience with that kind of troublesome rigidity ─ Bayh ─ and many others are talking about.

In my early years as a lawyer I enjoyed the struggle called “litigation” immensely. Don’t give an inch!  The competitiveness, the court as coliseum… “The thrill of victory; the agony of defeat”. 

That muscular intellectual kind of combat had a primal attraction for me.  I thought things like mediation and arbitration that displaced litigation were a concession of weakness that should be carefully avoided.

Over time however, I’ve been able to overcome a number of different primal instincts… an obsession with the virtues of rigidity and litigation is one of them. 

After years of experience I concluded that relentless insistence on vigorous litigation reflects a human failure to be able to arrive at a wiser consensus, compromise, and peaceful coexistence.

Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Dick Cavett/Blue Fin/New York/February 19, 2010

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Dick Cavett can tell a great story. The best ones center on his long friendship with Groucho Marx, who he met after the funeral of playwright George S. Kaufman.  In one, Groucho was about to introduce his brother Chico to Tallulah Bankhead, the reigning Queen of Broadway and daughter of then-Speaker of the House William Bankhead. To understand Chico Marx (which is pronounced Chick-o), he was a profligate skirt chaser, vaudevillian, gambler, and orchestra leader whose wife knew that he slept with anything that moved.

Tallulah Bankhead, who was at the start of her career, was no slouch herself in that department, but few knew it yet. She was an attractive and wild force of nature, the kind of tornado that took out farms, mobile home parks, and marriages of all shapes and sizes. To describe Bankhead to a modern audience, she was the “Mother of all Train Wrecks,” equal parts Paris Hilton, Amy Winehouse and Lindsay Lohan but also had a tremendous talent that spanned four decades on stage and screen. Even after death she lives on, being played by Kathleen Turner and others in various stage productions of her life.

That night, Groucho pleaded with his brother not to sully the reputation of Miss Bankhead and he promised to behave. According to Cavett’s book, the conversation began innocently enough with a simple introduction.

“Miss Bankhead,” Chico said. “Mr. Marx,” Tallulah replied.

Grateful the storm had passed, everybody relaxed until Chico said, “You know, I really want to sleep with you (which was the PG version).” Without missing a beat, she replied, “And so you shall, you old-fashioned boy.”

Now, that’s a story.

Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Lawrence O’Donnell/Chez Mimi’s/Santa Monica/February 3, 2010

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Over the past decade, The Luncheon Society ™ has gathered with many who appear as guests on cable talk shows when we meet in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.

When they join us, you realize just how claustrophobic basic cable can be; when they’re able to open up and talk at length, it’s like uncorking a great bottle of wine, the kind you hide until the time is right. Perhaps the food, drink, and the relaxed nature of those around the table offers a chance for them to share what’s really on their minds, if only television gave them enough time.

They are often rambunctious affairs. Several years ago, it was a Luncheon Society gatherings with Christopher Hitchens  that started at a San Francisco restaurant before we all decamped for an open air bar where everybody smoked, drank, or did a little of both. 48 hours before the 2008 California Primary, Fox Contributor Lanny Davis squared off between the Obama and Hillary Clinton supporters, who were crowded together at either side of a long table at Town Hall Restaurant in San Francisco and went after each other with rhetorically sharpened knives. Last year in New York, where Jimmy Breslin  held court late into the night, he bemoaned Times Square’s lack of hookers and transients with that familiar raspy voice, the one I heard in my mind’s eye, back when I read his columns in The New York Daily News.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell has joined us as a main speaker in the past but also has visited when others spoke in Los Angeles. O’Donnell is a frequent guest on Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and the rest of the MSNBC stable; he often guest hosts.

Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Temple Grandin/Morton’s Steak House/Los Angeles/1.12.10

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Author’s note.  The HBO movie starring Claire Danes as Dr. Temple Grandin debuts next month and we had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with her again in Los Angeles.  It was a memorable visit from a truly amazing person. Having a co-worker who has two brothers who are autistic, you realize just how amazing her journey has been. Below are the notes from the San Francisco gathering with Dr. Grandin that took place in the fall of 2009.

The world is a different place when seen through the eyes of Dr. Temple Grandin.  What makes Temple Grandin special is that as a high functioning autistic, her neurological condition has enhanced her study of animal behavior; she currently is one of the best in her field globally. As an Associate Professor at Colorado State University, roughly 50% of the beef that shows up on your plate came through improvements that she has made to the process of livestock management. Dr. Grandin is also one of the most compelling advocates for Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome because she has made career of overcoming obstacles that have been placed in her path.

Dr Grandin has written several New York Times best-sellers, including, “Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals” (with Catherine Johnson); “Thinking in Pictures, My Life with Autism” (with Oliver Sacks); “Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior” (with Catherine Johnson); and “The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s.” Continue reading