Tag Archives: The Luncheon Society

The Luncheon Society/The 2011 “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know” Woman’s Reading Series/ Jamie Rose, Samantha Dunn, Carrie White, Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, Christina Haag and Jillian Lauren/ Los Angeles—Napa Valley Grille October 20, 2011/Manhattan—Prime House/November 10, 2011

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Lady Caroline may have described Lord Byron that way but it certainly fits The Luncheon Society.  We had two wonderful luncheons on both  coasts.   These are smart women who are great writers.

In Los Angeles and New York, we convened  at locations we know and enjoy; Napa Valley Grille  in Westwood and Prime House in Manhattan.   Jamie Rose, Samantha DunnCarrie White and Hunter Drohojowska-Philp joined us in LA; Jamie, Christina Haag, and Jillian Lauren joined us in NY.

The History. Back in 2008, I called a couple of LA writer friends  to have a reading.  Joining us around the table at La Terza were Erika Schickel, who read from just-published memoir, “You’re Not the Boss of Me,” a whip-smart tome on being a hip parent. Anne Beatts , a pioneering writer who became the first woman to helm The Harvard Lampoon and the first female writer at Saturday Night Live, read from her unpublished memoir about attending a funeral with John Belushi.  It screams to be published. Writer and memoirist Eve Brandstein, who with Anne has created a ton of stellar television, read poetry and reflected upon her childhood in New York City. Rachel Resnick read from the galleys of her soon-to-be-published memoir titled “Love Junkie,” a harrowing life story of somebody coming to grips with her own demons as a love and sex addict. Rounding out the group was our old pal Colleen Wainwright, an LA blogger extraordinaire who did something wonderful in 2011 by raising $50,000 for Writegirl, an LA nonprofit which partners women writers with at-risk teenage girls for creative writing workshops and one-on-one mentoring.  It was part of her milestone birthday; when she exceeded the figure, she gladly shaved her head as a crowd of friends cheered.   All five are equal parts vibrant, brilliant, and cool.

For some reason, I never got around to scheduling another “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know” (MBDTK) gathering until I sent out a few emails in late summer 2011. Eve Brandstein was directing a play in Los Angeles and mentioned that one of her actors, Jamie Rose,  was ready to publish a memoir on how Tango allowed her to “let go.”   A few phone calls later and we had luncheons scheduled in Los Angeles and Manhattan; I hosted the gathering in Los Angeles and Eve ran the show in Manhattan. Jamie was critical in building out the roster of writers.

Perhaps The Great Recession sapped the marketing guts from the publishing industry because good writing remains unsupported and stillborn on the shelf.  So The Luncheon Society will step in and do what it can. As we move forward, MBDTK will be one of those fun gatherings, the kind where calendars are kept open and people disappear down into our world of “Adult Drop-In Daycare,” a Luncheon Society stylemark since 1997. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Criminologist David Kennedy on his memoir “Don’t Shoot” on how to decrease urban violence/San Francisco-Palio d’Asti/October 4, 2011

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Most people view urban crime from the safety of the own living rooms. However, criminologist David Kennedy grabs the problem by the scruff of the neck and has created a template, if deployed correctly, might end the cycle of violence that has become commonplace for so many lawless urban neighborhoods. 

The Luncheon Society has looked at crime  (its sources and its impact) though a number of authors.  Our friend and sociologist Peter Moskos published a book detailing his field world as a police officer in Baltimore’s roughest neighborhoods, which was seen in HBO’s The Wire titled, “Cop in the Hood.”  This year he published a sly polemic titled, “In Praise of the Lash” which takes another look at how we punish offenders.  Time magazine’ Ioan Grillo joined us in San Francisco and Manhattan for a stark conversation about the growth of “El Narco,” the drug-fueled insurgency that is slowly strangling Mexico’s national sovereignty.

In Kennedy’s book , Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End to Violence in Inner-City America, he pens an impassioned memoir of how his approach had improved the worst of neighborhoods plagued by drug violence.

Crime is down—but where is it up? When you look at FBI statistics, crime rates—including violent crime—continue to decrease incrementally.  However, this is not the case in some of the roughest urban communities, where an African-American male has a 1:200 chance to getting killed by gunfire. It has devolved to the point where some first responders may think twice before entering into some of the neighborhoods.  Traditional law enforcement of governmental assistance has failed to stem the tide and as a result, these neighborhoods are essentially written off by municipal leaders. As a result, the festering cancer of criminal behavior becomes multigenerational in scope with no jobs, no future, and no hope.

 

What David Kennedy has done—even though he is an academic as director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice—is to immerse himself into the worst of the neighborhoods and figure out answers to build solutions. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Stacy Schiff on “Cleopatra, A Life”/San Francisco—Credo September 12, 2011

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There’s a great movie line that says, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” However, when looking at Cleopatra, her life outpaces any legend.

In contemporary terms, Cleopatra is seen through the refracted lens of Elizabeth Taylor’s Hollywood portrayal.  Bits and pieces were added into the stew throughout the centuries, with generous helpings from Plutarch and William Shakespeare. She wasn’t the classic beauty as seen through modern eyes, but she had the guile and smarts to outmaneuver her enemies and build an empire.  It kept her in power for a generation and launched the persona that remains until this very day.  

Unlike many leaders of antiquity, there are no source documents for Cleopatra’s reign or even her life. Only one word from Cleopatra has survived the centuries, “Genesthoi,” which means, “Let it be done.”   The ensuing stories were written by Cleopatra’s enemies during and after her fall written by Romans and were largely fiction. They portrayed her as the libidinous tramp who used her wiles to entrap and weaken the two main leaders of her generation, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.  

 

Cleopatra, A Life,” written by Pulitzer Prize Winning author Stacy Schiff, takes us into her world by compiling the source documents of that era to give us the best understanding of her times. Wedged into history three centuries after Alexander the Great but only a generation before the birth of Christ, Schiff constructs an ancient world and examines her life—right up to her death. When the facts present two alternatives, she explores them all in great detail. Did Cleopatra die of an asp bite to the breast or by drinking a cocktail of poison? Is either just another piece of fiction that embellishes the legend but hides the fact? Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Dean of Film Writers, Richard Schickel, on Martin Scorsese/San Francisco—Fior D’Italia/May 9, 2011/Los Angeles—Napa Valley Grille/September 10, 2011

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It is fair to say that “Conversations with Scorsese,” places one of the best film writers aside one of the industry’s best directors. Over the past four decades, Martin Scorsese has delivered gem after gem on the screen and having our old friend Richard Schickel talk us through his career helps to better understand his artistic genius.

Thankfully, Scorsese likes to talk. We’re ever thankful that Schickel loves to ask penetrating questions. Together they create a 400 page oral history that sums the director’s career thus far. At the end, you have the feeling that you’ve been riding shotgun at every location shoot; that you’re there at every tortured edit; and you’ve been present for both the good and the tough times.

For the past four decades, spanning his tenure at Life, then Time Magazine, and now at Vanity Fair, Richard has given readers the best seat in the house when it comes to the movie industry.  When he joined us last year for lunch at Chez Mimi in Santa Monica to discuss his book about Clint Eastwood’s relationship with Warner Brothers, it was oneHollywood story after the next. On a sunny afternoon in May, Richard delivered in San Francisco and did it again in early September in Los Angeles.

 

Richard Schickel brings them alive.  Nobody knows the industry like the Dean of Film Writers.  Richard has written over 40 books, created over 40 films, and has narrated the filmmakers comments for countless DVDs. His film, “You Must Remeber This,”  serves and the unofficial history of Warner Brothers. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Veteran Political Analyst Jeff Greenfield on his new book “Then Everything Changed”/Los Angeles—Napa Valley Grille/July 9, 2011

 

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Jeff Greenfield likes to say, “History doesn’t turn on a dime; it turns on a plugged nickel.”  As a veteran political commentator for ABC, CBS, and CNN, Greenfield makes the case that we underplay the role of dumb luck and random chance in current events. 

In his new book Then Everything Changed,”Greenfield builds three very plausible scenarios of how minor shifts could generate far reaching results in American politics.

We tend to look at history from the resultant first and walk backwards to explain events in rational detail; C = A + B. However, the events are so fluid and so ever-changing that a close election could go in several different directions because of movements that take place below the waterline.

 

Kennedy vs. Nixon; Nixon vs. Kennedy. When we look back to the race between Nixon and Kennedy, the narrative always favors the Massachusetts Senator because he won.  However, a simple trip here or a stumble there and John Kennedy would have returned to the Senate; his narrative would have been “too much, too soon.”

Likewise, President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt  in Miami Beach in early 1933, a month prior to taking his oath of office. Had he stood a foot to either side of the microphone while giving an impromptu speech, he would have been shot and killed before delivering his first oath of office. Instead the bullet found its way into Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak’s  chest, who was in town and shaking FDR’s hand. Cermak died en route to the hospital; his last words to FDR were, “I am glad it was me and not you.”  Had FDR died, his Vice President—a very conservative John Nance Garner —would have been a very different leader and would have killed any New Deal legislation. The Great Reforms that built The Greatest Generation would have died stillborn. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/John Callas, JPL Project Manager for Mars Rovers on Spirit, Opportunity and the Future of Exploration on the Red Planet/Los Angeles-Maria’s/June 26,2011

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It is the most amazing cell phone; it gives the term “long distance” a whole new meaning.  Each morning, Opportunity the remaining Mars Rover, sends a text to John Callas’s  cell phone that shows its movements during the previous Martian day or “sol.” Even though the two planets are separated by an average distance of 142 million miles and the rover crawls at a speed of 1 cm per minute, it is always good to keep a close eye on your children.

 

 

Callas, who has been the Project Manager of the Rovers since 2006, continues to drive breathtaking discoveries on only a shoestring budget. Opportunity and the now-silent Spirit have revolutionized unmanned spacecraft and robotic exploration in ways few could have imagined a decade earlier. It was always understood that man would have to step foot on Mars to be able to grasp its terra firma, but no more. Thanks to these two rovers, we now know that Mars is not the dead rock concluded by both Viking missions in the 1970’s. Not only was Mars alive with oceans of ancient water, but thanks to the subsequent Phoenix lander, samples of the polar ice cap were melted and water vapor appeared; where there is water, there is often life. We also know that the real action surrounding life on Mars might take below the surface, something that only patient and sustained exploration could unearth.

Space flight has long been a fixture of The Luncheon Society. Apollo Astronaut Rusty Schweickart has joined us on several occasions for conversations about Near Earth Objects and in January 2007 brought along Mercury Astronauts Wally Schirra,  Scott Carpenter, and Soviet space pioneer Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space. Mission Control head Christopher Kraft talked about the challenges of a manned space flight to the Moon and the herculean challenges to Mars. Former NASA Ames head Scott Hubbard joined us twice, first for a conversation about rebuilding the Mars programs after the failure of the late 1990’s and later with Nobel laureate Doug Osheroff, to help us understand the managerial failures that took place as members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board  after the shuttle disintegrated in the upper atmosphere. The Principal Scientist of the Mars Rovers, Steven Squyres joined us in San Francisco and most famously  in Los Angeles where Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, sat with us around the table.  A longtime friend of The Luncheon Society, John Callas has joined us at two intervals during the Rover’s time on Mars, first in 2006 and now in July 2011. Continue reading

Jennifer Grant on the grace and charm of her father, Cary Grant in “Good Stuff”/SF—Credo May 18, 2011/Manhattan—Danal June 20,2011/LA—Napa Valley Grille August 19, 2011

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First a great story.  Hale Boggs, a great friend of The Luncheon Society for so many years, relayed a tale of his former mother-in-law who was stranded on an LA freeway.  As she stood outside of her car, a Cadillac pulled up from behind and an elegant white haired man with glasses emerged out from the driver’s side.

“Darling,” he said, “I might not be from the Auto Club, but perhaps I can help out in a pinch.”  He then pulled out the jack, changed the tire and wished her well, before getting in his car and driving off.  It was Cary Grant.

It’s a wonderful LA story, an extra delight when the person exceeds persona, epecially when that persona belongs to Cary Grant.

 

Better still, there is another story that is seldom seen: Daughter of two Hollywood icons grows up normally and cherishes her parents.  In a world where overgrown tabloid celebrity has become commonplace, it’s rare for someone to describe their childhood with a sense of gentle modesty.

With that, Jennifer Grant joined The Luncheon Society in San Francisco at Credo,  in Manhattan at Danal, (with special thanks to our friend Haviland Morris who hosted) before heading off to our LA-home-away-from-home, Napa Valley Grille, for a delightful conversation about his role of a lifetime—a full time father.  

“With the birth of his daughter,” she writes, the sixty-three-year-old Cary Grant, still urbane, athletic, sublimely handsome, and always self-effacing, retired from the screen to devote himself to his longed-for child.”  At a time when most were looking forward to their first social security check or Medicare benefits, Cary Grant took this role as professionally as he prepared for any film. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/True Prep author Lisa Birnbach/San Francisco-Fior D’Italia/September 22, 2010

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Behind every well-written satire lies a fountain of truth.  In 1980, Lisa Birnbach, then a young feature writer for The Village Voice , found herself working on a project 38 other writers had rejected.

It would be a small book with Workman Publishing, a quirky imprint in Manhattan known more for their calendars and a series of successful “How To” books.  Yet, in the course of ten short weeks, Lisa created what became a field guide for a declining species of an American subculture: preternaturally wealthy WASPS, their tribal customs, behaviors, etiquette, families, and mating rituals. However, as a graduate of Brown and Riverdale Country School , it came as second nature.

When it hit the shelves in October 1980, the initial printing redefined modest. The book cost $4.95 and was sold only in soft cover.  However, 2 ½ million copies and 41 printings later, The Official Preppy Handbook  remained on the New York Times Best-Seller list for 38 weeks. Critics raved and Birnbach demonstrated a sharp eye for social commentary and biting satire. In fact, The Official Preppy Handbook (OPH) remained Workman Publishing’s best-selling title until the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” series came along in 1984.  

For a book that has been out of print for a quarter century it has aged rather well, like those featured within its pages.  Copies can be purchased on eBay for as high as $150 and signed copies (like mine) are sold for as much as $250 to $300. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/ The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta on Google and the Media/Manhattan-The Century Club/June 3, 2010

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In 1998, Ken Auletta sat down with Bill Gates for a extended New Yorker interview while Microsoft was on trial for allegedly violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.  At issue was a question as simple as it was complex: had Microsoft abused its de facto monopoly within the PC operating system market?

During the interview, Auletta asked Gates “what scared him, what kept him up late at night?” The answer surprised Auletta because it ripped away the veneer of paranoia that pervaded every corner of high tech. As Gates grabbed a Diet Coke for himself (and neglected to offer one to Auletta) he was worried about innovations he could not see.

 

Gates believed Microsoft could handle Apple, Netscape, or Yahoo; it could acquire what it could not crush. However, Gates worried that somewhere, some place there were a couple of young kids in a garage inventing something that would render Microsoft obsolete. 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