w/ Rachel Leigh-Cook, House of Blues

w/ Rachel Leigh-Cook, House of Blues

w/ Jackie Chan, Brett Ratner, Dennis Miller & Kirk Douglas

ON THE DAY of my first Hollywood premiere, I wake to the whir of production vans outside my window. My pregame plan to chill by the pool before sparring with the shooting gallery on Rush Hour 2’s red carpet is preempted by none other than ABC-TV, who picked my home away from home, the cool Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills, to film a commercial for "Monday Night Football."
Great. Just what I need first thing in the morning. A crew of beer-fed jocks mucking up the landscape. As grunts set up a shot inside the aqua moderne dining room, I sneak a poached-egg-and-salmon breakfast on the patio. Atmosphere (extras) arrives: Bikini-ed B-models and Hawaiian-shirted hairballs loll strategically around the pool swizzling fake Mai-Tais. It’s beginning to look a lot like South Beach. But, hey, this is Hollywood. I’m finding out the Avalon’s one of the busiest locations in town. Marilyn Monroe stayed here. So did a star-struck "Lucy" when she checked in with "Desi" on her first trip to Hollywood. No wonder I’m channeling Lucy’s jitters.
Enter William Holden. Waitaminute. Isn’t that Dennis Miller in a suit warming up the crowd? Sure is. Not a fan of pigskin, I forget HBO's wry host moonlights as a network sports yak. Hey, I'm a girl. I'm allowed. But, I’m not allowed to snap his candid. I’m standing with the publicist, and it’s too early to play Jump Through Hollywood’s Hoops. Besides, when I pass Miller mulling in the lobby coddled by crew, he seems cocooned from the public as if shrink-wrapped.
Enter Bar Marmont's "host-esse" Constance wearing Speedos under his jeans. Pool scene scrapped, I say. Change of location. We nix Rodeo Drive for lunch and drive to Fred Segal on Melrose.
Four o'clock, back at the Avalon, it's still Monday Night Football. Time to get into Rush Hour 2 Opening Night wardrobe. The Outfit: Perf for the paparrazzi line of scrimmage -- Blue Moon’s rhinestone glam-war camo sheath from Rampage and DKNY suede springy platforms. Backup Party Dress: A J Lo-y, tie-dyed, peekaboo thing by Plein Sud ($100, 75% off Saks’ clearance rack) Zip-locked in my Base slate sling camera bag. Hey, when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.
One hour before show time, outside Mann’s Theatre, formerly Grauman’s Chinese: Across the street, a two-block wailing wall of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker fans are barricaded like refugees. On the red carpet, media from Hong Kong to Paris elbow for position. The veteran Hollywood pap, armed to the neck in state-of-the-art digital hardware, size me up, throw shade at my old Canon Elan IIe and beat-up Pentax UC-1 point-and-shoot.
Says one old coot to the other: “Hey, isn’t that the camera you gave your daughter?”
Old white folks never change. Now I know why stars flee from junket-fed, camera-toting men in safari vests. Can I get an amen here? Good thing the above-title credit director Brett Ratner (he dreamed up the $240+ million Rush Hour franchise for New Line), invited me to the VIP party at the Palladium.
After the pre-show dragon dance and Chinese acrobatics (seen it!), stretch limos pull up. It’s show time. All hell breaks loose. I’m 5’6” in heels and three heads behind the front line without a stepladder. Here they come: Jada Pinkett-Smith (Will sneaks in later; ditto for Laurence Fishburne), Eriq LaSalle, Steven Seagal, Robert Townsend, Magic Johnson, the Olsen Twins, Jennifer Love Hewitt, John (Indiana Jones) Rhys-Davies, LL Cool J., Jamie Fox, Kobe Bryant, China Chow, Run DMC, Norman Reedus, Oded Fehr (tall, dark and yummy from Mummy Returns). It’s a smorgasbord of stars: One from Column A; two from Column B.
After taking a few whacks in the side from a 500mm zoom lens dangling wildly from the butt of the pip squeak in front of me, I climb the barricade and cling to a pole like a koala bear so I can shoot over their heads. If I knew I was gonna be pole-dancing, I would’ve taken lessons. I get a hand up from my new best friend, Sandra Jordan. (She plays a cop in Clean Slate.) She’s black; I’m not (I’m Asian). Together we look like the next buddy flick.
“Hey! Whaddya think we’re doin’ here?” yells this she’s-not-wearing-hot-pants-is-she, stuck-in-the-Sixties leftover from Robert Altman’s Nashville shutterbug. “Gimme a break! I got a mortgage to pay!” Wonder if her mother knows what she does for a living.
In roll the headliners: Chris Tucker {“I dunno what the hell you talkin’ about!”), Jackie Chan, Crouching Tiger-ess Zhang Ziyi in a red shoulder-padded Trekkie number, Roselyn Sanchez workin’ it, and step back Brett Ratner with ex-fiancee Rebecca Gayheart in Bo-Peep baby blue.
And, then, it’s over. We snag David Rowe, co-star of Bloodsport IV, the only fine, Nikon-toting, kick-boxing dude in the firing line, and get a drink across the street at the old Roosevelt Hotel (think The Shining). Soon, it’s time to party. Inside the Palladium club, it’s a soul-food-meets-chop-suey free-for-all, done up in Hong-y Kong-y gambling/massage parlor meets Vegas casino kitsch.
I spy a fly Chris Tucker gliding across the room like a sperm cell on a mission. With a phalanx of badass flunkies body-blocking him like Mr. President (his next film role), I squeeze through. Something swats me like a gnat.
“Hey, man...!” says Chris in that funny falsetto. “Don’t do that! Be cool.”
After a hard night of jousting in the trenches, that’s the nicest thing I’ve heard all day. He’s got my vote. Meanwhile, by the bar, Jamie Fox (Ali) and soon-to-be-divorce’ Robert Townsend get busy. I wave to Jamie, now a South Beach regular. “You’re the photographer,” he says, looking cute. His old lady doesn’t seem to think so.
At last call, I try to round up the Miami Beach Ratner clan for the classic group shot. His mom, Marsha, in a tight black “Like A Virgin” tank tee, is in rare form. Trying to get Brett to stand still is like chasing a two-year-old. Or worse, Marty Scorsese. The guy revs like a Ferrari. Paul Sorvino cuts in.
Next stop: Brett’s house, Hilhaven Lodge. I jump in the back seat with Robert Zuckerman, still photographer, and actress/writer Kathy Christopherson. We caravan to Beverly Hills when suddenly, Brett’s limo makes a U-ey on Sunset. Change of location. We catch the tail end of Jackie Chan’s private dinner party at Joss, an elegant mix of Hong Kong starlets and New Line producers. No chop suey here. We’re averted by a champagne, roast-pig-and-lobster buffet and bad boy Jeremy Piven, who raises an eyebrow at a taro-crusted oyster ball. Fade out.
Next day, it’s the Pagoda Suite at Maison 140 with Milestone Pictures’ development head Tajsha Thomas. Continuing our East-meets-West theme, this is the perfect location for girls’ night out. Built in the 30s, silent film star Lillian Gish once owned this quaint three-story and ran it as a rooming house for young actresses. Revamped by Avalon’s Kelly (kwid) Wearstler in cheek Chinoiserie, this rare $99+ bed-and-breakfast sits pretty behind the Peninsula Hotel and is two doors down from Creative Artists Agency (CAA), off Wilshire in Beverly Hills.
Tajsha & I squeak into Mr. Chow’s on a weekend night without a reservation. Hey, we’re allowed. We’re girls. Downstairs, the room is the size of two New York subway cars. We sit at a row of tables behind a tall, long-haired man who looks like a black Salvador Dali. It’s Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire celebrating his wife’s birthday with the family. Minutes later, I see another Hollywood oldie -- Kirk Douglas in a blonde flip ‘do reigning like Custer at dinner for four. I can go home now. On our way out, I give him the thumbs-up.
Epilog. Next day in Beverly Hills, I decide to give CAA a shot and drop off a writing sample. I’m shopping for an agent. My buddy, blactress Sandra Jordan, comes with for moral support. Soon as I say I don’t have an appointment but Terry “Got Her Groove Back” McMillan’s putting in a call for me, the blond receptionist looks at me like I’m speaking Chinese.
“We’re not allowed to accept anything,” she says flatly. “It’ll just get thrown out in the basement.”
“I’ll be back,” I say, like Schwarzenegger. We hoof it over to Neiman’s for a drink at the bar on the top floor in the Men’s Department. Surrounded by haberdashery, I order a margarita-on-the-rocks-with-salt. I gaze out the picture window at the rolling hills of Hollywood. Now, this is a location.

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