Hollywood's unsung heroes
Call them the grunts to the great, the working stiffs to the stars. While millions of people would go to considerable lengths just on the off chance they might catch a glimpse one of their favorite celebrities up close, there are some ordinary folks who routinely spend their time with celebrities and think nothing — well, almost nothing — of it. They’re the lifestylists of the rich and famous, the people who cut Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hair, feed Nancy Reagan’s party guests, tune Jane Fonda’s piano, and tattoo Cher’s body. Here’s a look at, and a little lowdown from, a handful of the lofty laborers who spend their days doing unglamorous tasks for the glam crowd.
Thirty-three years ago, Elaine Young rented one house to ”Shirley MacLaine’s little brother,” Warren Beatty, for $300 a month and sold another to Tuesday Weld for $22,000. Ever since, the flashy partner at the Alvarez, Hyland & Young real estate agency has been regularly rotating the Hollywood homes of such stars as Paul Newman, O.J. Simpson, and Ringo Starr.
Best Challenge: Understanding the stars’ view of reality and realty. ”You have to know what they want, even when they don’t,” says Young. ”And you have to be fast because, to them, their time is more important than anyone else’s.”
Most Intimate Moment: ”I married an Academy Award-winning actor and made two commissions off him,” says Young, who house-warmed with the late Gig Young from 1963 to 1967.
Worst Experience: ”I had the unfortunate pleasure of leasing the house to Sharon Tate that she was murdered in,” says Young. ”It took me a year to get over it. It wasn’t my fault, but the owner didn’t talk to me for 15 years.”
Whether Liz Taylor is planning a wedding or Elton John is having a few pals over for dinner, the first person they call is Tom Byrne. The chef behind La Cuisine has been creating feasts in Hollywood homes since 1988.
Most Rewarding Experience: ”Candice Bergen complimented my bouillabaisse,” boasts Byrne. ”And at the Reagans’, Princess Stephanie found her way into the kitchen to thank me for the chocolate souffle.”
Worst Experience: A downpour during a Malcolm Forbes party for 1,250. ”The kitchens were outside under tents. We were standing in four inches of water, but no one ever knew.”
Funniest Experience: ”We served quail one night, and in a monologue after the dinner, Phyllis Diller said that she had hit bigger things on her windshield. The hostess was absolutely mortified.”
That might be Sly Stallone, Barbra Streisand, and Mikhail Baryshnikov you see sipping espresso on the front steps of the Beverly Hills salon co-owned by Giuseppe Franco and Mickey Rourke.
Biggest Challenge: Creative-coiffing resistance. ”Last season on Empty Nest Kristy McNichol had long hair,” says Giuseppe. ”So I said, ‘Let’s whack it all off!’ She didn’t want to, but I don’t tell her how to act, and she don’t tell me how to cut hair.”
Celebrity Hazard: Mischievous stars. ”Arnold Schwarzenegger was hanging out with Andrew Dice Clay on the front steps, and he got bored. So he decided he wanted to cut hair,” remembers the stylist, who was working on the head of a Hollywood heavy hitter at the time. What was the client’s reaction to his Arnie cut? ”He didn’t say a word,” says Giuseppe. ”He was laughing his ass off.”
Gregg Abbott carries a little black bag to the homes of Bob Hope and Jane Fonda, but he’s no Doc Hollywood. ”The best people to work for are the artists who really appreciate the job,” piano tuner Abbott says. ”Unfortunately these aren’t the major star types.”
Job Hazard: Cash-shy clients. Abbott says he wasn’t paid for months after tuning Stevie Wonder’s piano. ”I won’t tune for him again unless I get triple pay, up front, and maybe not even then.”
Celebrity Insight: ”Most people only tune the piano when they are having someone over who plays music and they don’t want it to look like they neglect their instrument,” says Abbott, who was impressed with Jeff Goldblum’s conscientiousness. ”He’s got an orange drum set and other odd instruments. I don’t think he’s an accomplished player; he just likes to take care of them.”
At Sunset Strip Tattoo in West Hollywood, Rockwood indelibly decorates the hides of the likes of Cher and Charlie Sheen. Kiefer Sutherland was so pleased with his kanji symbol (a Japanese character meaning strength) that he had a similar one inscribed on his then girlfriend Julia Roberts as a birthday present.
Specialty: ”I like doing pinup-girl-type stuff, and black graphics,” says Rockwood. He has tattooed a dragon on Lenny Kravitz’s arm and is working on a similar one on the back of Kravitz’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Lisa Bonet.
Biggest Challenge: Romantic reversal of fortune. Rockwood doesn’t think Roberts will return her gift, but when Mötley Crue’s Nikki Sixx broke up with Vanity, he had to come up with a way to alter the ”V” on Sixx’s arm. Solution: ”I added an ‘I’ to the ‘V,’ transforming it into the Roman numeral six.”