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Being Chaz

Being_chaz_bono_own_a_lHonestly, I have been feeling a bit of Chaz-fatigue lately and so I’ve missed all the talk show episodes from Andersen Cooper to Wendy Williams. You can probably find video clips online. Someone on the Yahoo list sent around the Howard Stern transcript:

Then my friend Dave sent me the news story about Warren Beatty & Annette Bening’s transgendered son Stephen’s remarks calling Chaz out for various crimes against the celebrity transgendered.

Oy! There’s only so much time in the day to devote to Cher and her folk. If it’s a choice between Chaz on talk shows and a big new coffee-table book biography on Cher...well, life is choices.

But I was a bit rejuvenated by the World of Wonder update to Becoming Chaz that aired Sunday: Being Chaz. Although it was sad and scary (and ended on a cliff-hanger situation sure to produce future updates), I felt the one-hour doc actually held together with more drama than the first feature length...but this, of course, was at the expense of its characters. And those are my mixed feelin’s in a nutshell about reality shows. But as I'm already hooked into this drama, I have to two things to say:

  1. It's not the fact that Jen drinks that is the main issue in their inability to tie the knot; it's why she drinks. Unless they solve that problem, the relationship will include pain.
  2. Scary haters who make death threats scare the hell of me. Billy, don't be a hero.

According to Current TV’s 50 Documentaries You Should See Before You Die, Madonna’s documentary from 1991, aptly titled Truth or Dare, changed the celebrity-PR-game. To compete in show biz, Madonna set a standard that you must expose your day-to-day dramas to your fans, meaning everyone must do a reality show of some sort to maintain interest. Open access. Or simulated open access. Kind of a harsh theory if it’s true. I can only surmise that Cher must have been grandfathered into the old system which is why she can escape such a vulgar fate beyond the occasional phone calls to Chaz on his reality shows.

But seeing some Cher peripherals is always fun: leave it to Heidi to blow the secret of the ring at the dinner party; and I loved seeing Paulette pressuring the troubled couple to set a wedding date.   

Sonny & Waco

Waco1So you know there's this conspiracy theory about Sonny's death involving his activities as a US Congressman, specifically his involvement in the Waco hearings. People are still talking about it 13 years after his death, as recently as February 2011.

I myself was just plugging in "Sonny Bono" to my new Direct TV's Smart Search in an effort to finally snag his Charlie's Angeles and Murder She Wrote episodes. His appearance on the documentary Waco: Rules of Engagement showed up on my search list so I taped it, figuring I could see him in the movie asking pithy questions during the totally f-'d-up Waco congressional hearings.

I've been thinking about Sonny lately because a) I just did a Cher zine article on 'Sonny without Cher,' reviewing his movies from the 70s and 80s to which I tacked on highlights from his congressional voting record; and b) I'm reading the new Cher picture-bio You Haven't Seen the Last of Me (and highly enjoying it) and I'm up through the late 70s and with all it's Sonny & Cher drama.

In order to locate Sonny's scene of congressional questionings (which you can easily find on YouTube), I had to watch this whole thing on Waco, a story I've spent over a decade avoiding because I didn't want to have to endure the powder-keg tragedy sparked between a group of extreme Christians (they were decoding the Seventh Seal) and two corrupt government agencies, the ATF and the FBI.

And it was all the horror I dreamt it would be.

I watched it though, getting angrier and angrier, waiting for Sonny's entrance. It was a long slog until he appeared, 2 hours and 35 minutes in (that's the time on my Documentary Channel version anyway, including commercials). After hours of a camera on soul-less government congressional faces, not a Waco2trace of emotion and the most headache-inducing comments from Chuck Schumer (who I voted for when I was a citizen of Yonkers, New York in the late 90s) and then the choked-up testimony from one of the few Branch Davidians to escape the inferno (because they had all been gassed to immobility---a fact the FBI admitted), the escapee describes the death-screams of all his friends and you see the first (and only) footage in the movie of a congressman showing any emotion at all. There's real pain in his eyes as he hears about children burning to death. I didn't recognize him until he removes his hand from his face and sure enough, it's Sonny. Not a word he speaks in the whole movie (kind of like Valley Girls). His movie credit comes from these few sections of a reaction-shot of his stricken face.

It's one of the most indelible Sonny images I've ever seen and one I will not soon forget.


141 S. Carolwood Drive, Holmby Hills

Carolwood_aNew book on that fabulous and mysterious house Sonny & Cher owned in the early 70s, bought from Tony Curtis (the second house they bought from Tony Curtis, that is) on Carolwood avenue off the Sunset Strip.

Full article from The Hollywood Reporter


A new book spotlights 20th Century Fox co-founder Joseph Schenck's affair with Marilyn Monroe at 141 S. Carolwood and the separated Bonos' decision to live in separate wings because CBS threatened to cancel their show if either moved out.

"Who'd have thought I'd end up in that house? … Just to say 'Carolwood' is mind-boggling," Tony Curtis said in an interview six months before he died in 2010, recalling the grandest place he ever lived. "Some day, we're going to live right here," Cher told husband Sonny Bono in 1967 the first time they visited the Holmby Hills estate, known for most of its existence by its address, 141 S. Carolwood Drive.

In the impossibly high-priced world of L.A. real estate, the Italian Renaissance mansion has ranked -- from the day it was built at the height of the Great Depression -- as one of the area's most coveted houses. Erected in 1932, the six-bedroom house has been inhabited by 20th Century Fox co-founder Joseph Schenck, Superior Oil founder William Keck, Curtis, Cher and Ghazi Aita, a shadowy businessman who surrounded himself with model-actress-whatevers. It is now in the hands of the widow of Ameriquest founder Roland Arnall, an architect of the subprime mortgage meltdown. "Writing about it was irresistible," says Michael Gross, author of Unreal Estate (Broadway, $30), a look at the uppermost echelons of L.A. real estate. (Gross penned a book about a famed New York building, 740 Park, in 2005.) Beginning with the founding of the neighborhoods that comprise the so-called Platinum Triangle of Holmby Hills, Beverly Hills and Bel-Air, the author tells the story of fame, wealth and social striving in L.A. through the inhabitants of 16 of the area's great mansion

But 141 S. Carolwood Drive stands out for its famed owners and their stories of trysts, broken marriages, dissolution and predatory capitalism. Designed by architect Robert Farquhar (also responsible for Beverly Hills High School), it was commissioned by Florence Quinn, the former wife of department store mogul Arthur Letts Sr., the visionary behind the creation of Holmby Hills...Lots began to sell there in 1925, with enormous mansions springing up on nearly barren hills. Carolwood cost $150,000 and was touted in the Los Angeles Times as the largest residence built that year. Quinn's red-tile-roofed, L-shaped mansion clocked in at 12,000 square feet (big for its time, not large by today's McMansion standards) and sat on four acres of lawns, gardens and fountains. A sweeping staircase still dominates the vast wood-paneled reception hall.

In the mid-1940s, it passed through the hands of Hotel Bel-Air founder Joseph Drown, who sold the house to one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, movie mogul Schenck. "He furnished it in a manner described as spare -- perhaps because he considered the stars, starlets and Hollywood players he filled the place with sufficient decoration," writes Gross of the first president of United Artists and, later, chairman of 20th Century Fox.

Schenck's most renowned decoration at Carolwood was Marilyn Monroe. "Though no one alive can say for certain, it seems reasonably clear that he began an affair with [her] there," writes Gross. "According to legend, she spotted him leaving the studio in his limousine, flashed him a flirty smile and got his card and a dinner invitation in return." She became a regular at his parties, home screenings and poker games, standing behind his chair while he played. Soon, she was living in the guesthouse. She was 21 and recently had been dropped from her contract at Fox, with only a few small movie roles under her belt.

Schenck sold the house in 1956 to Superior Oil's Keck, who added an indoor swimming pool and gold bathroom-sink fixtures shaped like oil derricks. Curtis bought it a decade later, seven years after his now-classic turn in Some Like It Hot. The actor, writes Gross, "did remember Carolwood as he'd dated [Monroe] when she was bunking in [the] guesthouse." The mansion, then worth $300,000, was a symbol for the actor of finally having made it, trading up through a series of ever-more-impressive houses

...But by that point, the house had intoxicated another Hollywood star: Cher.

"We never knew how or why we got invited to a party at Tony Curtis' house. We'd never met him before," the singer wrote in her 1998 memoir The First Time. She recalls gasping when she and Bono first drove up to Carolwood in 1967. "We've never seen anything like it," Cher told Curtis. He responded: "Come tomorrow. I want to show you my other house."

The couple ended up buying Curtis' previous house, 364 St. Cloud Road in Bel-Air -- now owned by Larry Flynt -- but she told Curtis to let her know if he ever wanted to sell Carolwood. She got her chance in 1972 when he offered it for $1 million. When Cher's lawyer made a lowball offer and Curtis insisted on more, she boomed, "I want that f--ing house!" The singing duo, flying high with The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, reportedly paid $750,000. But their marriage crumbled soon after they moved in when she confessed her love for their guitar player. The breakup was one of the nastiest in showbiz history, and for a year they lived in separate wings because CBS threatened to cancel their show if either moved out.

Cher's taste in furniture was a far cry from her "fur-vested hippie look," writes Gross. Her decorator went on buying trips to Europe, acquiring Louis XIV chairs and an 18th century buffet. "I guess we were trying to appear established. We were nouveau riche, but better nouveau than never," she wrote in her memoir. Cher eventually won the rights to Carolwood in her divorce from Bono. By then, she had already taken up with record executive David Geffen, who helped guide her solo career -- thankfully, his plans (as related in a 1975 Esquire story) to open up the house by installing a pyramid skylight never saw the light. Next up was husband No. 2, Gregg Allman, who entered drug rehab soon after they married. Writes Gross, "Cher would later recall her fury when friends of his snorted coke off her antique table."

Carpet-business owner Ralph Mishkin and his wife, Chase, bought Carolwood in 1976 from Cher for $950,000 and renamed it Owlwood, after the birds that inhabited the estate. "We restored the house completely. It hadn't been well cared for," says Chase Mishkin, now a successful Broadway producer (The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Memphis). "Cher whipped through and covered the walls in the master bedroom with a thousand yards of fabric. It was all pretty unattractive."


Joan Rivers, Cher and Billy Sammeth

JoanREV_FINALSo...this piece of drama all went down last year but I just recently saw the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work on HBO last weekend…so it’s all fresh to me. This is a sad little documentary about show business and aging and workaholism. Yes, showbiz may love the young; but sometimes I wonder if it just isn't obsessed with the new (you can be long as you're new)…which makes it tough for any legend such as Cher or Joan Rivers. 

Rivers has a wall-sized filing system for all the jokes she's ever written, categorized by topic. This type of professionalism and organization impressed me. Anyway, Rivers had been working with Bill (of the Take Me Home liner note's "Billy, I love you Billy!") Sammeth as her manager since before her husband Edgar died (and maybe even far longer). Rivers seemed highly attached to him because he was her only collegue who could remembered her "old days." He was one of the few witnesses to her history. All through the documentary she has trouble reaching Sammeth and, in one tear-filled scene, she decides to let him go.

This was all fascinating to watch because I remembered Cher firing her long-time manager Sammeth in the late 90s and I wondered why. Was he fired for similar reasons? It turns out, he was.

After Sammeth was fired by Rivers, he sued her:

Turns out when Cher fired him, he sued her too:,,615521,00.html

This article compares the two incidents:

And predictably Sammeth was apparently upset about the way he was depicted in the Rivers documentary. Excerpts:

Still, several friends of Rivers’ say privately that Sammeth’s disappearances were something she complained about over the years. They also point out that she didn’t edit the film, and therefore isn’t responsible for how he comes off in it. “She had no approval of anything,” says one friend. “She did not have final cut. It was a movie about her—it was not ‘her movie.’” (Efforts to reach the film’s directors, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, were unsuccessful.)

Sammeth and his lawyer, meanwhile, caution against reading too much into an old lawsuit filed by Sammeth’s other big client, Cher, in which she too accused the manager of not being attentive enough to her needs.

In it, counsel for Cher describes how Sammeth, “unhappy” with life in Los Angeles, relocated to Northern California in the mid-'90s and “attempted to continue the relationship from his home via cellular telephone. Eventually, communications between the parties deteriorated and… Cher terminated the 20-year relationship.”

As Sammeth recalls it, going into the third-person, “With Cher, Billy did not want to become the live-in person in her life. I bought that house on purpose so I didn’t become a prisoner for Cher. You give them almost all of your life, and then as soon as Cher saw that I was going to Northern California, there was a big red flag called abandonment.”

He may have a point. After all, Cher is legendary for firing people, having gone through over half a dozen agents during the 1980s. According to a New Yorker article about Sammeth in 2002, Cher actually fired him once and rehired him four days later. Sammeth thinks the root of the drama between them comes from Cher’s upbringing. “Her mother was married eight times, and twice to the same guy,” he points out.

[Cher is legendary for firing people? Wha?? Doesn’t Cher maintain some impressive long-term professional relationships? Like her costume designer Bob Mackie, her wig-maker Renate Leuschner, her personal assistant Deborah Paull, her choreographer Doriana Sanchez, Billy himself who started working with her in the late 70s? I can’t remember the last news story about a Cher firing. In fact when she fired Billy, it seems significant. And what does Cher’s mom’s marital tendencies have to do with anything???]

“Whatever happened between him and Cher, it was settled amicably,” Lask says. “In this business, people get hired and fired all the time. It’s a peculiar business with peculiar personalities with people who say ‘I love you, doll,’ and then terminate you.”

“I love Joan, I love Cher,” Sammeth says. “I do love them. This is not a bitter manager, he’s an upset manager, he’s angry. I got to a point—what is it? The Equal Rights Committee that said silence equals guilt.”

[Does that statement make sense to anybody?}

I don't know what is more sad, this story or the latest gossip that Cher's album has been pushed back to 2012.