“I have been in Hollywood so long that when I arrived I was ‘artificially hip.’ Now…I have one.” -David Weiss, Was (Not Was)
I enjoy “playing Hollywood” in the Los Angeles area. In my own personal “star search,” I dig seeking out opportunities to visit and patronize places frequented by paparazzi and celebrities. There are plenty of vaunted showbiz streets and spots to swing with the stars, sit and sip, or stare and shop. Most of which are well-documented by appearing in movies, television shows, gossip magazines, and in movie stars’ own Instagram photos. L.A. is rich with Hollywood history and intrigue, so my latest foray was to entertain my intrigue in infamous yet bucolic Brentwood, the suburban Los Angeles neighborhood that sets the stage.
Brentwood Country Mart with a Pop Music Star
The Brentwood Country Mart, a cozy little shopping village created in 1948 near Santa Monica still provides neighborhood services such as a post office, barber shop and shoe repair, but it also draws movie stars such as Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Dern who eat Reddi Chick rotisserie chicken in the open-air courtyard and pick up cheeses and chocolates. Old Hollywood came, too, including the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory Peck, and Shirley Temple Black.
David Weiss cannot be considered “old Hollywood,” but he made a couple of aging showbiz jokes when I talked with the pop-music star of the 1980’s band Was (Not Was) at the Brentwood Country Mart.
“I have been in Hollywood so long that when I arrived, I was ‘artificially hip.’ Now…I have one!” joked Weiss, who has the stage name David Was with the band that recorded four top-10 hits worldwide such as Walk the Dinosaur and Spy in the House of Love. Weiss, 68, said the band doesn’t perform these days but still gets offers. “We were offered gigs in our dotage that I turned down because doing an 80’s cruise to the Caribbean would make me prefer to walk the plank.”
Weiss, a prolific writer whose hit Walk the Dinosaur and its candy bar lyrics were covered by Queen Latifah in the latest Ice Age sequel, has also created soundtracks for television shows The X Files and Fox NFL Sunday. He sat with me at a diminutive picnic table in a Brentwood Country Mart narrow passageway near Christian Louboutin and Frida Taqueria dishing delicious dollops of philosophy. Listening to him wax on about aging was like being read to by a poet oracle who was writing out loud about past showbiz glory.
“Once you’ve had that moment in the sun – that heyday when they need to hang their hat on you – you might as well be in a crypt answering to the name Guy Lombardo,” said Weiss, who said he crawled into stardom through West Hollywood launching pad clubs like The Starwood nightclub and Troubadour. “But there is a half-life to it during the analog age when they were spinning records and selling them on radio. If you had a national hit song you could keep your kids in school versus today when a stream is worth a penny on the dollar. Unless you’re Taylor Swift you’re not streaming enough to get down the Mississippi. You have to have a huge success just to pay the light bill. You’re not buying an island like Marlon Brando.”
How to Succeed in Show Business
The secret of succeeding in La La land, then?
“Me and an old school chum Don Was got lucky to stay around long enough to have a major record company, rich with dough from the CD era, sign us and throw good money after bad,” joked Weiss.
But he got more detailed when I pressed him for specific advice.
“How to succeed when moving to L.A.? Lie, cheat or steal to get yourself into the mix. Deception is as good as earnestness. Here’s my enduring metaphor for how life works out here: It matters less who you are and what substance you’re made of than the position you take between the light source and the wall which is going to cast a shadow that may be an illusory image of yourself but which is going to be taken on faith to be who you are in a town that lives on appearances and surfaces. Take advantage of it if it is offered to you and they think your shadow is outsized. Say ‘no’ to nothing. If they ask you, ‘Can you do this?’ you quiver for a moment and say, ‘Of course. Yes.’ I found myself painted into corners. I had to paint my way out by hanging around long enough to make some friends.”
One helpful relationship came from pickup basketball games with NBC’s president Brandon Tartikoff, and though Weiss, a Midwesterner, was self-effacing, it was easy for me to hear how Frank Sinatra Jr. loved his lyrics and proudly performed their Was (Not Was) collaboration Wedding Vows in Vegas on Late Night with David Letterman.
“Frank Sinatra Jr. lived in the trenches of second tier showbiz. He was a gentleman and a tragic figure because he was burdened with the worst name in history,” said Weiss. “But he came in and told us he liked the song. He said, ‘Like Henry Mancini said, “If it ‘aint on the page it aint on the stage.”’
Weiss and Was (Not Was) had many creative turns with stars such as Leonard Cohen, Ozzy Osbourne, Kris Kristofferson, and Mel Torme, whom Weiss said he first met after catching the “Velvet Fog’s” act at the Hollywood Bowl.
Brentwood Country Club
Our conversation turned from the Hollywood Bowl to the Rose Bowl. While I could have listened to Weiss tell entertainment industry tales all day, we mixed in some golf talk, too. After all Weiss, in addition to penning articles for such august publications as the New York Times, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal, bylines by Weiss can be found in golf magazines such as Links, FORE, and Golf and Travel. The University of Michigan alum penned an article called “Where to Play Golf Before or After the Rose Bowl” for NBC’s GolfPass.com despite his Wolverines not trodding that turf in nearby Pasadena for well more than a decade.
A conflict precluded us from teeing it up at my next stop, Brentwood Country Club, the golf club that opened in 1948 – the same year as Brentwood Country Mart – and is less than a mile away.
Brentwood is a beautiful neighborhood walking golf course with classic design features. Patrick Casey, the club’s amiable PGA professional and assistant general manager described the club’s place among L.A.’s glam golf scene as a family-friendly choice. A near golden age history of haunts includes the likes of Marylin Monroe (seen photographed in 1947 on the ninth green); comedic actor Don Adams; and comedians Joey Bishop and Don Rickles.
Membership, as I also understood it, now includes Hollywood agents, producers, and the screen stars such as Max Baer Jr., who played “Jethro” on The Beverly Hillbillies. Baer is known to partner with Roger Camras, who at age 81 regularly shoots his age. That should be no surprise because the extremely skilled player, who has won major Brentwood Country Club tournaments in eight different decades, shot his age at 69, too. I bet Camras gave PGA Tour stars Arnold Palmer and Peter Jacobsen one helluva match the day he played with them at Brentwood.
The newest celebrity athlete in town, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford visited Brentwood Country Club shortly after I did and I am sure got stars in his eyes for this charming course.
Curb’s in Brentwood
When I pulled my decidedly unglamorous rental car out of Brentwood Country Club’s driveway I noticed the street bordering the golf course was closed off with a barricade. I snuck a peek down Burlingame Street to see white trailers and trucks parked on the street. I pulled over, parked my car, and very, very casually asked the officer at the barricade why the street was closed?
“Oh, they’re shooting a TV show,” he said.
Feigning interest, I followed up by asking which one?
“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” he answered.
As a rabid fan of Larry David’s HBO comedy series I’d hit the Hollywood jackpot but calmly (I think) asked the officer if I could walk down the street?
“It’s a public street so you sure can,” he answered, and then added, “If anyone gives you any trouble you let me know.”
I felt a little self-conscious as the only “civilian” pedestrian walking down the sidewalk amongst all the “Star Wagon” trailers and production trucks, camera crews, light and sound technicians, racks of wardrobe clothing, and even caterers set up in front of 657 S. Burlingame, the house that serves as Jeff and Susie’s house in the show. (Larry’s house in the show is around the corner at 585 Moreno Ave.) Production activities occupied the front lawns of the homes on either side.
I stood and watched a lot of what looked like fiddling around – which is what film and television productions mainly are. It was exciting, though. When I lifted my phone to shoot some photos, one of the security staffers very politely approached me.
“Excuse me, sir. You’re perfectly entitled to stand and watch. And you can do what you want. But the producers are a little sensitive about photo-taking. You can do it if you like, but they’d prefer you not,” he said.
I understood perfectly. My taking pictures or posting or publishing photos of a scene being shot could spoil the magic of watching the show for someone who enjoys it. I didn’t want to reveal any spoilers or destroy the “suspension of disbelief” viewers need to fully enjoy a show. I was as respectful as a “journalist” can be, and, rather than be a heartless paparazzi, I was content to join “Team Larry David” instead and resist prying too far with my lens. It made me feel part of the production and in on the secret I’d stumbled across.
I can contentedly leave out the Curb Your Enthusiasm scene I witnessed but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the connotation that comes to mind when those from outside town hear the name Brentwood. And while I gave you the address for Larry David’s fictional home, I think, out of respect, I will omit the more infamous location Brentwood will forever be undeniably associated with, and that is the Bundy Drive condo of the late Nicole Brown Simpson, who was murdered along with Ron Goldman, near the front porch in 1994.
Bundy Drive, just a block from the golf club and the Larry David locations, is a fairly busy thoroughfare in an otherwise quiet neighborhood. You can find it, if you want to. People still do – and there are some tours that will point out the spot (though it is now largely obscured.) I’m not saying you won’t find the alley at night – the spot where the killer climbed the gate to gain entry – to be eerie, because you may. But you may also feel a little ghoulish and find yourself speaking in hushed tones, too.
For what it’s worth Nicole had also previously rented a home on the cross street of Gretna Green – a house Kato Kaelin, the house guest who testified in the trial, also subsequently lived in.
I was surprised to find Brentwood’s only visible reference to these tragic events at a popular Italian restaurant a couple blocks away on San Vicente called Jon & Vinny’s. I noticed a specialty pizza named “The White Bronco” appeared on their menu for $18.50. The ingredients were caciocavallo, fior de latte, whipped ricotta and garlic.
Those who remember watching the drawn-out arrest of stabbing suspect O.J. Simpson via helicopter news cameras on national television will recall the actor and former NFL player fled the police in a slow-speed chase in a…white Ford Bronco.
Too soon? Ever?
A more recent and more, shall we say, tasteful Hollywood homage for Jon & Vinny’s was when they partnered with the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit and served their carry-out orders in chess board pizza boxes – and 32 chess pieces for customers to play on the box – which was also emblazoned with a QR code link to the show’s site.
Brentwood is a site worth seeing.