The Famed Beverly Hilton Hotel
In 2009 I moved to LA to see if I could break out of the corner I had painted myself into. Then the economy tanked and so did my work. I was also in a relationship with someone who also fell on harder times than myself. Things were bad. The 99 cent store was the only placed I shopped for months. So I went back to where I began. A tech…
Long time friend and super woman, Rachel Wolfe was the boss of a stage tech company and gave me hours on whatever jobs she had at the famed Beverly Hilton Hotel. (The Jewish clientele of Bev Hills would fawn over Rachel until they realized it was Rachel Wolf with an E, not Jewish, followed by a below-zero, about-face in warmth and interest.)
I was working double time, flying home from a gig performing somewhere around the world, getting into my tech blacks to go push anvils, unload trucks and tear down shows all night long.
Eventually I’d move up the food chain. Spotlight job here, running camera there. I’d get a call, “Hey can you run a jib cam? It’s $300 more than on sticks.” I mean, in theory I knew how to do it. I’d seen it done enough times. Just don’t bang anyone in the head with it and you’re golden.
It was the set up and trouble-shooting of the equipment that I had no idea about. I hadn’t tech’d equipment for fifteen years. So when the TD would say, “Ziggy can you make sure the Z5200 is in the rack?” I’d take a beat, use the power of deduction and reply, “Oh, the big, black thing with all the cords coming out of it? Sure.” Then I’d go stare at the rack for five minutes until I had the balls to quietly ask someone what to do. It was KYW and Janet King all over again. Thank God for kind engineers that took pity on me (on both coasts…)
Eventually I got calls and referrals for the most high profile events. Hand held camera wasn’t the most prestigious but was a favorite of mine. I hung off the ropes shooting Celebrity Boxing with fists just millimeters from my head, concerts with security holding crowds off my back as my images went live, and as mentioned earlier, I was called as the exclusive cam op for Will and Kate at a Technology Summit. It was their first stop in the US after the wedding.
I was eventually brought in as stage manager, tech director, production manager/supervisor, or show director for events with the old and new famous: Morgan Freeman, Barbra Streisand, Harrison Ford, Whitney Houston, Kirk Douglas, Buzz Aldrin, Ziggy Marley, Wanda Sykes, Mickey Rooney, President Barack Obama, and of course it was the hotel where Whitney Houston died; a story and details of which I am privy to. I was asked to share it with entertainment news shows and for this book but I chose not to.
The tough part, working as a tech again, was being in the same room with the people I had co-starred with in the past, opened for, or dreamt of working with. “Hey, Mel Brooks! Great to see you … Who me? Oh — I’m here with, for … on camera two. Enjoy the chicken.” But I was grateful. Without the day job and the friend who gave it to me, I’d have never made it through.
I have always loved tech and have always kept a set of black clothes and a bag of tools in the closet. Understanding tech as well as performance allowed me to be a strong designer and director for my shows along with my clients over the last fifteen years.
Like many historic properties, the Beverly Hilton has to charge a ton of money to clients when, in fact, it is … to be kind, not up to the standards one might expect.
In fairness, when the late Merv Griffin — who I worked for in AC years before — (See: Merv Griffin) sold the hotel to the current owner, he sold a property that was in desperate need of an aesthetic and structural facelift. (He also left his collection of parrots, the last of which are still positioned and tended to in a hallway off the lobby.)
What Merv did not mention was that the historical society would not allow the owners to alter the structure in any way, leaving them with a dated, aging, expensive hotel battling for competitive facilities. This also made it a huge and grueling undertaking for the house production team to facilitate full load ins, set and strikes, rehearsals, unions, labor, fire marshals, press and security when there is a different show at least every other day.
By the way, these technicians had amazing show business careers of their own. One of my favorite friends and most difficult of the techs was “BG” He was a big, bald, gruff guy who was also sweet and funny and everyone’s buddy … except the clients, which was what generally created the problem.
As a sound engineer for numerous rock and roll icons and more recently, Wheel of Fortune and Ellen, he loved music and he loved sound. As far as he was concerned, it was the most important thing in a show. “No audience ever goes home humming the lights,” he’d say.
“BG” passed away a few weeks ago from a heart attack. It was so perfect that the very opening of the service had microphone feedback! I know where ever he was, he was throwing his hands up in the air having a fit.
I worked on numerous events and productions in the hotel’s International Ballroom, home of the Golden Globes, Oscar & Grammy luncheons, concerts, the People’s Choice Awards, royal, presidential, and political summits and every major charity event there was.
It was jaw-dropping the way every celeb you could think of would whore themselves out to participate in events at this historic hotel just to be seen, and rub elbows with the rich. But not all of my moments there were my finest. Like when I dropped a handheld camera during a live award show in front of a table of Hollywood heavyweights including Annette Benning and Warren Beatty. I had no wrangler that night and the cable got caught, pulling the camera out of my hands. The stars gasped as it crashed to the floor. The presenters continued on stage and I knelt down, to not attract more attention, when Zach Galifanakis leaned down to me and giggled, “Just stand right up and start handing out business cards.”
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