from Sandy Needham

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Holidays Dispatch - Los Angeles

Los Angeles is growing on me. I do not take it as seriously as I take New York, but it's winning my respect. Superficiality - a sort of stock-in-trade for some aspects of this movie and television capital - can strike the casual visitor as the city's essence. No. The iconic backdrop bears witness to miles of historic celluloid genius. As in New York, the city is full of talent from everywhere. Past the pretty faces and idealized bodies, there is intelligence and originality, know-how and energy. Some of this talent migrates from New York (Elise, case in point!), but it attunes to this different rhythm, this palmy, sun-lit spaciousness. 

And the clich├ęs about the city are beginning to endear themselves to me!

From OverheardLA:

"How was your audition?"
"You don't audition for a marketing job, Dude."

"I'm telling you, half the population doesn't eat's just smoothies, liquor, protein bars and prescription drugs."

"I'm just scared, it's my first night sleeping at my new place." [in Silver Lake]
"What are you scared of? Baristas and freelance writers?"

Yoga teacher to class:
"If you had Botox in the last 4-6 hours this class isn't safe for you, as your face could move around when we are flying upside down."

"New York is hard on the body.
LA is hard on the soul."

I had nine days in LA with Elise before Newton arrived from his business trip in Asia and we headed to Las Vegas for Christmas. They were spectacular days.

The apartment was decorated for the holidays and warmly welcoming, as always. 

Fluffer and Cashew were welcoming, as well!

Elise and I had tickets to the screening of the new film musical, "LaLa Land," at the Arclight Theater followed by an hour-long interview with the writer/director, Damien Chazelle. His roommate from Harvard, Justin Hurwitz, wrote the music. The stories were fascinating: of their collaboration; of the years getting the film financed and produced; of the inspiration of old musicals and the effort to balance traditions with contemporary culture; of the brief early evening window to catch that light for certain shots. The intelligence of these collaborators shines through the movie from beginning to end. 

I wanted to tell Chazelle during the question period (no chance) that the years of struggle unwittingly timed the film's release to coincide with the country's dark dread over the election results; that the feel-good quality the film exudes brings us palpable relief, the way the old musicals raised spirits during the Depression and WWII. I had to restrain myself again, having just seen the movie a second time, from dancing my way out of the theater!

Costumes from 'LaLa Land' and 'Jackie' on display at the Arclight.
Listening to the soundtrack over and over now reminds me so much of growing up with my three older sisters: the soundtrack of our lives included countless show tunes, most of which we can all sing word-for-word to this day! LaLa Land inspired me to email them about so many old musical memories we love. The list is long.

Elise and I shared Taco Tuesday at La Cantina with Nadja Hoyer-Booth, our old friend from Nyack, NY who has acting gigs all over the place!

We got to meet up with Elise's Brit friend, Kat; always a character.

We loved browsing in the remarkable Skylight Books, then feasting on this cheese platter on the sidewalk under heaters at Figaro Bistrot in the Los Feliz neighborhood.

Rooftop brunch at the bohemian-chic Mama Shelter Hotel made us feel particularly with-it!

"Do you have any food sensitivities?
Not yet. I haven't lived here long enough."

"Hello it's LA...we eat a million tacos, then juice cleanse, eat tacos, juice cleanse."

I had a fascinating lunch with a person I've known of for a longtime, but only became acquainted with recently via FaceBook. Our mutual friend, Lynne Morgan, thought I should see all the great dancing videos Joe Bratcher posts, so encouraged us to 'friend' each other. Joe Bratcher went to my high school, Tulsa Central High, graduating a year before I arrived. With my older sisters at Central, I had seen the musical productions there for years and knew Joe Bratcher as the incredible dancer and eventually, the King of Central High (I was later the queen).

From Central, Joe went to Northwestern University for the theater department; I coincidentally went to Northwestern after that for liberal arts. The next thing I knew about Joe Bratcher was that he was a dancer on Broadway. Soon after I got to New York, Joe had moved to Los Angeles, danced, acted in live theater, made commercials and opened a screen-writing school, which he still runs twenty-five years later. We had discovered on FaceBook that sharing our high school and hometown, our college and Chicago, New York and our passion for dance and writing were just the tip of the iceberg. We share an entire worldview. Lunch together in Los Angeles was inevitable!

We did it up right: martini lunch at Hollywood's Musso and Frank, the place where Marilyn Monroe (and countless others) lunched with producers and directors. We could never have exhausted all the subjects in one lunch - philosophy, the mutual friends we share, the details of our lives past and present - so our endless conversation will get another installment next time I'm in LA. 

Thank you, Joe, for our fancy-schmancy lunch!

Elise and I had tickets to visit The Enchanted Forest of Light at Descanso Gardens. It was quite a chilly night, but we absolutely loved the mile-long hike past a lake and through a high and twisty forest, rendered utterly other-worldly by inventive versions of lights and effects. These were not Christmas lights made in China, but something much more technical and versatile.

We were enchanted, indeed, by minuscule twinkles of reflected light in one installation. Something from the fairies!

We loved the way the branches bent in all directions.

The fields of tulip lights changed colors gradually into all manner of combinations

These lights changed as one stepped from disk to disk

This installation had atmospheric music playing with tonal chimes set off by stepping on the circle of lights surrounding the trunks. It was a hauntingly beautiful experience.

We have no photos that do it justice, but my favorite installation was a Japanese garden surrounding a reflective pond with dozens and dozens of red lanterns hanging and mirroring their glow in the water. 

What a bewitching place to beckon the holiday spirit!

Elise shares my enthusiasm for Frank Lloyd Wright, ever since driving for nine hours across Pennsylvania with me a couple of years ago to see his incomparable Fallingwater house. She took me to see two FLW houses in LA.

Ennis House, in the Los Feliz hills, is only available from the exterior. It dates from 1923, exhibiting Wright's "textile block" design, where pre-cast concrete blocks repeat a relief pattern. The inspiration was Mayan temples.

Hollyhock House at Barnsdall Art Park, from 1919, is also Mayan-inspired. Stylized hollyhocks are evident in the exterior ornamentation, adorned with actual hollyhocks.

It is possible to tour the inside, though the house was just closing at 4:00 when we arrived. Here's a photo of what we regrettably missed:

Barnsdall Park also offers an art gallery, whose timely exhibit was called "Democracy, Citizenship, Freedom." The exhibit was truly engaging.

In this installation, the textiles are printed with the ridiculous configurations of gerrymandered voting districts in certain states that prevent fair elections.

This wall invited visitors to write a sticker saying what citizenship means to them:

Elise had a freelance editing project that was extremely demanding and time-consuming. She was able to click "send" for one segment at the exact last minute before driving the two of the rain (Angelinos are famous for being flummoxed by rain!) to my grandnephew and niece's middle school holiday band concert in Woodland Hills. That meant the dreaded US101 freeway and sitting in ummoving traffic for some time to get on the ramp! We managed to arrive just six minutes into the concert. The level of the students' ability on their instruments was quite astounding, and the chorus presentation was a real boost to the Holiday mood! The bonus was a Japanese teppanyaki-style dinner with my niece April, husband Marty and these two talented and adorable kids, Ryan and Addie, who play ice hockey, piano, horse-back ride, surf, and star in musicals in their spare time!

"Lighting for selfies is so much better on the 5 Freeway than the 405."

"I told my professor I wasn't coming to class today because it was raining."
"What did he say?"
"He said he understood and told me to stay warm."

"The closest thing I've ever had to a religious experience was this one time the 101 was super empty and I thought some type of rapture must've happened."

With Elise so busy with her project, I had a chance to run some errands and visit my shopping mecca: the Hollywood Goodwill store. My favorite LA story of the year comes from that strange visit:

First, I noticed an elegant woman stuffing many items into one of many bags she was hauling around. Then there was shouting as the woman threatened the calmest store employee I've ever seen to get away from her, that these were not stolen items. Eventually, employees led her literally kicking and screaming to the door, through which she fell in a heap with all these stuffed bags around her. I had a ringside seat to the disturbance because I was next in line at the counter...where on the other line a young woman was checking out while a strange, creepy guy was next in line, harassing and insulting her in the most threatening way, while badgering the cashier to let him ahead with his two second-hand items. The calmest employee I ever saw told him no one was allowed to disrespect fellow customers in the store, at which he eventually threw the items down, cursing, and stormed out of the store. As I was leaving, the young woman indicated that she was afraid he'd be waiting for her outside, so I signaled that I would check...

About to pull out of the parking lot - at Goodwill - was a fancy car with a uniformed chauffeur and that crazy guy in the back seat! Go figure.

Elise was able to celebrate Newton's arrival from China with dinner at her cozy-yet-animated neighborhood Italian restaurant, Miceli's. It is a fun and delicious place.

Unfortunately, she had too much work to drive with us in her car to Las Vegas, where Jake and Larissa were awaiting the official family holiday kick-off. She flew in two nights later, exhausted, but with a job beautifully done: interviews between the three stars of the new film, "Hidden Figures," about NASA's black female mathematicians, and current NASA staff.

"He was normal when we moved here...Now he's an inked-up, vegan CrossFit addict who competes in adult obstacle races and thinks he's an Instagram model."

"Excuse me, can I read your palms? You just have a beautiful energy and I could feel it from across the parking lot."
"That's my anxiety disorder."

Teenage daughter to mom:
"Do me a favor, scroll down to the bottom of her Insta and then scroll up to see her downward spiral."




  1. Mark Leavitt had an exchange with Joe B as well. He wanted to convey the trepidation he felt following Joe as Will in Oklahoma. I saw that production as well.

    1. Thanks for the mini-story! Who are you?

  2. Max and I saw La La Land a couple of weeks ago. Although it has been over 15 years since I've been there, the show well described what I remember. Your Goodwill adventure reminds me of a night out to dinner and I was parking in parking lot at a restaurant that was next to a fitness center. The fitness center had valet parking.



Click on left arrows below for Archive Dispatch titles.

Blog Archive