I was at Hollywood hotspot Les Deux watching a very famous man sit on the sofa at one of the VIP tables surrounded by his entourage. He didn’t move from the sofa; he didn’t have to; people came to him. During his various conversations, he would reach out and touch the women around him — squeeze a hip here, stroke a bare leg there. Any normal man would have gotten slapped with sexual harrassment…or maybe just slapped. This man went home with a cute little blonde.
“When you tell people in LA that you’re an actress, they pretty much assume you’re unemployed, an idiot and a whore,” said my friend A.
I mentioned a young woman I met in my cooking class. We were going around the room introducing ourselves, and instead of saying ‘actress’ she made a point of saying, “I’m a working actress, I make a living at it.”
A. nodded and said, “Yeah, I always use the phrase ‘working actress’ too.” But what really gets respect is when she mentions the television drama she’s currently on. It’s akin to dropping the name of an Ivy League school, and she’s careful to do it in a way that’s not obnoxious.
A. is smart and funny and well educated. Speaks several languages, which I envy. She’s also drop-dead gorgeous. And single. Her dating life is the kind that involves a highly-ranked professional athlete who flies her out to various cities and an ex-boyfriend I used to watch on a late-night show before he tried the transition to movies (didn’t work out for him). There was a message on her answering machine from a man offering to fly her down on his private plane to Sundance and lease her a car: “Mercedes Benz, Porsche, whatever, you pick, I pay.”
A. said, “Some of these rich guys just treat you like a whore. Like, if he just dangles enough money in front of you, you’ll jump at the chance. Because of course a lot of girls do. They react like this…Oh, really? That’s so cool!” A. giggled and moved her head from side to side in a way I found disturbing: my cool, talented friend suddenly reduced to vacant starlet.
A. threatened, “I’m going to take you out one night so you can see what it’s like. You’ll leave the wedding rings at home. You’ll wear something appropriately slutty. When guys ask you what you do you won’t say you’re a published novelist. You’ll be an actress, dammit.”
“Can I be a working actress?”
She’s worried that she’ll be single forever, never get married, never have kids.
The term ‘nouveau riche’ doesn’t mean much here because most wealth on the west coast is new (with the exception, perhaps, of a few bluebloods in San Francisco). But if you don’t see that dichotomy of old money vs new money, you do see different kinds of wealth that seem to oppose each other. Put a dot.com multibillionaire in a club like Les Deux and nobody who doesn’t know him already is likely to give him a second look. He makes no flash. No attempt to command attention. Laid-back, casual, chatting with a few people in the corner. Discreet and philanthropic. (“The secret to happiness really is giving,” someone announced at a recent dinner. The extraordinarily successful dot.commer sitting nearby said casually, “I don’t think so. I give every day, as a matter of course. I wouldn’t say it makes me happy.”) They might make a comment about how they feel “grossly unhip” walking around in Miami Beach because they’re the only ones there in khakis and running shoes, but they don’t care enough to bother to change.
And then there’s the trust fund kid in the black Gucci shirt, who scores a lot of ‘swag’ at entertainment events but doesn’t seem to have an actual job. Or goals, other than a mild vague one that has to do with getting famous, since fame in this town outranks even wealth. So maybe he’s ‘trying’ to be an actor, even takes acting classes, driving there in his latest newest Porsche. He hangs out a lot. He gets into Hyde*. He’s not necessarily a bad guy. You look at his life or the life of his parents and it seems an empty wealth, devoid of any real cultural or intellectual achievement or interest in either of these things. It hasn’t even bought them good taste (unless they’ve purchased the services of someone with good taste). The money doesn’t seem that connected to anything — any higher purpose — but just exists to reproduce itself. And the twentysomethings don’t know what to do with themselves, once their schooling, or pretense of schooling, is done — other than party. If they’re lucky, they get to make friends with celebrities. Woo-hoo.
*the small, and thus superelite, club/lounge of the moment