AROUND LA WITH AVA – SUMMER IN LA: CELEBRITIES & CELEBRATIONS — ICONS & INCIDENTS

Ava Antilla by Jonny Kahleyn

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn

Shades of Gray —Linda, That Is  —Dallas Is Back!

Hugely popular in Finland in its first incarnation, the TV show Dallas was iconic.  We will have to wait to see if the reprise here is picked up there, as well.  I must confess, I have become a ‘regular’ for reasons other than the nasty plot lines: Linda Gray is back as Sue Ellen!!!

Linda Gray with others on my patio

While my only personal contact with Larry Hagman (arch villain, J.R.) was bumping ‘chair backs’ with him many years ago at Chinois [Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant in Santa Monica], Linda and I serve on a Board together [Arts Olympus –an arts/cultural support group].  What a lovely, giving, and charming person she is in ‘real life’.  As an actress, she is more than willing to use her ‘elbows’ and to mix it up with the ‘bad guys’.  It will be fun to watch as Linda’s character Sue Ellen runs for Governor of Texas in the new series.

Big Birthdays for Celebrity Landmarks and Hideaways

I was born at a very early age in a very cold place a certain number of years ago—and qualified for a Finnish ‘major’ celebration and inclusion in Suomen Kuvaleheti’s [Finland’s Time] back page ‘mug shots’ this year.  I can remember as a kid looking at that back page of black and white photos of Finns as they aged through the “big” years.  Somehow, those folks looked a lot younger this year.  For this article, I choose to focus on some other ‘LA ladies’ who have worn their years quite well—and, they are older than I.

Warm, welcoming, elegant, pink –with mysterious and charming feminine energy, the Beverly Hills Hotel celebrates its 100 year birthday this year.  If you have been there, you understand why someone described arriving as “…walking into a birthday cake”.  The hotel with its iconic restaurant, The Polo Lounge, is the quintessential Hollywood landmark.

The hotel was built in 1912 –before Finland won its independence.  In the early years, Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers, John Barrymore, and W.C. Fields were frequent visitors, as were Johnny Weissmuller [Tarzan], Joan Crawford, and Katharine Hepburn.  The famous swimming pool and the private bungalows were and continue to be “…if walls could talk” nuggets of Hollywood gossip.

Greta Peck and The Polo Lounge

In my years here and in Finland, I have been fortunate to get to know some really fascinating people.  I have always treasured the time I got to spend with my dear friend, Finnish-born Greta Peck who was the former wife of mega-actor Gregory Peck.  She would tell stories of the desolate landscape surrounding the Beverly Hills Hotel with people riding horses up and down Sunset Boulevard when Gregory and she first arrived in Hollywood from New York!

Greta Peck loved The Polo Lounge.  It was her home away from home, as it was for many others in the movie world.  Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall shot the 1957 film “Designing Woman” at the hotel.

In fact, Greta’s ‘home’ home was just a few blocks up the canyon from the hotel.  She loved to bring guests to The Polo Lounge for a meal.  Arrival there with Greta was a ‘life experience’ as a gauntlet of staff greeted her.  From the valet attendant to the Maître d’Hôtel, she received personal welcomes and bows suitable to the movie star royalty she was.  During dinner, there was no better, attentive service that I have experienced. You truly felt honored to be there in her presence.

Polo Lounge- Ava with friends at a birthday luncheon

Fond Greta memories were triggered recently when another friend’s daughter had a surprise birthday luncheon for her Mom in the lovely garden patio. [I recommend the McCarthy salad, a classic dish named for former polo player/lawyer to the stars, Neil McCarthy.]

The Bel Air Hotel

Bel Air Hotel newly renovated dining terrace

After a two year closure to remodel this romantic hideaway, the Bel Air Hotel is celebrating 90 years.  An oil tycoon and the founder of the residential area now known as Bel Air, Alphonzo Bell, originally built the main structure as his office with stables and a riding ring. The lush Hotel gardens have over 200 plant species.

The Bel Air Hotel has been a favorite escape for celebrities and a venue for Angelenos’ special occasions.  The facility is tucked away in a secluded Bel Air canyon off Sunset Boulevard, across from UCLA.  As a hideaway for the rich and famous, it was used by the Rockefellers and the Kennedys, among many others who still prefer to remain ‘nameless’. Stars seeking privacy such as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Sharon Stone, Tom Cruise, Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Sophia Loren found serenity on the beautiful grounds.  TV anchors and national political figures either ‘miss’ each other or pretend that they have not just seen the other—if you can believe that!

Bel Air Hotel’s outdoor lounge (photo by Ava Anttilla)

With two ‘special’ occasions this year, it was time to check out the new ambiance and cuisine for a lunch and a dinner.  From the outside, the pink exterior [like the Beverly Hills Hotel] welcomes guests with its feminine energy –like a hug from a favorite aunt.  The famous white swans are still on the pond, but….  It used to give both a breath of exhilaration and a sigh of peace as one passed over the bridge into another world of beauty, refinement, calm, and elegance.

Bel Air Hotel's Steak Tartare, Angus Burger and Sashimi Salad

Bel Air Hotel’s culinary delights: Steak Tartare, Angus Burger and Sashimi Salad (photo by Ava Anttila)

Through the years, the Bel Air has been the home of mahogany, leather, and sophisticated genteel  refinement.  Now, the bar, dining room, and outdoor terrace are a strange combination of modern wooden beams, hard surfaces, torch/glass heaters, and an apparent attempt at ‘new’ Hollywood glam.  Some old friends (including descendents of Bel Air’s founder) are so disgusted and heartbroken by these changes they refuse to return.  To me, however, for a chance to eat Wolfgang Puck’s cooking, much can be forgiven. I just close my eyes and taste the food.  Now, if they would just get rid of the horrible soundtrack….

I do miss the elegance, peace, quiet, and calm so apparent and so appreciated by celebrities, Finns, and friends in the days of yore.

Anna Easteden

Anna Easteden by Jonny Kahleyn

Anna Easteden by Jonny Kahleyn

Finland’s Hollywood hope, Anna Easteden, checked in to tell of her summer news and activities:

In addition to remodeling projects in her home and hosting foreign exchange students, Anna mentioned her new role with the actor who plays Eric Forrester in The Bold and The Beautiful, another Finnish favorite television drama.  ‘Eric Forrester’ plays her father in an indie movie in the works.

What a great dramatic actress Anna is, but your humble correspondent would love to play Ethel Mertz against Anna as Lucille Ball. With her gift for comedy and uncanny characteristics, she would be brilliant.

OK…OK… I will let Cathy Bates take the Ethel role so I can get on with writing this column!

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe by George Barris

Marilyn Monroe by George Barris

In 2012 we commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe.  Brentwood resident Marilyn Monroe was known worldwide and she dominated popular culture in her day—and still does.  [Next time you go to Palm Springs, check out the 26 foot statue on Palm Canyon Drive.]   She died in her home on 5th Helena [of the many Helena Streets in Brentwood].  To this day, there is ongoing speculation as to the cause of her death.  She was 36 when she died.  She is buried in a cemetery in Westwood.  You can visit her if you like.

Varpu Lindstrom

Varpu Lindstrom

Varpu Lindstrom

A sad milestone: the passing of a Finnish literary and academic icon. Varpu Lindstrom died of brain cancer on June 21, 2012 at the age of 63.  Professor Lindstom enjoyed a stellar career as a scholar and teacher of History and Women’s Studies.

In one of my particularly vexing legal cases, my familiarity with and admiration of Varpu’s scholarship paid major dividends.  She had written about the unique Finnish ‘piika’ tradition of young women who worked for ‘families of the fortunate’ living with the family as if members of the family even though their role remained as a servant.  Since my case involved Finns, and the facts/ages aligned, I invited Dr. Lindstrom to testify as an expert witness at trial.  Long story short—we won the case and it became precedent California law.

While all lawyers like winning trials and being part of a quotable, precedent case, my real reward was having the opportunity to spend a significant number of hours with a Finn whom I admired greatly.  We had dinner to become comfortable with each other—and spent additional time exploring the relevance of her scholarly insights into the facts of the case.  What a delight she was!  Warm and personable, her facile mind quickly grasped the complexity of the case and the degree of difficulty in explaining a foreign cultural phenomenon to an unfamiliar and skeptical audience.  She smiled with calm assurance as she quietly answered all opposing counsel questions during a brutal attempt at cross examination.  Checkmate!

Varpu Lindstrom being applauded by colleagues

Later, after the trial was long over, Varpu and her equally brilliant husband, Borje Vähämäki (also a renowned scholar and leader in the area of Finnish Studies), came to speak at a Finlandia Foundation event in Pasadena.  What an added pleasure it was to have them for dinner at my home while they were in town.  We sat around the table privately hearing of and enquiring about their research and work in Finnish language, culture, and history.  It was an enriching experience for which I am so grateful.  What minds!

Olympics and 60!!!!

60 years ago, the summer Olympics were held in Helsinki.

1952 Summer Olympics

1952 Summer Olympics

60 years ago, Queen Elizabeth took the British throne.  This is her Diamond Jubilee.  If you watched the opening ceremonies of the current Olympics, you likely saw David Beckham driving the Olympic Torch up the Thames in a motor yacht in the grand caldron ‘lighting’ ritual.  The last time I saw Mr. Beckham and family in celebration was more modest—just balloons, not giant torches.

David Beckham & Family

And, if you stayed up late enough to see the ‘closing’ of the ‘opening’ Olympic ceremonies, you got to hear the assembled masses sing along with Sir Paul McCartney on a “…NaNaNaNa” Beatles modern classic, “Hey Jude”.  You may have even joined in….  Instead of singing, I smiled with recollection of my favorite aunt [see Bel Air Hotel segment] greeting another Franklin Park regular dog walker by remembering his dog’s name, but having to ask to be refreshed on the owner’s name.  His answer: “Paul—Paul McCartney”.

P.S.:  Happy 1st Birthday to Finntimes!!!!

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