What I kept hearing was that having these high-profile, well-connected friends of Calvin’s as co-chairs would be a big plus when it came to selling tickets, especially those expensive ticket packages. After all, with the event being held at the Hollywood Bowl, we had a lot of seats to fill.
It was decided early on that we would only try to sell the better seats, that is the 3,000 box seats for $350. An additional 400 bleacher seats would be put on sale for $50 each, which would include only the fashion show and entertainment portion of the evening. This left 12,000 unfilled. A major problem for Calvin Klein.
“We can’t let people think thousands of seats as the Bowl went unsold,” said Paul Cunnliffe, Calvin Klein’s representative in Los Angeles.
I saw no way around the problem, if indeed it was a problem.
But Cunnliffe let it be known that empty seats would be too damaging to the CK image. So a plan was devised to camouflage the empty seats, to make it appear as if they had been purposely left unfilled.
“We want to truck in live trees and put them in large, wooden planters, “Cunnliffe announced. “They’ll be positioned close enough together to form a solid green line.” In addition, he wanted to block out the sight line from the parking lot to the entrance of the Bowl by forming a single row of trees on each side of the pathway.
“But that’s an incredible expense!” I balked. Besides, most of our guests are from L.A. They know the Bowl. A bunch of trees isn’t going to disguise anything. They’re donating money to an AIDS charity. Won’t people be disturbed to learn that their money is being spent to rent trees for a few hours?”
As I was to learn, this argument fell on the CK organization like rain on a swamp. In the end, several thousand dollars was spent to rent the trees for just a few hours.
Then there was Calvin’s insistence that his own personal hair and makeup people be flown in—from London, of course. We had only one supermodel in the show—Kate Moss. But somehow the best stylists from New York and Hollywood, who had all volunteered their time and talent, weren’t quite up to the standards CK insisted upon for the other 350 amateur, unpaid models he was to round up for the evening. Who could question the added budgeted expense of two first-class international flight tickets?
Since the show would be held at the Hollywood Bowl, we decided o add a big musical artist to the evening’s program. Calvin had suggested that Lenny Kravitz perform, but when Geffen heard this suggestion he quickly dismissed it, announcing that Tina Turner would be the guest performer. Tina’s autobiographical film What’s Love Got to Do With It had just been a big hit, she was about to launch a tour promoting her new CD, and so she seemed a great choice. Her name would certainly make it easier too sell tickets. Even with Calvin Klein as the honoree, everyone involved worried about the vast number of seats we had to fill.
By April, the show was really coming together. Calvin and his staff were to arrive on Monday, April 19 for a series of meetings at the Hollywood Bowl with APLA, his production company as headed by Paul Cunnliffe, and me. Our first meeting took place on a beautiful spring day at the Hollywood Bowl. Two long conference tables and chairs were set up on that enormous stage, which overlooked lush green trees, lovely ivy-covered walls, and those anxiety-instilling empty seats-all 16,000 of them! I was the first to arrive, just before 9 a.m., and one by one as the others appeared, the excitement began to build. Half an hour later, a black Lincoln Town Car made its way up the long, winding path off Cahuenga.
“They’re here!” shouted a member of CK’s staff. I took a deep breath and headed out toward the parking lot to greet them.
Calvin and Kelly. Tan and scrubbed—very California, I thought, especially for couple of New Yorkers. They looked good together, too, very warm and friendly. He wore khaki pants, a white polo shirt, and tennis shoes. She was quite pretty in her simple white sundress.
As soon as I began my introductions, I couldn’t help but notice the Klein’s chauffeur, he wasn’t your usual Hollywood rent-a-driver variety. Rather, he had impeccable manners and dressed very formally as I imagined an English butler played by John Gieglud in the movies might behave. Eventually we all moved from the parking lot to the stage and on to the gigantic seating area in order to better understand the dynamics of the outdoor theater.
We realized early on that a runway would have to be constructed—one long enough to reach well into the crowd—if the audience was to see anything. It was an awkward moment for me. From the very beginning, my committee had voiced strong concerns that Calvin’s clothes—alone on a runway in the middle of the Hollywood Bowl—might be a major be a major bore. Although beautifully tailored, his clothes lack the panache onstage of a Mugler or Versace. All that beige, brown, black, and ecru would be lost to anyone sitting more than twenty feet away. Dwarfed and intimidated by the immensity of the nearly empty Bowl, I wondered if anyone on CK’s side of the fence had similar inklings of his having mismatched the choice of venue with this particular designer’s clothes.
While the group haggled about how long to make the runway—the chauffeur, in all his hauteur, reappeared to interrupt the business at hand. He stood there grandly poised, his arms stretched out and his eyes focused blankly straight ahead, as if ready to serve the queen at Buckingham Palace. In his meticulously manicured hands, he held the most magnificent silver coffee tray I had ever seen. It had been elegantly set up with flowers and linen and ornate servers filled with cream and sugar. Momentarily dazzled, I suddenly realized the tray held only two coffee cups.
Without saving a word, Calvin took one of the china cups and handed it to Kelly; the other he prepared for himself. While the rest of us looked on, Marie Antoinette and Louis the XVI relaxed to drink their freshly brewed morning coffee. Business ground to halt, Calvin and Kelly sipped away, and no one in their attentive audience was so much as offered cake. Who could doubt it? The king was definitely in charge today and forever.
When the late-morning coffee klatch for two finally wound down, business resumed and we went on to the next item on our agenda; the benefit’s dinner menu. I had planned this part of our meetings very carefully. Each caterer was to present their “tasting” on a different meeting day, and prepare enough food for everyone in attendance. Since the Bowl isn’t near any restaurant, the meal presented also functioned as our lunch.
When we headed back to the shaded stage area, I noticed that our first caterer had already set up a lavish presentation of cold chicken, rice and pasta, and salads of delicate greens and colorful fruits. There were also baskets of freshly baked breads and the most divine-looking deserts. I thought to myself how well I’d planned this, and from the looks of delight on the faces of everyone else. I could see their happy anticipation at the prospect of sitting down to such an elaborate feast. Everyone, that is, except Calvin and Kelly.
They took their unassigned places at the center of the buffet table as the rest of us crowded around. Calvin immediately began asking the career about other menu possibilities. Then, to my horror, he and Kelly began rearranging and planning with our lunch—with their bare hands!
Kelly started with the salads, picking up large handfuls of lettuce, massaging it, and then dumping it back into the bowls from which it had been plucked. “Is there a lettuce leaf that is a lighter shade of green than this?” she asked. She then reprimanded. “No avocado! We don’t like that color of green.” Next, she attacked the rice. “Can we get rid of those small pieces of pimento in the rice? Nothing red!”
As she ran her fingers through the bowl, feeling for texture and consistency. Calvin set his sights on the poor roasted chicken. “If we’re going to serve chicken,” he started in, “it has to be skinless. That will give it a more neutral color,” he explained. With each piece of chicken de-skinned, he set it down, and moved onto the next.
I stood back in total disbelief. The others present seemed as stunned as I as we watched our sumptuous lunch relegated to leftovers. The poor caterer just stood there, rolling his eyes with his teeth clenched as our two star tasters made their way through every plate of chicken and bowl of pasta and fruit—dissecting, pushing, tossing, and tasting. Finally, nothing was left intact.
Their arduous task finally over, they both wiped off their hands on the fine linen napkins and excused themselves. “We’re late already,” said Kelly. “Thank you, everyone, so much,” said Calvin. “I hope traffic isn’t horrible. We’re lunching at Mortons. We’ll see you all again very soon.”
Stunned, I looked at the remnants of our food. I asked the caterer, “Is there anything you can do? Can you salvage any of it so we can have lunch? He tried his best, but in the end, most of us settled for a Diet Coke and bread sticks.
To continue the pale, nearly colorless color scheme, each set of box seats (which included four seats and a small fold-out table) was to be real Irish linen. There were also fancy sterling silver-plated utensils and crystal wine/water glasses, two per person. Calvin and his crew scrutinized every choice, making sure his image would shine as brightly as the proposed votive candles that were to adorn each table setting.
Foolishly, I had managed to find someone willing to donate 3,000 yards of good-quality cotton twill. My provincial attitude toward fund-raising had led me to thing that the more we saved on such insignificant items as napkins, tablecloths, and party rentals, the more we could give back to APLA ad people who really needed it. After talking to the CK organization, I realized my attitude was not provincial. It was downright Neanderthal.
“The cotton twill just won’t do,” I was told.
“But it’s the same off-white color that Calvin has used in many of his own collections,” I replied.
“It’s not napkin linen,” was the answer. “It won’t fold properly. It won’t feel soft enough to the touch. It has to be real linen.”
My committee was eventually able to have the napkins and tablecloths made gratis, but there was no was around the thousands of dollars it would cost to purchase 3,000 yards of fine Irish handkerchief linen.
The pursuit of the perfect table drove me to abstraction. Since our show had an outdoor venue, I suggested we create a beautiful box supper. Something sophisticated but casual. An APLA volunteer, who owned a company that manufactured cardboard boxes, offered to custom-make our dinner box—complete with a CK logo—in exchange for two tickets. I had seen this done at the Love Ball in New York and thought it elegant and smart.
Calvin vetoed that idea. It had to be real china and real linen and real silver-plate and real crystal. “Image” was the buzz word I kept hearing. The words never mentioned were “AIDS” and “charity”.
No pattern and rental company in Los Angeles or New York City escaped Ck’s investigation for the proper pieces of china and accessories. If he and Kelly didn’t approve, the item was rejected. In the end, APLA was forced to buy—and still owns—over 500 of each piece: coffee pots, sugar/creamers, and salt and pepper sets. Somewhere, they all sit in storage to this day.
It quickly became apparent that this benefit was going to cost in the neighborhood of $700,00 to $800,000 to produce. At first, I sat speechless as Paul Cunliffe read off the initial bids from various vendors. Then I blurted out, “I think everyone has to rethink the venue. This has gone completely overbudget!”
“That’s insane. It’s out of the question,” Cunliffe said to any and all objections to the venue.
“The costs are only preliminary.” I was assured. “We’ll be returning to New York and we’ll carefully reconsider the proposed costs and budgets,” said a member of Calvin’s staff.
They also announced that Veronica Hearst and Hearst Publications would be a major sponsor of the evening. Reportedly, over lunch one day, Calvin had asked Mrs. Hearst for her help in underwriting part of the show’s production costs, Klein, who spends millions of dollars a year advertising in Hearst publications, was in a position to be persuasive.
In the end, Hearst Publications and Veronica Hearst were indeed good for a contribution of $250,000. The unpleasant part came later when the Hearst Corporation tried to label their contribution as a “chartable donation to APLA.” The money had not, in fact, been used by APLA for people with HIV or AIDS. Instead, it simply and effectively bolstered the CK image. It did not in any way alleviate the pain of sick and dying people.
Eventually, David Geffen intervened on behalf of Calvin Klein and Veronica Hearst, and asked that APLA bend their rules just this once so that Hearst could take their sizable charitable write-off.
As we approached the month of June, Calvin and his staff returned to L.A. to cast the show. My committee and I had spent weeks coordinating the model auditions. From the Venice boardwalk to the trendiest clubs downtown, the word was out: Calvin Klein needed 350 amateur models for his APLA show, casting would take place at the Hollywood Bowl and Herb Ritts’ studio on Santa Monica Boulevard, and no experience was required. All you had to be was tall, drop-dead good-looking, muscular if you were a guy), thin (if you were a girl), and, of course, young, young, young.
The turnout amazed even Calvin. Hundreds of young wannabe models converged on the Bowl. Boys on one side of the stage, girls on the other. Kelly Klein and several CK Staff members auditioned the girls. Some were famous, like one of the first super-models. Janice Dickinson, who showed up and begged to be part of the show. Janice got the Hollywood air-kiss and was told, “we’ll be in touch” which they weren’t. If you interested the panel, one of them snapped your picture. If not, the road to stardom ended right there.
Calvin personally oversaw the casting of the boys. Unlike Kelly & Co., he took especially meticulous care with his auditioning duties. He asked each boy to remove his shirt and then drop his pants. If the model-to-bed wasn’t wearing underwear, he was obligingly given a pair of briefs to slip on. If the interviewee didn’t mind taking off his pants (and what potential billboard nude would?), he was lovingly photographed in his briefs of naked.
A similar selection process greeted those who wanted to be waiters at the event. Again, the guys had to have not worked-out bodies and look great in tight black T-shirts and even tighter black jeans. And in case Calvin’s memory needed refreshing after an overload of bulging pecs and biceps, he made sure Polaroids were taken of each potential waiter.
Mind you, many professional waiters and waitresses offered to donate their services, but Calvin—not an equal-opportunity employer on this particular occasion—chose his own all-male cast of food carriers and insisted they be paid with Friends of Fashion money.
Calvin’s pick of co-chairs for the evening—industry titans Jeffrey Katzenberg, Sandy Gallin, David Geffen and Barry Diller—may be some of the most successful businessmen Hollywood has ever seen. They were not, however, exactly dynamos in the ticket-selling department. Except for securing terrific, 100% marked-down seats for themselves, they did little to encourage their friends and business associates to actually to out and purchase the top-price $2500 tickets.
Sandy Gallin was a notable exception. Weeks before the event, I had personally asked each co-chair to send out their invitations along with a personal note, asking their guess to support our event. Gallin was the only chair who did indeed write a note. His effort, thought, pretty much short-circuited after he got writer’s cramp. Or maybe his army of secretaries came down with the collective flu. Whatever. The man who manages Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, and Michael Jackson, among many other celebrities, sent a messenger to our office—my spare bedroom—to deliver his personal note and a list of hundreds of names. The behavior of the wealthy and powerful was beginning to make sense to me; they just didn’t have either the time or the appetite for the messy, petty details to beg for charity. The day before the big event, I received a call from Wendy Goldberg, wife of Hollywood producer Leonard Goldberg. They’d received their four box seats, but there was a slight problem.
“Two of our guests will be Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Davis,” Wendy informed me. “Mrs. Davis is worried that the box seats might too small for her husband,” she went on to say; emphasizing in so many words the incredible girth of the oil multimillionaire. “Mrs. Davis would like to buy the box next to ours so that Mr. Davis would have his own box and be more comfortable.” If I could make it happen, Wendy told me, the Davises would be happy to make a $5,000 donation for the $1,400 box.
After making some major adjustments in the seating arrangements, I let her know that it could be done. “And how will the Davises be paying for their tickets?” I inquired.
Suddenly, Wendy Golberg became quiet over the phone. “Call Barbara Davis’s secretary. She’ll be happy to make the arrangements.”
The next morning I received another call from Wendy. Again, it had to do with her friends, the oil multimillionaires.
“Mrs. Davis would like a backstage pass,” she told me. I didn’t understand until she explained why. “In order to use the backstage bathroom, silly.”
I took a deep breath. “Mrs. Goldberg, the Calvin Klein people have taken some very elaborate and costly measures to make sure the bathrooms at the Bowl will be in topnotch condition. Each one is being steam-cleaned, scoured with disinfectant, and, in some cases, even painted.” I didn’t bother her with all the cleanliness details, but, all in all, an estimated $300 to $500 was being spent on each bathroom. In fact, large arrangements of fresh-cut flowers and white linen hand towels were to be placed in both the men’s and women’s rest rooms. Somewhere between explaining how spotlessly clean the rest rooms would be and insisting on how inaccessible the backstage area was, Wendy Goldberg hung up on me. Too bad. How different things might have been if she had known about the atomizer-holding attends who would be present to give the restroom a healthy whiff of Calvin Klein’s own ‘Obsession” after each use.
Finally, the big night arrived. Backstage, models scampered about everywhere. There were 350 of them, after all, I wondered how those two hair and makeup artists flown in specially from London could possibly get them all ready. But strangely enough, they didn’t need any tending. Per Calvin’s orders, all 350 of them were to appear san makeup. They could scrub their own faces. And the stringer their hair, the better. Call it the squeaky clean CK version of grunge. Obviously, those two hair and makeup people had made the trip all the way from London in order to primp the real stars of the evening—Mr. and Mrs. Klein. After all, it was only AIDS money.
Before I could go back out front where I was needed, I bumped into a face familiar to me from the society columns. The rest room door flew open and there she stood: Barbara Davis. I half expected her to belt me one for having attempted, in my feeble way, to deny her this pleasure. But then I realized, as executive director of the event, I wasn’t anybody whom she would recognize or probably care to know. What profoundly impressed me, though, was the dignity with which she wore that bright yellow all-access backstage pass around her bejeweled neck. Even though it did clash awfully against her evening’s attire, Barbara couldn’t have been more proud of that plastic pass than if it were an Olympic gold medal. As she breezed by, I wanted to know if gracing Tina Turner’s toilet had been worth all those troubled telephone calls. But she was gone before I dared ask.
It’s at moments like these that I remember the remark Cher once made to me about my AIDS fundraising. “You’re going to go to heaven for doing shit like this.”
Weather is always a major concern in an outdoor arena, but it was California perfect for the night of the show. Warm and balmy, the diamond-studded Hollywood Hills shimmered brilliantly against an indigo sky. On that June evening, we were once again kissed by angels. Perhaps they were the very souls we were too late in helping and comforting.
Somehow, the stars in the sky were certainly shining more brightly than those sitting in the 30 comp seats distributed by CK’s L.A. based PR firm, PMK. Frankly despite Calvin’s high profile in the Hollywood community, his show produced fewer famous people than any other Friends of Fashion APLA benefit. It, did, however, bring out L.A. society—the Davises, Bloomingdales, Kirkabys, Goldbergs—those Bistro Garden lunch ladies who support the arts, the Betty Ford Center, and the Lily Tartikoff Cancer Clinic. Rarely are they found at AIDS fund-raisers, but with Veronica Hearst and Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Elizabeth Tilberis as evening co-chairs, it was It and safe to be seen.
Before Tina Turner took the stage, a few rather desperate-sounding calls came to me over my headset. There was trouble out front, three of my assistants were informing me that a friend of Calvin’s—a Vanity Fair contributing writer—was said to be scalping some of his comped press passes. When I confronted him with the allegations, Calvin’s friend promptly denied it. I let it pass, for now. I, for one, wasn’t going to miss a live performance of “Proud Mary.”
Tina Turner (God bless her) proved to be one of the brightest stars of the evening. She unselfishly chose our show to preview her ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It” world tour, canceling her Hollywood Bowl appearance later that summer. Which didn’t exactly endear her to the Bowl management.
That night, more than ever, I wished we’d gone with the boxed dinners, as off and on during Tina Turner’s entire performance, I heard china plates hit the cement floor of the amphitheatre. Worse were all the crystal glasses. By evening’s end, those handpicked rowdy-boy waiters were actually throwing the rented wine and water glasses into the air and watching them explode as they creased against the pavement. The final bill for broken glasses was more than $1,400.
And then there was the PMK-inspired decision of black tie only. Only us suckers adhered to that demand while our event’s chairman—Geffen, Gallin, Diller and Katzenberg—arrived, one by one, dressed in sports jackets (or no jacket), T-shirts, blue jeans or khakis.
“I guess they’re dressed like that,” said one tuxedoed guest, “so they’ll stand out from the rest of us poor bastards.”
Before the show started, Steve Tisch entered the stage to launch into a speech that lasted almost nine minutes. I heard him thank Geffen, Gallin, Katzenberg, Diller, Calvin and his staff, his personal assistant Tom, APLA’s Executive Director Lenny Bloom, Veronica Hearts, Elizabeth Tilberis and Tina Turner. There was not one word of thanks or mention of my steering committee.
Well, Calvin will thank them, I thought.
After Tisch spoke, a ten-minute video documenting twenty years of CK advertising filled the large theater screens that had been erected on both side of the stage. Gigantic images of those early CK jeans pin-up girls—Brooke Shields and Martha Plimpton—brought back memories of a more sexually innocent or maybe naïve, era.
As with everything that Calvin touches, the show impressed, but at times it seemed more like a corporate presentation, with the entire CK empire on parade. Next came the models, most of them bare-chested, as was rapper and CK poster-boy Marky Mark, who brought up the rear. He danced down the catwalk with nothing on but his CK jeans, which he quickly dropped to the floor to bare his signature CK skivvies. As the audience cheered, he grabbed hold of what made him famous, paused for photographs, then headed toward the end of the runway as a musical adaptation of “I Have a Dream” that Martin Luther King Jr. never dreamed of blared out over the loudspeakers. Suddenly, all 350 models converged back onstage to welcome our man of the hour.
When the applause subsided, Calvin Klein launched into his long list of thank yous. Although I was mentioned, no one else from the steering committee made the cut. In a rambling speech that lasted more than 11 minutes, he mentioned the word “AIDS” only twice. He thanked his friends (Diller, Geffen, Gallin, Katzenberg and Tisch), his wife Kelly, his daughter Marcy, Tina Turner and his production staff—but none of the people who really made this event happen.
The scene backstage defined the words “photo op.” Photographers from all over the world snapped pictures of the Sensational Six as Gallin, Geffen, Diller, Klein, Katzenberg and Tisch told reporters how hard they’d all worked. What the photographers should have recorded for posterity was the sight of 350 models returning their borrowed, just-word underwear—per the strict instructions of the CK organization. As all those body-temperature briefs were obediently deposited into waiting laundry bags, I had to wonder about their destination. Were they to be given to some unspecified charity or returned to Calvin? Or Kelly? Would they be laundered or left au naturel? Whatever, it seemed chintzy of the designer since none of the models had been paid.
As I approached Calvin to thank him for his participation, security men I’d never seen before surrounded him and his family. In the flash of a paparazzo’s camera, the Kleins were escorted to their limousines, which whisked them off to a private party in Beverly Hills.
Later, standing in that empty arena, I could hardly believe that, only a couple of hours earlier, thousands of people had been there, enjoying the show. I thought back to that first morning meeting, when we had all been so full of hope and enthusiasm regarding our benefit’s honoree. How quickly goodwill vanished as soon as we got to know the man behind that airbrushed image.
As I eyed the potted trees as workmen carried them off, the shards of broken crystal snapping under their boots. I wanted to laugh but couldn’t, when I heard a familiar voice, “Where have you been?” It was my life partner, Brandon MacNeal. “I’ve been looking all over for you!” he told me.
Brandon had never looked more handsome, beaming at me as he stood there in his black tuxedo. At least I had Calvin Klein to thank for that. I started to tell him some of the evening’s most horrific moments, when he stopped me. He grabbed my arm to pull me close, and I started crying.
“Kiddo, you did good,” he said, rubbing my back. “You made $1.2 million tonight. I love you. You know that, don’t you?” He could not help but sense how upset I was. For over ten years, Brandon had been my confidant, my best friend, my support. So we stood there under those angel stars, holding each other tightly.
I have since read published reports that only 40 cents on the dollar were left after all costs were paid. If this is true, then the only real winner was Calvin Klein: The publicity and goodwill he and his company walked away with were invaluable and completely free of charge—for him. The entire event was financed by APLA ($400,000), Hearst Publications ($250,000), and various other CK licensees, who made up the $150,000 difference. Although he has been asked each year to buy a $1,000 ad in our evening’s program, he has refused—citing a lack of dollars for charitable contributions.
If only he were the sole freeloader that benefit produced. David Geffen, even though he is a huge donor to AIDS groups, didn’t pay a cent for tickets to the event he co-chaired. Neither did his two well-known guests, Warren Beatty and his wife, Annette Bening. The Vanity Fair writer faxed me no less than two angry letters, threatening to destroy our event if I didn’t drop my allegations of his selling comp tickets. And bejeweled Barbara Davis, seen dancing in her box as Tina Turner performed, somehow overlooked the $5,000 promised us. After I spent the summer calling her office and sending invoices, APLA’s development director Bill Jones, finally told me to let it go. “We don’t want to damage our relationship with the Davises over $5,000,” Jones said.
I objected. But that means she got away without paying. What about all the APLA clients who wanted to attend the show and couldn’t, because they didn’t’ have the money? Or were too sick and couldn’t afford ambulance service to and from the Bowl? Little did I know then that the Calvin Klein show was to be my last of the fashion benefits for my partner, Brandon could attend. The following year he would be too ill to attend the Isaac Mizrahi show. By the winter of 1995, he would be gone from this life and my life forever. The insidious disease called AIDS was already doing its lethal dance. That June it had already taken the lead, and Brandon would never be able to release himself from its permanent grasp.