As The World Churns
by Jack Scribe
The actual experience of physically arriving at Hollywood's Kodak Theater red carpet on Oscar Night was everything that Brent had imagined, times ten. Imagined because, while Brent had compiled a creditable filmography and was consistently voted most popular by Peoples Choice, none of his movies had garnered a coveted Oscar nomination or award. His public appearance at this annual industry PR orgy was due to escorting his friend of several years, Karen Divine. She was one of the five nominees for 2006 Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Contented Garden.
The back limousine door opened at the scheduled 3:30 p.m. arrival time and the couple emerged to take part in the pre-show activities of the 79th Annual Oscar Awards. The actual show would be broadcast live worldwide at 5:00 p.m. - in less than two hours, hundreds of millions of people around the world would be watching Hollywood's annual narcissistic, love fest telecast. And as usual, rain earlier in the week had given way to a chamber of commerce sunny, warm late afternoon on this Sunday in late February.
A flurry of activity escalated as hundreds of TV crews, reporters and photographers jumped into action when they saw the two A List stars. Brent and Karen paused, turned and smiled as another man got out of the stretch Mercedes Benz. Doug, resplendent in an Armani ensemble, stood on the carpeting and helped a tall, willowy African American woman get her footing...not an easy task as she wore silver Manolo Blahnik shoes with 4" heals. The four lovers, posing in their public pairing, were ready for the gauntlet.
"Well, guys, this really is show time," Brent said to his friends and subtly winked at Doug's date and Karen's lover of nine years. "You look beautiful, Tamara."
"Honey, next to Halle Berry, I'm lunchmeat." Tamara Borden was now a resident doctor at St. John's in Santa Monica.
"We'll a have a chance to make that comparison very soon. Look who just got out of the limo behind us," Doug added as he took her hand. The group casually turned to catch Halle and her escort get out of their limo. Halle spotted the group and waved...this was a night of instant friendships and air-kisses.
While Brent was happy for Karen's success, he was more excited about Doug's independent film being nominated as the Best Documentary Feature. Hands Across the Sands was a scathing indictment of the Saudi Arabian Royal Family's involvement in support of Bin Laden and manipulation of the oil prices while indulging in an opulent, decadent lifestyle. The documentary also highlighted the brutalization of women and the barbaric treatment of gay men. As producer and director, Doug had masterfully managed to draw in the two Bush administrations and Clinton's, as duped, but not so innocent participants. He had expanded the famous Watergate quote - follow the money - to capture the greed of the past administrations' leaders.
What was unknown to all except Doug, Brent and Creative Artists Management leader Sam Barron was that their Saudi friends, Abdul and Fahd - Fred and Abe - had secretly financed the film. Six years earlier they had obtained United States permanent residency green cards. When word got back to Saudi Arabia that the two princes were living a deviant lifestyle, both were officially thrown out of the royal household and all of their properties in the Sheikdom were confiscated. However, this was after the two had established a formidable multi-million dollar nest egg in the States - Fred and Abe were now officially lovers.
'A lot of water over the dam,' Brent thought as he waved to the cameras, 'since Doug and I were dates for those two guys 10 years ago.' It was the weekend that changed Brent and Doug's lives forever.
Security strictly monitored the stars, nominees and their escorts past the final checkpoint. Doug had to provide an accreditation invitation but in Brent and Karen's case, their famous faces were passports enough. Both had gotten the A list celebrity persona down to a science over the past several years - a smiling distant gaze when walking through a crowd of strangers, the galaxy of people always orbiting around their universe, being cordial when addressed and always mindful of not getting trapped in those YouTube moments.
The two couples made their way into the tented staging area where all cleared arrivals stopped for last minute instructions. The traffic on the red carpet was controlled for maximum impact with the worldwide television audience: only nominees, their escorts and major pre-approved stars would make the strenuous 200-yard walk. And of that group, the international television reporters would interview only a select few.
CAM had assigned a publicist handler - Brent's personal publicist, one of Hollywood's most respected - to direct Doug through the warren of interviewers. "Mr. DiMarco, you and your lady will depart the tent in two minutes. Look great for the cameras and make eye contact when you recognize one of the major logos," said the publicist. "In addition to the ABC crew, be on the lookout for 'E', Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and the Tribune' stations."
"I don't think that we stand much of a chance being interviewed," Doug said with a slight shrug, "because my face isn't well known. Everyone will go gaga over the gals and their dresses before I get noticed."
"Don't be too sure of that," the publicist replied. "You are a nominee and they need to get footage and stills of you so that, if you win, the shows can present you on their wrap-ups. I'm going to make a point of stopping by the ABC-TV interview position because the word is that their critic commentator - Roeper - really admires your film and wants to give you exposure on national TV."
"I like your vote of confidence. The idea of winning is very appealing," Doug shot back.
"Buddy, break a leg," Brent said. He walked over to his lover of almost ten years and gave him a good luck hug. "See ya inside." Brent and Karen had insisted that Doug and his date be seated next to them in the coveted front area in the theater. This was a city of pumped-up egos and star stroking, and the Academy was happy to grant this minor request.
Although Brent had recently announced his retirement from acting in favor of a career in law, his celebrity was still in the rarified galaxy of mega-stardom. His last film grossed $500 million, domestic and international. In a shrewd deal cut by beragent Sam Barron, Brent took a minimum salary upfront - if you could call $500,000 minimum - against 5% of gross sales, before any expenses. His final film, scheduled for a summer 2007 release, was made with the same deal. Not Oprah money...but close.
"Are your mom and dad going to be alright in this crowd?" Brent asked.
"Bryan is taking care of them. He'll get them home after the show." Doug and Brent's adopted son, legally Bryan DiMarco for several years, was home from Stanford and his first year in law school.
"We'll have breakfast with him in the morning. You, me, Bryan and Oscar," Brent said with a wink.
"Maybe we should invite Justin and the guys? Make it a family affair."
Justin - now Justin Swenson Cole - Dave and Mike's adopted son, attended UCLA's med school and lived in West Hollywood. Justin and Bryan DiMarco's teen love affair had run its course by the time they finished high school, but they remained great friends and considered each other unofficial brothers.
"Sounds like a plan. Let's say our place around 9:00 a.m.?" Doug and Brent still lived at the Remington condo on Wilshire Boulevard. However, three years earlier they had managed to buy the remaining residences on their floor to create an elegant, secure home of 12,000 square feet. The elevators would only open on the 10th floor by keycard.
"I'll call home after I speak to Justin," Brent said. "Dave and Mike are probably going crazy getting ready for their party". Hiring a household manager and chef was a luxury that allowed the guys to juggle their hectic schedules without worrying about the daily details that supported their busy lives. A small apartment was created for their man when the condo floor had been reconfigured.
"Okay, troops, we're off. See you guys inside." Doug and his date departed the tent for the red carpet stroll with the publicist leading the way. One of the PR person's main jobs this afternoon was to get the attention of 'A' list reporters to interview Doug. Two minutes of face time on the major television shows was the goal.
"Karen, you two don't leave for another half-hour. All of the major interviewers want a piece of your hide during the peak prime-time period," the publicist said with a chuckle.
"Is it alright if Karen and I interact with the fans?" Brent had developed working the crowds into an art form. As long as there was security to come to the aid of interaction with over-enthusiastic crowds, Brent never forgot his gratitude to the public. He also wanted to create a lasting impression on his last public appearance as a member of the Hollywood film community. 'Next month,' he thought, 'I'll be whoring my legal services to these stars, producers and studio heads at outrageous hourly billings.'
"Well, I can't officially condone that," the publicist replied, 'but a little spontaneity will probably give the red carpet some animation for the cameras. Be on the lookout for Kevin. He'll do you justice." Kevin Mazur was the premiere celebrity photographer who officially worked the red carpet.
"Yeah, good idea. Kevin will make us look great," Brent said. He had developed a long, trusting relationship with the photographer.
"I'll try to track him down. There's always a logjam of stars with the interviewers during crunch time and I'm sure that Kevin would love a little candid action. Meanwhile, why don't you two go over to the lounge and chill?"
"Super," Brent said with a wink. "It'll give me time to make a few calls."
Dave was sitting in the den with the remote in his hand. It was 3:45 p.m. and he was switching back and forth between 'E' and ABC7 for the best interviews. Dave, like many, loved all the hyped silliness.
He had seen Doug walk, almost unbothered, on the red carpet. The highpoint was an enthusiastic interview moment with the film critic from ABC. Dave was proud of his friend and his achievements. 'Well, both my friends,' he considered when he thought of Brent.
Dave and Mike were hosting their annual Oscar Night party for their friends. Within the next hour, 40 or so of their closest buds would be arriving for the event at their Santa Monica home.
The thought of moving to L.A. with Mike in 2001 was not without misgivings. Dave, Mike and Justin had made the house in University Heights in San Diego a real, loving home, and it was an important anchor in Dave's life. However, a business offer to Mike became too tempting and Dave went with the flow to support his lover. The timing was ideal for such a transition; Dave was graduating from UCSD and Justin from high school. In the fall, Justin would be enrolled at UCLA in their pre-med program.
The catalyst for the move was TJ Feldman. He and a group of investors wanted ownership in a restaurant that they could call their place for entertaining. With Sam Barron and two other studio heads as members of the investment group, chances were very high that this restaurant would be a very popular, successful, in rendezvous for the industry. In January 2001, over dinner with Tom Feldman and Dave, TJ asked Mike to be the managing partner of this new Beverly Hills venture. In addition to this being a fantastic career opportunity, sweat equity ownership of 20% gave Mike security and independence - plus the opportunity to establish equal financial footing that strengthened his and Dave's partnership.
TJ's son, Tom Feldman, encouraged Dave to apply to the Gould Law School at the University of Southern California. Tom had just finished his first year and was really happy with his decision to attend USC's school rather than UCLA...plus he had wanted to be on the same campus as his lover, Mark Connelly. With the senior Feldmans' clout and Dave's impeccable scholarship record, he was admitted into the fall law school class. It also didn't hurt that Dave maintained a close relationship with Senator Feinstein. Her letter and personal telephone call to the dean of the law school sealed the admission.
Mike immediately resigned from his GM post at El Padre in San Diego with a generous 60-day notice, so that a suitable replacement could be found. During this period, he was able to balance the current job with working on plans for the new restaurant with the architect, contractor and designers.
At the same time, Dave surfed the Internet for potential houses on the Westside and developed a relationship with a realtor that TJ Feldman recommended. By June, Dave and Mike settled on a suitable home in Santa Monica, off San Vicente Boulevard. Due to real estate costs being almost 30% higher in the Los Angeles area, the guys decided to downsize. The older, one-story home offered two large bedrooms, a comfortable living room, dining room, small office and an eat-in kitchen. The one luxury not compromised was the swimming pool and large patio.
Dave felt his stomach tighten as all of the selected household effects, art and antiques were loaded in the moving van in June. This was definitely a symbolic moment of the two men entering another phase of their life together. He was pleased that an older gay couple, who were both lawyers, purchased the house and hadn't blinked at the listed price. The pool cottage was left intact for the new owners - as part of the price - because the furnishings didn't fit into the Santa Monica home.
Their interior designer was given the project and a request to create a lighter, airier feeling to tie in the landscaped views and pool seen through the large glass walls at the rear of the house. As September approached - this time, under the supervision of Dave - the renovation project was completed and the guys were pleased with the results. Dave was ready to start school and Mike was frantically putting the final touches on the new restaurant. TJ's was scheduled to open the middle of September.
September 11 changed people's lives forever. The shock of the terrorist's attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - using passenger-filled commercial aircraft as missiles - reverberated throughout the United States and around the world. In the microcosm of Dave and Mike's lives, shock turned to grief and then to a plan of action. After one day of silent mourning, Dave returned to classes and Mike conferred with TJ about postponing the glittering opening of the restaurant from September 15 to a subdued soft opening on October 15.
Originally, the restaurant was going to host a gala event on Sunday, September 16, after the 2001 Emmy Awards. Like much of Hollywood, numb from the disaster, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences cancelled the award ceremony. As it turned out, the ceremony was cancelled twice. At one point, the planners had even considered holding the Emmy Awards on a military base. However, calmer heads prevailed and the final re-scheduled event was held in a downsized venue - the Shubert Theater in Century City - on November 4th.
A smaller party was held at TJ's afterwards. While there wasn't the television coverage that had been promised for the original event, the stars and suits immediately knew that this restaurant was going to be the place to be seen.
TJ's, under Mike's leadership and management, became an instant hit...although it obviously didn't hurt that the investors had clout in the community. In time, the restaurant rivaled Morton's as the 'industry's' watering hole. Mike had become a very successful restaurateur on several levels. By 2003, 'TJ's' made the L.A. Times 'Top Ten Restaurants' list and had been recognized annually each year thereafter. Also in 2003, the Fab Four met on New Year's Eve to open the envelope that contained their personal predictions made five years earlier. In each case, the guys had exceeded their expectations.
"Hey, babe, I'm home," Mike called out from the kitchen.
"I'm in the den taking a break," Dave replied. "Our first guests are due in 15 minutes."
Mike introduced himself to the two cute, male servers from the catering company before coming into the den. A couple of years after moving in, the guys agreed to build a large, functional room - adjacent to the kitchen - that would serve as an entertainment center, den and informal seating area for parties. They both enjoyed sports, movies and music and the room became the most popular space in the house, aside from the bedroom.
The focal point was a 52" flat panel plasma TV mounted on the wall. Between the large, leather couches, over-stuffed chairs, ottomans and the floor, the room could comfortably handle the 20 or so guests on a normal evening. Tonight, would be a moveable feast - their friends would be in several areas of the house and patio, with the kitchen serving as the hub. Drinks, munchies and a buffet would be available in the open kitchen during the three-hour broadcast. Smaller, 32" LCD flat panel sets were mounted in the kitchen and on a patio wall.
"Hi, gorgeous," Mike said as he walked over to Dave. "Did you personally interview the catering guys?"
"Hi, yourself. Not bad eye candy for the guests, ya think?" Dave rose and greeted his guy with a warm embrace. Their lips locked in a kiss that was somewhere in between a missed you smack and a let's fuck full-court press.
"Sorry I'm running late. The final dcor for the party really got more involved as it was being installed and the designer queens really started getting bitchy," Mike said after reluctantly pulling away.
TJ's was that year's site for Elton John's party and AIDS fundraiser after the Academy Awards and Mike would have to return to the restaurant before seven to supervise the private event and 500 guests. The event guaranteed major international TV coverage and was a very important PR opportunity.
"Everything else ready at the restaurant?"
"The chef is going crazy but we'll pull it off," Mike replied. "It was probably a good thing for me to get outta there for a while and let the crew do their thing."
"Oh, you missed Russ and Trev. They called from Chicago a little while ago. They've got their own Oscar's party starting soon. I can't imagine all those doctors and management consultants having a rousing time in one room. I mean one guy discussing someone's ailment while the other is analyzing the profitability of an acquisition. They send their regards and are rooting for Doug."
"I miss those guys. But we'll see them at the lake with our west coast crew this summer," Mike said.
"Definitely. We talked about that, too. Russ is chopping at the bit to go water-skiing already."
"For a lawyer, I'd say you've done a great job getting this place ready for the party. Everything looks shipshape."
"I waived my billable hours and we're not serving shark hors d'oeuvres," Dave said with a grin. "Seriously, those two guys in the kitchen have been great and all I had to do was give them the rundown of our ideas."
"Remind me to give you a rundown of ideas I have for later on."
Dave laughed and swatted Mike on his hard butt. "Later is the operative word. Go up and change and I'll run interference here until you return." The phone rang and Dave shrugged his shoulders.
"Okay, give me ten minutes." Mike lightly kissed Dave on the cheek and ran out the hallway to the stairs.
"Dave, you ready for the party? Anything I need to pick up?"
"Hey, Justin, I thought you'd be here by now." Although Dave and Mike had assumed financial support for Justin's schooling, they usually thought of each other as brothers and great friends.
"On my way. But I'm coming solo. My buddy got roped into OT at the hospital."
"That's cool. We'll all see each other for dinner next weekend." Dave and Mike tried to set aside dinner plans for Justin and his current boyfriend a couple of times each month.
"I'm also passing on an invite from Brent. I just talked to him and he wants you, Mike and me to join Doug, Bryan and him for breakfast tomorrow around nine. He said it's just us guys and Oscar," Justin said with a chuckle.
"Works for me. I hadn't planned on coming into the office until the afternoon." Although considered a junior lawyer along with Tom Feldman in the law firm, Dave had gained major traction with the senior partners when he was instrumental in convincing Brent to join them. "They seem awfully confident that he'll win."
"Just a gut reaction, I think," Justin replied, "but I hear Doug's chances are pretty good. If nothing else it'll be a good family breakfast."
"I agree, stud. You don't have classes tomorrow?"
"Not 'til noon. I just turned onto San Vicente. I'll see you in a few."
"Come through the kitchen. That's where the food will be. Bye."
Over the next half-hour, Dave and Mike's support group of old, close friends arrived. This crowd blended in well with the pals that the two had met together later on at school and work.
Tom Feldman and Mark Connelly's relationship had only gotten stronger. Mark was now a sales manager at his dad's L.A. ConSoft office. Mr. Connelly was grooming his son for bigger things, which was fine with Mark as long as he and Tom could be together in L.A. Tom - now grown into a full-fledged legal mogul -gave Dave the 'hi, buddy' traditional kiss when he and Mark arrived.
Billy Forrest and Jim Weiss arrived soon after. Billy's career continued to move forward at a measured pace. After the WB canceled Heaven, Billy was cast in the original CSI show on CBS. In addition, he was able to ease into feature films as a young character or second lead. Jim Weiss, at the encouragement of Billy and Brent, accepted a position as a junior agent at Creative Artists Management after graduating from college. Under the watchful eye of Sam Barron, Jim's career was flourishing and he seemed happy.
By 4:30 p.m. the den, patio and kitchen were filled with an assortment of upwardly mobile gay men representing several professions and age groups. Over the next half-hour, the guys exchanged thoughts about the films and actors nominated, hooted and laughed at the fashion disasters of a few, Oooh'd at the hot, young male stars and mocked the red carpet interviewers.
The room cheered when Brent appeared on the screen.
"You'd think our friend was running for office," Tom said with a grin.
Brent broke away with Karen and shook hands with fans on the first row of the gallery. The camera pulled back and focused on Brent and the hundreds of fans cheering in a frenzy. Within moments, three other cameras locked in on close-ups of the stars and their fans.
"He's sending a message to the industry that he's the go-to man," Dave added, "if anyone needs a lawyer who can guarantee some good press."
"I think it's safe to say that the newest junior partner at our firm will be a successful rainmaker and walking profit center," Tom Feldman said as he laughed and nodded with a thumbs-up.
The room quieted as the theme music and opening announcements started the Academy Awards. This year's host, Ellen DeGeneres, had the star-packed audience in hilarious tears within moments.
'Such a difference from last year's yawn with Jon Stewart,' Dave thought.
The first hour of the telecast produced a few surprises and disappointments. Karen Divine lost out to Jody Foster as Best Supporting Actress.
"Well, at least they kept it in the family," one guy shouted out. This brought out a few jokes as the show went to a commercial.
"Let's hear it for girl power," Dave said, standing up. "Guys, Brent told me that the documentary award is to be announced in about 15 minutes. For those who want, take a pee break, grab some more food and get your drinks refreshed." Brent and Doug had passed on a minute-by-minute schedule of the show last week.
"Contrary to rumor, we haven't run out of tequila," Mike joked, "and no fair hitting on the bartenders."
There were several groans from the group, but over the next several minutes, most took Dave's advice. The cute guy, tending to the constant whir of the blender and the bar, pumped out margaritas, poured white wine and popped open beer bottles. The other server, obviously a young, wannabe actor, looked over the buffet and bussed dirty dishes.
At 6:15 p.m., everyone was settled down as brother and sister, Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, were introduced to present the Best Feature Documentary. 'Who better than every gay man's wet dream to present the award,' Dave considered, as the couple started their light, scripted banter.
After mentioning all the nominees, Maggie took the envelope and effortlessly found the seam of the sealed flap. She carefully tore the envelope open and handed the card contents to her brother. Jake and Maggie briefly reviewed the information on the card and then looked into the audience with broad grins.
"And the winner is...Doug DiMarco," Jake announced with the trademark Gyllenhaal smile focused into the camera. The guys stood and whooped as the film's theme music started and the TV crews panned the audience before zeroing in on a beaming Doug.
The roving floor camera followed him as he lightly kissed his date and then turned to Brent. Time was frozen as he was grabbed by one of the most popular male sex symbols in cinema and hugged hard. It was actually only a matter of seconds and the commentator explained that Doug and Brad Williams had been close friends since their Navy days. However, to the discerning viewers and industry insiders, it was obvious that this was a relationship way beyond being friends.
Slowly, Doug eased into the aisle. Hands reached out for shakes and friendly backslaps as he passed the famous faces. He grinned and received their impromptu congratulations. At the stairs to the stage he almost tripped and was steadied by two ushers.
He approached the Gyllenhaals and in short order shook Jake's hand, grabbed the Oscar and kissed Maggie on the cheek. The brother and sister backed away to give Doug center stage. The audience hushed and he looked into the crowd of his now-peers. Doug's expressions changed from a deer in the headlights, to a reluctant recipient of the golden statuette, and finally, to a confident new member of a very exclusive fraternity.
"Wow, this is an amazing experience. Jake, this isn't a dream? Maggie, this is for real?" The audience laughed approvingly.
"My film was a story that needed to be told. As producer and director, I was responsible for its success or failure. Fortunately, it was the former and I've got many to thank. Don't worry. I'll keep the list short." Doug then went on to mention his crew, Sam Barron and his parents.
Doug obviously saw the red light blinking from his close-up facial expression. He had been informed that the signal meant that he had 15 seconds to wrap up his acceptance speech.
"Finally, I want to acknowledge the most important person in my life on earth. Brent, thanks for being there...always."
Doug slowly backed away from the microphone as the theme music and applause started building to a crescendo. He subtly nodded to Brent and walked away to the wings of the stage, Oscar in hand. Only a few knew that Brent and Brad were the same person.
The party in Santa Monica was momentarily silent as the show went to another commercial. From one corner of the room, one of the guys started applauding. Within seconds the entire crowd joined in.
"Guys, that was a helluva speech by one helluva man," Dave said.
"And a helluva friend," Mark Connelly added as he held Tom Feldman tightly. "He's the same guy we knew back in San Diego."
"Will be years from now, too." Tom tenderly placed his arm around Mark's shoulders.
"Guys, I'm just proud to be surrounded by such great friends as we celebrate Uncle Doug's victory." Justin was broadly grinning as he walked towards Dave and Mike.
Mike grabbed Justin's hand and kissed Dave on the cheek. "This is a very special evening," he smiled. "Now let's party."