Tuesday, June 9, 2009


"Dahlink. the fashion show was too wonderful and not just because Eva and I modeled some of the gorgeous Gucci ensembles," gushed Zsa Zsa Gabor to Dr. Aldo Gucci, the charismatic chairman of Gucci Shops Inc.

I stood beside him so she and Eva turned to me ," Compliments, you thought up this show. It was a success, ma Belle."

"Really and truly," said Raquel Welch. " I can't think of a more enjoyable moment than strutting down that elevated catwalk. I felt like being on a stage."

Six months ago the Chairman of Gucci had remarked," Cara, cogitate something original to stage in our Beverly Hills atelier on Rodeo Drive."

Indeed stars, producers, directors, editors, real estate moguls with a couple of cosmetic surgeons and dentists spent millions every month on Gucci Beverly Hills.

Self-centered. endlessly pampered, but endowed with the most fragile egos most of these individuals possessed the mistaken notion that Beverly Hills Gucci made more loot than New York. Wrong! Gucci New York and Gucci Rome outdid them every month. Why attempt to inform the vulgar and the uneducated? What they did bring to the American scene was glamour and glitz.

"Dottore, the only kind of fashion show in a show biz town is to feature all the stars, the wives and daughters of the producers and directors as our Gucci models."

He mulled it over for a few seconds. "Perfetto Cara, let's dispense with the overpaid, under-age, underweight and haughty professional models. We'll make a splash and save money at the same time. "

"True, because we won't have to pay them. We'll choose their favorite charity, and all the tickets which the celebrities will gladly pay for because as a benefit for charity, it is tax deductible anyway."

The fashion show,"Gucci: California Dreaming" was created. It was a smash. Every television network including cable, all the wire services, newspapers attended and wrote feature stories which lauded Gucci to the skies. Over 200 reporters attended. That is a great number of media considering Gucci was not in politics. The actors and actresses loved it. For once they could answer questions and say whatever came to their drop dead gorgeous heads. No promo trips, shows on television or radio. They were there to show off their good looks clad in beautiful Gucci clothes, pants, shoes, handbags and jewelry. And... they did not have to be witty or even intelligent.

"Just look beautiful Cara," declared Dottore Aldo Gucci.

I much prefer fashion shows with actresses and actors than with professional models. First of all, few of them look like victims of Dachau,they instinctively know how to walk and show themselves and their gowns to best advantage, they take direction well and they are not as addicted to drugs as models.

"Listen Cara, I don't think using movie stars as models is a good idea. You are going to destroy the modeling industry," grumbled Gianni Versace.

"Really Gianni. All you fashion stylists are borderline pedophiles if not actual pedophiles by hiring 14 and 15 year old scrawnies. People like you will eventually destroy the industry because so many adolescent girls will die of anorexia and bulimia in an effort to emulate these sick models," I retorted.

"California Dreaming" was held in the grand ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel.It seemed like the Academy Awards without the wise cracks and smart ass comments. Thankfully it wasn't as long either.

Nicola, the handsome and sexy manager of Beverly Hills Gucci was Commentator. Since he had bedded and/or wooed many of the gorgeous participants undulating down the ramp he knew just what to say not only about the clothes (the real stars) but about the actresses and stars themselves. Their latest movies, Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations and other delicious tidbits which revealed nothing scandalous.

Director Sandy Howard (A Man called Horse) among other film hits came alone "the better to keep you company." Sandy was more handsome than most divos of the screen yet he did not act as if he were handsome. He was the most unselfconscious and natural handsome man I have ever known. He was also kind and generous, qualities not easily found in a harsh town such as Hollywood/Beverly Hills.

After the accolades, the dinner and the speeches, Sandy suggested "Are you up for something real?"

All that glitter litter does get to you after a while.
"I've heard there's a dive on Fairfax Avenue near the Farmer's Market where great jazz is played. Will you take me there?"

It was Molly Malone's Pub and it appeared as if it had gone through a time machine. The decor was the kind you saw in the film noir of the late 40's and early 50's except that it was in black and white. Now you could appreciate it in living color. Round padded bar in scarlet, an immense mirror above the bar framed in gold and scarlet, Very Lily Langtry. Matching bar stools, scarlet chairs encircling small round tables.

"This used to be the old 575 bar," said Sandy right into my ear. It's been around since 1949."

"Never heard of it. What do the numbers stand for?" I wondered silently.

Alongside the bar was an intricately carved upright ebony piano. An elderly dapper man was bent on the round piano stool, guzzling what might have been whiskey. Sandy gave a 20 dollar tip to a wizened old man who looked like nothing in the world fazed him. He'd seen and done it all - his way.

"An old sage in Hollywood," I thought.

He led us to a table almost adjacent to the tippler sitting on the piano stool.

"That's wonderful Sandy. Thank you. I like to watch the hands of all the musicians," I said loudly.

"The man bent on the piano stool suddenly straightened up and the wizened Hollywood sage took his empty glass. No words passed between them.

"Now he looks like a pianist and musician," I told myself.

My eyes lingered on his hands. All pianists do that without thinking. It's second nature. How does he position his hands? Are his wrists supple? Fingers strong and controlled?. His hands looked disarticulated. Almost all musician's hands do.

And then he played one of the most beautiful and haunting songs I knew and loved - "Tenderly".

The old and beaten ivory keys now yellowed with age turned into crystal notes. It was pure perfection.

"He is playing Tenderly as if he is the composer. Only composers play their own music with such ardor and pain."

He was desperately alone, Just he and his piano. People were chattering in the back of the saloon but I was so close to him I heard and watched him play every note with such purity and clarity, the sign of a good pianist and musician.

I did not dare rend the magic by asking that most banal of questions "Who is he?."

There would be plenty of time for that. I had vowed that I would stay until Molly's Pub closed and then some. I had been gifted with something I had not expected and for that I would give thanks and remember this for all time.

He improvised cadenzas, develops chords from other chords, created notes from notes.

"He is also a fine jazz pianist."

I knew Orpheus had possessed him on this particular night. The way he had clutched at the glass of whiskey meant that he was addicted to the stuff but perhaps tonight he was a free man.

"Oh! that was beautiful," I told him with much emotion, as I bent towards his ear.

He turned to gaze at me and gave me a weak smile, his teeth yellowed from the whiskey. He smelled of it. He was permeated with it. I didn't care. The man played beautiful music.

"You know this song?"

"Yes," I nodded. It's called 'Tenderly' and its one of my most loved songs."

His gaze now penetrated my whole being. "Most young people today like rock and roll, soul or Motown. They wouldn't know what to do with Tenderly."

"Please forgive me, I know the lyrics of the song by heart, I have various recordings of Tenderly, but I don't know who composed it. Are you the composer?"

"Walter Gross is my name and I'm thrilled that you have come to grace this saloon tonight,"he replied as wizened old Hollywood sage brought him a fresh refill of a strong but fine smelling whiskey.

"You folks good for a malt whiskey?" he asked.

"Thank you, I'll take you up on it. The lady only drinks Coco-Cola, I'm afraid," said Sandy.

"That shit's worse than alcohol for your health, kid," he laughed.

I knew he was right. "Fine. I'll enjoy a Jerez." (sherry).

In his other pieces a bass, drum, tenor sax and trumpet player joined him. He played standards like Deep Purple, Stardust, Sentimental Journey, I'll Walk Alone, Invitation, From Here to Eternity, and Green Dolphin Street.

I kept my vow and stayed after hours when the place closed down at 3:00a.m. in the morning. Only Sandy and I remained. Walter Gross had consumed over ten whiskey glasses, just how much more I shall never know because I was so lost in the music that I did not keep track.

"Now it's your turn, how would you play Tenderly?"

"I wouldn't change the key in which you composed it."

'That's because you are a classically trained musician and can distinguish all the keys and chords."

"It's one of the ways I can show my respect for you since I happen to be a musician.I would not change a thing. It would be foolhardy to change such a sublime piece of Music. But if you play it once more, I'll try to sing even without a microphone."

"Done," he agreed.

And so I sang in a tremulous voice at first and then in a limpid, strong voice as Walter Gross, the fine jazz pianist, composer and musician guided me through the simple yet difficult notes of Tenderly. You could hear the influence Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had had on him.There was no mistaking a hint of the melodramatic Puccini as well. Evviva!

It was almost 5:00a.m. by the time we left Molly Malone's Pub. I kissed him and embraced him. He felt so frail and bone thin. The alcohol fumes nearly knocked me out. No matter. Music was the only thing that mattered. Would I ever hear from him or even see him again? We lived on opposites of the Universe, I was in Florence, cradle of the Renaissance and he was in Hollywood Babylon.

I gave him my engraved calling card with my family's coat of arms. "If you are ever in Italy, please come and stay at my Villa of the Saracen," I murmured.

"I promise I shall certainly do that, if and when," he murmured back.

Sandy Howard drove me back to the Beverly Hilton in a Lincoln Townhouse. He was too much of an individualist to kowtow to all the Hollywood Accoutrements.

The Bossman - Frank Sinatra had recorded Tenderly a few years ago in a hit album at Reprise. Sassy Sarah Vaughan belted it incomparably, My beloved Billie Holiday phrased it and sang it as if her heart was breaking(it probably was) Rosemary Clooney had brought it to the top of the pops, it sold over a million records. Nat King Cole had an unforgettable rendition. Miles, the Prince of Darkness and Light played it, so did Trane(John Coltrane). Satchmo and Ella both recorded it. Tony Bennett, of course. Anybody who called himself or herself a singer/musician played and recorded it for posterity.

But on that particular night at Molly Malone's pub Walter Gross played it like no other earthly being ever could or would ever do again.

Rest in peace wherever you are Walter Gross. I thank you for Tenderly and the world will always thank you for Tenderly.

Author's Note: Walter Gross died of extreme alcoholism a few months after that enchanted night.

Sandy Howard developed Alzheimer's Syndrome in the early nineties and his wife at the time, who ever this monster was/is deposited him like a package in a sort of hospice and that was the last anyone of us who had loved him ever knew of him.

One of my favorite versions of Tenderly was done by Rosemary Clooney in 1952. Click here to watch it: www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbQjDxA7g-M

1 comment:

  1. I'm Walter Gross's niece, Helene Spierman. Thank you for posting this memory.