Toro! Toro! Toro!

Founder of Santa Barbara’s Writers’ Conference Barnaby Conrad is not only a Montecito fixture who lives in Carpinteria’s Rincon Point, he is also a best-selling author, whose first bestseller, “Matador,” was published in 1952. Since then, he’s written, by his own account, 30 books, four more of which became bestsellers. He has another due in July: “The 101 Best Scenes Ever Written, From Plays, Films, and Literature” (Quill Driver Books), that, especially for a writer or would-be writer, is absolutely riveting reading (I’ve read the manuscript); he expects to follow that up with “101 Best Non-Fiction Scenes Ever Written” next year.

Among those 101 best fiction scenes, is one from the 1920’s classic “Bambi,” by Austrian Siegmund Salzmann(writing as Felix Salten), in which the little stag-to-be loses his mother. Barney analyzes this scene in his book, and credits its power to move us to the author’s spare use of detail, to what is not described. After Bambi’s mother ushers her little charge to safety, she runs off warning her son about the dangers of “man”; a gunshot is heard, “and,” the book intones, “Bambi never saw his mother again.”

It’s not Shakespeare, but it brings men and women, boys and girls, to tears. Conrad dissects equally powerful scenes written by authors as diverse as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack London, Mark Twain, Daniel Defoe, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Mitchell, and, well nearly a hundred others. Barney hoped to release the book before this year’s writers’ conference, but has to settle for a July release.

Barnaby, now 84, and his wife, Mary Conrad, founded the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference in 1972. “To be accurate, it was founded in the fall of 1972,” he corrects, “but the first conference was held at Cate School in 1973,” he says as we settle into our chairs at Montecito Coffee Shop, often called either “The Pharmacy,” or “Tom’s” (It had been Tom’s Coffee Shop until Debbie purchased it a couple years ago and changed the name).

“There’s so many wonderful things going back and reading those books,” Barney says before we order lunch, “that you thought were great. Maybe they aren’t, but on the other hand, many of them were just as good as I remember them.”

Joining us is Shelly Lowenkopf, who edited Conrad’s latest book. When told it’s nice to see him, he replies “It’s nice to be seen.” Although not yet 84, Shelly is no spring weed, so his apparent surprise and gratitude upon being “seen” is understandable.

“The whole book was Shelly’s idea,” Barney says. When asked why Shelly didn’t write it, Barney quips, “Shelly is full of ideas for me to do!”

The two men chose the 101 scenes dissected in the book from their extensive knowledge and familiarity with a broad range of literature.

“Remember that great scene that Orson Welles did in ‘Third Man’?” one would ask, for example, forcing the other to research it in Montecito Library. “I got all my books out of there,” Barney says, adding that Montecito Library “is a great resource.”

“The whole thing,” smiles Shelly, “is to keep him busy, because when he’s writing, he’s a different Barnaby Conrad. He’s anecdotal. He sketches things on these placemats and we sell them off for big bucks across the street (at Pierre Lafond).”

“I made him edit it though,” Barney jokes, and reveals that he put the entire book together in just 18 months, from idea through finished manuscript. “I just thought it was a terrific idea and couldn’t believe it hasn’t been done, but apparently it hasn’t,” Conrad explains.

Lowenkopf then drifts into a conversation about the concept of “back-story.” He explains that “back-story is sort of the fanny pack a character wears when he or she comes into a scene: its experience, expectations, what got them there.”

“You have to do it so it doesn’t look like ‘back-story,’” Barney interjects. “That’s the trick,” he continues. “You can tell a real writer when he gets that information in without hitting you over the head with it.”

“Wile E. Coyote should be the patron saint of characters,” Shelly opines. “This character is goal-oriented to the extreme. Optimistic, but going off the edge, and only finds himself clawing to get back to safe ground. That’s the kind of character people like to read about.”

Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture

Changing gears, Barney brings up a subject that’s percolated to the top of his list of pet peeves. “There’s a film coming out called ‘Manolete’,” he says, “with Adrien Brody and Penelope Cruz, and I hate to say they ripped off my books, but they did.” Conrad claims he was the only person to have written about Manolete in English, “so obviously they got their information from my book, ‘Matador,’ or ‘The Death Of Manolete.’

“It really frosts me,” he continues. “‘Matador’ was sold to John Huston and it’s never been out of option, but it’s never been made. Now, along comes this guy and is making Manolete in Spain – Brody looks exactly like Manolete – so, what I’m doing is going back to print (Ellen Reid is the local publisher) and it will be out in two weeks. It’s a handsome book. Mostly pictures,” he says.

“About ten years ago,” Barney says, “The New York Times asked twelve very famous writers like Philip Roth and others, what their favorite opening sentence was of any book they’d read. When it came to Elmore Leonard, who I didn’t even know, he said, ‘My favorite sentence is the opening from Barnaby Conrad’s ‘La Fiesta Brava,’ which is: ‘On August 27th, 1947, a multimillionaire and a bull killed each other and plunged an entire nation into deep mourning.’” Barney explains that Manolete and the bull killed each other at the same time, that at age 30 Manolete was about to retire from the arena but was prodded into another season by a 21-year-old competitor.

When “The Death Of Manolete” is re-issued it is going to feature a gold star in the right-hand corner that will read, ‘Soon to be a major motion picture.’ “It’s my only revenge. I’m not saying who’s making it or whose picture it is, or who’s in it,” Barney says. “They are still filming it,” he continues, “so they won’t be out until the end of the summer. But with two big stars, they have to give it a lot of publicity, and my book will be out.”

How many words one can officially or at least legally use from one work of fiction or non-fiction in another work, I wondered?

“It’s a tricky question and I always get different answers,” he replies. Barney believes he can safely use 350 words from a short story and 500 from a book. “In some cases,” he concedes, “I’ve quoted more than five hundred words, but I think it is still fair use. It’s tutorial. I’m saying, ‘Look at how he does this; look at how he does that.’ Not to make money off that particular selection, but to show somebody how good the writer was and how one can learn from him.”

Favorite scene? “I’m a great fan of Evelyn Waugh, who wrote “A Handful Of Dust.” At one point in the book, the woman, the wife, has a lover named John and a son named John. At some point they come to her and say, ‘We have terrible news; John has died.’ She says, ‘Which John?’ and they say, ‘Your son John,’ and she says ‘Oh, Thank God.’ I think that’s the most chilling of all. It’s hard to forget.

His favorite opening sentence was written by Ambrose Bierce in 1894: ‘I murdered my father; an act which made quite an impression upon me at the time.’

“But, for an opening scene,” Conrad says, “it’s funny that you mention Elmore Leonard; you can’t beat his opening scene in ‘Freaky Deaky,’ where the woman calls up and says ‘Are you sitting down?’ The gangster type says, ‘Yeah, I’m sittin’ down.’ She tells him there is a bomb in the chair and when he gets up it’s going to go off.”

Elmore Leonard has made three appearances at the Writers’ Conference.

Barney compared giving up the Writers’ Conference (to Marcia Meier) to that of owning a boat: “The second happiest day in your life is when you buy the boat; the happiest day in your life is when you sell it.”

“We’re still participants,” he adds, “but don’t have any of the heavy lifting. It really is a fulltime job; my wife did most of the work and I got most of the credit, which is the way I like it. A perfect combination, but it’s going to be better than ever.”

John Grogan, author of “Marley and Me,” the year-long bestseller about life and love with the world’s worst dog is one of this year’s featured speakers, along with Erica Jong (“Fear Of Flying”), T.C. Boyle, and perennial favorite Ray Bradbury and others. The Writers’ Conference takes place this year at Fess Parker’s Double Tree. Barney says that Westmont, the conference’s most recent home, “wasn’t ideal,” in that venues were difficult to get to and to find. More importantly (although he is now a teetotaler) “It’s got a bar, and writers do like to convene in bars.”

Barney Conrad’s other tutorial works are “The Complete Guide To Writing Fiction,” and “Learning To Write Fiction From The Masters,” both of which are available at Tecolote BookShop in Montecito Village.

For more information on Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference, you can call 805-964-0367 or go to: www.sbwritersconference.com or e-mail sbwritersconference@cox.net.

Cheryl Ladd is the “Token Chick”

Real estate agents Wes St. Clair and JoAnn Mermis are in charge of the speakers for this year’s Santa Barbara Rotary program, having taken off from where Bill Foster landed. On Friday June 9, Wes introduced actress-author and former television “Charlie’s Angel,” Cheryl Ladd (a Santa Ynez Valley resident) to the club in the Reagan Room at Fess Parker’s Doubletree as his guest. Cheryl’s talk was mostly about her book “Token Chick, A Woman’s Guide To Golfing With The Boys,” and her favorite topic: golf. She charmed both the men and women with her broad smile, wide-eyed naïveté, and wise-ass humor that only an accomplished woman of ineffable beauty could get away with.

Cheryl grew up in South Dakota where, she says, “I was twelve years old before I realized that snow fell out of the sky; I thought it blew on us from Canada.” She joked that there are only two seasons in South Dakota: “shovel (snow) and swat (insects).” “There’s nothing meaner than a twelve-year-old girl,” she intoned with a broad innocent smile, and then thanked the brownies and girl scouts for taking the mean out of her. She never considered staying in her home state, she says, explaining that her soul was “moved by music and dance” and there wasn’t much opportunity to experience those things in South Dakota.

She came to golf in a straightforward manner. Her husband, Brian Russell, and she took up the game together. “One day,” she explains, “Brian said, ‘It’s such a beautiful day, we should go play golf.’” After a long silent take, she responded that while that sounded like an excellent idea, they didn’t play golf. “’But I’m Scottish; I should play golf’ he said.”

They went out to a course in Los Angeles wearing tennis shoes and shorts, and rented clubs. “I whiffed the ball maybe eight, nine times, on the first tee,” she relates. “Then, I cracked it.” Cheryl gave a long sober look over the audience of some 150 Rotarians before commenting, “I don’t know if you’ve had the same experience, but the first time your club meets the ball and it goes somewhere straight ahead… it’s orgasmic! I did it!” she screamed in a Howard Dean kind of way.

That’s all it took; in less than a week she and Brian had purchased a shiny new set of golf clubs and “two weeks later we had a condo in Palm Springs. On the golf course. When we fall, we fall,” she said with a smile and a shrug.

She now calls golf “her favorite gift” of all time. Because it not only brings her to some of the most beautiful places in the world, but it has also allowed her to become a “buddy” to her husband.

Being a golfer who hit just well enough allowed her to play in celebrity golf tournaments, where in many she was the only woman celebrity; she was the ‘Token Chick.’ Her books derives from the many experiences she has collected along the way; chapters include playing with the legendary Arnold Palmer “The King & I,” “BBB” (Boys Behaving Badly), “Golf + PMS = The Pre-Menstrual Swing,” and others.

“One of the wonderful things about golf,” she concludes, “is that it has very specific rules. And the judge about those rules is you and your own character. There’s something wonderful about that. You can go out and cheat. You can kick that ball out from under a tree, pretend you were taking a practice swing when you whiffed it and not count that stroke. But you’re only cheating yourself.”

Another Opera In Venice

The Venetian masks for sale outside the “dining room” at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse were as authentic as some of the costumes, decorations, and the opera singers themselves. Made in Venice, the leather Venetian Carnival masks were handpicked and cost as little as $65, which seemed a bargain. A large “crown” mask with jester accessories could be had for only $110. Other masks were adorned with real peacock feathers, musical notes, and equally intriguing decorations and accoutrements.

As costumed participants checked in, they were directed to the reception, being held in the Mural Room upstairs, where dinner took place last year. As this event continues to grow in popularity, the Mural Room is no longer large enough to hold the nearly 200 Opera Santa Barbara supporters who attended this year’s event.

Silent auction items included two nights at San Ysidro Ranch, one night at the Biltmore, and dinner at Lucky’s, certainly a “Montecito Treat.” Other items included a vintage butterfly brooch, a Santa Barbara shopping spree, an original painting (“Maelstrom”) by architect Barry Berkus, a trip for two to Puccini’s Italy, an antique Chinese jewelry box, a signed magnum of Fess Parker Pinot Noir, and more.

Dinner was catered by Four Seasons Biltmore, and Palmina created special red and white wines for Opera Santa Barbara.

The evening opened with a grand toast to outgoing multi-lingual and silently super-competent president Fred Sidon. Steven Sharpe was among the many guests dressed in period outfit in hopes of winning the costume competition. He explained how his costume got that way, beginning with a visit to a thrift shop in Lompoc. He bought a used pair of cowboy boots there for $12.95, cut them off half way, spray-painted them gold, glued on a gold bow (from his Christmas wrapping stash) and added a button. His “period pants” were an old pair of khakis that he cut off, added braid to the side, and “threw on a few buttons.” The ruby-red ring he wore cost a dollar at the thrift shop. His wig and other items came from the OSB costume bin. Winners of the costume contest were Parker and Carolina Montgomery, as measured by the din of whistles, table-thumping, foot-stomping, glass-clinking, and old-fashioned noisemaking.

The Live Auction, hammered down by Dr. Joseph Ilvento with the able assistance of his daughter Juliana, featured items like a five-star 8-day stay in Italy ($7,000 bid), one week at the Manhattan Club in New York City and tickets to the New York Philharmonic ($5,500), an Opera Dinner Party for 12 that included food prepared by chef Jean-Philippe, Palmina Winery’s Opera Santa Barbara wines, and an opera concert ($7,000 – 3 winning bids!), a San Francisco Getaway that included a private plane and tickets to the San Francisco Opera ($7,000), a tour of Santa Fe during opera season ($4,500), and the chance to be an opera star – the highest bidders get to perform in the 2007 OSB production of Rigoletto ($5,000 twice). The total live auction take: $55,000.

An additional $130,000 was raised with the help of a $50,000 challenge grant – “Just stand up and offer money,” OSB General Director Steven Sharpe pleaded. He received such a generous response, he promised next year Opera Santa Barbara would have enough money to host a free one-hour Saturday “Kids’ Day At The Opera” at the Arlington featuring professional opera singers; the opera would be written by the staff of OSB.

Valéry Ryvkin played piano as Olga Chernisheva and Harold Gray Meers sang Verdi’s “La Donna E Mobile” from “Rigoletto,” along with selected numbers from Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur” and Puccini’s La Boheme.” Guest were also treated to a short flute performance by Julia Cooperman. Later Ms Chernisheva sang an aria with no microphone for Bob Urquhart (who donated $3,000 for the privilege) that was so powerful it put goose bumps on the saltimbocca, prompting Richard Auhll to remark woefully, “I wouldn’t want her yelling at me!”

It’s easy to see why Opera Santa Barbara has grown so popular and has become so successful; every one of its all-opera-all-the-time events, especially during the two-year reign of President Fred Sidon, has been an over-the-top joy to attend.