Hollywood North

In June of 2000, my husband, Don, and I were walking my dog Mandy at Summerland Beach. Afterwards, we tried out a new coffeehouse called the French Bulldog in the beachside community, where we met the owner Roger Durling and partner Michael Seabaugh, both friendly folks who told us the place was named for their two French bulldogs, Bedini and Binoche, (after actress Juliette Binoche).

As time went on, we attended various benefits that Durling and Seabaugh hosted for Summerland School and Summerland Beautiful. It is said Durling’s name first appeared locally in print in this column. A film nut since childhood in Panama, Durling soon made friends with other customers that were on the Board of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. He was invited to be a board member and a year later, he became artistic director. As actor and director Tim Matheson said on opening night this year, “Roger has turned the festival around in the last four years.” Board President Jeffrey Barbakow calls Durling a “movie savant,” one who has an innate talent for choosing movie winners and the drive to make cold calls to Hollywood to get them here.

The proof is in the program: more than 30 Academy Award nominees attended the 2007 festival, all invited long before the Academy chooses its contenders. But it isn’t all about celebs. The festival has expanded in many areas, including Asian and Latin American sidebars, student filmmaking and screenwriting competitions and students from Santa Barbara Middle School actually being in the press ranks for interviews on the red carpet. More than 3,000 film entries were competing for a place in the 200 shown during the festival.

When I see klieg lights in the sky, a sense of excitement takes over and opening night at the Arlington had old Hollywood glamour with eight of them flashing. At the screening of “Factory Girl,” Edie Sedgwick’s brother Jonathan, from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, attended the post-party at Paseo Nuevo. When I asked him about the bronze horse statue at Earl Warren Showground done by their dad, Duke, he told me, “the Cowboy Hall of Fame commissioned the statue, which cost over one hundred ten thousand dollars. When they couldn’t pay, Governor [Pat] Brown came up with seventy-five thousand dollars and then later Governor Reagan kicked in twenty-five thousand dollars.”

The night of Dame Helen Mirren’s tribute, “The Queen” screenwriter Peter Morgan told the audience, “In the beginning Helen didn’t look, walk or act like the Queen. On the second day Helen ‘left’ and the Queen ‘appeared.’” Character actor William H. Macy, who presented Mirren’s award, commented, “It’s fun when you win. It sucks when you don’t!” This was Mirren’s second public appearance in town in one year. Her hubbie and “Ray” director Taylor Hackford was born here. “Thank you, Santa Barbara for giving me my husband!” Mirren exclaimed. When asked about her tattoo on her hand, she replied, “One night I got drunk and had it done, long before they were a fashion symbol.” She’s probably the only Dame with a tattoo.

Days later, Durling told the audience at the Arlington for the Modern Master Award, “after George Clooney last year, how could we top that? I sat at my desk and wrote two words, Will Smith.” Smith’s latest movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” is the story of Chris Gardner and the homeless days he spent on the streets with his son while vying to become a stockbroker. Gardner was in attendance for the ceremony, looking like a million bucks (he should; he’s now is a millionaire). He said, “The movie is about inner space not outer space.” When Smith came on stage, he had a piece of paper stuck to his shoe. He removed a piece of it, sat down and wife Jada Pinkett Smith came on stage to remove the last piece still stuck to his boot. At least it wasn’t a piece of toilet paper, only a sign saying, “Reserved for guests of Will Smith.”

The big bash after was a Biltmore extravaganza, a $280,000 bash. The hotel was closed to the public and turned into a nightclub with dancing girls in “cages,” à la ‘70s. They had been dancing in their Victoria Secret lingerie when some guest took offense. One of the dancers told me, “We found an old curtain and cut it up to make our short sarongs.” Shades of “The Sound of Music” when Julie Andrews made play clothes out of curtains! After three days of tributes and parties, at midnight I turned into a pumpkin and went home.

Durling and Seabaugh closed the French Bulldog in 2005. We’re glad Durling, his staff and volunteers are able to turn Santa Barbara into Hollywood North for 10 days every year, but we still miss his friendly face over coffee at The Bulldog. You’ve come a long way, Baby!

Lake Wobegon at the Arlington

UCSB Arts & Lectures series seems to get bigger and better every year. Recently, Garrison Keillor, of “A Prairie Home Companion” fame, charmed the Arlington audience with his folksy down-home manner. He began, “When you tell somebody from Santa Barbara that you’re from Minnesota, there’s a pause and then ‘It’s really cold there.’ It’s so bitterly cold that when you walk outside, it hurts. Somebody has to live there.” Keillor lives in Minnesota, but his fictional town is called Lake Wobegon.

Keillor was born in 1942 in Anoka, Minnesota and he began his radio career as a freshman at the University of Minnesota. For this show, he wove a story for two hours full of word pictures that everyone could imagine (radio was good for imaginations). In between his monologue, Richard Dworsky accompanied Keillor along with Robin and Linda Williams singing and playing guitar. Robin and Linda first appeared on “Prairie Home Companion” more than 30 years ago.

During Keillor’s program, he told us, “we’ll have a stand-up intermission and sing.” We stood to stretch and he led an old-fashioned sing-along that ended with “Home On The Range.”

Afterwards in the Green Room when asked, “Do you adlib?” Keillor replied, “only if I forget.” One fan wanted him to do a Minnesota accent and he joked, “I don’t do accents since the movie Fargo.” Comedian John Cleese told me, “I don’t know anybody that can do what Garrison does or even come close. It must be partly because of his love of the Minnesota people.”

Arts & Lectures staff is headed by director Celesta Billeci. In the Green Room for a small reception were Jocelyn Ondre, the director of development, and her associate, Amy Lassere, along with guests Judy and Bruce Anticouni, Donna Christine and Mike McGuire, Michael and Anne Towbes, Marsha and Bill Wayne and Alyce Faye Cleese.

For more information about Arts & Lectures call 893-3535.