On The Strip

E. “Duke” Vincent’s first two novels – “Mafia Summer” and “Black Widow” featured a thinly disguised autobiographical character named Vince “Vinnie” Vesta, as a juvenile delinquent who, by the second novel has removed himself from the Italian mob’s influence and become a navy pilot (Vincent is a former navy pilot and flew with the elite Blue Angels). In “The Strip,” Duke leaves Vinnie behind, but introduces Nick Conti, a thinly disguised autobiographical protagonist. Which is fine: “write what you know,” being the author’s mantra. And Duke knows of what he writes, having been Executive Producer of television’s “Vegas” that ran on ABC from 1978 to 1981, starring Robert Urich as Dan Tanna, private eye.

The years 1978 to 1982 coincided with the last years of the mob’s influence in Las Vegas, and Vincent put the time he spent there producing the show to good use in this latest novel. “At the time,” he says during a lull in his book-signing gig at Tecolote Book Shop in Montecito, “the FBI had tapped pretty much every mob-related casino guy in the country” in a program called “Strawman” that exposed the mob’s skimming operations and dealt a deathblow to its hold on Las Vegas.

In attendance at this Los Arroyos-catered book signing was a Montecito A list that included Duke’s wife, former TV star and cookbook author Pamela Hensley Vincent, songwriter Barry DeVorzon, former Herman’s Hermit Peter Noone, his wife, Mireille, Jim Argyropoulos, Tecolote (and Indiana Pacers) co-owner Herb Simon, designer Luis Estevez, intellectual property rights expert (and Tecolote co-owner) Len Freedman, movie producer Joe Medjuck, STP and Indy 500 great Andy Granatelli and his wife, Dolly, News-Press columnist Richard Mineards, tennis great Jimmy Connors, Carole Ridding of Silverhorn, tech wizard and polo player Bob Fell, and others.

Duke, as Aaron Spelling’s partner for many years, knows something about A lists. He recalled, for example, a party in Las Vegas in Frank Sinatra’s suite during which Elvis Presley arrived after his show and...

St. Jude’s at the Biltmore

St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital is about to make its Santa Barbara presence felt as three Montecito couples help launch its first area fundraiser Friday, February 13 at Four Seasons Biltmore. As things go, the dinner will be a more intimate affair than many are accustomed to, with perhaps 100 attendees, but St. Jude’s Montecito founders of the Santa Barbara Chapter Geonine & Kerry Moriarty, Angie & Mike Ferraro, and Janet & John McCann, believe a smaller gathering will make it easier to explain the hospital’s mission and to garner longtime support for the Danny Thomas-founded institution based in Memphis Tennessee. Danny’s son Tony is now a Montecito resident.

St. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes, but after Mr. Thomas opened the hospital in the late 1950s, childhood cancer and leukemia have become anything but hopeless. Due in no small part to St. Jude’s Hospital researchers, five-year survival rates for once all-but-fatal diseases such as Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Hodgkin Disease, Neuroblastoma, and many others have gone from as little as 4% to as high as 95%. And, one’s donations are mostly earmarked for such continuing care and research: it’s 2007 annual report reveals that just 6.6% of money raised is spent for administration, while another 9.6% is directed at fundraising; a full 83.8% goes towards “Current and Future Needs of the Hospital.”

To ensure the evening at the Biltmore remains small and intimate, there will be only two live auction items put up for bid. But, what enticing items they are:

1) Dinner for three couples with stand-up comic and radio talk show host Dennis Miller, and his wife, Carolyn, at their beach house. Joining the Millers will be Bo Derek and John Corbett. Serving up the meal will be organic wunderkind Bradley Ogden, currently renting a condo from Kerry Moriarty in Buellton while overseeing construction of his new restaurant in Solvang (Root 246), and will create some special dishes for the three winning couples and their hosts.

2) Dinner for another three lucky couples at the home of famed trial lawyer Gerry Spence and his wife, Imaging, in Montecito, again co-hosting with Bo Derek and John Corbett. This time, however, Bo and Imaging will be cooking and both are renowned, we’re told, for their culinary expertise.

Entertainment will be supplied by Side Effect with Augie Johnson and his “Watts to the White House” group. Augie, now 66, performed on the Danny Thomas Show at the age of eight. Cost to attend the Biltmore dinner is $250 per person, and dress is black-tie optional. For more information, call Janet McCann at 805-966-9785 or Geonine Moriarty at 805-969-7512.

Time to Travel Again? (Maybe)

Brian and Judy Robertson of Robertson International Travel were for many years ensconced in elegant courtyard digs behind what is now Coldwell Banker on Coast Village Road; they are settled in currently at 225 East Carrillo, but continue to be one of Montecito’s premier travel consultants.

These days, the Robertsons seem to be on a lifelong sabbatical, spending months traveling – literally – around the world, mostly by ship. They’ll be underway again January 21, hosting the 100-passenger World Cruise of the Crystal Serenity for its Virtuoso Voyager Club. (You can follow their travels at www.robertsonworldtravel.com). While in Santa Barbara, they hosted a “Robertson Leadership Forum and Showcase 2009” at the Lobero on January 8, which turned out to be both entertaining and informative.

Out in front of the theater, a number of high-end cruise lines and hotel chains set up tables with brochures and information for the general public, while Judy and Brian hosted a reception in back of the theater for clients.

A little later, inside the Lobero, surprise guest Jean-Michel Cousteau received the “Virtuoso of the World” award in acknowledgement of his continuing efforts on behalf of a cleaner ocean environment. Afterwards, an expert panel, moderated by Brian, featuring representatives from Crystal Cruises, Oceania Cruises, JG Blackbook of Travel, Viking River Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, and Micato Safaris, discussed the current state of travel as well as its future.

During the panel discussion, Jeff Drew, Sr. VP of Sales and Marketing for Oceania noted that it was one of his company’s ships that “pirates” had tried to commandeer off the coast of Somalia (“They shouldn’t be called ‘pirates.’ They should be called what they are: terrorists,” he says). “We were never in serious danger of being boarded,” Drew reassured, noting that the ship was some 350 miles offshore at the time and could easily outrun the small craft pursuing it. “Besides,” Jeff added, “We have other defenses” if a serious threat emerged. One of those “defenses,” it seems, is shipboard radar that if directed at the “pirates,” would have burst their eardrums. He then joked that the danger was so slight the crew couldn’t keep the ship’s guests from coming up on deck to watch the action. “[The guests] must have felt they were on a pirate theme cruise,” he laughed.

Another element of modern upscale travel that many people may be unaware of came up during the panel discussion: the development of “Luggage Concierges,” who will pick up a traveler’s luggage on the day of departure and ensure that it is delivered and waiting at the destination. Using such a service allows travelers the luxury of boarding aircraft with no luggage in hand other than carry-ons and, obviously, avoids the possibility of one’s belongings being riffled through by airport personnel, or ending up in Cairo while one is headed for Istanbul.

Bill Smith, Sr. VP of Sales and Marketing for Crystal Cruises announced that his company was in the planning stages of a cruise to Iran, long excluded from most Western cruise itineraries. Anna Pinto, Executive Director of Micato Safaris (based in India), noted that “trips with a philanthropic element” were becoming more popular and that cruise lines and others had adjusted their options to accommodate clients looking to do good while having a good time.

To a man and woman, all the professionals on the panel agreed that 2009 has so far been a miserable year for them, and that many cruise lines and hotels were slashing rates to attract clients. This low-priced window, however, is unlikely to persist beyond June, they suggest.

If you missed this year’s Leadership Forum, you should call Robertson Travel at 805-969-3221 and get yourself on the invite list for next year’s. Better yet, talk to them about some of the rather astounding travel bargains that are out there right now.