Swelter 27

A surrealistic sojourn in the City of Angels, the American dreamscape, glittery and cruel as a mirage, an eerie augury of Miami's destiny. Mired in the sheer exhilaration of modern vulgarity -- all small-change renown and bargain-basement chic -- and tumbling headlong into an uncertain future, haunted by the glorious ghosts of the past.

Stumbling off the plane like an eager lotus-eater, jump-starting the Los Angeles experience at The Gate supper club, opening an outpost in South Beach next season. Owner Al Gersten, companion Camille Bennett, and Susan Ainsworth -- formerly with Van Dome -- hosting the glamour-driven press for the weekend: Interview's Patrick McMullan, nightlife figurehead Stephen Saban, Michael Musto of the Voice, South Florida's Eric Newill. The club groaning with money and power, two Arab sheiks and a Red Chinese minister anchoring private rooms with amazing silicon-obsessed women, Milton Berle ("Hey, how ya doing, kid?") serving as our first celebrity sighting. All of us pining for contact with Shannen Doherty of the 90210 Rat Pack, the new bad girl icon of short-order Hollywood -- given to cat-fighting and general obnoxiousness, secretly marrying nineteen-year-old actor Ashley Hamilton after a brief courtship, seizing the camp consciousness of the city. When everybody is pretty much famous, distinctions of merit tend to blur.

A night of sweet celebrity dreams in the Mondrian Hotel, two limos showing up the following afternoon for a sight-seeing jaunt to Paramount Studios, uncovering Wesley Snipes shopping at a discount camera store along the way. The Paramount parking lot littered with Ferraris and Hummers, industry types barking into cellular phones, "Urkle" level stars and wayward bimbos looking for casting couches. Dinner at Georgia on Melrose Avenue -- Howard Hesseman and homegirl Erinn Cosby turning up A the owner ceremoniously presenting a press kit with previous celebrity dining appearances. A postprandial club tour, Musto tormented by a bizarre publicity-crazed designer of "interactive motorcycle jackets," everyone antsy about the local closing time of 2:00 a.m. First stop, Johnny Depp's wonderfully louche Viper Room, known for a strict No-Shannen policy, Florida native Depp in the house: "Yeah, it sure is a long way from Miramar, thank God." On to The Men's Room, looking for a trisexual drag queen porno star, producer Clifford Streit and his Mercedes entering our life. Up into the hills for a real estate tour, Streit developing American Psycho and the gay drama 180 Degrees, dismissing the Shannen phenomenon over the Sunset Boulevard soundtrack. "We let talentless trash have careers here, but not if they're rude. Oh, sorry. She's not a friend of yours, is she?"

Day three, Musto -- the consummate pro -- actually spotting Shannen and Sonny Bono in our hotel lobby, the press going Hollywood baroque ("I want my own celebrity stalker") during a backstage visit to the Blossom set. The Village People working next door on a stupendously unfunny Married with Children rehearsal, an enormous black drag queen on the sidelines wearily consenting to a photo op: "Go ahead, honey, if you want to stoop that low." A squabble erupting in the limo over improper phone use -- even legends bleed -- the Miami contingent escaping warp-fabulousity at the very beautiful Chateau Marmont. Dominick Dunne handily walking into the lobby, in town covering the Menendez murder trial for Vanity Fair, and over Diet Cokes in his suite, relishing a "summer of weirdness" -- Tina Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Heidi Fleiss and company making life interesting.

Refreshed from an idyll of civility, moving fast through a cross-cultural dinner party at The Gate, standing alone being existential suicide in Los Angeles. Brian Austin Green of 90210 carrying a silver-tipped cane, preternaturally slick and composed: "With a teen audience, you can't be photographed drinking and smoking." The very engaging Alek Keshishian, director of Truth or Dare and the upcoming With Honor, goofing around with Angela Janklow Harrington ("I made you, honey") and talking about Madonna's New Year's Eve gathering on Brickell Avenue, spending an afternoon blowing up party balloons with the material girl. Harrington leaving early for Timothy Leary's house, the junketeers assaulting the badlands of cholo Hollywood for a truly underground hip-hop party, Lady Miss Kier from Deee-Lite gyrating away. Moving on to The Whiskey, Simon LeBon and Jeff Beck lounging about, a decorator ("I just did Cher's new place") reminiscing about watching the L.A. riots from his roof: some crazed champagne-swilling pilot in a bi-plane swooping in over the war zone, laughing in the face of the apocalypse.

A Malibu theme for Day Four, lunch at Geoffrey's -- featured in The Player -- with old-line manager Jay Bernstein, major jewelry and a tie-dyed silk purple jacket, Bernstein living in the old Carole Lombard house and celebrating a recent underwater wedding filmed by Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. A career spanning the real Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra ramming golf carts through Vegas casinos and the like, Farrah Fawcett's "nipple" poster and Suzanne Somer's breakthrough Ace Hardware commercial, Mr. Hollywood taking the long view: "This town eats its old, and its young A but I've always gotten by." Down to Gersten's lavish place on the beach for dessert, McMullan skipping by the homes of Barry Diller and Olivia Newton-John, singing "Xanadu" and yelling encouragement: "Barry, I've saved the velvet mafia: Dolly's selling Dollywood for you!" Dinner at Drai's, Sherry Lansing of Paramount at the next table, Arsenio Hall "afraid to talk" at the club later that night, no doubt mindful of his associates: a close-close male friend and yet another besotted white girl. Winding down with a party at "Highball" honoring the "New York media superstars": Jason Gould "butching it up" for the cameras, Clifford marveling at our rhythmic dancing, Dynasty actor Jack Coleman in a life-imitates-TV moment, Keshishian ruing his fate, "trapped in a disgusting city."

A few days upstate for twisted rural values in Sonoma County and then back to sweet home Miami, recalling an instructive tale from a Shannen wedding guest: "It was just a schlubby little wedding, but everything here is about nothing. These people think they can do whatever they want. You've got fifteen-year-olds getting themselves declared emancipated by the courts, becoming legal adults and living in Beverly Hills, already through the whole rehab thing. Shannen never even told us the wedding was happening. About twenty of us showed up at her house and all of a sudden the minister came out. Things started to blur, like in a movie, and then it was over. I guess it was just another little pop in pop history.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Austin