Alternative Foods

Don’t believe everything you read when you’re served alternative facts about food.

There are so many things I feel like writing about this month. But I must continuously remind myself that this is a food column. Food. Not politics. Not social injustice. Not environmental activism. Not healthcare reform. Food.

And yet, if you are a loyal reader (I know at least three of you are), you have surely come across all of these topics in my column before. Sure, food is a critical element of life that must be made accessible to all. And yes, my industry is swollen with problems — pitiful wages, lack of decent healthcare, no medical leave, epidemic misogyny. We must stand up to all of this, and we do. There have been some great strides against this mess in the past few years. But I think the bigger point is that artists, culinary or otherwise, have the power to grab the attention of the masses, and with such power comes a duty. I’m not suggesting that I am a great artist. Just that I have a platform. So, I intend to use it.

With that in mind, I will use this food column to point out injustice when I see it. And sadly, I see a lot of it. We are being inundated with propaganda from all sides, so it behooves us to sift out what is real, and what is fake. But that isn’t always easy, because the fake stuff is often more appealing.

Velveeta, for instance, might be attractive to less-educated cheese connoisseurs. It is creamy and smooth and is utilized in many All-American dishes that are often described as “safe” and “comfortable.” And its bright orange color is certainly eye-catching. But it isn’t cheese. It’s “cheese food” and is so highly processed that it doesn’t require refrigeration, which is never good. The same is true with cheese in a can, and the stuff they extrude onto your nachos at the ballpark. But please, don’t be lured by its viscosity. It is evil. And while it is an unabashedly American product, it will not serve us well, nutritionally. It also makes us the laughingstock of the International Cheese Community.

Similarly, oat bran once promised to Make Your Diet Great Again. Every conceivable product jumped on the bandwagon, and Americans were led blindly into an all-out high-fiber war. Products without the oat bran label were deemed unhealthy and were shunned by consumers. What they didn’t mention is that adding oat bran to your Cap’n Crunch did not Drain the Swamp of other nutritionally corrupt effects. There was still a ton of sugar and preservatives. Sadly, we didn’t learn from this, and we repeatedly fall for the outrageous claims, whether they be in the guise of whole-grain, all-natural or sugar-free. A sugar-free, whole-grain Oreo will still make you fat. No slogan will ever change that.

Low-fat foods are also dangerous. Paranoid, reactionary organizations warned of the dangers of fat. They told us that it was bad, and that we should ban it from our diets. But there were consequences of such a ban. Anxiety over the dangers of fat led to a plethora of products containing processed fat. But they failed to warn us that, although these foods had reduced levels of cholesterol, they contained processed fat replacements which had their own problems and led to extreme weight gain and chronic disease. That there is evil in fat, it turns out, was an alternative fact. But alternative facts, no matter how ridiculous, can lead to panic and, as a result, those products that already felt marginalized by their fat content suffered even more. What we must realize is that fat is good for us. We need fat in our diet to keep our communities strong. Some of the most deliciously healthful foods are those with fat. Our country was built with the help of fat, and it is fat that makes America strong. Diversity in our diet is imperative for national health.

If our leaders can’t remember where we failed in the past, perhaps they should take a look at the history of grocers’ shelves.

Velveeta-Free, Low-Fiber, High-Fat Mac ’n’ Cheese 

Macaroni and cheese is generally considered to be a comfort food, a foodie term I find exceedingly annoying. Translated into plainspeak, comfort food is a fattening, high-carb, nap-inducing food that you generally turn to when it’s time to eat your feelings. FYI —I’m currently having a lot of feelings.


1 pound macaroni noodles (or try shells, bow-ties or ziti)

4 tablespoons butter, divided

½ yellow onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

½ teaspoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons flour

1½ cup milk

¾ pound Italian fontina, Gouda or Muenster cheese, grated

½ pound yellow or white cheddar cheese, grated

2 cups bread crumbs

¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence, or dried thyme


1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and stir, bringing it back to the boil. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the noodles are half-cooked. Drain noodles, cover with cold water to stop the cooking and set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery and thyme, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender and translucent. Add the flour and stir until all is well coated, then cook another minute until the flour begins to brown. Add the milk slowly, stirring out any lumps as you go. Cook until the sauce is thick, then strain into a large baking dish, and discard the vegetables. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste, then add the cheese and stir until mostly melted.

3. Add the macaroni, and stir until well coated. Mix the breadcrumbs with Parmesan and herbes. Spread the mac evenly in baking dish and top with crumbs. Dot the top with remaining butter, then bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at


went back to school last week. Not for classes and not for any kind of reunion (the reunion part may come later). I returned to Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy for the first time since I left, more years ago than I care to remember, because I received a mysterious phone message from a Sister Giulii (pronounced “Julie”). I called the number; the voice on the other end of the line was husky and casual and, I thought, entirely unclerical. My memories of the Flintridge sisters’ voices were full of crisp pronunciations and formal deliveries. Sister Giulii sounded like a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in a while. Which is pretty much what she turned out to be: a Flintridge classmate appearing out of the fog of our combined academic past. She’d tracked me down after reading one of my Arroyo columns about Flintridge, and she’d called to invite me to drive up to our old school together. She’d pick me up in her car, she said.

Say what? A Dominican nun with a car? I wondered how she’d manage to handle the wheel with all the long skirts, coifs, veils and capacious sleeves of her habit. And what kind of car would she drive?

The car turned out to be a Toyota Corolla. White. Clean, with a small clutch of papers on the passenger-side floor. These were brushed casually to the side so I’d have more leg room. This was the Giulii I’d known all those years ago, all right. The same spark of humor was there in her dark eyes. Her mouth still looked as if she might laugh at any moment. She was still pretty. Her thick dark curls were cropped short and, while the hair had remained thick, it had gone white. But she was not wearing a habit. Sister Giulii had on jeans and a gray T-shirt embossed across the front with the crest of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy. I could not have been more surprised if she had been wearing a sarong.

We drove to La Cañada, talking about classmates who had entered the order. One girl, nicknamed Tyke, was the wildest student in our class, the one who found a way to smoke without being caught (and expelled), the one who managed to smuggle up a bottle of mouthwash laced with vodka, left school in the 10th grade and entered a Carmelite novitiate. Giullii told me Tyke left the Carmelites (the most enclosed of orders) and reentered the world after a few years. We talked about the suspense, during summer holidays, of waiting for the handsomely engraved card that invited you back for another year. If you did not receive that card, you weren’t welcome to return; it wasn’t like being expelled, but not being invited back to Flintridge would have made it difficult to be accepted at another private school. We traveled up St. Katherine Drive (the same route my mother and I had taken after weekends and holidays at home) until we reached the top. And there was the school, a sprawl of red-tile-roofed white buildings and lush landscaping with a rustic, bougainvillea-draped bridge that crossed over the drive to a compound of four-room cottages reserved for upperclassmen. I remembered how excited I was when, as a junior, I got to live in one of the cottages; all Flintridge students are boarders, and being allowed a space in a cottage felt as grown-up as scarlet lipstick and My Sin perfume.

The school, which was once the Flintridge Hotel (donated to the Catholic Church in the ’20s by its owner), looked the same as we walked up the flight of stone stairs to the entrance. The old hotel lobby still had the check-in desk where students signed in after weekends at home and where all incoming calls were screened. The big room off the lobby — where school plays, the junior and senior proms and the ceremonial senior ring ceremony were held — hadn’t changed, with the exception of a large lectern at the center of the room, facing a number of chairs. Sister Giulli explained that this was now the chapel. I was rather disappointed: My memory of the original chapel with its beautiful altar and rows of benches seemed much more the real deal to me. But the life-size statues of the Madonna holding the infant Jesus and Saint Francis with a small dog at his side were just as I remembered. The long hallway leading to the students’ rooms was unchanged. The Green Room, where we gathered after dinner for bridge games and dancing to donated record albums, was the same. But now it’s painted white and there is a very big flat-screen TV attached to one wall. I guess there’s not much dancing there now, or games of bridge and hearts. But just outside the room’s French doors, the patio with its round stone fountain was so familiar I half expected to see Sister Benigna bringing out the basket of sweet pastries she referred to as “afternoon lunch.”

The highlight of the day was meeting Sister Carolyn McCormack, the president of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy. Sister Carolyn greeted me with the warmest of hugs and the kind of smile one doesn’t see often: wide and true and welcoming. She was wearing a habit, and I noticed the differences from those my teachers wore when I was a student. The new habits are shorter and the coif and veil are less constricting. The black cotton stockings and low-heeled shoes are unchanged, however.

Sister Carolyn, who was named Educator of the Year by the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce in January, is apple-cheeked, with deeply intelligent eyes that hold an extra push of blue. Those eyes see you as you are, and when she leans in to speak she has the gift of making you feel as if you’re the only person in the room. She invited me to return to Flintridge, even to speak to any students interested in journalism. We met in the dining room, called the refectory when I was a student there. The big room is not much changed — the ceiling is as high and the candled chandeliers are still in place, but the white-clothed tables for eight have been replaced by round vinyl-topped tables bearing the Flintridge crest. And now, instead of meals served by the sisters, there are long tables with a choice of meals for self-service. I didn’t meet any students that day, but I saw a couple of girls studying at the other end of the dining room. The dark blue uniforms we wore when I was a Flintridge student have been replaced with red blazers and pleated skirts. Way more attractive.

It was a great day for me, and if it’s true you can’t go home again, you can most assuredly go back to school.

Cool Down

Shady gardens are tricky but rewarding.

Every summer there are days when the heat is sinister — hot outside, hot inside. The A/C is on but my ’20s Spanish home is still 84 degrees. I pad back and forth, feeling like a snow leopard in an Arizona zoo. I eye my garden and pine for shade.

Trees. I need more trees.

“Trees are the most beneficial plants in our urban landscape,” says landscape architect and Cal Poly Pomona professor emeritus Bob Perry, conveniently supporting my obsession. Trees not only shade our homes, he points out, they also sequester carbon from the atmosphere “and transpire their moisture, which [reduces] air temperature and direct-sun heat load on our houses.”

With temperatures rising and Southern California vulnerable to drought (despite recent rain), cultivating shade just makes sense. Sure, gardening in the shade can be tricky, but with a little know-how, you can cultivate spots that are cool, lovely and soothing.

Over the 13 years I’ve lived in San Gabriel, I’ve added shade to my lot: a native Catalina cherry, some gorgeous red-barked manzanitas, a feijoa (pineapple guava tree). But as the trees have grown, the shadows have deepened and I’ve had to reexamine what will thrive.

To state the obvious: Plants need sun to photosynthesize and grow. That makes deeply shady areas, including the north side of structures, a challenge for gardeners. For these full-shade spots, Perry recommends understory plants from temperate or subtropical climates—flora that evolved to grow beneath a thick tree canopy. That includes the Japanese aucuba (Aucuba japonica), an evergreen shrub with variegated leaves; various maples, aspidistras and philodendrons (both commonly sold as indoor plants) and some species of Berberis, such as Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium) and creeping barberry (Berberis repens).

Many of these plants need year-round water to look their best, so I prefer plants from Mediterranean climates — California, Chile, South Africa, Australia and the Mediterranean basin. Perry recommends these as well. “It’s a limited palette, but dry shade is as tough as it gets,” he says. “When you talk about dry shade, you are dealing with sort of a double negative.”

Las Pilitas, a native plant nursery near San Luis Obispo, offers an exhaustive list of California flora for full and dry shade on its website (, with the caveat that many might prefer partial shade. Among the more popular plants on the list are various species and cultivars of coffeeberry, monkey flower, Heuchera, currants (Ribes indecorum and Ribes sanguineum glutinosum) and hummingbird sage.

All of these natives have thrived in shady spots in my garden. On the north side of my home, along a path between the house and a perimeter wall, I converted a dank zone of calla lilies and lawn into a thicket of (mainly) natives. The new plants mostly thrived and didn’t need as much water, but I discovered that each niche had its own microclimate. Several patches turned out to be sunnier than I thought, affording me a wider range of plants.

Jill Morganelli, horticultural supervisor for the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, recommends studying your shade before you plant. “Maybe keep a little journal,” she says. “Go in the morning and see what the sun is, go out there in the afternoon, and then you also have to do that at different times of the year.” 

My thicket matured, providing an attractive privacy screen, but some of the plants, including a nectarine tree, languished as others grew up around them. At the northwest corner of the house, a manzanita caught late-afternoon sun in summer.  It grew slowly but steadily, eventually shading out a coffeeberry shrub.

“Most trees need full sun,” says Morganelli, “and when you start getting into shade and growing against buildings, there’s no air flow, so molds and root rot can really intensify.” She adds that people tend to overwater shady areas, leaving plants vulnerable to disease. 

I’m stingy with water, so my biggest problem is determining whether aggrieved plants have taken too much umbrage or are in need of a drink.

Morganelli strolls among ferns at the Arboretum in Arcadia. She points out other shade-tolerant plants: orange-flowered Clivia, an evergreen, bulb-like (rhizomatous) plant from southern Africa; Peruvian lily (Alstromeria); and shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana), a shrub with blooms resembling crustaceans.

Because shady areas are darker, Morganelli says, variegated and white-flowered plants, including the lighter azaleas, look especially pretty. “At night it literally illuminates your garden,” she says.

On hot days, one of Morganelli’s favorite Arboretum roosts is a bench under a stout coast live oak. ”Don’t try to plant magnificent gardens under oaks,” she advises. “It’s just not going to work.” Indeed, because of the deep shade and chemicals (tannins) this tree exudes to inhibit other plants, nothing is growing under it. “But look at the glorious shade,” Morganelli says.

The Arboretum’s Engelmann oak grove is a refuge for L.A. County’s largest remaining congregation of these rare native trees. I asked Jim Henrich, the Arboretum’s curator of living collections, to meet me there to discuss gardening around oaks.

The Engelmanns slant west in unison, a carpet of weeds at their feet. Henrich hopes to replace the weeds with a few sparsely planted natives, perhaps evergreen currant and bunch grass — but around the periphery. “The best thing of all is not to plant under the tree,” he says, “and just allow natural leaf-litter accumulation. It’s the best mulch.” California oaks are adapted to dry summers. New plantings will need more frequent summer water, which can leave oaks vulnerable to fungus, especially if moisture concentrates near the trunk. (One exception: In the first few years, young oaks benefit from regular water.) For trees generally, it’s best to water at the dripline — the zone under the outer circumference of the branches.

“If you have to plant under the tree, you should probably stay at least 15 feet away from the trunk,” Henrich says, adding that you’ll need to select plants that survive on less frequent but longer (deeper) watering. To avoid excessive root disturbance, keep plantings sparse. It’s good advice for working around any kind of tree.

Perry recommends installing a drip irrigation system at a tree’s dripline. “Cover it with mulch and strategically plant,” he says. “Put an emphasis on plants that spread and sprawl.” Cluster things, he says, so instead of a carpet, you’ll have mulch and “drifts and groupings and islands” of plants.

First and foremost, water the trees. “Our big trees, even coast live oaks, are not necessarily water-thrifty plants,” says Perry. “They have a big surface area to cool.” So prioritize: allow portions of your yard to be drier, rely less on lawn and other thirsty plants. That way, says Perry, “collectively you’re using less water because you are focusing it strategically on the plants that really do the good things for our environment.”

Exactly. Trees. Big shady trees.

Presidents’ Day Revised

Get to know a little more about the office we celebrate on Feb. 20.

February is traditionally a time when we wax patriotic and remember the great leaders of our past. This year, that tradition is more important than ever. If nothing else, we should remind ourselves that, as a country, we have endured, despite our electoral blunders.

The third Monday in February is a federal and state holiday; in California, it’s called Presidents’ Day. Our state leaders agreed it was better to have one all-encompassing day than to celebrate Lincoln on the 12th and then Washington about a week later on the 22nd. I am sure this was economically motivated to keep people at their desks, but the joke’s on them — because many institutions still take off the traditional birthdays, in addition to the newer Presidents’ Day. California still lists both birthdays on calendars, but state employees no longer get both days off as paid holidays. California — keepin’ it classy and ambiguous.

How you spend your Presidents’ Day holiday is entirely up to you. I fully expect the majority of Californians to turn it into a long weekend of skiing or theme-parking. But may I suggest that, in this tumultuous time, you spend this Presidents’ Day getting in touch with some of our past leaders. If you do, I think you may find that our current situation, though dire, is not without precedent.

Historically, our country has often elected the famous over the populist. And it is not unusual for our choices to perform less illustriously than promised. George Washington, of course, was beloved by the masses as a warrior and gentleman farmer, though the farming part was really just theoretical until his retirement, at which point he still left the actual labor to his hundreds of slaves. Not exactly how we like to celebrate him. We prefer to make up legends about honor and cherry tree preservation.

Jefferson was well known for his Francophile ways and his bouffant wig. And while he penned our most cherished egalitarian document, he personally preferred not to mingle with the common folk. He has been celebrated as a proponent of ending the importation of slaves, but those views were based not on his desire to end slavery, but rather to increase the value of his in-house slave-breeding program.

Lincoln is often considered our greatest president. But while the Great Emancipator despised slavery, he was unwilling to do much about it until it became clear that emancipation would give him leverage against the Confederacy, by eliminating its labor force. Also, he condescendingly referred to Sojourner Truth as “Aunty,” a catch-all name for household servants. He is also known to have referred to slaves in general as “Cuffie” — a demeaning variation on the West African name Kofi. Not cool, Uncle Abe. Not cool.

Andrew Jackson was super-popular after defeating the British at New Orleans during the War of 1812. He was the first to ride mistrust of the political establishment to victory, promising to directly represent the common man. But once in office his lavish banquets earned him the nickname “King Andrew.” He also ushered in the spoils system of political patronage (jobs in return for political support), effectively killing civil service as it had been known. Not exactly a step toward good government. Also, Old Hickory killed a guy in a duel, threatened to kill many others and initiated the Trail of Tears, the forced relocations of thousands of Native Americans in the Southeast. So much for the Man of the People.

In the election of 1876, New York’s Democratic governor, Samuel J. Tilden, beat Rutherford B. Hayes in the popular vote by nearly 300,000. But contested Electoral College votes in several states kept the results in dispute well into January. (Sound familiar?) Congress set up an Electoral Commission, which determined the Electoral College count at 187-186 — in favor of Hayes. The victor was, for the remainder of his term, known as “His Fraudulency.”

Warren G. Harding got the job because the Republican Party thought he looked presidential. Unfortunately, his looks were the only presidential thing about him. His oratory skills were subpar, and his speeches were described as “an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.” (Again — sound familiar?) In addition to his communication deficit, he was known for tawdry extramarital affairs, illegitimate children and the Teapot Dome scandal, in which the interior secretary received payment for secretly and exclusively leasing federal oil reserves to the Mammoth Oil Company. And he had the worst nickname ever — “Wobbly Warren.”

So, my fellow Americans, the White House has a long history of arrogant, aggressive, morally confused inhabitants. Luckily, we have always been able to balance it with sobriety, discipline and restraint, though not necessarily in the same administration. I have every expectation that we will come out on the other end a stronger, smarter nation.

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at

Sour Grapes Salad

Here’s a suggestion for the inaugural party I am sure you are totally having


1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon celery seed

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 pound seedless grapes (green and red, mixed if possible), halved

1 Fuji apple, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

½ red onion, sliced

1 large cooked chicken breast, shredded

1 cup walnut halves, roughly chopped

½ cup golden raisins


In a large bowl combine sour cream, lemon zest and juice, celery seed, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl, and toss to evenly coat. Adjust seasoning if needed. Serve on a bed of lettuce leaves — and with a positive attitude.

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at

Art is a Risky Investment

Here are a few pointers for aspiring collectors who want to take the plunge.

We might fantasize that art is the perfect investment — buy something you love by an emerging artist, live with it for years and then sell it to make a small fortune on your foresight.

“One of my clients acquired two Helen Frankenthaler paintings in 1966, large paintings, and he bought them for $2,500 each,” says Culver City art dealer Edward Cella. “We helped him sell one for $700,000 and the other for more than that. The collector knew what he was looking for – Frankenthaler was already well known by then; she was an important emerging woman artist.” Indeed, by 1964 she had already been included in Clement Greenberg’s landmark LACMA show, Post-Painterly Abstraction, and she continued to work and exhibit; today she’s recognized as a major contributor in the history of postwar American art.

But, like most dealers, Cella cautions against expecting an art purchase to yield such a big return on your money — there are too many variables, including the artist’s career and reputation and the unpredictable art market in general.

For most people, buying art is a luxury. It’s true, you may be able to buy work for a few hundred dollars from small galleries or weekend art fairs, and anyone familiar with Antiques Roadshow on PBS has seen the lucky few who made lucrative finds in their grand-aunt’s attic or at a flea market. If you watch the show enough, however, you also know that some objects just aren’t worth as much as people expect, or they’re only worth a fraction of the going value, due to their poor condition or questionable provenance.

The art dealers interviewed for this story suggest that investment-grade art will probably cost in the thousands, and the buyer must be prepared not to get the money back when it comes time to sell. Although Citibank and some private dealers see art as an “asset class” like stocks and bonds, many question this idea. Most agree that investing in art is risky business.

One can buy wisely, however, writes Alan Bamberger, a San Francisco–based art consultant and author of The Art of Buying Art (Gordon’s Art Reference; 2002), on his website, “Anyone can buy and collect art intelligently … All you need is a love and appreciation of fine art, a desire to collect and a willingness to familiarize yourself with a few simple techniques that will allow you to assess and evaluate any work of art dating from any time period by any artist of any nationality.”

Bamberger proposes a set of questions for the potential buyer to consider, namely:

“Who is the artist?

“How significant is the art?

“What is the art’s provenance, history and documentation (or more simply, where has the art been and who’s owned it)?

“Is the asking price fair?”

This overlaps with advice the Los Angeles gallerists offered aspiring buyers: Begin with research, research and more research — going to museums, galleries and art fairs, and reading up on artists whose work you like. “The best thing an individual can do is to establish an aesthetic and an awareness of what exists,” says Jack Rutberg, who has been running his La Brea gallery for over 35 years and specializes in some blue-chip artists. “Spend time in museums. It really is important to look at the Old Masters, all the way through to the modern and contemporary artists. The Norton Simon Museum is probably the greatest tutor one could have — you could start with the South and Southeast Asian art, then the Old Masters such as Cranach, Memling, just look at the remarkable hand.”

Blue-chip artists are stars whose works can command six-figures-plus (think Richard Serra, Ed Ruscha, Agnes Martin, David Hockney). Like blue-chip stocks, they are pricy, but in a category that makes higher returns more likely when you are ready to sell them after a decade or more. “If a high priority is that the artwork retains value,” says Elizabeth East, a director at the prestigious L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice, “I suggest focusing on well-established artists with solid track records, like David Hockney. But there is never any guarantee.”

Of course, few of us can afford to buy those artists. So is it possible to put together a modestly priced art collection and expect its value to eventually increase?

Two areas often recommended for beginning collectors are prints and photographs. Since these works are produced in multiples, they are less expensive than one-of-a-kind art. Some of the same evaluation criteria hold, however, such as the condition of specific works by artists of reputation (those reviewed or featured in major publications, collected by museums, shown at biennials, etc.). With prints and photographs, it is recommended that you look for signed works in small, limited editions. Works produced in the thousands, for example, will generally be worth less than works by the same artist produced in an edition of 100 or fewer.

“In my exhibition, Surreal/Unreal [through Feb. 18], I have over 100 works, and every one would be worthy of a museum collection,” says Rutberg. “They range from $350 to over a million.” He points out that there are many things in the show under $2,000, including works by Giorgio de Chirico and Roberto Matta, one of the last to join the Surrealists. Cella suggested looking at the photographs of Pedro Guerrero, a principal photographer for Frank Lloyd Wright. Guerrero was the subject of a PBS American Masters documentary in 2015, and Cella’s current show, Guerrero: Calder & Nevelson, In Their Studios (through March 4), features photographs he took in the studios of artists Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson.

It is important to determine the condition of the work and its provenance (origin or previous ownership). A reputable dealer can provide information about the artist’s background and track record and can vouch for the authenticity and source of the work. Sometimes artists do sell their own work, and the Photo Independent Art Fair was established in L.A. in 2014 to provide a venue for that. This year the fair takes place April 21 through 23 at The Reef in downtown L.A. Photographers have also sold their own work at another local fair, Photo L.A., which falls in January, although most exhibitors are galleries. Answering Bamberger’s question No. 4 — is the asking price fair? — can be particularly challenging. After gathering information about an artist you’re considering, you’ll want to look at comparable sales for that person’s work. You can do this online, and study databases on auction houses’ websites, or on, and Some sites require a subscription — for example, the Blouin Art Sales Index charges $39 a month or $199 for a year of access. On you can search without a subscription for works currently for sale, although you often will see the note “price on request.”

Those with very large amounts to invest might want to look into services offered by specialized fund managers, such as Citibank’s Private Bank Art Advisory & Finance group. Its website says, “Our art advisors can guide you through the art world, providing personalized acquisition and selling strategies, as well as collection management services.” But even Citi, in the smaller print, offers the disclaimer, “Alternative assets such as art are speculative, may not be suitable for all clients and are intended for those who are willing to bear high economic risks.”

In the end, collectors and dealers share this mantra: Buy what you love. Then, whether or not the work appreciates in monetary value, you will still have it gracing your wall, enhancing your quality of life. “Perhaps the best return you can achieve from art,” says East, “is the enjoyment it gives you over time.”


The new president’s tax proposals include a huge cut for the mega-wealthy, but they also make it harder for them to donate to charities.

The federal income tax code is very complicated stuff. That’s why most news outlets don’t even try to explain its bloated and byzantine byways to Americans — 70 percent of whom do not even itemize on their tax returns. Most taxpayers want to know only how much they’ll have to pay or get back. Or, in the case of the uber-rich and corporations, whether they’ll be able to insulate themselves from taxes altogether.

Under President Donald Trump’s tax proposals, the very wealthy appear likely to receive a big bonanza in tax relief, depending on what news sources you read. The New York Times, for example, warned about potentially dire consequences of Trump’s proposal to repeal the estate tax. Last November, the paper reported that if Trump’s plan passes, “a host of taxes that affect only the very richest Americans may be eliminated, along with almost all tax incentives to be philanthropic. As a result, wealthy families may find it much easier to amass dynastic levels of wealth.” It went on to say that the plan would “allow for the creation of generational wealth to rival that of the last Gilded Age, after which the modern estate tax was enacted in 1916.”

Another story in the Times business section said “the wealthy are already partying like it’s 1989. If Trump makes good on his tax cut promises, billions are expected to go back into their pockets.” The writer inexplicably sought out Robin Leach, whose 1980s TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous got big ratings. “Cars will get bigger, houses will be more luxurious and it will be OK to wear jewelry and gowns again,” Mr. Leach, 75, enthused.

The current federal estate-tax exemption is $5.49 million per individual, almost $11 million per couple (surviving spouses can carry over each other’s unused exemptions). That means an individual can leave $5.49 million to heirs and pay no federal estate tax. Above that amount, the tax rate is 40 percent.

Current law also allows estate assets to receive a “stepped-up basis” designation which permits any capital gains to escape taxation when they are passed to heirs. In other words, a stock purchased for $100,000 that has appreciated in value to $1 million by the time of the original purchaser’s death, will escape capital gains taxes because the Internal Revenue Service “steps up” the initial purchase price to its valuation at the fine of transfer.

Trump’s plan seems to go much further, although it’s short on specifics and leaves a lot open to interpretation. It has a provision to repeal the estate tax entirely. Some analysts say it might then be replaced by a capital gains tax, which is currently 20 percent — half the estate tax. And even that 20 percent might be avoided, according to analysts at The Tax Foundation, who interpret Trump’s proposal to mean that “the gain would be subject to tax only when the inheritor sells the asset, not upon the death of the decedent.” Critics contend that means taxes may never be paid on a family’s real estate assets, like the Trumps’ hotels, residential buildings and golf courses; heirs could borrow against such holdings, while the properties themselves are passed down through generations.

We reached out to certified financial planner Mitchell E. Kauffman, ¬owner and managing director of Kauffman Wealth Management, an independent financial advisory services firm with offices in Pasadena and Santa Barbara. We asked his opinion of Trump’s tax plan and whether he’s noticed any jubilation among his wealthiest clients. Kauffman says no to the latter question and calls Trump’s tax plan, in his opinion, a “mixed bag, with a lot of moving parts,” many of which have not been clarified yet.

“Some things Trump is proposing are very friendly to high–net–worth people, but he’s also talking about putting limitations on deductions, which particularly affect mortgage deductions and charitable contributions. The affluent tend to be the strongest charitable donors,” he adds, so diminishing those deductions “most likely would not be very favorable to affluent people.” Nor would it be good for nonprofits, he adds. “We know that the National Council of Nonprofits has expressed concern over this, which they see as a potentially tremendous setback in their efforts to support charities and nonprofits.”

The estate tax, he says, is the easiest part of the plan to address. “Eliminating the estate tax has been a cherished goal of conservative Republicans for a number of years. And with a Republican congress and administration, most analysts are predicting that the estate tax will be eliminated — which would mean that when people pass, their assets would go to their heirs without any additional taxation. But estimates show that only .02 percent of all estates that are settled each year are subject to the federal estate tax, so proponents of this argue that the impact is more symbolic than financially impactful on the economy and the budget.”

A key concern for Kauffman is the possibility that if the estate tax is eliminated, the current stepped-up basis designation might also be eliminated. In that scenario, he says, heirs at all financial levels who inherit a property would receive the same cost base that the decedent had, which would create a much higher capital gains tax than under the current system.

Another key concern for Kauffman revolves around the proposed limits on deductions. “For a state like California, which has higher state and local income taxes, right now individuals can deduct those state and local taxes on their returns, which in essence puts some of the burden on the federal government. If the Feds limit deductions, it could prompt state and local governments to raise taxes in order to compensate.” And, Kauffman says, that limit on deductions might also impact how much mortgage interest people can deduct, “which could have a detrimental effect on affluent real-estate markets such as the one we have in Pasadena.”

The caveat to all this, Kauffman says, is that we’re just talking about proposals now, and we have no idea what Congress will actually pass into law that might differ in some basic directions or help offset any drawbacks.

A number of organizations have evaluated Trump’s tax proposal and come up with overview analyses, most of which predict tax cuts for all income brackets, with the biggest cuts going to the top tier of wealth. The Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, for example, predicts “the highest income taxpayers (.1 percent of the population, with annual incomes over $3.7 million) … would experience an average tax cut of nearly $1.1 million — over 14 percent of after-tax income. Households in the middle fifth in income distribution would receive an average tax cut of $1,010, or 1.8 percent of after-tax income, while the poorest fifth of households would see their taxes go down an average of $110, or .8 percent of after-tax income.” Another group, The Tax Foundation, estimated that middle-class taxpayers, on average, will see a nearly $500-per-year income boost from Trump’s plan.

The most publicized analysis was performed by NYU law professor Lily Batchelder, an expert on tax policy who worked for President Obama’s National Economic Council. Her study examined the likely effects of Trump’s proposed tax law changes on individuals and families. Batchelder’s findings, which Trump spokespeople call “pure fiction,” estimate that more than half of America’s single parents and one-fifth of all families with children could see their federal income taxes rise if Trump’s plan is enacted. His proposed tax breaks for these families would add up to less than those they receive today, she said. She concluded that the plan would eliminate the head-of-household filing status along with personal deductions and would impose higher rates on certain income, all of which would combine to raise taxes for many low- and middle-income taxpayers.

Need a Financial Adviser?

Pros recommend strategies for consumers in the market for a financial planner who will look out for their interests — not his.

Selecting a solid financial adviser can be as bewildering as negotiating a maze.

There are many types of investment professionals with different titles, duties, qualifications and forms of compensation. Some adhere to a code of ethics that requires them to be a fiduciary — someone who acts in the client’s best interests, not his own — but others do not. (Dodd-Frank phases in a rule requiring all financial professionals who deal with retirement planning to act as “investment advice fiduciaries,” beginning April 10 — but the Trump Administration is expected to shred that mandate.) You also have to determine the type of adviser who will best understand your needs and comfort level with risk — avoid planners who typically work with a particular range of assets that don’t match your holdings.

A good way to begin your search is to weed out the people who are not qualified to provide objective financial advice or serve as fiduciaries. Brokers, for example, buy and sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other products for their clients. They are not fiduciaries and are held to a lower ethical standard. They also receive commissions — payments for opening an account for a client or on the sale of a financial product by the company offering that product — and may persuade you to buy these products, whether or not you need them.

Investment advisers offer guidance on buying securities and manage them for their clients; but unlike brokers, they are generally not in the business of selling securities. They are also known as investment managers, wealth advisers, asset managers, wealth managers or portfolio managers. Registered investment advisers (RIAs) are firms registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission that uphold fiduciary standards.

A third category — financial planner — explores all your financial needs and helps you devise a plan to achieve long-term fiscal goals. “It’s important that a financial adviser be well-versed in more than just investments,” says Mitchell E. Kauffman, a certified financial planner and financial adviser at Kauffmann Wealth Management in Pasadena. “They should know tax planning, estate planning, retirement planning and managing risk. Our clients prefer someone who is more comprehensive, who can look at the whole picture instead of parts of it.”

Certified financial planners, or CFPs, are licensed and regulated by the Washington, D.C.–based CFP Board, which administers an exam to people who wish to earn the CFP designation. CFPs may provide the most objective financial advice because they are fiduciaries, many of whom earn a flat, hourly fee rather than a commission, so they have no incentive to sell their clients products they might not need.

The CFP Board’s website ( provides a list of certified financial planners, with their specialties and compensation methods as well as contact information. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, a group of fee-only professionals, similarly lists its members on its website (; you can also search the Financial Planning Association website ( for CFPs in your area. After you’ve compiled your list of names, use the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) BrokerCheck ( to see whether any have been disciplined for unlawful or unethical behavior.

You can now select three or more CFPs and schedule interviews with them to determine whom you should hire. During these interviews, “the most important thing you are looking for, by far, is total and honest disclosure,” Carl Richards, a financial planner in Park City, Utah, told The New York Times. “If you get the sense someone is hiding things or avoiding your questions, move on.”

Some financial planning firms prepare lists of questions for prospective clients. Leah Snell, a CFP and the partner and managing director of Pasadena-based Snowden Lane Partners, has a three-page list of detailed questions designed to unearth information about a financial adviser’s business structure and qualifications, relationship management, investment philosophy and compensation.

Percy E. Bolton, a Pasadena-based fee-only financial adviser, has a questionnaire on his website to help you determine if a prospective financial planner holds to a fiduciary standard. The final question asks the planner to sign a fiduciary oath declaring s/he will act in the client’s best interests, will not receive any money contingent on a client’s purchase or sale of a financial product and will disclose any conflicts of interest that could compromise the planner’s impartiality.

Bolton maintains that determining a financial planner’s fiduciary status and form of compensation should be paramount concerns for prospective clients. You should ask the planner if s/he charges a flat fee or works on commission and find out how much the adviser typically charges.

Other key questions include:

• What experience do you have and how does that relate to your current practice? CFPs are required to have at least three years of financial planning experience.

• What licenses, credentials or other certifications do you have?

• What services do you or your firm provide? Financial planners generally cannot sell insurance or securities without the proper licenses, and they cannot provide investment advice unless they are registered with state or federal authorities.

• What types of clients do you specialize in?

• How do you plan to manage my money? “Advisers can range in investment ideology and it is important to understand the types of investments you would likely own, the risk associated with the investments chosen and the scope of how those investment decisions are made,” explains Alexander Leu, managing director at Pasadena-based Penniall & Associates. “Clients should always understand their portfolio and be educated by their adviser along the way.”

“Planning advice is also crucial,” Leu adds. “What type of planning advice will you be getting? Will it be included in the investment management or will you be charged a separate fee?” He says his firm shows potential clients the planning advice they will receive and sets expectations for how this advice will be delivered. “It is important to know if you are getting a real financial plan or simply a CFP spitting out some basic projections via a financial-planning calculator,” he says.

• How much contact do you have with your clients? Some financial advisers meet with their clients once a year to review their investments; others may meet every three months or more frequently. If you believe you need more support, you will want to make sure your financial planner holds frequent meetings and respondsto phone calls.

• Do you work independently or with a team? Some CFPs argue that a sole practitioner will provide more personalized service than a large firm. Leu, like others, says, “Clients should be looking for a team approach and a firm with many qualified specialists …You want to make sure that the adviser you chose has … professionals around him that can provide a sounding board for collaborative advice they deliver to clients.”

• Personal characteristics: The CFB Board lists seven key traits you should expect from a financial planner: competence, objectivity, integrity, clarity, diligence, compliance and privacy.

It is important that you feel comfortable talking to your adviser and believe he or she understands your needs and goals. “One of the biggest things that is often overlooked is a person’s ability to listen,” says Kauffman. “One thing I’ve learned in my training is if I’m saying two or three sentences in a row, I need to shut up.”

“The most important thing, in my opinion, is chemistry,” says Linda K. Polwrek, a CFP in the Pasadena office of Waddell & Reed. “Do you trust this person, do you feel comfortable sharing your hopes, dreams and certain details of your life with this person? Financial planning is a very intimate process. You share not only your hopes, dreams and goals but all kinds of personal and confidential information about your health, money and financial dynamics.

“Integrity, trust, authenticity and a genuine desire to help people are paramount in an adviser,” Polwrek adds. “Trust your instincts about whether you can relate to each other.”

Bowie Through A Lens

A new Forest Lawn Museum exhibition presents intimate images of the rock star turned art tourist.

Ana Pescador carefully shuffles a pile of large color photographic prints on a table, thumbing through crisp bright images of the late pop star David Bowie visiting historic and cultural locations prior to his only concert in Mexico City, in 1997 — Bowie on the blue steps of the Frida Kahlo Museum, Bowie admiring details in a Diego Rivera mural, the rocker hiding behind a traditional mask.

As the new museum director of the Forest Lawn Glendale Museum, Pescador brings out an image of Bowie standing deep inside the massive Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. Here is a man surrounded by darkness, illuminated only by a cigarette lighter. “This one is particularly poignant for me,” she says. “It has so many connections. [It evokes the] candlelight celebrations we do here at Forest Lawn, but it’s also about Bowie physically and spiritually inside Mexican culture.”

Pescador, a native of Mexico and former CEO of the Latino Art Museum in Pomona, is prepping for the first stop of a new traveling exhibition she curated — David Bowie: Among the Mexican Masters — which runs through June 15 at Forest Lawn. It features almost 40 intimate, never-before-seen images by renowned Mexican rock and jazz photographer Fernando Aceves.

Twenty years ago, Bowie arrived in Mexico City a few days prior to his Earthling concert, to soak in the local art, history and culture. Aceves said that Bowie had done his research and knew exactly what he wanted to see. Aceves’ photos were to accompany an article Bowie would write for Modern Painters magazine, but the article was never published. “I had already worked with many rock stars like the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney and others,” says Aceves. “But David was special for me. I had been listening to his music and watching him in movies for years. I was a little nervous, but I found him to be very human and approachable.”

Photographed only with ambient light, Aceves’ images show Bowie with a relaxed grin and child-like wonder exploring historical landmarks (e.g. the National Palace, the Palace of Fine Arts) and cultural treasures, including murals by David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, Rivera, Kahlo and more.

Part of the photographer’s assignment was to be a fly on the wall, capturing Bowie, not as a fashion model, but as an “artist paying tribute to other artists,” explains Aceves. “I think David’s gift was his ability to blend in and be local. I understood why people call him ‘the chameleon,’ because he became part of the scene, the landscape.”

The photos capture a casual side of Bowie that fans rarely saw. “David was used to being photographed throughout his artistic career. He knew how to model with makeup and lights,” says Aceves. “Here, these photographs show him looking human — not as a rock star or a movie star but as a human being experiencing the cultural landscape of Mexico.”

The Bowie exhibition is part of MXLA 2017, a yearlong cultural exchange between Los Angeles and Mexico City. The initiative celebrates L.A.’s connection with the Mexican community through performances, exhibitions and special events. MXLA 2017 will be part of the Pacific Standard Time L.A./Latin America project from Sept. 15 through Jan. 31, 2018, along with the Getty, LACMA, the Greek Theatre and Walt Disney Concert Hall, among others.

Located on the verdant grounds of the century-old cemetery, Forest Lawn Museum has been presenting eclectic programming designed to appeal to a wide audience — including many who aren’t traditional museumgoers. In the past few years, the museum has offered popular installations on the art of Legos, motorcycle design, record-album covers and movie posters. Prior to the Bowie photographs, the museum showcased the work of legendary Disney artist Eyvind Earle. After the Bowie exhibition wraps up in June, Forest Lawn will feature an installation from renowned Chinese artist Cao Yong, followed by a Charlie Brown and friends exhibition from the Charles Schulz Museum in Northern California. Those exhibition dates have not been announced.

It’s an ambitious slate for a small museum that’s still largely unknown. “So many people have said, ‘What? Forest Lawn? They have a museum?’” says Pescador. “I want people to see that Forest Lawn has a museum for the 21st century and that we are proactive in our choices. We are living in a diverse, multicultural society, so that’s what we want to reflect in our galleries. We want to be known as a museum of the community.”

Composed of three gallery spaces, the museum displays works from its extensive permanent collection in the front two galleries. On view are Remington bronze figurines, 15th-century stained glass by Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer, numerous paintings including Lincoln at Gettysburg by Fletcher C. Ransom and William Adolphe Bougereau’s Song of the Angels and even “Henry,” a Moai head from Easter Island.

“The world is changing so rapidly that it’s a challenge to attract new audiences,” explains Pescador. “To me there are only two options: offer innovative exhibitions, which we are doing, and two, make the museum available to the world. My goal is to be a virtual museum.” She’s planning a website dedicated to the museum’s offerings that would make its treasures accessible by art lovers around the world.

Glendale is the only Forest Lawn cemetery to have a museum. In the early 20th century, the idea for it percolated in the mind of Forest Lawn founder Hubert Eaton who, aware that many Californians could never travel to see art around the country and the world, decided to bring art to them. Eaton commissioned cast-from-the-original reproductions of Michelangelo’s Moses and La Pietà, among others. There’s also a re-creation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, painted in Italy from the original sketches, on display in an architectural space patterned after Westminster Abbey and Gothic cathedrals.

Now, instead of bringing art to the people, the museum’s goal is to bring the museum to the world. “It’s not the same experience seeing artwork online, but people who cannot come here, many want to know what we have here and what we are all about,” says Pescador. “We need to reach out and open our doors to the world.”

David Bowie: Among the Mexican Masters is a free exhibition through June 15 at the Forest Lawn Museum, 1712 S. Glendale Blvd., Glendale. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Visit for the schedule of lectures and musical events coordinated with the show.

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Remembering Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, royalty of Hollywood and a galaxy far, far away

It was unthinkable. If that story line had been written into a screenplay, no producer would have gone near the idea; too unlikely, it wouldn’t play well with audiences. But it really did happen at the end of last year, and the public reaction was huge: People were staggered by the news that Debbie Reynolds died one day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, suffered a fatal cardiac arrest during a 15-hour flight from London to Los Angeles. They didn’t get to say goodbye. Carrie lay in a coma and on life support for some hours at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center before her death last Dec. 27. She was 60 years old; her mom was 84. And behind the shock and disbelief, nearly everyone had a few tears to shed. I know I did, although my friendship with Carrie had drifted away over a stupid argument many years earlier.

Buck Henry — best known for his screenplay of The Graduate (in which he also played the small role of a hotel clerk) and his many appearances on Saturday Night Live during John Belushi’s tenure — introduced me to Carrie Fisher in the early ’80s at a small party held in the courtyard of artist Ed Ruscha’s studio. Buck, whom I’d known since we both lived in New York, said, “You two dames have got to meet.” Then he took me by the hand and guided me to a spot where Carrie stood, surrounded by admirers. Buck was right: Carrie and I clicked, and during that first conversation I was fascinated by her blazing intelligence and touched by the overlay of disillusionment around her singular beauty. We exchanged numbers and soon I was being asked to visit her home in the canyon (I can’t remember which one; it was before the bigger house on, I think, Tower Road) on a fairly regular basis. Carrie liked company and usually there were people around. Once I saw Timothy Leary dive into the swimming pool. Steve Martin was a warm presence at a brunch I attended. I met Debbie Reynolds one afternoon at the house when I was walking past the living room and heard a small, nearly musical “Hello” coming from the depths of one of the sofas. I sat next to her and we talked for a few minutes — small talk, but very pleasant; there was nothing of the big movie star about her. 

Shopping with Carrie was an interesting — and rather maddening — experience. One had to be careful not to admire anything, because Carrie would immediately try to buy it for you. She was the most generous and talented giver of surprise gifts, as well. I have a vivid memory of a clear plastic tote bag with an inside container (also clear) that held a perfect replica of a trout, a wedge of lemon and three or four ice cubes. Carrie Fisher’s eye for deadpan kitsch was supreme: she kept a life-size replica of a Guernsey cow in the area near her pool, and  a lamp with a wooden base carved into bears climbing a tree in a guest bedroom. Carrie shared an October birthday with director Penny Marshall and every year it was celebrated with a big party at Carrie’s house. Tables were set out on the patio, the food — home-fried chicken and all the fixings — was supplied by Debbie’s housekeeper and cook, Gloria. The list of guests rivaled that of a seating chart at the Academy Awards and Carrie was an exceptional hostess: welcoming, funny and as always, genius smart.

It has been well recorded (by Carrie herself in her first book, Postcards from the Edge, and later, in Wishful Drinking) that she had a major penchant for drugs. During an interview with Diane Sawyer she admitted to taking LSD and using cocaine as well as a variety of other stuff. I had a memorable experience with Carrie one evening: I’d recently begun attending meetings at a 12-step program (I had my own bout with drugs) and I convinced her to come along with me to a meeting in Westwood. We stopped for dinner first. When we walked into the meeting, Carrie was immediately pulled into a hug by an award-winning leading man with whom she was friendly. She was able to sit through half the meeting before leaning in close and whispering, “I’ve got to get out of here.” On the way back to her home, she asked me to drop her off at a friend’s place so she could pick up her car. I pulled up to a duplex in Beverly Hills. Carrie got out and ran up a flight of stairs to the friend’s apartment.

I decided to wait, figured she was going for the car keys — her BMW was parked near the stairway — but what if the friend wasn’t home? It seemed to take a longer time than a fast pickup and I turned my radio to an R&B station. Halfway through a version of Tipitina, Carrie came out of the apartment. She was clearly high on drugs. I jumped out of my car and yanked the car keys from her hand when she swayed to the bottom of the stairs. I’d take her home, I told her. She didn’t argue, just slumped into the passenger seat of my car. Even by the dashboard lights I could see her eyes were unfocused. We didn’t speak during the drive back to her house; Carrie was slipping into a deeply drugged-out state. When we pulled into the driveway, I got out from behind the wheel, steered her to her front door and rang the bell — I knew she had a couple friends there. A young woman opened the door, a young guy standing just behind her. They asked me to come in and between us we guided a nearly unconscious Carrie to the living room sofa.

I was offered a cup of tea, took a sip and headed back out, weary of the whole evening, but as my car motor purred to life, I heard my name shouted. Both of Carrie’s friends ran up to my car to tell me she was more than unconscious: her lips were turning blue. I told them to make a kind of chair with their forearms and carry her to my car. They managed to slide her into the back seat and each sat on either side of the clearly overdosed Carrie. The guy — by then I’d learned he was the author Paul Slansky — held her head up, his hand under her chin, while the young woman, also a writer — Carol Caldwell — braced Carrie’s shoulders. We raced down the hill; I was heading toward Cedars-Sinai, the closest place I could think of. When we screeched into the emergency entrance, Carrie was placed on a gurney and rushed into a treatment area. I parked the car and we all headed into the waiting room. The three of us sat, waiting, for three or four hours — until Carrie’s stomach was pumped and she was taken to one of the celebrity suites.  I visited a couple times and she looked exponentially better each time, making wonderfully funny, self-deprecating comments, some of which appeared in her first book. After that, we argued over a guy and drifted apart.

When the movie version of Postcards, starring Meryl Streep as Carrie with Shirley MacLaine playing her mother, was released, I was surprised to see my part of that adventure-in-the-drug-trade assayed by Dennis Quaid. But who cares? Carrie Fisher is gone now, and her mom, Debbie, wasn’t able to stay behind.

That’s a Hollywood — and an international — tragedy.


The Arcadia-based hair products company, known for its rich keratin conditioners, offers a kaleidoscope of bold hair colors along with classic California blonds.

Sarah Jones knows hair. Throughout her life, she has worked it from every angle: as a stylist, then a traveling salesperson for Redken and now CEO of Joico, an Arcadia-based midlevel beauty line known for restoring damaged hair. Under her 14-year reign, the company has expanded into producing a full line of products that reaches 89 countries.

Jones was hired in 2005 to turn the company around, three years after it was bought by Shiseido, a high-end Japanese beauty multinational. Mission accomplished: instead of bleeding money, Joico is today worth $160 million, according to the company.

Friendly and direct, Jones says she has always wanted to work in hair. Her ultimate dream was to own a salon one day. She passed on college in favor of cosmetology school, and she’s been working in the field ever since.

What sets Joico apart from the multitudes of hair products on the market? The company was a pioneer in infusing its products with keratin, the protein naturally found in healthy hair. “The original owner, Steve Stephano, was a hairdresser who could never get the conditioning results he wanted,” Jones says. “He was a chemistry buff and he had chemist friends. They decided it made sense to replenish compromised hair with the purest essence of healthy hair. They created this original keratin protein [formula] that went into the products [in the K-Pak collection]. It’s hairdressers’ go-to for severely damaged hair.”

That’s more important now than ever. Jones says the days of severe cuts are over. Today, her own tresses are a glossy, shoulder-length tawny blond. And she’s on a mission to help you achieve a healthy, natural look as well. “I used to think everyone needed help,” says the Claremont resident. “Now nothing makes me happier than to simply see beautiful, bouncy, shiny healthy hair. I really appreciate that because I know what it takes.”

Joico also surfs the wave of rainbow hair colors for people who like to stand out in a crowd. The company launched a vivid color palette in 2009. “We introduced blue, green and purple for a stylist who wanted it for his fantasy work. We never dreamed it would take off, especially on the East Coast,” says Jones, adding that Joico now offers hundreds of hues, including 30 metallic shades alone. Last month, the company introduced several new InstaTint Temporary Color Shimmer Spray shades for adventurous fashionistas (Hot Pink, Ruby Red, Light Purple, Periwinkle and Titanium). Also new are several Color Intensity “Metallic Muse” collection hues “that mimic the muted luster of liquid metal” (Moonstone, Violet, Bronze, Mauve Quartz and Pewter) and Color Intensity Confetti shades (Mint, Sky, Lila, Rose and Peach). If it’s in the rainbow, Joico has it covered. Customers can upload a photo and “try on” bold shades with the company’s new JoiColor System App.

Of course, the general West Coast trend has long been “blondie,” she observes.  Hair lightening has always come with a certain degree of risk because it takes harsh chemicals to remove natural pigment. That hasn’t stopped legions of women from seeking sunnier pastures. Many women opt for home coloring because a $12 box is much cheaper than a $90 pro treatment, although Jones notes that sometimes you get what you pay for. “It’s a tricky biz,” she says. “It doesn’t always cover the gray, or it’s too harsh. Or you want to lighten slightly but it lifts too much and then you have that brassy color.”

The other nemesis of healthy hair is hot tools. “Ten years ago, the tools you’d buy at the store didn’t have the heat of salon products. Today the tools are just as progressive as those in a salon. The girls are stripping their hair of moisture and protein, making it frizzy, lifeless and dry.” Somewhat paradoxically, “what’s bad for hair is good for business,” she says. “We sell a lot of blow-dryers, curling irons, flat irons.”

Fortunately, hair care tends to be recession-proof, since it’s relatively affordable — a cut and color seem to slice through whatever is going on with the economy.  “It’s a great business in terms of sustainability and income,” Jones says. In rough times, a person may choose not to buy a new car or eat out as much, but he or she will usually continue to get haircuts and highlights. And when times are good, salons are booming.

That’s true in part because hairdressers typically have the “expertise to analyze and prescribe,” she observes. “Think about it: you’re with your stylist for every big event in your life. As we get older, hair thins. A high percentage of women have balding problems. It’s devastating. So the stylist and client develop a relationship that deals with touchy personal issues as well as hair.”

Jones is as proud of Joico’s sustainability platform as she is of its products. The company invested in wind turbines as an alternative source of electricity to help power its plant in Geneva, New York. In 2011, it launched new packaging using a bioplastic resin hybrid, one of the first beauty companies to use this innovative material.

Jones is also an active philanthropist. She won the City of Hope’s Spirit of Life Award in 2011, partly in honor of her efforts to recruit beauty industry insiders to help raise funds for the top cancer hospital: in 2010, Joico created Beauty for A Cure, offering free online support for salons raising funds in their communities. “It started with Joico,” Jones said in a statement, “but the City of Hope Salon Industry. Leadership Council is very excited about exploring ways to take the program industrywide, as well as finding more ways to engage salons.” Beauty for a Cure has also helped salon pros raise funds for breast cancer and Hurricane Sandy charities.

Jones is in the office before 7 a.m. to make those East Coast calls to the corporate office in Connecticut. She heads home at 3:30 p.m. because, although it’s only a 17-mile drive, the traffic can be murder. She learned early on, during those traveling salesperson days, how to avoid burnout by balancing work and life. “My work is a passion, not a burden,” says Jones, whose 24-year-old daughter, Chelsea, works as a wedding planner in Oahu. Jones always takes her vacation time; not surprisingly, it involves plenty of visits to Hawaii. She and her retired husband of 26 years, Wayne, are avid golfers.

But Jones considers her work at Joico among her most gratifying pursuits. She frequently refers to a 2014 study that revealed the prime ingredient in a woman’s self-confidence — good hair. “You can have Manolo shoes, a Chanel jacket,” she says, “but if the hair isn’t good, you’re having a bad day. You’re not going to feel good if the hair isn’t right.