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.

A Writer Written in the Stars

The West Coast seemed to exemplify the ’60s: San Francisco and Los Angeles had become gathering places for hippies. When I was living in New York and working as a fashion model, I’d only heard about this group of young people who were following the dictum of Timothy Leary by “turning on” and “dropping out” of high schools, universities and society in general. Now I was newly divorced and had come home to L.A. because that was where my family was. So I saw hippies in their natural habitat: grazing along the Sunset Strip, hitching rides from passing motorists and waving sticks of incense that trailed wisps of sandalwood- and patchouli-scented smoke. There were girls with waist-length hair and long dusty skirts and boys, long-haired and snake-hipped in their patched 501s, tie-dyed shirts and hand-stitched buckskin jackets. They were all very young. I found them colorful to look at but I wasn’t curious about what lurked beneath all that paisleyed finery.

I was working as Rudi Gernreich’s model and living with my daughter, Lisa, in one of those beautiful 1920s-built apartments in West Hollywood when I met Victory Rain. I’d become friendly with my neighbors, Glenn and Bill, and we often visited back and forth. Their place was furnished with collectors’ pieces, the hardwood floor gleamed and the air was filled with the cedar scent of Rigaud candles. It reminded me of New York, where everyone’s home, including ours, was awash in that fragrance. Glenn and Bill had another visitor one afternoon: a rather exotic woman who looked to be in her late 20s. She was seated, a penumbra of cigarette smoke around her head, in a nest of needlepoint pillows at one corner of a dark blue velvet sofa. On the wall above the sofa, a vintage Hermès scarf was displayed in a boxy Lucite frame.  This unsmiling, strangely attractive woman with her long black hair and falcon’s eyes, seemed quite out of place amid all the trappings of the uber-chic, and my initial thought was that she might be a gypsy. Then she smiled at me and patted the space next to her, and as we chatted I realized this was someone as intelligent as she was welcoming.

Her name, she told me, was Victory and she surprised me by saying she worked as chief bookkeeper at a production company that filmed commercials. She seemed not at all the type who would choose that kind of work. But her true passions, she said, were mysticism and astrology. I knew nothing about mysticism of any kind and I was profoundly ignorant of all things astrological. I knew I was an Aries (like my mother) and Lisa was a Leo. Full stop. Victory asked for the date, time, year and location of my birth. I noticed she wrote nothing down and we went on to talk about other things. She called a few days later to tell me she’d worked out my astrological chart and we made plans to get together. When I saw her, she told me things about my background she could not have known, stuff that neither Glenn nor Bill knew. She informed me that modeling wasn’t what I was meant to be doing — I was a writer, she said; it was right there in my chart: Jupiter in my ninth house. My response to this information was to tell her, with respect, that I thought she was nuts. I was doing pretty damn well with a modeling career; what did writing have to do with it? Victory smiled and changed the subject, the way people do when they realize the person on the other side of the conversation isn’t ready to take in information.

Within a month or so we were friends, speaking often on the phone, going out for meals and the occasional movie. I learned that Victory was a vegetarian — not because it was a popular thing to be in the late ’60s but because she’d made a moral decision not to eat meat when she was in her teens. She never tried to push it: I’d order steak at a restaurant and she’d have a salad or buttered pasta without comment or attitude. She didn’t push the writing, either, except to tell me my degree of Scorpio rising was similar to that of Charles Dickens. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought, and let it go at that. If I’d been a bit faster on the uptake, I might have saved myself some real time by taking her advice seriously. I have always been an avid reader and I was educated by Dominican nuns who hammered the correct use of language into my head. But it never occurred to me that I might become a writer (despite that astrological connection to Dickens). Maybe it just seemed like too much work. When I asked about her background, Victory told me about living with her foster mother in a trailer park on the outskirts of Chicago. The foster mother, Betty, resented the kid and assured her she would never escape trailer park life because she was too ugly, too stupid and too stubborn.

Two of these observations were patently untrue; the third was right on the money: Victory was stubborn. She loved school and when she was 9 years old, she walked into a used bookstore and told the owner she couldn’t buy any books, but was it okay if she just looked. When the owner said yes, the girl knew she had found a warming place. She sat on the floor and began to read — first a book on astrology, then she was drawn into studies of metaphysics. By the time she was 11, she had a paper route in the trailer park and the means to buy books. She was happy but unlucky. At 14 she was raped by a young guy who was AWOL from the Air Force. He spent time in the stockade and within two months of his release, Victory discovered that she was pregnant. Her son, Tom, was born six months after her 15th birthday, and his father, who’d barely seen the baby, demanded full custody, warning Victory about the people he knew who would swear to her inability to raise a child. She knew she was a good mother but she was frightened by the man’s threats. She was still a kid who didn’t know how to fight this guy, backed up by his wealthy family, and although she begged to be allowed to keep her baby, he took the child from her. It would be more than 30 years before she was able to reconcile with Tom, who now had other children of his own. She had moved to L.A., found her first job as a cocktail waitress in a jazz joint and enrolled in a city college where she learned accounting. She is retired now and has become close with her son and his kids. She doesn’t resent the man who fathered Tom and took him from her. “He thought he was doing the right thing in the only way he knew.” I wasn’t then and am not now able to be that forgiving. Victory says it’s because of my Scorpio ascendant.

She has never quenched her thirst for knowledge or her interest in astrology. She has never been in the business of making money from that knowledge; she will do only the charts of those people who have become her friends. When, at the tail end of the ’80s,
I told her I was beginning to write, she didn’t gloat, didn’t say she’d told me so. She simply smiled broadly — content that I was fulfilling the destiny she had seen so long ago in
my chart.

Sons and Daughters of Liberty

Let’s bring back the true meaning of “tea party.”

If you’re anything like me (and I can only imagine that if you are one of my readers, then we have at least a little in common), you are still shell-shocked. Every morning I wake up, am happy for about 10 seconds, then I remember our political predicament. There is a gray cloud of dread that follows me around like Pigpen’s dust. 

And I know you are probably hoping that I have an amazing culinary cure for this — something you can cook that will comfort you and yours. I hate to break it to you — no amount of macaroni and cheese is going to fix this. Sorry if that bums you out. I’m bummed too.

One reason the situation hit me hard is that I have always been a super fan of America. I am a U.S. history buff. When I was a kid I installed a mini museum in my room, with placards describing “artifacts” I acquired at gift shops on my bicentennial trip back East. I visited the Freedom Train, the Americana exhibit that toured the country in 1976. I bought a fife, learned to play it and talked my sixth-grade music teacher into letting me play it in the concert band. I wore out my LP of the soundtrack to the musical 1776. I voted as soon as I could. I cry actual wet tears every time I hear the national anthem. I was Betsy Ross for Halloween once. And a Minute Man the year after. I followed the trail of Lewis and Clark. The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday (even though the Declaration was ratified on the 2nd, and it wasn’t fully signed until August). I have seen every episode of all seven seasons of The West Wing at least a dozen times. I am deep, deep into Hamilton

In short, I love America, and I am not about to accept anything that is in the least little bit unAmerican.

But I am just a chef. I work with food for a living and have, like most people, a very small sphere of influence. There is no way that my flourless chocolate cake is going to change any minds. (Oh, if it were only that easy!) And I realize that no Tweet or Facebook post, no matter how on point, is going to convert anyone. All I can do — all any of us can do — is continue to call out injustice when it rears its ugly orange head.  Maybe I just need to call it out a little louder now.

No minds will be changed overnight. Change only ever really happens one on one. So maybe that’s it. If I set an example of American patriotism, I might be noticed by a couple of people along the way. So with that, here are the patriotic things I will continue to do:

I will welcome your tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Send me the homeless, tempest-tossed — I will lift my lamp on my front porch. I don’t care what you look like, who you love, what you wear on your head, what language you speak, what god you revere or how you got here. I just don’t. Because life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the unalienable rights of all people — not just Americans. 

I will respect your freedom to worship however you like. I’d prefer that you didn’t try to make me join you. Just go about your business, and I’ll do the same.

I will say whatever I want. I promise not to endanger you with my words, but it’s very likely that I will annoy you. But I’ll let you do the same, so it’s even-steven.

I will relish the fact that the press can say whatever it wants. I will also choose for myself where I get my news, because I know that much of it is crap.   

I will continue to peaceably assemble. Not only is it fun, but it might lead to a redress of my grievances. If it doesn’t, I might burn a flag (though I probably won’t, because that seems dumb to me). But I won’t bully you, or try to scare you, or make you feel unwelcome. Flag burning is symbolic. Hate speech is appalling.

I will hold firm in my belief that our constitutional right to a well-regulated militia does not refer to those who are merely disgruntled, the Dukes of Hazard or the Bundys.

I will not quarter soldiers in my home (except when they are my invited friends), but I will continue to have great affection for the military.

I’m going to trust that the judicial system will follow the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments before they get all up in my business.  If they don’t I will refer back to the First.

I will fight to keep my private business private. I’d prefer that you keep your nose out of it.   

And finally, if I see that you are failing to uphold these tenets of liberty, I will call you out on it. Loudly. Publicly. Righteously. I’ve got to believe it’s what the Founders would want me to do in times like this. 

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

The Digital Burn

Streaming exercise classes are mushrooming, offering fun, convenient alternatives for home exercisers.

Until recently, fitness-minded folk have had to choose between convenience and stimulation. Working out at home is certainly more convenient than traveling to a gym or studio and working scheduled classes into your routine — and then still having to deal with finding parking, changing and showering. On the other hand, a constant diet of the same home-exercise videos can be a bore, not exactly conducive to getting you off the couch. That’s why many people prefer the stimulation of a live class, with fresh moves and other people working just as hard alongside you.

But digital technology is starting to change the home-fitness landscape. Consumers can now stream live classes (or tap extensive libraries of videos) using their smartphones, TVs, tablets and computers. Some fitness companies have devised streaming services that even enable home exercisers to interact with instructors and other students.

Bryan O’Rourke, a fitness consultant and president of the Louisiana-based Fitness Industry Technology Council, believes the rise of digital technology, combined with the growing number of people who work from home, will spur future demand for home-exercise programs. In a report titled “The Club of 2020,” O’Rourke and Greg Skloot, a vice president of Netpulse, which creates mobile apps for gyms and health clubs, predict that by 2020 exercise services ranging from virtual training and coaching to on-demand trainers dispatched to customers’ homes will be commonplace. “More and more of the fitness journey will likely happen outside the club’s wall,” they conclude. Health clubs, they add, will also rely on a hybrid of “digital and physical” experiences to attract members who are willing to pay more for the convenience and experience of exercising at home.

Some online companies offer both live interactive online classes and prerecorded videos. Peloton ( is one of the more successful, boasting on its website that its New York facility is “the first and only cycling studio to marry boutique fitness with live home streaming.” Peloton requires a hefty upfront investment of $2,000 for its own home spinning bike (a different animal from traditional exercise bikes), which can purchased online or at a showroom — the L.A. showroom is located at the Santa Monica Place mall. The bike comes equipped with a 21.5-inch sweat-resistant screen on which thousands of cyclists can stream live classes at any one time. Other features are designed to make the cycling classes an interactive experience. Cyclists can video chat with other users while they ride, use the activity feed to check the performance of fellow riders and view the real-time leaderboard to compete with other cyclists. And once clients invest in the bike, unlimited classes are quite reasonable at $39 a month, which also includes access to a library of 3,000 videos. Peloton’s monthly cost compares to SoulCycle’s price of $30 for one in-studio class, although first-timers pay $20 and discounts are offered on bulk purchases.

Several other companies infuse live, interactive classes with dance. New York–based Ballet Beautiful (, for example, is a ballet-inspired exercise program created by Mary Helen Bowers, a ballerina and trainer who coached Natalie Portman for her role in Black Swan and claims Taylor Swift, Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss among her adherents. Customers access online instruction, which includes toning exercises, stretches and high- and low-impact cardio workouts. Another site,, was founded by two London-based ballerinas, Flik Swan and Victoria Marr; Sleek Technique offers live ballet-inspired courses in addition to prerecorded instruction. And the Powhow platform ( streams live fitness, dance and yoga classes, enabling its professional instructors — dancers, musicians and artists — to connect with students via webcam, to broadcast and stream their in-studio classes live or to upload recorded videos for students to train at a time convenient for them.

Also in the mix is Yogaia (, which offers more than 100 new live and interactive classes each week. Its live-streaming yoga classes allow teachers to see students and offer instruction in real time. Monthly membership rates start at a wallet-friendly $9.99. Another exercise chain, Barre 3 (, which teaches a technique combining Pilates, barre and yoga, allows members to choose from an array of more than 250 online workouts ranging in length from 10 minutes to one hour. More expensive options permit members to receive exclusive workouts and real-time guidance from instructors. Memberships range from $15 to $55 a month. At EMG Live Fitness (, you can stream live or recorded classes in cycling, barre, kickboxing and more from numerous gyms and studios, promising variety in instruction without having to travel for it. Clients pay for only one class at a time.

Easypose (, a Los Angeles–based yoga instruction company, goes a step further: the firm makes house calls, in addition to offering prerecorded lessons. Clients can use the company’s website or mobile app to schedule yoga sessions in their home, office or hotel, selecting the date, time, and style of yoga instruction for one to 20 people. Easypose offers a first-class deal of $40; after that it’s $60 for up to four students. The year-old company has hired about 1,000 certified yoga instructors in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay and New York metropolitan areas. Cofounder Ruben Dua says Easypose was created because “people were very frustrated with doing yoga in a studio. The yoga studios are crowded and they are very intimidating to some people, more like a fashion show. We make it accessible and affordable; it’s easier for people to participate.”

While health clubs generally expect you to show up for their live classes, some clubs maintain libraries of recorded videos for home exercisers. Crunch, for example, was the first national gym chain to offer its group fitness programs online. Members can access Crunch Live (, where they can stream 85 workouts — yoga, barre, dance cardio and total-body bootcamp — for a monthly fee of $19.99. Crunch Live also offers customizable workout plans and what its website describes as “playlists to keep you motivated, on track and having fun,” as well as 15-minute “quickie” workouts for people short on time.

O’Rourke estimates that streaming exercise programs account for less than 10 percent of the current U.S. fitness market, but he expects these services will expand in the future. He adds that health clubs and other fitness providers will be challenged to “create a seamless and relevant complete-user experience for gyms or studios. Just offering streaming isn’t enough; it’s about creating a contextually useful blend of in-gym and digital experiences that are enjoyable to member customers. The bottom line is that people want personalized, engaging brand experiences in all markets.”

Customers, he says, want “enhanced experiences” to be conveniently delivered via “omni-channels” – a wide range of different platforms and devices. “What this will mean will evolve through experimentation.” But while digital home fitness continues to evolve, there already are several ways to use new technology to exercise at home. So if your New Year’s resolution is to exercise more in 2017, there’s no excuse to procrastinate. Get off the sofa and start streaming so you can feel the digital burn.

Beauty Bites

Whether natural or enhanced, beauty is in the eye of the beholder – and the most critical beholder is usually the one you face in the mirror. But appeasing her can sow nice dividends: When you feel and look your best, you can move mountains, not to mention turn heads. As 2017 opens for business, check out the following products and services that will pamper, delight and upgrade your beauty quotient.

Hide Behind This Mask

No time for the spa? No worries, your skin can still receive a little tender loving care when you employ a high-quality Korean mask in the comfort of your own home. Applied to just about every body part from feet to hands, eyes, lips and face, these wash-off masks are made with natural ingredients and are available from Beauteque for all skin types. There are prices to fit every budget ($1.90–$33) and you can enroll in a monthly program to have beauty items and assorted masks delivered to your door.

Available at

Scents of SoCal

SoCal’s diverse landscapes are the inspiration for this line of eaux de parfum that evoke wild California deserts, mountains and coastlines. Blended by hand in downtown Los Angeles in small batches, Los Feliz Botanicals scents contain no synthetics, preservatives or fillers. As many as 40 different essences are mixed drop by drop; scents are distilled from flowers, leaves, roots, resins, woods, seeds, peels and even lichens. Of course, perfumes smell different on every person; for example, Yucca Valley Eau de Parfum can be rosy on some and musky on others. Since the base is a natural perfume, it won’t last as long on your skin as its conventional counterparts; but the scents come in handy portable containers for easy reapplication. Prices range from $18 for a sample kit to $55 for 15 ml. Even better, the company donates $1 to charity: water, a nonprofit that brings clean water to people in developing countries, for every bottle sold.

Available at L.A. County Store, 4333 Sunset Blvd., L.A., and

Grooming Guys

Get your groom to groom with Guise Etiquette, a new men’s skincare line created by professional makeup artist Ada Trihn, who has worked her magic on basketballer Kobe Bryant, actor Matthew Morrison and skateboarder-turned-model Shaun Ross. These apothecary-quality products are handcrafted in small batches and infused with high-end active botanicals. Ingredients are local, sourced from organic farms in California, New Mexico and Arizona. A simple three-step skincare system can transform the most befuddled of men into a skin pro in days. Guise’s facial cleanser is made with fresh cucumber and mint; skin tonic contains neoli oil to combat razor burns and bumps; and its plant-based moisturizer is infused with aloe vera and aspen bark.

Available at Ron Robinson, 8118 Melrose Ave. L.A., and

Bee Beautiful

Botox on a budget? Many folks swear by the properties of bee venom as a natural way to lift and firm skin while improving blood circulation, thanks to its brew of antioxidant and anti-aging ingredients. Based in New Zealand, Saintsco is one of the leaders in the bee-venom beauty biz; their extensive line of products (eye creams, lip-plumpers and more) has been coveted by royals and celebrity users including Kate Middleton, Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow. Best known for its Bee Venom Mask ($100.22), Saintsco encourages combining that application with Bee Venom Eye Cream ($61.67) and Bee Venom 24-ct Gold Serum ($92.51) for a skin trifecta that’s as smooth as honey straight from the hive.
Available online at

Eco-friendly Hair Color

Can you pronounce all the chemicals in your at-home hair dye? Finding an eco-friendly hair dye that produces long-lasting rich colors used to be an impossible dream until BioKap Nutricolor Delicato arrived on the scene. Made with 90 percent natural ingredients, BioKap avoids troublesome chemicals such as paraphenylenediamine (PPD), which can cause skin to become swollen, red, blistered, dry and cracked. You won’t find ammonia, parabens or resorcinol in the BioKap mix either, yet these formulas still hold color longer than natural henna-based dyes. Based in Italy, BioKap offers a PPD-free line of at-home hair dyes that includes 18 colors and one lightening cream, all fragrance-free.

Available online at

Blading the Brow

Eyebrows are easier to maintain after they have been professionally shaped and crafted through microblading, a new beauty technique that’s the brainchild of Beverly Hills–based Daria Chuprys. The procedure uses a bunch
of needles (not blades) to artfully create natural hair strokes that mimic eyebrow hairs — think of it as eyebrow embroidery. The results are glossy full brows that need no penciling or touchup. Born in Greece and one of the first microblading artists in Europe, Chuprys
established a teaching academy program in L.A. to share the technique with professional artists; students undergo an intensive 100 hours of training to learn the fine details.

Arrange a consultation at

Talking Skincare

Imagine having an in-depth skin consultation with an expert — as easily as picking up the phone. Promising an approach that will make you love your skin again, Orange County–based skincare guru Emme Diane offers Virtual Skin Coaching, a comprehensive phone consultation to match skin needs with appropriate products and techniques so you can be your glowing best. Known as the “skin whisperer” by her loyal fans, Diane covers the gamut of skin problems from acne to aging. She’ll ask about everything from your eating and lifestyle habits to how you apply your current products. She’ll also prescribe a customized regimen of cleansers, moisturizers and anti-aging treatments from her own exclusive collection of products and methods.
Consultation and products available at; products available at Emme Diane, 1835 Newport Blvd., Ste. 128, Costa Mesa.

Headphone Hair

More than just a music delivery device, headphones can be a hairstyling tool — if you know the right tricks. L.A.-based celebrity hairstylist Riawna Capri, who tends to Julianne Hough’s tresses, has created The Jet Set, a series of simple styling techniques for women on the go, especially travelers who want to avoid flat, messy hair at the end of a day on the road or in flight. Capri honed her techniques for creating breezy, carefree hairstyles using the Beats by Dr. Dre wireless earphone collection. The Beats Solo3 Wireless is particularly adept at “setting hair” the Jet Set way so that when you arrive, you will have cascading waves as you greet the unexpected airport paparazzi — or the extended family.

View Jet Set techniques at; find

Beats Solo3 Wireless at the Apple Store, 54 W. Colorado Blvd.,
Pasadena, and

Harnessing the
Hair Dryer

More speed and less hair frizz set the AW 4600 Argan Dryer ($295) apart. This professional salon–quality styling tool relies on science, technology and an innovative oil nozzle. Air passes through the nozzle, which distributes the perfect amount of oil on your hair, thus reducing breakage while boosting luscious shine. No matter the speed setting, the Turbo produces gentle yet efficient air circulation for intricate styling or just your average blow and go.

Available at

Skin and Lip Treats

Putting the glow back into winter skin and smiles are hydrating hand creams and lip-smacking Lip Calms ($9.98) from John Masters Organics. The rich and silky hand creams come in three distinct scents (Lemon & Ginger, Lime & Spruce and Orange & Rose) and incorporate nutritious oils, such as lime and orange peel. Made with an organic sunflower and olive oil base, Masters’ lip balms have yummy flavors with exhilarating scents (peppermint, raspberry and vanilla) that protect your pout against cold and wind.

Available at

Beauty Smorgasbord

If these beauty bites make you hungry for more, head over to the second annual Indie Beauty Expo on Jan. 18, which will be open to the public from 5 to 7 p.m. at the California Market Center in downtown L.A. Browse new beauty and wellness products and discover under-the-radar brands and cult-favorite cosmetics, skincare, grooming and other beauty devices. Southern California brands will also be in the spotlight; check out offerings from Jordan Seban Hair, DNA Renewal, Beauty with a Twist and more.

California Market Center, 110 E. Ninth St., Penthouse 13C, L.A.,


Profound RF is one of the latest medical technologies to help you look better longer — without going under the knife.

Beauty aficionados who prefer looking “refreshed” to looking remodeled have been turning to lasers and other noninvasive technologies to up their grooming quotient without resorting to surgery — at least not yet. Most promise gradual (and therefore more believable) improvements, typically triggered by controlled cell damage that makes your skin react by producing its own fresh collagen and elastin. And medical technology companies keep getting better at it.

“Paying attention to your appearance has become more and more important, and more and more accepted,” says Dr. Nima Naghshineh, a Pasadena- and Beverly Hills–based plastic surgeon, who goes by “Dr. Nima.” “And the number of aesthetic procedures has increased every year — the number of surgical procedures has increased, but even more so the number of nonsurgical procedures has increased. It’s become more commonplace and accepted, and because of that, we find that more patients are starting at a younger age. It’s no longer just 60-year-old women coming in for facelifts. Now we’re seeing women and men in their 30s coming in for Botox and other noninvasive procedures to slow the hands of time.”

An impressive newcomer to West Coast medical offices is Profound RF, a minimally invasive, fractional radiofrequency device and descendent of the earlier skin-tightening technology known as Thermage. Laser skin technologies used to be only for intrepid consumers willing to brave plenty of painful downtime from damage to their epidermis — the skin’s top layer. But RF technologies go deeper, rejuvenating the dermis. Profound also incorporates relatively new microneedling therapy, which stimulates collagen and elastin by creating “micropassages” in the skin with slender needles. Profound turbocharges that process by infusing the needles with carefully calibrated RF energy.

The result? A boost in collagen, elastin and hyalauronic acid — manufacturer Syneron Candela says this is the first device to enhance all three “skin fundamentals” — producing a tighter jawline and smoother texture after three months.  Profound gets unusually high marks on, which runs consumer reviews of medical and dental beauty treatments — 90 percent of Profound reviewers said the procedure was “worth it.” “My results were far more dramatic than I ever anticipated,” reported a 59-year-old St. Louis woman. “It has been almost a year since my Profound treatment, and I still can’t believe how dramatically it improved my skin and jawline.”

If a Profound treatment is “worth it,” what is “it”? Well, prepare for a week of downtime, although you’ll probably look worse than you feel — Profound can cause some temporary bruising, so your doctor may send you home with arnica capsules. The doctor or nurse starts by injecting anesthetic in the treatment area, so the hourlong procedure itself should be comfortable. And of course, there’s the cost: around $6,000 — that’s real money, but it’s still considerably less than surgery.

“Where I’m seeing the most impressive effects is in the 30-to-60-year-old age group, where you’re starting to have a little bit of jowling, a little bit of looseness,” says Dr. Nima, who practices with Dr. Leif Rogers. “Profound is a great place to start because it’s noninvasive, its tightening effects are long-lasting and you don’t need multiple treatments.”

Last November, the FDA also approved Profound for cellulite on the body, making the device even more versatile. It can enhance the results of liposuction, which often does not address dimpled skin. 

But for consumers focused on the man (or woman) in the mirror, Profound should help them put off their surgery date. “It’s hard to say how long this will delay the need for facelifts, but the explosion of the use of fillers in conjunction with older technologies such as lasers, you find people delaying facelifts into their 50s and 60s, and that’s a direct result of the increase of noninvasive therapies,” says Dr. Nima. “Now if someone has not been treating themselves over the years with these modalities and they come in at age 60 or 70 looking for a noninvasive approach to a more youthful appearance, it’s oftentimes you have to look toward the surgical route.”


Cryolipolysis was approved by the FDA in 2010, but it’s only fairly recent that it has seemed ubiquitous. That’s the fat-freezing technology popularly known as Coolsculpting, which claims to reduce 20 percent of fat in the treated area. Another beauty technology offering gradual improvements, Coolsculpting uses a handheld device made by Zeltiq Aesthetics of California, which freezes and destroys fat cells that are then eliminated in urine. Like liposuction, it isn’t intended for substantial weight loss (although liposuction can still remove more fat); Coolsculpting helps reduce pudge resistant to diet, leaving the Coolsculptee’s shape in better proportion. While love handles are a typical target, Coolsculpting is also used to reduce double chins and meaty thighs. The technology’s handheld devices come in two sizes, which typically cost $750 or $1,200 each (although sales are common), so the total bill depends on the size and number used.

According to, Coolsculpting is another effective therapy — 82 percent of reviewers deemed it “worth it.” “So glad I did this!” wrote a 24-year-old Canadian woman, who reported losing 4.5 inches from her waist and 2.5 inches from her hips. “Bye, bye, stomach fat!”


If you aren’t inclined to drop four figures, you might consider a home device that may take longer to produce more modest results, but it won’t break the bank. And like noninvasive technologies available in doctors’ offices, the home beauty appliance market also keeps innovating. Home Skinovations says its Silk’n Face FX device uses “home fractional technology” combining heat and light energy to improve skin texture, treating fine lines, wrinkles, large pores and discoloration. Improvement is visible in eight weeks, according to the company.  Amazon reviewers give the $149 device 3½ stars.

Kitchen Confessions – Death Metal

Even when times are tough, love (and food) will find a way.


If there is one thing I love more than cooking, it’s music. And I don’t discriminate. I like it all. In fact, I have been known to pick up an instrument or two myself. (Practicing was never my thing, though, which explains why I am a chef and not a rock star.) But the only music I routinely battle the ticketbots for is rock ’n’ roll. I love going to live shows. At concerts, I am the one down on the floor shoving my way to the railing. I’m the one dancing when no one else in my section is. I’m the one with 50 concert T-shirts, and on the way home, that’s my stereo you hear three cars back at the stoplight.      

My love of live music started early. In high school my best friend, Mike, had his finger on the pulse of modern music, and he would drive us to shows all over the Bay Area in his parents’ ’69 Ford Country Squire (with hidden headlamps). I can’t believe our parents allowed all those trips to the city, and to so many clubs up and down the bay. That was in the early ’80s, when we didn’t need fake IDs to get into bars (although we had ’em). We saw so many bands — the Knack, the B-52’s, The Tazmanian Devils, Greg Kihn, Dead Kennedys, Tommy Tutone, The Tubes, Rubber City Rebels — we even caught an early tour of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five with the Sugar Hill Gang and Kool Moe Dee (I remember we were not 100 percent welcomed by the other fans and kinda hid in the back of the venue — but it was awesome). In college I continued my concertgoing and was attracted to my future husband by, among other virtues, his volunteer usher gig for Bill Graham Presents — which meant free shows every week! 

I’m telling you all this to explain the importance of my attendance at a concert last September. It was the Eagles of Death Metal. (Their name is ironic — the sound is more bouncy rock ’n’ roll/rockabilly than any kind of metal.) They played at the Teragram Ballroom in downtown L.A. It’s a small venue, and everyone there was a real fan, including me. I think it was my fifth or sixth time seeing this band. The mood was electric, and I danced so hard and got so sweaty that by the end I looked like I had been through a car wash. It was a great night.

Fast forward a few weeks. As I drove into work a news bulletin broke through with reports of a mass shooting by terrorists at an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan in Paris. I was stunned. Those were my people. When I got home I jumped on the Facebook fan sites. Everyone was freaking out in the worst possible way. I was glued to the news for a couple of days, like everyone else. I don’t typically get emotionally wrapped up in world events, and I didn’t personally know anyone affected by the incident. But in a way, I knew them all. They were just like me — dancing so hard and having so much fun. I can’t remember ever being so depressed by something that happened to strangers a world away.  

To bring myself out of that state, I decided to try and cheer up other fans the only way I knew how. I wrote a goofy recipe based on one of the band’s song titles and posted it on the Facebook fan page. It was super-corny and a little bit dirty. The response was huge.

Hundreds of Facebook “likes” and comments. “Thanks for cheering me up!” “This is just what I needed!” “So Funny! It’s nice to laugh again!” I started posting one recipe each day based on the songs. It was very cathartic. 

Then, after about a week of this, I was contacted by a record company. Would I do a cookbook like this for charity? Damn straight I would! And that’s where I am today. The book is called Cook, Eat, Death Metal (Dog Ear Publishing), and it was released November 13, the one-year anniversary of the incident. All the proceeds go directly to aid survivors of the Bataclan, and the families of those who were lost. You can get it on Amazon, at and at several places around L.A., including Wacko on Sunset Boulevard.

The book is not sad at all. In fact, it is hilarious (if I do say so myself). The recipes are real and delicious. I hope you will buy one for yourself, or for the rock ’n’ roller in your life. It’s the kind of gift that gives back, and it will make you seem way cooler than you really are.

Wasabi in L.A.

(“Wannabe in L.A.,” from the album Heart On, 2008)

Wasabe Guacamole with Wonton Chips is a particularly eyeball-rolling example of stereotypical Southern Californian cuisine. The rest of the world assumes we Angelenos eat avocados every day. They’re right! In fact, the state constitution mandates that California citizens each consume 12 kilos of avocados annually. It’s a burden, but this recipe makes it bearable. 


½ purple onion, diced

1 to 2 teaspoons wasabi powder, paste or freshly grated root 

1 teaspoon water (if using wasabi powder)

3 ripe avocados 

Grated zest and juice of 2 limes

1 tablespoon pickled ginger, minced

1 teaspoon sea salt

¼ cup cilantro leaves, minced 

1 package square wonton wrapper

Frying oil 


1. Cover the diced onion in cold water and set aside. This removes offending oils that cause your breath to stink. (The world appreciates this.) Stir together wasabi powder and water, and set aside for 15 minutes.   

2. Halve and pit the avocados, scoop their meat into a large bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in lime zest, juice and pickled ginger. Add the salt and wasabi and mix. Fold in onions and cilantro. Adjust seasoning, then cover with a sheet of plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface, which will prevent discoloration. Set aside at room temperature while you fry the chips.

3. Heat about 2 inches of oil in a heavy skillet to 375°. When it reaches that temperature, drop in 4 or 5 wonton skins (don’t crowd them) and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute on each side. Remove to a paper towel–lined tray, then sprinkle with salt. Repeat with remaining wonton wrappers. Serve guac with wontons and rice crackers. Now you are very hip.   

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

NASA's Hotwire to Hollywood

Publicist Warren Betts says science truth is stranger (and better) than science fiction.


Arroyoland has kept itself gloriously free of Hollywood hijinks involving papparazzi who swarm the streets for a glimpse of A-list stars and maitre d’s who dole out tables according to the diner’s box office ranking. Yet right here, on Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena, we have one of the world’s most unusual and sought-after Hollywood publicity and marketing firms. It’s headed by Warren Betts, a guy with a physics degree, a passion for science and technology and a client list that includes Sony and TriStar, Warner Bros., Universal, Columbia, United Artists, Walt Disney and Virgin Records, among others.

His firm, Warren Betts Communications (WBC), connects Hollywood’s top studios and high-concept filmmakers with the world’s scientific geniuses and innovators (think Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk), whom Betts recruits to advise on technical issues. Let’s say you’re about to view this month’s potential blockbuster, Passengers, to be released December 21. It’s about a luxury spaceship with 5,000 souls on board, all traveling in suspended animation to eventually arrive and live on a distant planet. They’re still asleep in pods when the ship malfunctions, and two voyagers (Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt) awaken to find that they and the rest of the travelers are in dire peril.

Science fiction? Yes — but not totally. In fact, there’s as much science as fiction in the current genre, Betts says, and it’s often the real stuff that’s more fascinating than the imaginary. In the case ofPassengers, Betts called in experts from NASA (and others he can’t name, due to a nondisclosure agreement) to help director Morten Tyldum and the rest of the crew make the ship, the characters and the storyline as realistic as possible. And if the plot doesn’t strike you as realistic, consider this: Elon Musk (founder of Paypal, Tesla and SpaceX) is already testing equipment designed to come and go from Mars, which Musk — age 45 and worth $11.2 billion — hopes to colonize and where he has repeatedly said he plans to be buried.

Betts, 57, lives in Sierra Madre and travels the world to consult with filmmakers before, during and after production (when he helps promote the films), and with experts he recruits to help those filmmakers get details right in the increasingly nonfictional aspects of sci-fi. Betts has relationships with NASA, the CIA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and research institutions such as MIT, Caltech, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland. He calls on these agencies and institutions to find the right advisors for all kinds of films, from animation (Angry Birds) to Imax (A Beautiful Planet) and a wide range of dramas, comedies and sci-fi epics that require expertise otherwise unavailable.

Betts says he has worked with Hawking on a few films, including Star Trek and the theoretical physicist’s biopic, The Theory of Everything. For the National Geographic Channel’s Mars series, which debuted last month, “we brought in experts from NASA. Also featured are [science celebrities] Elon Musk and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson,” director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.

For Inferno, Ron Howard’s Da Vinci Code sequel released last month, Betts recruited Caltech bioterrorism and biology Professor Alexei Aravin to advise filmmakers and media on viruses that could actually be released by lunatic despots trying to control the world.

For spy movies, such as the James Bond series, Betts says he has worked with the Department of Defense to recruit KGB defectors as expert advisors in the high-tech worlds of annihilation and espionage. Another project, the Angelina Jolie film Salt, utilized the expertise of Tom Ridge, the nation’s first director of Homeland Security, thanks to Betts. Although most expert advisors are paid for their work, Betts says, “I don’t think Ridge asked for a fee. He only asked for a favor. He wanted to meet Angelina Jolie.”

He adds that highly placed government types and world-famous academics are eager participants in entertainment. “Oh, they love Hollywood,” he says. “And they’re just excited that filmmakers are seeking their technical and scientific expertise.” Money isn’t an issue for most of them, he says, “but of course the Hollywood people don’t like to take their time and expertise without compensating them, so we always want to do that.”

Betts isn’t your typical voluble publicist. He is soft-spoken, charming and understated. In fact, getting him to talk about his connections with the high and mighty in Hollywood, government and academia is like prying the sweet flesh from an extremely unmanageable crab leg. He’s been doing this work for about 30 years, has been involved with many (if not most) of the blockbuster films involving science, has recruited so many dozens of experts world-renowned in their fields and traveled so extensively that he seems at a loss when asked to select high points in his exotic career. After a few moments of thoughtful silence, he says, “Well, I’ve been up on the ‘Vomit Comet.’ We took director James Cameron on it when we were working on the first Avatar film.” What’s the “Vomit Comet”? “It’s that airplane they take the astronauts in to train them for zero gravity. It’s at the Van Nuys airport and a lot of people get sick on it. It was fun, but I was nervous at first. It goes up very high very fast and then does a nose dive. That’s when you lose gravity.”

Some of Betts’ tech contacts do double duty as his publicity and marketing clients, including NASA, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Lockheed Martin and SpaceX. What does he do for them? “Many different things. A good example might be the ‘NASA 101’ conferences we hold, where we bring NASA experts from all over the place and have them interface with filmmakers, writers, producers, even actors. It’s so they can exchange information and learn how NASA might be useful to filmmakers” and vice versa, he says. “For Apple and Microsoft we work on themes that might have to do with technology for computers, or airlines or for prolonging life. We also do product placement for them in films,” he says.

Betts was born in Houston, Texas. His father, a NASA engineer during the Apollo and space-shuttle eras, was transferred to a space-flight center in Alabama, where Betts grew up. He attended two Alabama schools — the University of Alabama and the University of Montevallo, where he received a masters degree in physics, he says. “I never thought I’d work in Hollywood. I wanted to be an astronomer, but it all just happened right out of the blue. An older fraternity brother took a job at 20th Century Fox, and George Lucas asked him if he knew of a young scientific person who’d be good at marketing and publicity. My friend knew what a geek I was and said, ‘Warren Betts. He’ll be graduating soon.’” So right out of college Betts had a summer internship with George Lucas; the filmmaker liked Betts’ work and wanted to inject science into publicity for his films. He hired Betts for a year, and then extended it for two more years. “By that time I was hooked,” Betts says. “And by then George had an office on the Fox lot in Century City because all his movies were produced through Fox. George thought the Fox people should hire me to do all their science movies, which they did. Fox and Lucas decided to hire me indefinitely and share my talents.” Then, Betts says, “I was working on Apollo 13 with Ron Howard, who encouraged me to start my own company. He thought Hollywood filmmakers needed an agency with my expertise.” So in 1993 he took Howard’s advice and started Warren Betts Communications on Lake Avenue. 

Why did you locate your business in Pasadena, since it’s not a Hollywood-oriented town? “Yes, but it’s Hollywood’s brain trust, isn’t it?” Betts says. “You’ve got the California Institute of Technology and you’ve got JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory], you’ve got such a lot of people here working in the business of science and technology. So it’s a great place to be. In fact, it’s the place to be.”

So is science and technology, for a growing number of filmmakers. Betts says the number of films that deal with both has climbed prodigiously through the years. “Back when I worked with Ron Howard onApollo 13, NASA was reluctant to work with any of the studios because they thought all they did was make up the science and it wasn’t anything they could endorse. But I’ve seen not only a growing amount of movies themed to science and technology, I’ve seen filmmakers coming to me with a larger interest in acquiring the scientific knowledge to make the movies more authentic and make the science and technology more believable to the public. Of course, all the scientific institutions we work with have come to really appreciate that,” says Betts. 

And their science expertise can be very entertaining. “The truth is that real science is much more interesting than science fiction,” he adds. “It’s often weirder and stranger than science fiction. And a lot of filmmakers are starting to agree with that philosophy.”