August 25, 2010

Yamashiro holds ghosts from yesteryear

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Diversity, Entertainment at 7:39 pm by dinaheng

Stand in the Garden Court of Yamashiro, and you can imagine the voices of Hollywood past, whispering about celebrity sightings, flirting with abandon, and sighing with regret at various events that have occurred in the 96-year-old mansion, originally designed to replicate a palace in the Yamashiro mountains near Kyoto, Japan.

Today, the landmark in the Hollywood Hills is a restaurant known for its panoramic views of Los Angeles, colorful history, and not infrequent ghost sightings.

Built in 1914 by two brothers, Charles Bernheimer and Adolph Bernheimer, the 10-room cedar and teak mansion served as a family home and housed a collection of Asian antiquities. Hundreds of artisans created a landscaped Japanese garden on the grounds, and the “Sacred Inner Court” in the center of the mansion was filled with stone hewn pools and rare fish.

Most of the Asian collection of Buddhist and Satsuma art, jades, and cloisonné chandeliers were auctioned off in 1922 after one of the brothers died. The mansion was converted into the exclusive “400 Club,” in the late 1920s, and became a Hollywood hangout for celebrities such as Lillian Gish, Bebe Daniels, Ramon Navarro and others of the era.

“During the Great Depression, it was a brothel, then a boys’ military school,” says David Comfort, general manager of Yamashiro. “In the 1940s, they boarded everything up because they were worried about it being bombed with the start of World War II. The oldest structure in California was the Pagoda.”

The 600-year-old Pagoda, brought from Japan by the Bernheimers, still stands below the restaurant.

While much of the landscaping and decorative elements of the palace were stripped by vandals during the Second World War, you can still see the original hand-carved wood panels in the restaurant and some original fixtures.

After the war, a builder added a second story and converted the estate into 15 apartment units. In 1948, Thomas O. Glover bought the property, intending to raze the structure and build a hotel and apartments on the seven acres. But as the place was prepped for demolishment, Glover discovered the silk wallpaper and ornate woodwork under layers of paint, and decided to restore the palace instead.

“About 50 years ago, his son (Tom Y. Glover) started serving appetizers and drinks to friends here, and turned it into a restaurant,” Comfort says. “Tom Glover, Sr. and his wife’s ashes are buried in the northeast corner of the Garden Court.”

While renovation efforts are apparent, there’s no mistaking the age of the structure, and a feel of ages past still in the air.  Guests and employees have numerous stories about unexplained sounds and sightings over the years.

“The manager before me went up to the Groom’s Room one night and heard crying, but saw nothing,” Comfort says. “He took a security guard up with him, who also heard the crying. They turned the light off, and ran out. When they got outside, they looked up and saw the light in the room on again.

“A couple of people have seen a guy in a cowboy hat walk by after the place was closed. Tom Glover, Sr. used to wear a cowboy hat, so we think it was him. Employees have seen silhouettes walk into the wall, women in heels in the garden, plates flying off the shelf. We all kind of accept it.”

History can live on in amazing ways.

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August 23, 2010

Love’s sweetness never grows old

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Relationships at 3:15 pm by dinaheng

Ah, the sweetness of young love. One day, you can’t live without him (or her). The next day, you could care less about the crush you thought would last forever.

A new Rob Reiner film, “Flipped,” captures the angst and joy of young love in a sweet coming-of-age romantic comedy that shares the perspectives of Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) and Juli (Madeline Carroll), from the time they meet in second grade to junior high school.

The film, in theaters August 27, is based on a novel by Wendelin Van Draanen that Reiner read six years ago with his son Nick, when the boy was 11 years old. When Nick suggested that the book would make a good movie, Reiner agreed.

The book captured all those confused feelings you have the first time you fall in love,” says Reiner, who directed the film and collaborated with Andrew Scheinman on the screenplay. “Nobody ever forgets the first person they had those feelings for. For me, her name was Cathy Schrillo. She was short, blonde, and a tomboy, and I was 12.

“When I tried to kiss her, she hit me with a hairbrush, which is when I knew it was true love because I was willing to risk physical harm for a kiss. We exchanged ID bracelets, and eventually kissed.”

The film moves the story out of the novel’s present day time period into the late 1950s and goes up to 1963, the era in which Reiner grew up. He says the time change allows the movie to focus on timeless emotions without the distraction of cell phones and text messaging.

The filmmaker, who’s explored romantic relationships in films like “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “The American President,” says he makes the same film over and over.

“Girls and women are so much more emotionally developed than boys,” Reiner says. “Boys are always playing catch up… until you find someone to fall in love with who is patient enough to wait for you. Women and girls, because of their nurturing nature, are more connected to their emotions than men are.”

Along with exploring a grade school crush, the film is about discovering who you are, what you believe in, and the definition of family. As Bryce begins to understand a small-minded father who has given up on his dreams in order to become financially successful, Julie starts to appreciate her father, who has sacrificed financial success in order to care for his mentally disabled brother.

“Juli’s father doesn’t care that he doesn’t have the financial status that his neighbors have because he’s going to take care of family no matter what,” Reiner says. “Juli is raised with those values, and Bryce has to learn those values. The values that Juli’s family has are much stronger than Bryce’s family.”

While the story spans six years in the lives of two kids who live across the street from each other, the film shows that love’s sweetness never grows old, and that the strength of a family lies in the love they share — a timeless message for both young and old.

August 10, 2010

Running The Wiggles world is a joy…

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Entertainment at 6:58 pm by dinaheng

Becoming the world’s most famous rock band for toddlers didn’t happen overnight for The Wiggles.

Four Australian musicians, known for using childhood development theories to empower kids through song and dance, began making a name for themselves after releasing their first album in 1991. But the development of their brand went big time in 2001 with the help of business manager Mike Conway.

Conway, a friend of original Wiggle Greg Page (who left the group in 2006 due to health reasons), was working for Ernst & Young in England when Page asked him to give the group some advice.

“ ‘Do you know anything about trademarks,’  Greg would ask me,” Conway remembers. “Or, tell me about strategy.’ He’d pull me into conversations with the guys for about four years. Then they asked me to work with them. I said it had to have been the longest interview in the world.”

This summer, the group’s newest themed show, “The Wiggles Wiggly Circus Live!” tours  26 cities in the United States, with music and acrobatic antics, along with their buddies Dorothy the Dinosaur, Wags the Dog, Henry the Octopus, and Captain Feathersword. (See http://www.thewiggles.com.au/us/events/63 for cities and tour dates.)

“It’s a dream come true for me, working in the music and entertainment industry with children,” Conway says. “The heart of The Wiggles is great fun, entertainment and music, coupled with early childhood principles for pre-schoolers. My job is about sustaining this, preparing for the long term, as well as the next CD.”

In 2000, after The Wiggles had conquered Australia, Conway recommended that The Wiggles concentrate their efforts on building a fan base in the United States. In 2001 and 2002, the group began playing at small venues in the States, and within a year, booked the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles.

Today, The Wiggles world has expanded with separate shows for Dorothy the Dinosaur, The Kingdom of Paramithee and Baby Antonio Circus, all part of a portfolio of products that Conway offers to different countries.

“We are starting to make programs in international markets that I thought would be difficult at first,” Conway says. “I wasn’t sure dubbed shows would work, but Disney found that it worked for them when they dubbed The Wiggles series in Japan. We’re now in countries like Germany, France, Spain and Portugal, working with NBC Universal’s KidsCo.”

There are no accidents in life, and the joy of entertaining youngsters while teaching them to be safe, eat healthy foods, and accept all people is a blessing Conway never takes for granted.

“My sister Julie died of a brain aneurism in 2001,” Conway says. “Three days later, Greg called, and asked me to run the business for The Wiggles. You never know what’s going to happen in life. I was trained in managing hospitals in the UK, and never expected to be working in entertainment.

“Yet my real passion has always been music. Combining business management with music and entertainment, and seeing the joy it brings to so many people is just an incredible experience. I’m a very lucky guy.”

Clearly, The Wiggles brand is in safe hands.