By Olivia Tracey
Hollywood will always be Hollywood, but it had a distinctive Irish flavor one recent evening at the famous Spago’s on Sunset. The renowned eatery was alive with Irish chatter and cheer as the West Coast set rendezvoused for yet another wonderful gathering. The occasion was a reception for the Screen Commission of Ireland, which, like last year, and thanks to PR gem Marie Begley, was another big and bustling bash. It was hosted yet again by the ever endearing Sile de Valera, T.D., minister of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, along with the Screen Commission’s chief executive, Roger Greene.
The Screen Commission, in operation only since 1998, is enjoying great success promoting Ireland as a film location and facilitating incoming productions by providing comprehensive information about locations, casting, crews, facilities, equipment and, of course, tax incentives. Both de Valera and Greene were happy to announce the Irish government’s continuing commitment to the film industry there with a further five-year extension of Section 481, formerly Section 35.
Speeches were kept to a minimum, simply relating the good news on the Irish film industry, leaving optimum play time for an optimally playful party. Standing out in the crowd were director-designer duo Charlie and Mairead Whisker, with Mairead dazzling in one of her own spectacular designs. Charlie was his usual serene self and very content with his latest documentary pilot for a TV series on American music, featuring Kelly Joe Phelps and guesting U2’s The Edge. Mairead was also tickled pink, literally, sporting a stunning hot pink and flame-red skirt and pashmina ensemble, in a luxurious silk and cashmere blend complete with hand-embroidered detail from Cashmir, India. This sari style is very much the trademark of her latest collection, which took Ireland by storm at last month’s spectacular "Late Late" fashion extravaganza. The Irish designer’s phone has since been ringing off the hook and her collection-packed suitcase has been emptied and is now sitting pretty in Dublin’s select Brown Thomas, not to mention Fred Segal across the States.
The fashion show itself was apparently quite an event, attracting a real who’s who audience of 6,500 people, as well as an equally who’s who of catwalk talent. Panthering her way down the ramp was Naomi Campbell, along with Christy Turlington, Leah Wood (daughter of Rolling Stones’ Ron), Jerry Hall and Elizabeth Jagger, while Daddy Mick looked on proudly. Yasmin and Simon Le Bon were also strutting their stuff, as were U2’s Larry Mullen, racing driver Damon Hill, and boxing champion Steve Collins, along with a host of 40 Irish models, including London-based supermodel Jasmin Guinness, with her grandfather Desmond in the audience.
Of course, the fashion spectacular was all in a good cause, fund-raising for The Children of Chernoble charity run by Aly Hewitt (Bono’s wife) and Caroline Downey, as well as supporting the Marie Keating Breast Cancer fund, set up by Boyzone’s Ronan Keating. And isn’t it indeed a small world, as Ronan and his lovely wife, Yvonne, were recently spotted in Rodeo Drive’s Beverly Wilshire Hotel while Ronan was working with renowned songwriter Billy Steinberg ("Like a Virgin," among countless others), who just happens to be a brother-in-law to Mairead Whisker herself.
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With Mrs. Whisker as much a mine of information as she is a mine of design, I could have soaked up the glamour gossip all evening. However, I had to move on with the Screen Commission social rounds. "Braveheart" actor Sean Lawlor was there as understated and gentlemanly as always, along with producer Frank Cassidy and his composer brother, Patrick, who was looking especially Joycean in his rimmed spectacles and every bit the artist he is. Consul General of Ireland for the Western United States Kevin Conmy was his usual amicable self, as was agent John Lyons.
I encountered a blast from the past with the gorgeous Dana Bledsoe, an even prettier clone of Sandra Bullock. Having starred on RTE’s hit show "Nighthawks," while I was in my Lady Chatterly "daze," Dana too went on to a three-year stint in New York, where she featured in countless TV commercials such as Honda and Uncle Ben’s before moving to Los Angeles. Now residing in the picturesque Marina Del Rey, she is fortunate enough to be in a position to turn down the lead in a movie shooting in Eastern Europe in order to take her chances on landing a TV series. Watch this space.
Conspicuous by his absence was actor Tim Murphy, who was busy rehearsing his role of Pato in the prestigious South Coast Rep’s production of "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," the southland premiere of the award-winning play. Looks like Murph is on a Martin McDonagh role, having recently played in Santa Barbara’s "The Cripple of Inishmaan" — and played it beautifully, I might add.
Also very busy is the Irish Screen’s Trevor Murray, who I was indeed lucky to catch between all his assignments. Just wrapped as art director on "Dancing at the Blue Iguana" with "Il Postino" director Michael Radford and starring Jennifer Tilly and Daryl Hannah (apparently baring much flesh), he is now off to Arizona for three months on a Columbia Tristar movie. In the meantime, he has completed two TV commercials back to back, one as art director, the other as a puppeteer. With all of this, he still finds time to organize screenings of Irish movies with his Irish Screen partner, Paul Balbirnie.
Their latest sneak preview is "Saint Patrick, The Irish Legend" starring Alan Bates, Susannah York, Malcolm McDowell and Patrick Bergin. In fact, that’s exactly where I’m off to right now. I’ll tell you all about it next time. So, until then, a Happy Saint Patrick’s’ Day to you all.