This is about the difference between average and exceptional. What it is to be an afterthought versus someone unforgettable? In essence, I’m talking about the importance of standing out from the crowd.
Or in showbiz terms? Standing out while surrounded by the outstanding.
So here’s the scene. Planet Hollywood in Beverly Hills. Never been there? No worries. It’s long since gone. The franchise has been relegated to a comfort zone of tourist destinations like Orlando and Las Vegas. As a restaurant, it’s pretty much a knock-off of the Hard Rock. Mediocre, overpriced diner chow set amongst a kitchen-sink of actual movie memorabilia. Wanna get up close and personal with Tom Cruise? Here’s his leather jacket from Top Gun. Schwarzennegger? Check out his boots from True Lies. And would you like French fries with that?
So what am I doing there? You’ll find out soon enough. The better question is what the hell is one of TV’s Top Leading Men and the Most Famous Supermodel in the World doing walking in with me? I’d bumped into the megawatt duo in the public parking structure. Neither knew each other, but had gleefully recognized a fellow celebrity moments before I’d discovered them looking like toddlers lost at Disneyland.
“You looking for the game?” I asked.
“Yes!” squeaked the supermodel. “We’re so lost.”
“So am I,” I admitted. “But maybe we can find it together.”
Believe it or not, we’d been invited to a poker party. Our host for the night was a European financier with a financial stake in Planet Hollywood. He’d installed a private playroom at the Beverly Hills branch of PH. It was upstairs and out of the way from the gawking rabble dining on burgers and potato skins. However the entrance for the upscale man cave was the same as that for the general public.
As long as I live I’ll never forget the faces of those tourists in the restaurant’s public dining room. Here they’d chosen Planet Hollywood for its cheese ball décor and the chance to cozy up next to Sylvester Stallone’s sunglasses from Cobra, and who walks in but Mr. Hey I’m a TV Star and the Amazonian visage of The Most Famous Supermodel in the World.
Those tourists were priceless. There must’ve been nearly a hundred or so diners. Frozen over their nacho plates. The definition of gob-smacked.
A staff member clocked our arrival and quickly ushered us into a nearby elevator. No sooner had the doors closed than Mr. Hey I’m a TV Star remarked something akin to, “Guess they got their money’s worth.”
Upstairs, the party was just getting started. Three poker tables were set at the points of a triangle. There was a buffet stocked with finger food and a pair of professional cocktail servers taking our orders.
As I ordered a margarita on the rocks, I instantly recognized that whatever might evolve from the evening it was unlikely to end up as a serious card game. Along with our host there were a couple of well-known producers, a blockbuster comedy director, a studio boss, another big TV actor whose name I still forget, and yet another leggy supermodel who appeared dolled up for a night on the paparazzi and party circuit.
Yeah, I thought. This oughta be… weird.
The first hour of gaming was reduced to splitting up into smaller groups. Those who knew how to play cards were assigned to instruct those who didn’t. The blockbuster comedy director and I were paired with the two supermodels, neither of whom showed interest or acumen in the poker playing arts. They’d been clearly invited to mingle and be seen by the power players in the room. As the only writer attending, I wondered if the powers that be were wondering if I’d be inspired to pen a picture starring one of the beauties. Doubtful, I reasoned. The women, sweet as they were, appeared to have difficulty holding a conversation, let alone the attention of a movie camera. As I sat across from the most famous female face on earth, trying to explain to her how and why a flush beats a straight, I was mentally attempting to calculate why her visage was so compelling in print. Was it her eyes? The way the light fell across the contours of her cheekbones? I was mystified. One on one, I had a hard time detecting a pulse in the woman. From either supermodel, for that matter. They were beautiful beyond description, both touching six feet tall, but radiating not a lick of detectable sensuality. At least not for me, or the nebbish director, or seemingly anybody else at the dull soiree.
About two hours in, as my hopes for playing in an actual poker game had pretty much been demolished, there arrived a latecomer. I’d instantly recognized her as a sultry actress from an indie thriller I’d caught on cable. Not yet a star, but someone who’d showed her stuff in a few small pictures as well as in roles in some rather disposable studio fare. She was slight and looked downright hobbit-like in the shadow of those statuesque print chicks. Yet within minutes of her touching down, the dynamics in the room felt as if the polar fields had flipped. The supermodels, once the centers of attention, were paired and relegated to the roles of wallpaper, shyly sipping at their liquor through cocktail straws until they’d eventually turned almost invisible.
“Thought this was supposed to be a poker game,” thrust Miss Sultry, snatching a chair and expertly shuffling a deck of cards.
The table where she’d parked was filled in an instant. Money was produced, chips counted out and as cards were dealt, I heard both supermodels air-kissing the host in their mutual retreats.
Like they couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Interesting, I thought. Yet I admit to being nearly as transfixed as the other men seated at the table. The beguiling Miss Sultry had a deep well of moxie. The card game she started would end up lasting well into the wee hours.
And my poker-playing comrades? They couldn’t wait to lose to her. Leaning in on hands when they should’ve been laying down. Answering to her every verbal tease and taunt. She displayed all the cunning and skill of a world-class stripper at the art of separating men from their wallets. All without ever having to remove a stitch of her denim togs.
I marveled. It was a performance worthy of a standing ovation.
At the end of the night, I walked back to the parking lot with Miss Sultry and her newest fan, that blockbuster comedy director. He was desperately under her spell, talking movies at a thousand miles per hour, and wanting to do something… anything with her. He eventually drove off, leaving me alone with the siren.
“That was fun,” she said.
“You played well,” I complimented.
“Not well enough,” she sniffed. “I don’t’ think I walked away with any of your money.”
“Yeah. I somehow came out ahead on the night,” I said. “Next time. Maybe you’ll get me then.”
“It’s your goddamn wedding ring,” she grinned. “It’s like poker kryptonite.”
She winked and climbed into her car.
Would she get me next time? I asked myself. Who knew if she’d even remember me? The fact was she’d probably forgotten me by the time her wheels touched the asphalt. Yet for me, she was impossible to forget. Everyone had noticed her.
Especially that blockbuster comedy director. He cast her as the female lead in his next big picture.
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