Drawing on more than twenty years of interviews, anecdotes, and personal experiences, Uninvited: Confessions of a Hollywood Party Crasher recounts the unique journey of a former Los Angeles Times reporter who, struggling with the collapse of his industry and personal tragedies, falls in with a group of intrepid gatecrashers who routinely pierce Tinseltown’s celebrity party circuit. Author Adrian Maher is the first to chronicle this unique subterranean culture in La La Land—a group of social strivers, ambitious outliers, compulsive risk-takers, and dysfunctional characters seeking access to a famous and exclusive society from which they’ve been banned. Uninvited uses all the author’s skills as a veteran reporter, television producer, private investigator, archivist, and humorous storyteller to reveal the unseen capers, snafus, and mishaps behind Hollywood’s palace gates against a backdrop of America’s fascination with celebrity culture. And it exposes the personal struggles of an adrenaline-addicted gatecrasher facing perpetual moral challenges, physical dangers, and psychological stressors that culminate in near disaster.
|Publisher:||Chicago Review Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Adrian Maher was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and a freelance journalist for UPI, Newsweek, Time Magazine and the L.A. Weekly. He has written, directed, and produced dozens of television programs for Discovery, History, National Geographic, ABC, Fox, MSNBC, and Travel channels. Maher has also taught investigative journalism and documentary film production as an adjunct professor at Chapman University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He lives in Santa Monica, CA.
Read an Excerpt
Who Are These People?
As a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets in the 1990s, I roved L.A. hunting for stories and covering a variety of events. It might be a screening for the UCLA Film & Television Archive, a restaurant opening, or an animal rights fundraiser.
At some point, I started seeing the guy everywhere. I'd arrive pen and notebook in hand, scan the venue, and there he'd be.
In his late forties, he was of medium height, lean and hyper with a shock of ink-black hair. Usually wearing a blue blazer, dark slacks, and a crisp white shirt, he looked entirely respectable. That is, until the food and drink arrived. Then he'd become conspicuously wolfish, grabbing two plates and lunging at the victuals, occasionally boxing out elderly couples, the hosts, or even the VIP guests themselves who were ostensibly first in line.
He'd soon have a pile of lasagna, a pyramid of salami, Brie, celery sticks, olives, and bread, while double-fisting cups of pinot. He'd quickly sit and begin inhaling the bounty. I thought his behavior odd at the time, but I'd rapidly return to my reporting duties without giving him another thought.
Through the haze of more than two decades, I seem to remember first meeting him as I walked by a nondescript bar in Santa Monica and noticed a small gathering. It was an informal social for the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. Fusty peanuts, cheese, and crackers were the offerings. Sure enough, there was the same fellow tearing away at the food crumbs, wearing a red plastic wristband. He introduced himself as BARTON WHITAKER, and after a few pleasantries and questions, I soon realized that Mr. Whitaker had no connection to Santa Monica or its business affairs — or to the UCLA Film Archive, animal rights, or the restaurant industry, for that matter.
He was chatty and friendly, and after the Chamber event we walked back to his car and he opened the trunk. Out popped an enormous jack-in-the-box full of splashy items — hundreds of multicolored wristbands, pens, stickers, lanyards, ultraviolet inks, hand stamps, name tags, generic tickets, baseball hats, earpieces, clipboards, wine glasses, eyeglasses, and champagne flutes.
"These are the tools of the trade — the golden tickets for entry," Barton said, laughing. "Dime-store items that penetrate rings of security costing thousands of dollars and provide access to inestimable goods and services!"
Out of swelling curiosity, intrigued by his brio and rash of self-invitations, I began following Barton (maybe a good reporter story?) as he made his nocturnal rounds to a variety of events and activities. I soon began meeting other social infiltrators who were part of his tight network of gatecrashers.
There was Dr. Al Barrios, a former philosophy professor at UCLA. Now in his midseventies with time on his hands, he had an affinity for flashy events like the Grammys and Golden Globes and always played the part well. Blessed with a thick helmet of swept-back grayish hair, he was invariably attired in a freshly pressed Armani tuxedo and assumed a regal posture that allowed him to breeze by security.
Dr. Barrios was a fiend for overflowing buffets stocked with thick meats, preferably catered by Wolfgang Puck. After choking down enough tri-tip to send anyone to a vomitorium, he would pluck a dozen of the juiciest chunks and stuff them into large Ziploc bags. Then, ever so gingerly, he'd open his dinner jacket and line his pockets with the contraband, later to be devoured by Ruckus, his pet Chihuahua. He often left events looking like a Michelin Man. We joked that he was the most physically fortified driver on the Westside of L.A. No airbag could ever compete.
I also made the acquaintance of CLARA VESTERGAARD, an attractive, earnest Danish émigré in her late twenties who was obsessed with glamorous events that she was often terrified of crashing. One routinely saw her on the periphery of various extravaganzas circling the block, cell phone in hand desperately pleading with Dr. Barrios (who was already inside tending to his carnivorous needs) to find a semi-legitimate way to get her in. Maybe he could read a name off the list for her? Scamper out with an extra wristband? Tell her what the hand stamp looked like?
Dr. Barrios, like many party crashers, was a lonely figure. As an aging gentleman he'd been badly fleeced by a young Russian mail-order bride that he'd found in an ad in L.A.'s Recycler newspaper, more of a publication for used cars and refrigerators. On arrival in America, she stripped his finances and left him romantically bereft. He was partial to the attentions of younger women and doted on Clara religiously. I often witnessed him frantically bolting from a party, covered in flecks of meat and sundry sauces to tend to his damsel in distress outside. Eventually they'd waltz in together playing off the stereotype of the much older Hollywood power mogul and his latest ingénue.
Once inside, Clara often couldn't shake her paranoia and once spent two hours squatting with her feet atop a toilet seat in a bathroom cubicle to avoid what she thought was patrolling security.
I was subsequently introduced to MIKE MULLEN, a high school teacher in his late twenties obsessed with event swag. Also known as "Ten-Minute Mike," he'd always show up at the very end of a party and hover around the gifting table, desperate to nab a free bag of cosmetics, movie posters, or T-shirts. Mike cared nothing for industry networking or women or alcohol, the usual motives of typical self-inviters. His usual salutation, either on the phone or in person, was, "Is there a gift bag?" Then, "What's in it?" The answer would quickly determine his plans for the remainder of the night.
Ten-Minute Mike lived alone in a two-bedroom apartment in the San Fernando Valley, and no one in the party-crasher network had ever seen the interior. Once, a mutual friend was outside, desperate to use the bathroom. After frantic entreaties, Mike finally relented. After using the toilet the friend peeked in one room — all looked normal, nothing to report. Then, he pushed open the door to the master bedroom. Inside were floor-to-ceiling gift bags dating back to the Top Gun movie premiere in 1986. After studying the tableau, the friend noticed the outline of a full-body imprint in the center of the clump of bags. The body profile looked like Mike's.
And who can forget Burt Goldenberg? Burt had the look of a former boxer from the boroughs of New York City with cauliflower ears and a ruddy face, but he was actually a savvy stock investor who'd been crashing parties in L.A. since he'd migrated here in the early 1970s. We called him an OC — an original crasher. Now in his late sixties and still sharp-witted, he always employed the same opening salvo: "Where are the pretty girls?" delivered in a heavy Nooo Yaawwwk accent. His clothes were straight off the rack from Goodwill — usually a shoddy blazer and faded slacks, often covered with food and wine stains. He always wore a baseball hat and bright white sneakers, no matter how formal the occasion.
In the days before cell phones, Burt would staple large Thomas Guide maps of L.A. to his home walls. As daily party tips came in, he'd prioritize the locations with multicolored pins, moving them around like soldiers on a dynamic battlefield. At the appointed evening hour, he'd peruse his custom-made map and head out to the choice venues.
"He called me one night and said he was in the emergency room at Brotman Hospital waiting for treatment," said Brad Elterman, a legendary photographer who'd captured the Hollywood party-crash and rock 'n' roll scenes in the 1970s and had known Burt for more than forty years. "I asked if I could help, and he said, 'Could you just go check out this art opening in Santa Monica and get back to me with the details?' He was just relentless.'"
Once at an event, Burt never had a problem gaining entry — he seemed to know every doorman and clipboard minder and most of the people inside the party. I never once saw him get molested by security — he was like a mini-celebrity in this bizarre subculture.
Darren Skoda was another New York transplant and OC with a daily collection of L.A. party details that was astonishing. Though in his seventies, he seemed to be everywhere, tirelessly working the phone, downloading info, and sending out real-time reports to his tight crew. Bespectacled and wax-apple bald, we called him the "Slither Dome" for his skill at effortlessly slipping in and out of events. He got in everywhere and knew every detail of every shindig of note — from an intimate birthday party for John Travolta in Beverly Hills, to a rapper yacht shindig in Marina del Rey, to the opening of a new trampoline gym in Malibu.
I once mentioned I was about to vacation in South Africa with my girlfriend.
"Huge party in Durban on Friday night," he said. "Let me know if you're interested and I'll send you the details."
And of course, in later years there was my main man, Avi Fisher, who had the fearsome look of an Israeli warrior — a muscular six-footer, his physique came with a shaved head, wraparound shades, and Doc Martin boots. He was blunt, impatient, and brilliant. During our documentary work together, a producer told me that no editor could squeeze more frames out of raw video than Avi. Time after time, we'd be stuck trying to bridge a point in our narrative when Avi would pull out a solution from the ether.
We both had matching chips on each shoulder and reflexively reacted against all forms of supervision. Each of us recognized an energy, curiosity, and sense of adventure in the other that could never be leashed by the typical workday.
Avi regaled me with stories in his gravelly Israeli baritone about his arrival in New York City in his late twenties, having no connections and speaking no English. He lived at the YMCA and got work as a barback in the East Village. As his language skills improved, he became a bartender. With an interest in movies, he took editing classes during the day. After a year, he moved to Los Angeles and was soon working as an assistant editor on television documentaries.
I noticed that whenever I tried introducing him to other Israelis in L.A., he showed no interest. Maybe the offer brought too many unwelcome memories. Avi had been a lead sniper in the Israeli army and operated on the front lines during the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. He'd had to shoot more than a few adversaries in close quarters. He'd also worked for the intelligence arm of the Israeli army's special operations forces on innumerable antiterrorism assignments.
At his first special services training exercise on a street corner in downtown Tel Aviv, his commander pointed out a distant balcony on the fifteenth story of a residential high-rise building.
"I need to see you on that private balcony within eight minutes, using any means necessary," barked his instructor. Avi was soon waving from the porch.
After the war, Avi spent five years lying on a beach in Greece trying to clear his head of all the carnage he'd witnessed. Upon hearing many of his brutal war stories, I found it remarkable that Avi could function at all, much less at such a high professional level. Socially, I noticed that Avi had also crashed a few movie premieres in L.A. without too much trouble.
Soon, after we began working together during the straitlaced day, Avi and I would metamorphose at night, exploring a variety of L.A. events as a supercharged crasher team — nocturnal caped crusaders. From my days as a reporter, I'd read about war correspondents always going out in the field in teams of two, the best number to deal with dangerous environments. If just one, you were on your own with no witnesses and an increased vulnerability to a snuffing. If three or more, your movements were slowed and you brought more attention from adversaries.
Avi's crasher skills were superlative. I'd never seen anyone so creative when approaching a tight venue, so attuned to atmosphere and party themes, so able to read people and sense approaching danger. As stress increased in a given situation, he'd grow correspondingly calmer and more clear-sighted. And when we were both caught in a security confrontation, he always had an ingenious answer that lowered tensions and provided an escape route. The Israeli intelligence services brought to bear on the ripe L.A. party circuit.
Though I'd grown up on L.A.'s Westside and had my own youthful fascination and encounters with the Tinseltown party scene, I'd never come across such a posse as the crasher community. They were all straight out of a Federico Fellini film. I became fascinated by this reappearing group of redcarpet rascals that seemed to pierce security at high-end Hollywood shindigs with ease, and who were ubiquitous at even the most trifling of events. Soon I began exchanging phone and e-mail coordinates with them, surreptitiously swapping party information.
Some of these social trespassers were in it for free gift bags and libations, industry networking, celebrity encounters, or a puffed-up feeling of exclusivity. Others were itinerant mooches, kleptomaniacs, liars, and poseurs who were greedy, petty, overly competitive, self-hating, and needy. But there were also quite a few outsiders and risk-takers who were physically courageous, curious, and adventuresome. They lived boldly, took creative chances, and pursued their own dreams.
I felt an attraction to their tight network — their daily, exclusive "party" e-mail list, their cell phone updates, and their aggressive search for the next sight and scene. On slow nights, they cruised Mulholland Drive and Melrose and Rodeo Avenues looking for any and all signs of a shindig — balloons, valet parkers, catering trucks, equipment rental vans, checkin signs, red carpets, rubberneckers, searchlights, helicopters, and paparazzi.
"There's a giant white tent going up just north of the Santa Monica Pier — I don't know what it is yet, but someone over there needs to check it out," was a typical cell phone exclamation from a crasher passing on a potential extravaganza.
"I just saw a bunch of white shuttle buses going up Sunset Plaza Drive in West Hollywood," was another breathless voice message. "This thing could be big."
Or, "There's a line of security outside a house on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu — it might be David Geffen's party," was one more urgent missive.
I believed I had the makings of a big feature story about a subterranean culture in Hollywood that hadn't been covered. I'd also made some wacky new friends. Strange adventures beckoned. New goals clarified. Perhaps not quite Pulitzer-worthy, yet I saw my career edging up a notch with the telling of this tale.
But as I look back, I realize my life was already unraveling.
It was the Clinton-era economic boom in the 1990s and I was on a roll. I lived in Santa Monica with a beautiful woman, Jodi, and I was thriving as a full-time reporter at the L.A. Times. I had a super network of friends and close family members living nearby. I brimmed with good health and vitality. But in the wheel of life, when all is going smoothly, a reckoning beckons.
At the L.A. Times, I realized something was up. For weeks I'd heard rumors that the paper was planning on downsizing. I worked in the Santa Monica bureau as a general assignment reporter covering a variety of issues in west Los Angeles County: city government, corrupt dog-training schools, environmental pollution, the O. J. Simpson case, gangs, fires, mudslides, and other forms of impromptu mayhem.
I loved the job. Working as a reporter put me in the central nervous system of one of the globe's busiest megalopolises. I had a knack for finding offbeat and bizarre stories, such as a group of midnight wave riders at Malibu who surfed by the full moon, a character study of a probation officer trying to broker peace amid a Westside gang war, and a group of elderly swingers. Like my journalistic brethren, I was insatiably curious about all topics and lived to track down any and all leads to sculpt them into succinct and compelling stories.
One morning our bureau chief strode into the middle of the newsroom and announced a meeting for the following week of all suburban reporters at the New Otani Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Taking all of us off-site for a group confab was not a good sign.
My editor, George Hatch, was a Harvard-educated, Massachusetts transplant who understood that covering Los Angeles was a horizontal venture. Many East Coast editors brought a downtown sensibility from their past journalistic experiences when sizing up Southern California. They believed all stories should be focused on city hall, the courts, and local jails — venues that invariably were across the street from the typical central Boston or Philadelphia newsroom.
But L.A. County is spread far and wide, consisting of eighty-eight cities (and many unincorporated areas) across an urbanized region of more than four thousand square miles — larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Uninvited"
Copyright © 2020 Adrian Maher.
Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
Part I: Rookie 1: The Pink Palace 2: Who Are These People? 3: Navigating Crasher Codes 4: Early Days—Pitfalls and Pratfalls 5: Reality TV Interlude 6: Golden Globes Prep 7: The Golden Globes Awards 8: Playmates at Play Part II: Community 9: The Daily Inquiry and More Self-Inviters 10: Rowdy 11: In Arnold’s Living Room 12: Close Calls 13: Paul McCartney at MusicCares 14: Kingworld Knockout 15: Karl B. Gunther 16: Backyard Who? 17: Pumped Up with Paltrow Part III: On the Road 18: Side Door Sundance 19: Esalen Interlopers Part IV: Pushing Limits 20: Upping My Game 21: Space X Launch 22: Night at the Petersen Museum 23: Increasing Mishaps 24: Crasher Cannibalization 25: Shame and Disillusionment 26: Screen Actor Impersonators 27: Detonation