Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Some 10 years ago, I started writing my memoirs when going through the aftermath of my twin brother's death. There were many chapters left unwritten, some of them as they dealt with emotions still raw after 30 years. This is one of those chapters that I held off writing until now. The last thing I wanted to do was write a kiss and tell so I have attempted to be discrete where possible. Some of the writing may seem glib but I have had to confront some painful episodes where I wish I could have acted with more consideration for others' feelings.

1973 was an awful year for me. Actually the awfulness started in August 1972 with my falling asleep at the wheel of a car on Interstate 10, not far from Las Cruces, New Mexico.

My father would not forgive me for some years (even though it was someone else's car that I had wrecked) and it cost me the not inconsiderable sum then of $50 per month that he had been giving me to supplement my university grant.

It was hardly the preparation I needed for re-sitting my failed Philosophy examinations at Warwick and the academic authorities there turned down my request for an Aegrotat pass,
a waiver on account of an all too apparent medical condition. And I had returned to nearby Leamington Spa to find that my steady girlfriend Gail M. had taken up with someone else during my absence in America. So I soon found myself turfed out of Warwick, my only option to bunker down in my mother's London flat, shell shocked.

The fact that my mother told her friend Frank Kermode of my plight, which resulted in my eventual late matriculation to the English undergraduate course at University College, London,
did little to boost my crushed self esteem.

I regressed sexually.

Instead of going out with girls my age or older at college, I was back in London as a 19 year old with my Westminster friends now 17 and going to their parties. Michael Zilkha famously failed to invite me to one of his soirees or luncheons with the admonition : "You're too depressed, Robbie".

There just wasn't a vibrant social life at UCL, unless you were in hall, communal student accommodation where it was hard not to strike up a conversation.

My love life lurched from one emotional disaster to another.

There was a very special friend whom I had known for some years and had on occasion snogged who, out of the blue, presented herself naked on my bed and requested me to deflower her.
I thought I was showing respect by declining her invitation but I had, instead, put her in an awkward situation. A milkshake at the Hard Rock afterwards only froze our mutual understanding further. After a few wild years, she did settle down and went onto to have a fabulous marriage.

Yet, not long afterwards (or was it before?), I had deflowered a different but just as willing girl on the same bed after only having met her at a party the previous weekend. This time I was the cad , telling her the next time she called that I wasn't ready for a committed relationship.

I was an unfeeling brute, so I thought in the aftermath each time, incapable of understanding these girls' own emotional needs.

There was fall out, too. The spurned girl's best friend at the time had just started going out with my best friend , Patrick Wintour. Patrick understandably dropped me and we were never able to resume where we had left off. I still feel a heavy emotional debt to Patrick after all these years, especially as I was not "there" for him when he went through his own emotional hell at the time of his parents' divorce.

The Wintour house at Phillimore Gardens had been a special moment in time with our "group" , myself, Patrick, Roger Cohen, Marcus Campbell with drop ins like Mike Hamlyn, Sean Gough, David Bernstein , Mark Newlands amongst many others gathering every weekend before charging off to parties. Not forgetting Patrick's sisters , Nora and Anna (though the latter was far more a fleeting presence) and Kate Arnold Forster, herself about to join the Westminster Sixth form.

The seduced young girl became a psychiatrist. And it has occurred to me that she might be the one who could uncork the not insignificant feelings of self reproach I have stored from a thousand different but recurring situations in my life.

Not all was gloom. For the second year running, Roger invited me to stay in his room at Hotel Belvedere in Wengen over New Year's. We travelled as a threesome in my 1961 Morris Minor "Horace", Roger, I and Mark Newlands. We made it as far as Zermatt where Mark Newlands and I had an unforgettable experience with Gisela from Giessen and her friend. Even more fun was Wengen that year, highlighted by high jinks with a group from Roedean. But sadly, on the drive back through Germany, "Horace" threw a rod and died a noisy, oil spewing death in a side street near Strasbourg main railway station. So my days were over of driving friends to parties or to weekends in the country.

So all this is a preamble to what transpired in the spring of 1973, some months and various casual relationships later.

I had begun to settle in at UCL with the powers at be allowing me to progress past the introductory courses. I would now be taking seminars with 2nd and 3rd year students, even ones led by the man himself, Frank Kermode, catching him in his final year at UCL.

I was no longer at my mother's house but staying in my twin brother's large mansion flat. We even held a party or two there. Roger's younger sister Jenny and Nick Robson's sister Cathy were on this kick of eating bacon and tomato toasted sandwiches.

It may have been David Bernstein who invited the gang to St Paul's girls school to see his sister Jane act in, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which I had seen both on the West End stage and in the cinema and probably even read the original novella the previous year during my book a day reading kick at Warwick. There would be the bonus of a cast party afterwards.

I remember sitting in the second row as in front of me and no doubt terrifying the actors on stage were "Pierre" and "Napoleon" from the BBC's hit dramatisation of War and Peace. Yes, that infamous "Welsh cunt", as Olivier so invectively called Tony Hopkins, accompanied by the truly great and comparatively unfeted Ian Holm. I never found out whose daughter they were supporting that evening.

Terror struck early, as the flaming haired Jane Bernstein (possibly playing the ill fated Mary Macgregor) found there was no desk and chair for her to sit at ... on stage. I can only say, Jane, that when I played the Constable in Fiddler On The Roof some 20 years later, I made do without the horse.

At some point in the evening a girl off stage caught my eye and I made a mental note to find her later at the cast party.

Well the play was a hoot, despite the keenly felt absence of Maggie Smith. We must have caught a cab to the party location, out in Chiswick as I recall. I was in fine form, no depressed air about me. As I and my friends came up to ring the front door bell of the suburban villa, I was asked to wait outside. Meanwhile my friends ventured inside. Roger probably came out after a few minutes to explain that I was not actually welcome at the party but he would do his best to clear up the misunderstanding.

I was dumbstruck. Rather than being a trouble maker, I tended always to ingratiate myself with those hosting a party, especially if I had come along as a friend of a friend.

So I waited. In the chilly night air, far from central London. And waited.

It must have been an hour before I was welcomed inside. And there, as soon as I turned the corner, leaning against the wall was the girl who had caught my eye earlier in the evening in the school hall. By herself, as though she had been waiting all this time for me. It was wonderfully incomprehensible, for this girl was simply stunning looking. Light auburn hair, wearing tight fitting slacks with lambswool sweater, with delicate curves in the right places.

She drew me right to her. There was no mistaking that she wanted me and I just fell, hook, line and sinker. For the duration of the party we were inseparable. We kissed, we embraced passionately. I was not interested in finding a discrete corner to go to. I was blissfully happy and thought my bliss would never end, it would stay on a sky high plateau of fulfilled desire.

We must have talked. Or did we skip the routine questions of age and background? It would have been unusual if we had. We rode back together to London in a minicab, she was on my knees and I remember Jane Bernstein in front making a negative comment or two that sailed right over my head.

I was in love. I had her name and number and I was going to invite her out. Then I called.

"I'm sorry but I won't be able to see you", she explained.

"What did I do?", I pleaded. "I just won't be able to ..."

I thought of buying her a gigantic ruby ring, doing anything to get my hands on money to impress her.

It was my turn to be utterly crushed. That summer term at UCL turned mainly to dust. I avoided tutorials and when finally I was cornered and had confessed my romantic failings, my tutor actually cut me slack. Maybe he had been too close to some of the all too prevalent suicides at Varsity, instinctively not pushing me over the edge.

Rather than pursue an active social life, I started work as a hotel floor service waiter
on the graveyard shift, accumulating enough money to rent a flat very close to that elite girls' school. But I did not stalk her.

My friends must have been very patient with me. That summer I was invited to stay in a grand hotel in Biarritz by one friend but I had already spent all my earnings on my new flat. Maybe I had misunderstood a simple invitation to take tea if I happened to be passing by on my Inter Rail pass! Something did wither inside of me that year and made me question my sexuality. I came to my 21st birthday, terribly unsure.

I threw a party for myself before Christmas, a week or so before my actual birthday on the 29th. The party was notable for my punching out Chris (Paul) Huhne who had tickled me a bit too aggressively when we were seated on my tatty couch. Somehow we became very good friends afterwards and he threw some outrageous parties at his South Kensington mansion flat. But once Christmas was over, I decided on solitude for my birthday. I travelled to Scotland, possibly hitchhiking there and found myself at the youth hostel in Inverness, thus I spent my birthday alone. But I had a piece of paper with my new friend Becky Fraser's telephone number scribbled on it. Well, there I was the day after my sullen birthday calling, expecting to be brushed off ....

"Yes, we're coming into Inverness to go ice skating ... we can meet you there and please join us."

I was invited to spend Hogmanay at Eilean Aigas with the Fraser family. I had heard of but had never met Becky's mother, Lady Antonia. It tuned out we knew someone in common, Lady Antonia's best friend, the writer A.S. Byatt whom I knew as Toni Duffy, from her work teaching in the English department at UCL. In any event, Lady Antonia had me sit close to her at one meal, "I love the pain of child birth", she cooed and I knew henceforth I could only love women, for she was the idealised mother of 6 who oozed sensual warmth. Her then husband Sir Hugh was very kind to me under his gruff exterior and patiently introduced me to the delight of drinking Bell's.

Besides Becky, I also knew younger daughter Flora from her time at Holland Park School. Now she was looking and acting quite mature for a girl still under 16. The girls had a coach house to themselves and were intent on fun. I doubt if I provided anything other than gossip, especially demanded about my old school mate the cherubic looking Adam Harvey, whom I had never seen at any parties, but here he was the hot topic of the day among two of the most desirable young ladies in London society.

The several days I spent at Eilean Aigas were magical. I was taken sightseeing, fed beautiful food, met other members of the Pakenham/Fraser extended family. If there were cracks in the family, they were most certainly papered over at this time. Upon my return to London, my friends saw that I was clearly smitten with Lady Antonia and they did their best to tease me with tall tales of other boys consummating their passion with her. But I knew my desire for her would go unexpressed, unfulfilled, unrequited but provide a romantic template for the future that beckoned.

I saw Lady Antonia many years later in the foyer of a London theatre accompanied by her second husband Harold Pinter. She neither recognised me nor connected to anything I might have said, but I shall never forget her generous spirit that Hogmanay when my own was touching bathos.

So when I came some months later in mid 1974 to be greeted at the Brook Green bus stop by a pretty freckled girl wearing a knitted cap, I had no idea who she was until she told me her name, Jane; the girl who had sat on my knees before kissing me goodbye.

I thought the pain was gone but it has lingered all these years. I never stopped thinking of her, asking vainly for news. Even decades later when searching the Internet for news of her, any findings would be obscured by the massive attention received by her actress cousin, Helena.

And now 35 years later, I have stumbled upon the truth.

I cannot be sure if I did not wish to hear it previously or if Jane fibbed a little about who she was, all those years ago, in that Chiswick villa. It was obvious to everyone and common knowledge to some but I was blinded to everything but desire.

Jane Bonham Carter came out of the shadows in 2005 as she was elevated to a life peerage as Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury. She was born 20 October 1957. Never married, no children, but lives with her partner (Lord) Tim Razzall, some 14 years her senior..

Jane was barely 15 when we met.

I had no idea. I thought her 16 or 17, already in the sixth form. No wonder that Jane Bernstein was upset at my zeroing in on her contemporary. That additional difference of 1 year in age made for an embargo on any romantic notions I might have had as a then 20 year old.

And here we are, Lady Jane, you about to "celebrate" the big "5-0" and I, your common servant, accepting the inevitability of middle age at 55.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

This is my Dad's story ...

Los Angeles Time Machines

is not the most elegant of titles but apt for one of the great websites in the making, chronicling the rise and fall of bars and restaurants in the USA with emphasis on the Los Angeles area. I came across it while looking for references to HMS Bounty, the kitschy restaurant my family owned and around which my life revolved for many years. The Bounty, its present owner Ramon Castaneda and former owners including my late father, Gordon Fields (the short guy above with sometime U.S. senator John V. Tunney) and the inestimable Dick O'Neill (immediate background) are spoken of very highly and at great length on this site. The anonymous author seems obsessed with detail and accuracy so I am going to help wherever I can , beginning with this blog entry, in the form of an open letter!

Hey, man!

I am the late Gordon (Gordie) Fields' son. I have known Dick O'Neill all my life, worked on and off as the maitre d' at the Bull 'n Bush and HMS Bounty from 1977-87. I last saw Dick a few years ago at El Adobe. He had slowed down quite a bit.

Following my father's death on 18 October 1998 (You list Oct. 30) I was briefly president of the corporation that owned both the Bull and the Bounty, W.O.F., Inc..

My father was the managing partner of both restaurants.

He was formerly the manager and sometime bartender at the Blarney Castle on Western Avenue (You mention a different, unknown to me bar). My father proudly maintained his union bartender status for as long as I can remember.

When my father came up with the business plan for the Bull 'n Bush, he was ridiculed. Conventional wisdom had it that a location on 7th or 8th Streets would be more beneficial, 6th being then a nondescript thoroughfare in the early 50's. This was before mid Wilshire briefly boomed, climaxed by the Equitable building development and the destruction of the Chapman Park hotel (for a parking lot).

The cross street, Kenmore, had a line of double story white clapboard 1920's apartment buildings, extending from the Bull to the Gaylord.

My father's sister, my Aunt Lois, was the soon to be Mrs Rodney Pantages. Yes, I grew up running around both the Bull 'n Bush and the Pantages Theatre!

Rodney Pantages turned down my father for a $10,000 investment, as did my father's second wife, my stepmother Mimi. So my father turned to an attorney called James West and Dick O'Neill to come aboard as silent partners, each putting up $10,000. West was bought out in the 1960's, in my recollection. Ron Waller was a close friend of my father's but he was not a partner in the restaurant as you incorrectly state.

To my father's credit, he did not cut out Dick when he saw the opportunity to take over what had been Dale's Secret Harbor (I have never heard it referred to as Dimsdale's Secret Harbor as you do). In any case, what made the Bounty successful where previous incarnations had failed was that my father brought PARKING to the table.

The magnificent Gaylord has no parking.

Going back to the late 1950's, the Bull 'n Bush also did not have its own parking. The original rented lot used was across Kenmore.

But as each one of those white clapboard houses came up for sale, my father bought them and tore them down to provide parking. One house, the third lot on Kenmore was spared for a number of years as my father's mother, Dorothy Withers, daughter of infamous Little Josie Dupree of Barbary Coast fame, was installed in an upstairs apartment to keep an eye on things!

The Bull 'n Bush opened with just one small dining room and was an overnight sensation.. As the years went by, the restaurant took over more and more of the neighboring shops to provide additional dining rooms. Right up until the half city block was demolished for a largely Korean pod mall, my father had an old fashioned Chinese laundry as a tenant, I'm sure paying an anachronistic amount of rent.

The addition of the Bounty in 1962 made sense as the back office operations could be run from the Bull and it could provide additional capacity.

What transpired was somewhat different : with Mid Wilshire's ascendancy as a business district in the 1960's, H.M.S. Bounty became a pre-eminent power lunch
spot, home of the proverbial 5 or even 10 martini lunch. For 20 odd years, the place was jammed every lunchtime.

The glorious 60's : my father Gordon I Fields and stepmother Mimi pictured at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, located across Wilshire Blvd. from
H.M.S. Bounty restaurant

Whereas the Bull had a reputation for being a macho sports hang out, the Bounty soon became "the" pick up bar in L.A., with hundreds of single women living nearby in the newly constructed apartment complexes between 6th and 3rd streets. Dinner almost became an afterthought, as the Bounty was wall to wall people during the cocktail hour(s); indeed, a likely move would be to get
happy at the Bounty before having dinner at The Cove (inexplicably missed in your round up of classic restaurants in that neighborhood) or The Windsor around the corner or even next door at the Brown Derby.

Yes, there was bookmaking going on. After a big sports day, the back bar (actually the front bar) at the Bull resembled a bookmaker's convention. When the Dodgers came to L.A., my father was front and center buying the most desirable 1st base season tickets. Gordie had 50 yard line tickets for the Coliseum. He would run buses from the Bull parking lot to the major sporting events. The restaurant would be a zoo for hours after the fans returned, especially as often the visiting team would come in! Dick O'Neill loved being one of the boys and riding a school bus out to the game; afterwards, he would sit by himself at a small table, eating one of the Bull 'n Bush's famous steaks. My Dad would be running the mayhem at the bar, telling joke after joke, making introductions, defining the raucous atmosphere. The restaurant's regular clientele, those who came in like clockwork every Sunday evening would just love it. There would be heavy hitters like Jess Unruh (responsible for the saying "Money is the mother's milk of politics", veteran newsman Bill Stout, one night hall of famer Dick Butkus held court at a table in front, effectively blocking all foot traffic.

One of the public payphones inside a booth at the Bull was constantly ringing. There was a veritable nest of bookies : a guy called Haack was apparently a big wheel,; a short guy Vic working the back bar, another cohort was George Silo. I remember being invited by Silo to his record store in downtown L.A. in the late 1970's and not being able to understand its commercial viability; it was only decades later that I found out there was a bookmaking operation in the back!

Silo made the move to the Bounty after the Bull closed and was inexplicably run over crossing Wilshire Blvd one night. But one bookie did take the proverbial fall : the waiter, Tommy Palma.

To backtrack a bit : These restaurants had old world professional waiters. And they were exclusively men and they were hungry. Just as my father was on a mission in working his tail off in the early 50's to earn the grub stake required for opening his own joint.

There was Merle, right out of riding the rails in the 1930's with his wife out of the roarin' 20's with a horse racing habit to support, too. The half German, half Mexican Joe Roman, out of Texas, who had worked from 1949 at the Blarney Castle with my father up until the 90's at the Bounty. He financed the American dream from his tips. With a nod to the elegant HMS Bounty of the 1960's. there was Dave Wiseman the maitre d' who would have fit in at The Windsor or Perino's, flanked by bartender Hank Sievers who had known my father as Gordon Fleishman at Hamilton High in the late 1930's. Hungriest of all was Leo Egan, from a well to do family in pre-war Poland, survivor of Auschwitz. His work was wonderfully rewarded by the success of his new American family replacing the one lost in the holocaust. His son Sam Egan is an accomplished Hollywood screenwriter.

Finally, working the tables numbered in the 30's was Tommy Palma. If any man had bad habits that needed to be fed, it was Tommy. Yet he had the most devoted following among high powered businessmen in the Wilshire corridor who would only sit at his tables and sit and sit; so long as Tommy made sure his guys got their drinks from the bar, the food could wait. But it was Tommy who got popped for bookmaking, major.

Tommy took the fall for some much bigger fish but never ratted. He did time and by the time of his release the Bull was in its death throes and Tommy proceeded to drink himself to death at the Bounty.

By the 1990's, very, very few of the advertising agencies, insurance brokers were left in the neighborhood and the Bounty lunch business had almost completely vanished. There was now a Bull 'n Bush end of the Bounty bar where the survivors from down Kenmore would spend their afternoons, anchored by my father at the window. At dinner time there was some low spending residual business from the Gaylord habitues, average age of 70+. Most remarkable of all, was the absence of off street parking for the evening business. The packed Happy hours were a distant memory.

The L.A. riots of 1992 changed the entire equation. Panicked middle aged children rushed to pick up their aged parents and their belongings from the Gaylord, as columns of smoke rose from a few city blocks away.

During this decade, the Gaylord changed from being essentially an old folks' home to becoming a hip address for young professionals. The Bounty was only kept alive during this critical transition period owing to Gordie Fields wanting a place to hang out in during his dotage. The restaurant had long ceased to make money and it was only personal loans from him to the corporation that kept the doors open.

However, the seeds of the Bounty's renaissance had been planted. A private party had been thrown by a young lawyer from upstairs in the Gaylord and soon 2 or 3 nights a week, there would essentially be a party open to all comers, starting around 11 pm and continuing to 1:30 am with a view to closing at the legal closing time of 2 a.m..

Just these half dozen or so hours a week were enough to keep HMS Bounty open at the time of Gordon Fields' passing in 1998; Mr Fields would see the bar receipts and bottle breakage the following morning and wonder what was going on. He never saw the action, usually leaving the business by the early evening. In fact, the restaurant's kitchen would serve a few dinners and be closed by 10 pm missing the "rush".

Ramon's story is indeed a beautiful one and American in the best sense of the word. If my father had lived to be 100, Ramon would have continued to shadow his every step, ever the loyal retainer.

Much as the family would have wanted to continue as owners, HMS Bounty is only viable as an owner managed business and Ramon had decided to go it alone. Ramon's biggest potential problem was the restaurant lease held by George Harb (Angelo Mozilo's tailor!) but the indefatigable Mr Harb has proven a wonderful landlord since Gordon Fields' passing. Dick O'Neill still owned 50% but indicated that he would give his shares to Ramon. The Fields family not only gave Ramon their controlling interest but forgave 80% of the debt owed by the corporation to the Fields estate. Humble as always, Ramon is still prone to calling me (his junior by some years) "jefe" on the now rare occasion when I am able to visit. It does not surprise me that Ramon would still refer to Dick as an owner.


Robbie Fields

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Someone I wish I had signed ...

There's a recent comment on my very first blog entry

Hey Robbie -

Just waving hello after stumbling upon your blog - fun photos, fun writing, fun life
it looks like :) Too bad I did not have time back in the old days to get to know you - say hi if you are ever again in San Francisco - !

For the moment I won't say who (pictured above, photographed by George Jardine) is saying "hello", but allow me to tell you an extraordinary story

In the early 1990's I was living in Palm Desert, California and I used to take advantage of its proximity to Las Vegas to attend major trade shows there. Score a cheap hotel room or one time, actually sleep in my car in the Las Vegas Hilton lot waiting for the convention center to open.

I used to marvel at the tens of thousands of foreign visitors spending huge sums to either exhibit or just the work the show; and there was me on a $100 budget looking for game developers or anyone to whom I could pitch the Posh Boy catalog of music.

Anyway, one year at COMDEX, I am walking the floor when I pass by one of the countless software demonstation stands. Now I am not a techie and normally tune out when the discussion is of software development tools but the demonstrator's voice just grabbed hold of me and would not let go! Maybe because the guy actually knew what he was talking about!

After he finished, I did my customary record producer hustle and for the first and only time approached a software tech guy and gave him my Posh Boy business card.

The fellow immediately said, "I know you".
"You do?!?!", I replied.

"I played guitar on a record you once released ... "

"Phil Clevenger?", I meekly asked ...

"Sure is."

I had never met the man before in my life, but I knew a Phil Clevenger from the credits for the Hooky album by the group Childrens Day, produced for me by Brett Gurewitz in the mid 1980's, just before Brett became hugely successful with the reformed Bad Religion and his label Epitaph.

The group had brought in Phil to play on the obligatory cover song that I had requested, and they had decided on the Rod Argent penned "Time Of The Season". The result was magic but proved a commercial flop.

But this is a recording that I NEVER tire of listening to. The guitar work could be from a 1970's Steely Dan album ... it's that good. And Brett managed on a budget of a few hundred dollars to deliver a beautiful recording, full of sonic nuance.

Here's the URL for downloading the recording.

As for Phil, he became a software guru. A techie's techie. He has had his own start ups but he's
a hired gun these days, working on other companies' projects. He has just finished designing Lightroom for Adobe, so I assume he's able to pay the rent.

So thanks Phil for saying hello. It has really kick started the week for me. And Phil, the last time someone said something similar to me was Greg Graffin of Bad Religion who reproached me for not having signed them back in 1981.