Part XXI: Destiny by Design
All doors now open for happy surprises and the Divine Plan of my life is speeded up under grace.
~ Florence Scovel Shinn
In the 90s, I produced an exciting event for Home & Garden Television (HGTV) before anyone really knew about this cable network. I am proud to say that the Beverly Hills mansion party featuring Crosby, Stills & Nash for 400 cable industry guests was the major hit of the cable convention and it put the new network on the map.
More importantly, it reaffirmed my belief that we must learn to listen and pay close attention to that subtle intuitive nudging – I think you are learning here that God prefers to whisper.
How I attracted this client is a story in itself…
One day I received a phone call at my office from a woman who told me she was researching something for her boss. She said she was looking for a resource for a mansion for one of the boss’ contacts. It was a fleeting conversation. But two important words stuck in my mind: she mentioned the name Scripps Howard. The name was vaguely familiar so I knew it must be a big company. I gave her some information over the phone and the conversation ended. I never heard from her again.
I don’t know how much time had elapsed, maybe a couple of months, but that call came to mind one day and realized I had not heard back from the woman. I had kept her name and number which I always did when someone called regarding possible business.
Well, I called the company, spoke to the woman, and she brushed me off. She said nothing further was ever done, she had no more information, and her boss had nothing more to do with the original request. I asked her if she could give me any contact number, but it became very clear that she did not wanted to be bothered with this matter.
Following my previous experiences with synchronicity, do you think I could really let go of this matter so easily? I had reached the point in my faith where I believed that the mere fact that a client called me meant that the client was mine by “divine appointment” and I would book them. You might say that I had manifested this Scripps Howard organization as my client – but in this case, they just didn’t know it yet. :-)
Okay, so to secure this client, I might have to put forth a little effort. But as far as I was concerned, when that secretary mentioned their name, I assumed the Universe had whispered in my ear.
I went searching for Scripps Howard. And I found that they were a very large company indeed – actually a conglomerate of many companies – the Scripps parent includes cable networks, broadcast television, newspapers, news service, interactive media, united media (comic strips), and on. They were all over the place. Finding a starting point was an ominous task.
You are probably used to my saying that I don’t recall all the details (if I ever knew I would tell this story, I would have kept notes!). I just remember making calls until somewhere in the Scripps loop, someone told me that the only division they could think of that would have need of a mansion might be the new cable network, Home & Garden Television. I was given a telephone number for their headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Reaching the corporate offices, I was told by the operator that everyone was in Anaheim, California for the Western cable convention (Anaheim is just a hop, skip and jump from Los Angeles) and she transferred me to a woman’s voice mail so I could leave a message. I mentioned in my message that I was based in Los Angeles and had received a call months before inquiring about a mansion for a Scripps company. I said that I was following up to see if Home & Garden was the right company and if I could be of service. The woman’s name was Marianne.
I didn’t get a return call while the staff was in Anaheim. It wasn’t until they returned to Knoxville that I heard from Marianne.
World Class Design
Yes, they were thinking of planning a party for NTCA -National Cable Television Association, the convention coming up in April. They were a new network and wanted to make their presence known to the industry. Most of the major networks – HBO, Showtime, E! – hosted large parties to show off every year for this convention – and they hired headliner stars for entertainment.
But HGTV was a fledging network on a budget. It wouldn’t be easy to compete. A lot depended upon whether they could find the right location and do the event within their budget, but I think she told me that the company president had an entertainment contact in Los Angeles that already knew of something or was looking for something. We discussed my business and she said she would get back to me if there was something I could do for them.
Marianne did call me back and gave me the go ahead to find a mansion that would represent their image and be able to accommodate 400 guests as well as staging for entertainment. It had to be very special to introduce HGTV to the cable industry. I got the ‘message’. I set out to find the perfect place…
In my research, someone recommended a property known as Villa Bella at the top of Beverly Hills (Benedict Canyon) overlooking the city. This newly built home was already destined to join the ranks of the world’s great estates. It had a commanding Mediterranean presence and an incredible view of the city all the way to the ocean. And it had an enormous 16,000 square foot patio in the back extending from the cliff – the perfect space to build staging for entertainment and to accommodate seating for 400.
The most unusual factor, however, was this: the home was never finished! That’s right…it was a spectacular shell of a home that was completely raw inside. No electrical outlets, no finishing, no paint, nothing. It was basically a construction site with only the finished exterior. The owner told me that the house wasn’t completed because he wanted the eventual buyer to determine the décor and finishing touches according to their own taste. The home was on the market for $12 million (it had been reduced at one point from $18 million).
But the home didn’t sell. The home was the exact spot where actress Sharon Tate and her friends had been murdered by followers of Charles Manson in 1969, almost 30 years before. The original home had been torn down and this new estate built on the lot. The media couldn’t seem to leave that fact alone and always tied in the murders when the house was publicized. So I heard that was the reason the home didn’t sell.
The owner of course was delighted to bring in some money while the house was sitting there and agreed to let us book it for the party.
Marianne and her associates from HGTV flew in to see it and loved it immediately. It was perfect…even in its unfinished state…no, I mean…because of its unfinished state…
Design in Progress
I hired an interior decorator who created for each empty room a concept display along with samples of materials, fabrics, and items that you would use to select the décor and designs for that room in your newly built home. So the home provided the perfect backdrop and theme of “design in progress” for the brand new Home & Garden Television Network, which has since become famous for its designs in progress and the HGTV Dream Home that is given away each year in their sweepstakes.
A generator was brought in for power as well as a portable “designer” restroom trailer, the front patio driveway smoothed, the huge back patio covered with Astroturf and the staging built to accommodate the entertainment. Shuttle vans were contracted to transport guests from the rented Beverly Hills Library parking lot up to the mansion.
The entertainment was the legendary Crosby, Stills & Nash, still in great form after all these years. We carried the theme further when I hired “flower children” to accompany guests on the shuttle vans and roam and dance around the party. It was interesting that the flower children I hired were actually dressed in authentic flower children clothing that they borrowed from their parents, who were once REAL flower children many years ago.
The catering was done by our favorite, Scott and Silver Spoons, and as usual, everyone raved about the food.
So, take an incomplete $12 million villa overlooking the city and provide the perfect design-in-progress theme. Construct a stage and provide seating and dance area for 400 guests. Hire Crosby, Stills & Nash to perform. Add a few “flower children”. You won’t find guests seated for long.
This first event I produced for HGTV was so significant that the president of the cable association was quoted in the trade media as stating it was “a historical standout.” He said that in his eleven years in the cable industry, it was the best party he had ever seen.”
Remember the entertainment contact that Marianne had mentioned to me when we first spoke on the phone? That was Rick Dees, the radio star, who was a college friend of the President of HGTV. Dees showed up at the party and was heard asking in awe, “How did you ever find this place?”
Did I mention that the party was a hit? :-)
That very same night, I had another party booked for the same convention in another mansion on the other side of the canyon. It was not for a cable network, it was for a cable related exhibitor at the convention. It was a more subdued and sophisticated reception style event with a classical trio. I left the HGTV party a couple of times and was shuttled over to the second event to make sure everything was going well (I also had staff handling it).
It was rather funny. On one trip to this second party, I found guests standing transfixed in front of the mansion and listening to the strains of Crosby, Stills & Nash resonating through the canyon in the distance. As soon as they found out I had something to do with the festivities and the other party, these guests tried to bribe me to take them in the shuttle to HGTV’s party. :-) Of course, each of these events were by private invitation only, so no way. But it was a good try.
Speaking of resonating through the canyon…
I had called the watch commander (police) prior to the event letting them know there would be a party and music but assuring them that the party and music would end at a reasonable time (10 p.m.) just in case anyone were to inquire or complain.
The interesting thing is that many of the mansions and estates that have Beverly Hills addresses are technically not even in Beverly Hills. According to the city plans, they are located in Los Angeles, but here in La La Land, if you own a big enough multimillion dollar home, you can pick your zip code. :-) Well, at least in certain areas of the city. So although the address for Villa Bella was Beverly Hills, it was in the jurisdiction of LAPD – the Los Angeles Police Department.
I have always hired off-duty policemen or detectives as security for my larger events. This is just good sense. If anyone were to complain for any reason and call police, then police know how to talk to police. And you just feel better with police on hand. I have always been told that if someone were to call the Beverly Hills police, they would arrive in minutes. But my officers told me that if someone were to call the Los Angeles police about a party, they would probably arrive after the party was over. :-)
Well, someone did call LAPD because of the music resonating through the canyon, even though it was still fairly early and even though it was the legendary Crosby, Stills & Nash (the nerve of some people!). And sure enough, it wasn’t until way after the party was over that two policemen showed up. The security officer at the bottom of the winding driveway called our security at the top to tell us police were coming up.
Two young policemen arrived while the staging was being taking down. They asked what had been going on. As it turned out, they were not happy – they were upset because they arrived too late and missed everything!
I went on to produce the next big party for HGTV in New Orleans the following year for NCTA, which gave me the special opportunity to hire Harry Connick, Jr. and his nine-piece funk band. Hiring Harry was a manifestation story in itself which deserves its own segment. Aside from these events for the national cable convention, I coordinated smaller but equally as important and exclusive HGTV events for the regional cable show in nearby Anaheim each year. Each event I created was held in a distinctive venue, such as beautiful Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar, a gorgeous plantation in Newport Beach and a private castle in Tustin. Eventually HGTV had merged with The Food Network, so let’s say that things were really cookin’ at these dinners with a presentation by a celebrity chef prior to the formal dinners.
German American architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe is credited with the quotations, Less is more and God is in the details. Do you suppose he understood that those details also include the subtle whispers of Spirit that blossom into magnificent results?
Do YOU understand now how important it is to learn to listen for them?
To be continued…
Private Reply to Marilyn Jenett (new win)