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I Crashed Barbra's Big Bash

September 14, 1986|MICHAEL DANAHY | Danahy, formerly a waiter, is a free - lance writer who contributes to Tables, Moviegoer and Movieline magazines

As a high school student in 1965, the writer trekked to New York City by bus to see Barbra Streisand on stage in "Funny Girl." Twenty-one years later, Danahy is still a Streisand fan. Dressed in borrowed tuxedo pants, bow tie and black shoes, Danahy found himself as a busboy at a very private, very posh party at Streisand's Malibu home last weekend. Unbeknown to the restaurant that hired him for the night, his chief purpose was to find a way to watch the concert that Streisand gave for the guests who had paid $2,500 a ticket to raise money for Democratic candidates:

Following the map issued back at the restaurant, I arrive about 3 p.m. at a B of A parking lot in Malibu.

"Who are you with and for what party?" a woman blocking the road asks.

"Spago. I'm working the Streisand party," I respond. About a month ago, I heard about this invitation-only backyard concert and had no intention of missing it. Five years in the restaurant world begets certain connections: I've finagled a position as a busboy for $50 in wages.

"Park over there," motions the guard. "Check in with Security."

Security is a mountain of a man, very beefy. He wears reflective sunglasses, a dark three-piece suit, black leather driving gloves and a cool attitude. He barks, "Name!"

I point to my name on a list of about 100 catering personnel. Security checks it off, recording the hour and minute of arrival. He tosses me a numbered button. "Don't lose it."

We're stuffed into vans and the door is locked from the outside.

Several miles and two security checkpoints later, we arrive at "The Ranch." We sign in. "Oh, isn't that nice," jokes a smart-alecky waiter. "Barbra's going to send us thank-you notes." Even one of the 12 guards smiles. Or it might be a snarl.

There are posted warnings: NO SMOKING. NO RECORDING EQUIPMENT. NO CAMERAS. I'm clean, so I'm passed through a gate, up a service road to a makeshift kitchen squeezed in the opening of a tennis court, large enough to seat 500 almost comfortably. Time for us to set up.

A table set by a Spago representative to Miss Manners perfection is our guide and 40 people rush about flipping floral tablecloths, folding napkins to look like sea shells and emptying boxes of plates, silverware, candles and three different glasses.

The guests begin to arrive, also by vans (I suppose they were locked in too), and we assemble in the "Rose Garden Area," grabbing trays of Spago-styled appetizers. (I know it's called the "Rose Garden Area" because security guards keep squawking into their walkie-talkies, "Clyde here. In the Rose Garden Area.")

The Rose Garden is a sprawling lawn between two of the five houses, all in different styles on 40 acres, nestled in a valley of Malibu Canyon. Although the entire spread is called "The Ranch," it doesn't look like a ranch. More like the fanciest neighborhood in the town you grew up in. Except this all belongs to one person.

The lawn is perfect for star grazing and star gazing. I'm moving through the crowd carrying a small puffy tomato-and-basil pizza. My one little pizza is shared by Bette Midler, dressed in sneakers and a paisley sweatsuit, patting her close-to-labor-looking stomach; Jane Fonda, elegantly dressed and remarkably beautiful; Jack Nicholson drinking Perrier (and not wearing his shades!); Emmanuel Lewis ("Webster") wearing a leather outfit; and Hugh Hefner's date wearing essentially nothing at all.

There are also lots of no-no's here. Guards are posted at entrances and exits to discourage wandering. The houses are off limits and there are no bathrooms . . . just a half dozen port-a-potties and a guarded Winnebago for special people. The Federal Aviation Administration has restricted the air space above the ranch to avoid a repeat of the Madonna/Penn nuptial travesty.

And where's Streisand? She's hiding out in the Victorian house. Following the rehearsal earlier, she scurried in through a back entrance. At the same time, six security guards joined the two already stationed on the front steps.

The dinner on the tennis court is a blur of insanity that only a waiter could understand. Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck has donated the food service and is really putting his rep on the line. He is providing meals for 500 heavy-duty customers--but he doesn't have a kitchen, running water, counter space and a zillion other necessities. Where will he put the dirty dishes? I can't figure it out--and I'm a busboy!

I'm moving across a jammed section balancing a huge tray. Bruce Willis unintentionally bumps me, my tray tottering above Eva Gabor's coiffed head. Somehow I avoid the tragedy. Whew.

Following the meal of tomato and goat cheese salad, sliced veal chop with grilled veggies, raspberries, cake, ice cream and coffee, are speeches by Sen. Alan Cranston and the eloquent Barbara Jordan. It's the first time I can stop since I arrived. I sneak some food (against Spago policy) and start thinking about escape routes. It's going to be tough.

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