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Producer's Gossipy Film-Industry Guide to Fine Dining Is Elitist Hit

November 05, 1987|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

In certain Los Angeles circles, "making it" means a membership at Helena's, an invitation to Mary and Irving (Swifty) Lazar's Oscar Night party at Spago and a regular table for the Polo Lounge's weekday power breakfasts.

Now, add another status symbol: a free subscription to film producer Jay Weston's homely but highly sought-after Restaurant Newsletter.

What started out four years ago as a one-page review of a Chinese restaurant that Weston wanted to recommend to his closest friends has matured into a gossipy film-industry guide to fine dining in Los Angeles, as well as in New York, London and Paris. In fact, Weston is almost better known these days as a restaurant reviewer than as a movie maker, a fact that rated him a mention in the latest issue of Esquire.

At first glance, Weston's 12-page publication looks like a gourmet version of My Weekly Reader, or even tackier, an advertising leaflet destined for the garbage.

But what it lacks in artistic slickness it makes up for in gustatory gusto. Always chatty, sometimes cheeky, the newsletter is a compilation of no-nonsense restaurant reviews and a handy reference of chef comings and goings as well as cafe openings and closings.

But the real draw of the newsletter is its snob appeal: The 53-year-old producer sends it gratis to virtually everybody who's anybody in show business, or about 85% of its 4,000-plus subscribers. "So, it's kind of an inside thing," Weston admits.

Naturally, Weston's buddies are on the list (but not his "sworn enemies"), along with many major stars and directors and "virtually every major movie executive in our business," he boasts. And, because Hollywood is a place with more spectacular career rises and falls than a high-wire act by the Wallendas, Weston's administrative assistant, Marian Sloan, constantly updates the subscriber list by combing through Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and the other trades daily "just to see who's new, who's hot, who's just been named head of this or that," she explains.

Yes, so-called "civilians" can subscribe, ranging from Bank of Hong Kong executives to Parisian restaurateurs. But non-show-biz types often are asked to pay $18 to cover the cost of first-class postage and handling, which Weston absorbs for his industry pals.

'Breaks the Ice'

And why not? After all, the newsletter is invaluable as a promotional gimmick. Through it, Weston is able to get his name out and about among the people who count in his profession. "When I walk into a studio now, I've got to talk restaurants for 20 minutes before I can even open my mouth about one of my movies," he says. "It doesn't help me get projects sold, but it breaks the ice with a lot of people."

People like Sean Daniels, president of production for Universal Pictures, who always wants to know the hottest Chinese restaurant of the moment, and Jeff Katzenberg, president of Walt Disney Motion Pictures, who loves to swap stories about dining-out experiences.

Veteran producer Howard Koch once telephoned Weston in the wee hours "to complain about a Chinese restaurant I sent him to," Weston recalls. "He woke me up saying how could I send him to Monterey Park for this terrible food. And he wanted to give me the name of a restaurant he thought was better, which wasn't.

"I said, 'Howard, it's 2 a.m.' And he said, 'I just got home!' "

Weston also recently began sending his newsletter to the secretaries of movie VIPs. "They called up wanting their own copy because their boss would take the newsletter home," Weston says. "Now, I've got a whole network of these secretaries who help me. They tell me what their boss is doing, what he's looking for, and so forth. They're wonderful."

In turn, it's become something of a coup to rate a mention in the publication. Want to know producer Ray Stark's favorite place to lunch? Director Steve Miner's regular breakfast roadhouse? Actor Wayne Rogers' latest cafe caper? It's all in the newsletter.

The guide also is as idiosyncratic as Weston himself. It's full of colorful bits about his background as a Brooklyn native, one-time syndicated newspaper columnist and former public relations executive. One issue tells of the time Weston dreamed up a silly press-agent stunt in which he held a luxurious Waldorf-Astoria gourmet dinner where each course featured Joyvah Canned Halvah--his client, naturally--as an ingredient. Another talks about his wife Anna's upcoming TV miniseries, "The Billionaire Boys Club." And all are sprinkled liberally with the names of his show-biz friends like TV producer Larry Gelbart, business manager Edgar Gross, and composer Henry Mancini.

Good Promotion

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