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Brentwood Bla-Bla: Folksy, Pretentious

June 02, 1988|JOHN GABREE

If you've missed the Brentwood Bla-Bla, the current anniversary issue is a good introduction to a community journal that is anything but ordinary.

Published every two weeks from offices on San Vicente near Barrington, Bla-Bla is a controlled-circulation magazine with a decidedly neighborhood feel, "an instrument," according to its publisher, "to be used by its readers to document the community." Its 40,000 copies are distributed in Brentwood, Bel-Air, Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Malibu and Westwood.

A typical issue might include profiles of Westside bank executives, a history of the Brentwood Library, or an interview with writer Susan Block on her falling out with psychologist and radio personality Toni Grant ("Who Wrote the 'Book of Love'?"). Mini-essays by neighborhood residents on travel, restaurants, investments, real estate, fashion, beauty, entertainment and the arts are accompanied by photographs and artworks by local artists. Inevitably, there is a community calendar.

Folksy and pretentious in about equal measure, the Bla-Bla presents writing that ranges from passable to excellent--building on the Westside's mix of artists and professionals--and page layouts that alternate between amateurish and ugly. Aside from the frequently classy covers, the magazine, reflecting a commitment to a "handmade" ethic by the staff, looks like it was laid out by a not-very-talented class of third-graders.

But it isn't every community publication that is owned by a publisher who was once jailed on obscenity charges and, more recently, took on the local Chamber of Commerce for spreading rumors, attacked rival periodicals for their greed, and said in print that former employees had "degenerated into animals."

The publisher in question is Michael Lobkowicz, who founded the Bla-Bla just over a year ago after he and his wife, Ellen, moved to Brentwood from Beverly Hills. They were already working together in what Ellen Lobkowicz describes as the "Dreksler (my maiden name) & Lobkowicz Art Salons: evenings presented with artists, preferably unknown, to a group of people in an unusual location." Surprised to find there was no Brentwood community paper, they decided to publish one themselves.

Michael Lobkowicz says the publication was born "not as a money-making project, but with the intention of bringing a great paper to a great little area of Los Angeles." (The name was adapted from George and Ira Gershwin's "Blah-Blah-Blah.")

Although the publishers make a great deal of the idea that much of the paper "is written by its readers," it is not uncommon for community weeklies to get a portion or all of their material from local residents.

"We are lightweight when it comes to politics," Lobkowicz noted. "Our interest is people. We give many editorial pages to short stories and local artists. We represent everyone in the community. We also poke fun at ourselves."

Lobkowicz says his publishing experience in Los Angeles dates back to 1971 when he helped start a paper with veterans of the Los Angeles Free Press. In the '60s, he spent 18 months in jail after being convicted of conspiracy to distribute obscene materials in Rhode Island. Later, he founded Love, "the first magazine about sexuality to publish unedited editorial material from its readers."

His family's involvement with publishing predates the invention of the printing press, said Lobkowicz, who traces his Italian roots to the Filangieri family in AD 1100 and describes himself as a prince. His paternal ancestors were patrons of Beethoven, he adds.

The 38-page Bla-Bla, subtitled "Journal of People, Art and Commerce," recently added a cover price--"$1.50 south of Wilshire and West of Westwood"--and plans to expand circulation outside the neighborhood. Some copies are already available in New York's SoHo, according to Lobkowicz.

First Spinoff

There are also ambitious plans for its first spinoff, L.A. Guide, a small-format, twice-monthly insert in the parent magazine, but soon to be available on its own, eventually citywide. Although Lobkowicz predicts it will become "an alternative" to Los Angeles magazine, the publishers of that behemoth needn't worry for a while. In its present state, L.A. Guide amounts to little more than vanity publishing for chiefs Angela Dorio and Stacy Sherman, whose photographs are the most notable feature of each 16-page issue.

After losing money for many months--"Ellen and I personally owe more than $100,000," reported Lobkowicz--the Bla-Bla is "just now breaking even." In September, it will add a monthly insert on the Westside's favorite pastime, real estate. And Bla-Blas are being developed in "Newport, Scottsdale, Boston and several other cities," he added.

With the support of regular advertisers, the promise of growing paid circulation and profits from L.A. Guide, Lobkowicz anticipates being around for a while. For more information, contact the Brentwood Bla-Bla at P.O. Box 491452, Los Angeles, Calif. 90049.

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