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He Loved Lucy

City of Angles

September 12, 2001|ANN O'NEILL

Lee Tannen's book on his friendship with comic legend Lucille Ball reveals a powerful and demanding woman who asked a lot from her friends but rewarded them with intense devotion.

"It sounds crazy, but I'm able to deal with just about anyone in the world, having known Lucille Ball," Tannen said over the phone. "She was so big and so iconic .... Celebrity-wise everyone pales in comparison."

Tannen first met Ball shortly after the star married her producer, Gary Morton, in 1961. (Morton was Tannen's distant cousin.) "I remember trying to rehearse in the elevator how I was going to greet her," Tannen said. When the moment came, he was too overcome to speak.

He met her again about 18 years later, when Tannen was 30 and Ball was in her late 60s. He arrived at Ball's Beverly Hills home and she answered the door dressed completely in black and topped with a shock of orange hair. She scolded him for bringing bad luck by using the front door. "She said, 'What ... are you waiting for? Come in!"' Tannen recalled. "'Never use the front door again! When you come back use the side door.' Lucy loved to give orders."

Tannen's book "I Love Lucy: My Friendship With Lucille Ball" (St. Martin's Press) helps mark the 50th Anniversary of the CBS show "I Love Lucy." Tannen still chokes up when he recalls Ball's April 1989 death from a ruptured aorta. She called him the night before she died, but couldn't reach him. "I was supposed to call her hospital room and ask for Diane Belmont," Tannen said. "That was the code word."

The friendship had its ups and downs. "There was one time we didn't speak for a year and a half," he said. "You just didn't disagree with Lucy. It was kind of like her way or the highway. But she was incredibly loyal, giving and generous."

Waiting for Payday

A man and a woman who briefly worked last year as personal assistants to Courtney Love have sued the grunge diva in L.A. Superior Court over allegedly unpaid wages.

According to the breach of contract suit, Jason Thompson, 27, worked for Love at her Beverly Hills home for eight days; his replacement, Lorraine Rebennack, lasted two weeks as Love's employee. Thompson says he was to be paid $1,250 a week; Rebennack says she was to be paid $75,000 a year, or $1,442 weekly. Both say they agreed to work for Love under terms of oral agreements but haven't seen a dime.

Thompson says in the suit that he moved from Austin for the job and is owed $2,097 in moving expenses, as well as $36.78 for international phone calls he made to Love from his home. Thompson has waited 11 months for his paycheck, and Rebennack has waited nine months, the suit says.

Contacted by phone in Texas, Thompson, who now works for the Go-Go's, said he was told he was the eighth or ninth personal assistant hired by Love in 2000. He said he never met Love face to face and quit because she was demanding. "The expectation from her was more than anybody in the world could fulfill," he said.

There was no immediate comment from Love's lawyer.

Believing in Him

Six Hollywood studios passed on writer-director Henry Bean's first feature film, "The Believer," based on a true story about a Jewish neo-Nazi, even after it won Sundance's 2001 Grand Jury Prize. That was Showtime's cue. The cable network snapped up the picture, which premiered last week at the Directors Guild building in West Hollywood.

The film is loosely based on the story of Daniel Burros, a young Ku Klux Klan demonstrator whose Jewish identity was discovered by a New York Times reporter in the 1960s. The day the story was published, Burros committed suicide.

"It took many years before my understanding of historical events evolved into this thing that is the movie now," said Bean, whose screenwriter wife, Leora Barish, is the daughter of a rabbi.

Ryan Gosling stars as Daniel Balint, whose brilliant but hate-filled oratory on Judaism wins over New York's right wing elite, helping to fund an underground group of neo-fascists. Summer Phoenix plays Balint's girlfriend; Billy Zane and Theresa Russell portray the group's leaders.

We found the tall and lanky Gosling to be soft-spoken in person, in contrast to his onscreen persona, which is all beefcake and bravado. "I really lost a sense of myself," Gosling said. "A lot of people were saying it was about self-hate and self-loathing. But it was really about love to me--a kid that loves something so much that he was choking on it."

Also on hand to show support for Bean and Gosling were Kevin Spacey and Sandra Bullock. Bullock, who is busy renovating her house, described the film as "very disturbing but very honest." It airs Sept. 30.

Quote, Unquote

"The whole thing with me and her happened eight years ago. It's like a dim, dim memory."--Steve Martin, talking to reporters about Anne Heche at the Toronto Film Festival. Martin added that those dim memories don't include signs of Heche's professed split personality.

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\o7 Times staff writers Gina Piccalo and Louise Roug contributed to this column. City of Angles runs Tuesday-Friday. E-mail: angles@latimes.com.

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