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Urban Moment

Literary Medley du Jour

The duchess of York and the director of an acclaimed film spice things up at a West Hollywood bookstore.

January 14, 2002|KATHLEEN CRAUGHWELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's ridiculously early on Sunset Boulevard--7:30 a.m., to be exact--when two women from the Santa Clarita Valley pitch their collapsible camping chairs on the sidewalk in front of Book Soup, the popular West Hollywood independent bookstore. The store will not open for another hour and a half.

The two have trekked from their suburb to this trendy stretch to meet Sarah Ferguson, the duchess of York and Weight Watchers spokeswoman, who will sign copies of her new book, "Energy Breakthrough."

Later, Book Soup will be swamped with cineastes and lovers of serious fiction for a reading of short stories written by the late Andre Dubus, whose short story "Killings" is the basis for the acclaimed film "In the Bedroom." The film's director, Todd Field, will be among the readers.

The two events last Wednesday, showcasing authors who could not be more different, reflect the polymorphous nature of this city's literary life. And for Book Soup, this will be a long and challenging day.

Around 10:30 a.m., general manager Allison Hill surveys the burgeoning line of Fergie fans on the sidewalk. "This is definitely not our archetypal crowd," she says. "But that's why we like to do these events. It draws people who normally wouldn't come to Book Soup."

By 11 a.m., the crowd includes a Fergie look-alike, several royal watchers and a clutch of professional autograph collectors. The majority seem to be women in various stages of the Weight Watchers program. They bide their time comparing before and after photos and talking about Ferguson's appearance on a local TV show earlier that morning. Some even have brought portable televisions with them.

If there is a ringleader among the group, it's Lisa Mundy, a nanny from Hancock Park who runs a Fergie fan site (community.webtv.net/puttputt32/Sarah) and knows a lot about the former royal: "If you need any information about Sarah--shoe size, mother's maiden name--just let me know."

Mundy, who arrived just after the Santa Clarita contingent, has met the duchess 15 times, traveling as far as Atlanta, New Orleans and New York to attend her public appearances, but still chugs an entire bottle of Pepto-Bismol to calm her nervous stomach.

The duchess and entourage--her publicist, personal assistant, a Weight Watchers executive and two private security men--arrive in a black GMC Yukon Denali SUV at 11:15 a.m.

Amid the Fergie-mania a UPS man delivers a shipment of books from Harper Collins (it includes 20 copies of Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly," six of Robert McKee's screenwriting bible "Story," as well as classics by James Joyce and others).

Although the store's staff and Ferguson's security men have been keeping an eye on the crowd, which now numbers about 75 (not including a dozen or so photographers), Hill surveys the line one last time at 12:20 to "make sure there are no surprises."

At a previous Fergie signing at the store, someone pulled out photos of Princess Diana and asked her to sign them. (She refused.) No one is quite that tacky this time, but one person has a video camera that Hill and the store's marketing and publicity director Jen Ramos decide to ban.

Autograph collector and purveyor Richard Rivera of Anaheim calls to Hill, "I go to a lot of these signings, and I expected a bigger crowd, but, honey, there are so many queens in this neighborhood, I guess not that many people are interested in a duchess!"

After a short TV taping and a private meeting with two women who have won a Weight Watchers competition (between them they have shed 110 pounds), the svelte duchess borrows Hill's office for a quick Weight Watchers-approved lunch of fruit and chicken.

The store has asked autograph seekers to wait outside the store, but a middle-aged woman runs into the store gasping, "I'm trying to avoid the media. I'm supposed to be at work!" Hill lets her hide out in the stacks while the woman's friend holds her spot in line.

At 12:40 p.m., Book Soup owner Glenn Goldman, who founded the store 26 years ago while a graduate student at UCLA, warily makes his way into the Fergie Zone. Goldman has spent the morning upstairs in his office with Sandy Pollack, a sales rep/territory manager for Random House, talking about upcoming spring titles. While he's extremely hands-on with book buying--he selects over 90% of the titles--he is reticent when it comes to public events.

Max Magee, who has worked at the store for a month and a half, is assigned to help Ferguson at the back counter, where the signing will take place. On the counter are a dozen black Sharpie markers and a simple arrangement of orange roses.

At 12:45, Ramos ushers in a group of photographers, most of whom work for foreign news agencies. They snap away as Ferguson holds up a copy of her book, then pretends to read from it.

A cockney-accented photographer calls out, "'Allo, ma'am. Does 'avin' us 'ere make you feel at home a bit then?" Fergie, smiling for the cameras, ignores him.

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