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A Man and His Muse

Dance and fitness teacher Ken Anderson has discovered he's part of a secret society of devoted 'Xanadu' fans--confirmed by a sold-out sing-along

July 23, 2002|REED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While Anderson and Zwinge were gearing up for the big weekend bash, the sing-along went ahead at the Ford. Co-presented by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, it attracted hard-core Museheads and Olivia-istas, as well as the merely kitsch-curious. "Every time you see it, it gets better, I guess because it's not as bad as you remember," said Rod Pinks, wearing a blue Olivia T-shirt as he sat with his friend Les Perkins munching baloney sandwiches and potato chips before the show.

Mia Jenner, a petite woman with long blond hair, turned up in a long skirt, a "Xanadu" T-shirt and roller skates, but she wasn't in much danger of losing her footing at the steep hillside venue. Named "Miss Roller City 2001" after a Riverside County rink, Jenner says she took up skating in the early '80s after seeing "Xanadu." "I pretended I was Olivia Newton-John," she said, "because she got to be a cartoon in the movie and she got the guy in the movie and she had sisters."

After a brief warmup by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, the movie finally started, and the audience began whooping and clapping as soon as the first images flickered up on the 17-by-39-foot screen. There were big cheers for Olivia and Gene Kelly's opening credits, and a few scattered boos for poor Michael Beck. But everyone cheered at the part where Newton-John skates up behind Beck on the Santa Monica promenade and kisses him, then vanishes.

As the action progressed, the interactions got louder and lustier. Any sign of skin--an open shirt revealing luxuriant chest hair, too-tight shorts on either male or female--was greeted with whistles and applause.

L.A. looked even better than remembered: Venice Beach, the downtown skyline, the Hollywood Bowl and the Pan Pacific Auditorium, an Art Deco landmark that burned down a few years after the film was shot. Empathic yells greeted Newton-John's most memorable line: "It must be frustrating to waste your talents on things that don't really matter to you."

About 2-1 males-to-females, the crowd put its own spin on the same-sex dialogue, as when Danny proposes that he and Sonny should open a nightclub together:

Danny: Kid, you're going to be my partner!

Sonny: I don't know the first thing about being a partner!

Danny: It's easy!

Man seated in front of me: Sugar daddy!

The movie is ludicrous, touching, excruciatingly badly acted in parts and, well ... strangely and utterly charming. By the time Newton-John launched into the theme-song finale, everyone was on their feet, swaying and dancing in the aisles.

Then, too soon, the lights came up and the crowd was racing toward the parking lot. Already the evening had begun to recede. In the cold light of day, this ethereal scene would be hard to recapture. The muse had left the building, and Miss Roller City 2001 was nowhere in sight....

A Xanadu Weekend

Two nights and a day have elapsed since the sing-along. It's one of those magical midsummer Saturday afternoons in Santa Monica. On the sidewalk outside Quest fitness center, a modest two-story red brick building at the corner of Broadway and 19th Street, Olivia Newton-John's voice can be heard from inside, just a few blocks from where a good chunk of "Xanadu" was filmed a generation earlier.

Dripping sweat from every visible pore and shouting exhortations through a head mike, Anderson is putting his spandex-clad pupils through an Olympian workout. Several sport "Xanadu" T shirts and black caps emblazoned with white letters: "Ken Anderson--Xanadu--7/20/21-02."

"Ken Anderson's Xanadu Weekend--A Place Where Dreams Come True," read the fliers out front, and it was clear that many of his students believed it. "It's such an amazing thing, because what ["Xanadu"] is saying is anything can change somebody's life, anything can be your muse. And in Ken's case, it's literally true," said Larry Wilson, the magician, who was wearing a cream-colored tuxedo and acting as the event's master of ceremonies.

For the weekend, the studio was festooned with purple, blue and white balloons. A giant reproduction of the "Xanadu" logo hung on a wall. Outside the studio's front doors, Zwinge had built a miniature replica of the Pan Pacific towers.

After the 1 1/2-hour workout ended and the 30 or so attendees toweled off and grabbed bottled water, it was time to hand out some door prizes, followed by the day's piece de resistance: a karaoke screening of "Xanadu."

"He really follows his own heart more than anybody I've ever met," said Janet Andrea, a lawyer, as she watched Anderson dance with another student, imitating Kelly and Newton-John. "He's writing a book on 'Rosemary's Baby'--his other favorite movie. That is his favorite movie. This is the movie that changed his life."

A pleasant thought occurs: Maybe Anderson did find a way to make movies his life after all. Outside the studio, the gentle Santa Monica light danced across the palm trees and the freeway entrance signs. For an instant, an ocean breeze rose up and brushed my face, like a hand. Then the moment passed by and was gone.

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