In the ditzy, post-feminist parable "Making Mr. Right," which Laurie Frank co-wrote, the heroine played by Ann Magnuson is a go-go career gal who has mastered the fine art of applying makeup and shaving her underarms while barreling down the freeway in a red Corvair convertible.
It's all very '80s, very L.A. -- though the film is actually set in Miami Beach -- and it depicts the kind of helter-skelter life that Frank has known during her bicoastal existence as a documentary-filmmaker-turned-big-studio-screenwriter and art gallery impresario.
But as she steps into the sun-glazed kitchen of her Italianate home in the Hollywood Hills, arms filled with groceries, fresh-cut sunflowers and pussy willow stems, Frank is as poised and serene as a Botticelli portrait. "I have dinner parties down to a science," she says evenly. "I don't have to do anything."
That's a mild exaggeration. But it perfectly captures Frank's deceptively laissez faire attitude toward home entertaining. As a recent get-together at her home demonstrates, this transplanted, Ivy League-educated New Yorker seems to have mastered the trick of creating dinner parties that seem simultaneously laid-back and meticulous, elegantly choreographed without ever feeling micromanaged to create a haute-couture effect.
It's a shade past 5 o'clock on the year's first truly summery afternoon. In about three hours, 25 or so guests -- Frank never bothers with precise head counts -- will stream through the front door, where they'll be hugged and kissed by the hostess, individually and warmly. Then they'll walk down a short flight of steps, past a wall lined with stunning Depression-era photographs by the legendary Horace Bristol, and into an art-strewn living room where Adam Vignola, an actor who moonlights tending bar, will place a martini, a mojito or perhaps a very full glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in their hands while they're still busy gawking at the floor-to-ceiling views of the hills rising above the Hollywood Bowl.
It will all look so effortlessly inviting that Frank's most recent acquaintances may wonder how many hours she spent pondering the menu and slaving over the floral arrangements. But regular visitors know that Frank's dinner parties are less about the food or the surroundings, enticing as they are, than about the mix of personalities, ideas and creative obsessions.
"Everything in L.A.'s a secret, and I love that. It's like a giant treasure hunt," says Frank, by roundabout way of explaining how she picks the right ingredients for her intimate affairs. Even so, she concedes, "for a lot of people it's hard to penetrate that secret," and the sprawling metropolis can feel isolating and indifferent. Getting to know and appreciate the human richness of Los Angeles, she believes, is "an antidote to that loneliness."
Because Frank was an only child who "forgot to get married and have children," her extended family is made up of concentric circles of film, TV and art-world colleagues, cherished neighbors, old Yale pals and youthful acquaintances from Paris and other previous lives. And as a busy single working woman who likes to throw dinner parties at least twice a month, she takes an approach to hostessing that's as much Madame Curie as Martha Stewart: It's all about getting the right chemistry.
"I've been at Laurie's many times and it's always really interesting people and it's never the same people," says painter Dorothy Braudy, who attended last week's soiree with her USC professor husband, Leo. "The other thing about Laurie, I've never, ever heard her say one mean thing about anybody."
So how has she survived nearly 20 years in Hollywood? It's a tale that emerges over the next couple of hours as Frank bustles about getting ready for her arrivals without ever appearing rushed. Earlier in the day she'd gone grocery shopping at Mayfair and Trader Joe's, two-thirds of her usual party-shopping holy trinity (Whole Foods is the other regular stop). Setting her bags down in the kitchen, she pauses for a cigarette.
When hosting company, Frank favors food that's tasty, unpretentious and relatively easy to make in large quantities. For tonight's main course: a whole salmon, deboned, poached in white wine, stuffed with garlic, scallions, lemons and chives and topped with a teriyaki, mayonnaise, sour cream and dill sauce. She'll accompany that with caviar potatoes and three salads: mixed greens, eggplant and a fine carrot rapee.
Usually, Frank says, she'll whip up the latter two salads the night before a party. But she spent the previous evening hosting a reception for artist Larry Bell at her itinerant gallery, whose latest incarnation is Off Main at Santa Monica's Bergamot Station, where she has shown for the last year. Frank began organizing art shows with her screenwriting partner, Floyd Byars, several years ago and has since mounted dozens of them under the name Media Rare Gallery at such venues as Miau Haus and Les Deux Cafes in Hollywood.