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A cool chick, with baggage

Sloane Tanen's Hollywood pedigree went a long way toward shaping her eye for human foibles and a wickedly fowl sense of humor.

June 03, 2007|Margaret Wappler | Times Staff Writer

SLOANE TANEN has won a subversive kind of fame with her satirical books featuring tiny Peep-like chicks in modern settings as well as her paintings scooped up by corporate clients such as Pfizer. It doesn't hurt either that she has the kind of glitzy Hollywood credentials ready-made for a Vanity Fair profilette.

Her dad, Ned Tanen, was president of Universal Studios and Paramount Studios in the '70s and '80s, turning out such films as "American Graffiti" and "Top Gun." Her stepmother is the WASP-chic interior decorator Kitty Hawks, daughter of film director Howard Hawks. Last but not least, she was a teenage consultant of sorts to director John Hughes, advising him on the fine arts of notebook doodling and gossiping on the phone.

Her biggest stamp on Hughes' epic teen ethnography may be "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." For those who haven't seen it (and how have you managed that?), Matthew Broderick's Ferris ditches school and takes a vintage Ferrari belonging to a pal's father out for an extended joyride.

"My dad owned antique cars and I had some parties and forgot to lock the garage," the Brentwood School graduate said recently over a veggie burger at Hollywood's Cat & Fiddle. "Next thing you know there'd be six drunk high-school guys surrounding the cars, drooling about who got to take them out."

Also, Ferris' girlfriend was named after her, although Tanen insists that's where the homage ends. "I was so not the beautiful girl. I had frizzy red hair and braces. Kids made fun of me."

Now a well-coiffed brunet dressed in a bohemian blouse and wide-legged jeans, Tanen won't ever play up her background or her success with her three books for adults, including the 2003 bestseller "Bitter With Baggage Seeks Same." Instead, she'd rather confess self-deprecating stories with a conspiratorial glimmer in her brown eyes.

"I developed a huge crush on my therapist a few years back. I would get all dressed up for our appointments. I thought we were dating. His lack of interest," she theatrically sighed, "was agonizing for a while."

There are two stars in Tanen's books: her vermouth-sloshed wit shot through with a neurotic darkness, and miniature chenille chickens toting fingernail-sized Louis Vuitton bags. For "Bitter With Baggage" and the follow-up, "Going for the Bronze," the chicks lamented about the hazards of online dating and bikini waxes in exquisitely detailed dioramas that looked like something out of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" if he'd had a taste for Danish modern.

Her new book, "Hatched! The Big Push From Pregnancy to Motherhood," was published this month. To create it, Tanen, now 36 and married to writer Gary Taubes, redirected her alkaline humor at her fellow high-end parents. Now the chicks are obsessed with Baby Uggs, Bugaboo Strollers and whether their babies will master Mommy and Me yoga classes. The unglamorous aspects of pregnancy are revealed. One page shows horrified chicks watching a video of another chick in labor: "Episiotomies, back labor, afterbirth. These were the things nobody discussed until after you were pregnant."

Only a few years ago the owner of a West Village three-bedroom apartment used to look down on Manhattan mothers. "It was like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers.' I was like, 'Get out of the way with your strollers and Starbucks.' I never wanted to be one of them."

Her older sister, Tracy, trusted confidante and creative sounding board, fell first with the birth of Coco, the inspiration for Sloane's two children's books.

"Sloane was so bored by me when I was pregnant," Tracy said from her Silver Lake toy store/dessert cafe, Zanzabelle, where she hosted a book party for Sloane on Mother's Day. "I was everything we make fun of. I got stung by a bee in my sixth month, and I went to the doctor because I was afraid that the toxins would hurt my unborn child."

Six years later, Sloane gave birth to her son, Harry, now 20 months old. "It's boring to say, but they become the center of your universe," Tanen said. "You just try to keep it in perspective."

That said, she occasionally gets caught up in the race. When her son correctly identified the color of Play-Doh at his preschool entrance exam, Tanen was overjoyed. "My eyes welled up with tears. It was like he got into Wharton Business School."

For the most part, Tanen takes a low-key approach to motherhood, and that includes judging others, even as she teases them. "Everyone's doing the best they can. Parenthood is the great leveler. Looks, style, money ... suddenly you're all the same."

The chick in the chair

TANEN stumbled onto her chick franchise while waiting out a summer in a rented Venice studio in 2001. The studio was too white, too gallery for Tanen to work on her paintings, which she sells to corporate and private clients, so she started building dioramas with the idea that she'd paint from them.

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