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Dana Parsons / ORANGE COUNTY

It can be a blast trying to save Laguna's Boom

June 16, 2007|Dana Parsons

Fred Karger is having the time of his life. Or so I figured.

How could he not be?

Yes, it's serious business trying to save the venerable Boom Boom Room in Laguna Beach, but when the effort includes a demonstration on Hollywood Boulevard and entreaties to George Clooney and Brad Pitt, how can it not be fun?

It's a charge to which Karger pleads guilty -- with an explanation.

"I'm having a good time," he says Friday afternoon, "but it's a lot more work than I had anticipated. It keeps the good times in check, with long hours and meetings. It has become a kind of political campaign."

Karger has done just what a former public relations guy is supposed to do -- keep the media interested in his cause. And what savvier way to do it than taking out an ad in Daily Variety that said, in addition to a somewhat impassioned narrative, "George and Brad, Please Help Save the Boom!!!"

Not that there's been any real indication that either has the slightest interest in doing so -- a fact that Karger readily concedes. But if you want to enlist Hollywood's help, why not ask a couple of the coolest cats in town?

The Boom is the room that's been around since those post-World War II days when things seemed so much simpler. Located a mile south of Main Beach in Laguna, it was a popular serviceman's haunt and just so happened to attract both a gay and straight crowd home from the war.

It morphed over the years into the city's iconic gay bar, an important designation for a town that elected the country's first openly gay mayor and that sported a significant gay population. The city's embrace, if you will, of gay people, took some courage if you consider that well into the 1960s it was illegal for two men to dance with each other.

Now, the bar's existence is in jeopardy. The bar and 23-room inn attached to it has been bought by a Beverly Hills businessman who has announced plans to convert the property to an upscale hotel, minus the Boom Boom. However, he since has extended the property's lease, giving Karger and others reason to hope that he'd be willing to sell to another buyer.

Which explains the plan a week and a half ago to get in the faces -- in a nice way -- of Clooney and Pitt while they were doing the handprint/footprint thing at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Karger, wearing a sport coat, was joined at the scene by about a dozen demonstrators in yellow T-shirts bearing the "Save the Boom" message. That was Step Two of the plan that began with the Variety ad the day before.

The two movie hunks were targeted, Karger acknowledges, solely because they had been linked to the ownership group that bought the property in 2005. The stars denied any connection, and Karger says he has no reason to think they ever were involved.

Still ....

As a former P.R. man, he knows what sells. "It worked beyond my wildest dreams about getting attention," he says. "And that was without any reaction from them. It got a lot of attention. That was my hope, by invoking their names. There are still a lot of people who think they bought it, and this was to kind of further that rumor a little bit and have fun with it. These guys, they kind of kid each other."

While blithely involving Pitt and Clooney sounds a little cheesy, Karger has the same sense about the tandem that I do -- this is the kind of gambit that won't bother them.

"Brad Pitt is the one who has said he won't get married until everyone can," Karger says, taking that as an endorsement of gay marriage.

"It was all done humorously," Karger says. "And the ad, which I wrote, was tongue-in-cheek, meant to get their attention and, bottom line, to find a new buyer [for the Boom Boom property]."

I ask Karger, 57, if he's out of ideas. "We're maybe at the halfway point," of the campaign, which, he says, in all seriousness, is about preserving "the heart and soul of the gay community in Laguna Beach."

OK, but anything to rival the Variety ad and the Grauman's moment? "Well, nothing really," he says, chuckling. "We've got a couple things planned over the summer, but nothing like that."

--

Dana Parsons' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.

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