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Royal biographer holds court in L.A.

Tina Brown gathers the glam on her `Diana' tour stop. Good thing she didn't break her signing hand.

June 30, 2007|Pauline O'Connor | Special to The Times

It was a balmy summer evening, but Tina Brown kept her jacket on all through the launch party held at Spago on Tuesday for her new tell-all biography of Princess Diana, "The Diana Chronicles. "This isn't very glamorous, I'm afraid," she said, lifting her sleeve to reveal the cast on her left arm.

"What happened?" asked Warren Beatty. He reached for the injured hand and inspected it with the exaggerated tenderness of a silent film star until Brown pulled away, laughing girlishly.

"I have a theory that when life's going too well, I have to manufacture a banana skin for myself," she explained.

"Well," replied Beatty, "humility is marketing's most important component."

"So I was going, 'I'm on top of the world!' Then I took a step backward, fell over my suitcase and broke my wrist," she told Beatty. "At least, it wasn't my signing hand."

Having spent the better part of two years doing the solitary work of researching and writing her 486-page tome on the Princess of Wales, Brown is clearly relishing the promotional phase. It seems that nothing short of a coma could derail her momentum. On the calendar for her three days in L.A.: a lunch hosted by Arianna Huffington; the Spago book party, thrown by Bert Fields and Barbara Guggenheim; an appearance on "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson"; a lunch sponsored by AARP the Magazine, where she was introduced by David Geffen; an interview for the Writers Bloc series with Los Angeles Times columnist Patt Morrison; and an appearance at the BizBash awards.

Such a schedule might exhaust a lesser person, but Brown seemed to glow in the spotlight, surrounded by some of the city's richest and most powerful (besides those listed above, she was feted by Robert Towne, Sherry Lansing, Gloria Allred, Dominick Dunne, Mark Burnett and others). Celebrity is celebrity, whether its royal or not, and it's a world Brown knows well.

Her energy is understandable, given the positive commercial and critical reception that "The Diana Chronicles" has received. Called a "masterpiece" by the London Times, the book is close to the top of bestseller lists on both sides of the pond.

"I was just hoping not to be crucified, so I'm quite delighted by the response," Brown said. "I felt proud of the book, and I had some very nice pre-readings, but you never know. People bring all sorts of bias to reviews. It was very intense but very gratifying too. And I do love reporting."

Huffington amplified that sentiment. "A lot of people in America think of Tina mainly as an editor. But we've known each other for 30 years, since she was at Oxford and I was at Cambridge, and I've always known she was also a great writer. I believe at least one good thing came out of Talk folding: If it had not folded, she wouldn't have made the change to use her great gift for writing."

Huffington was referring to the magazine published by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and edited by Brown, which went belly up five years ago. It didn't work as a publication, but it made Brown an even more familiar figure in Hollywood -- the stories were supposed to feed the Miramax movie machine.

"I used to be envious of my reporters at Vanity Fair and the New Yorker when they would go off on stories, and I would think, oh, God, I'm sitting at this desk dispatching them, and I would just love to be doing that story," Brown said.

Though Brown has her share of detractors -- some have found the book's extensive list of acknowledgments showoffy, while others have derided her assertion that people physically change by being looked at -- they appear to be outnumbered by those in the Brown camp.

"I am so thrilled for her, for what's happened to her with this book. I'm only halfway through it, but I love it," said Dunne, Brown's former Vanity Fair colleague. "And she just looks so great. I'm so happy to see that back, the Tina that I know. She's had some difficult years, but that's part of the whole process -- I absolutely believe you need that. I owe her my whole second life -- she saw something in me that I didn't know I had."

Brown said she hadn't figured out her next project yet. "I do enjoy the lifestyle of being able to write a book -- once I got over the anxiety that it was my first book, and was I going to get good stuff? I think when you write a second book, you still have those anxieties, but you at least know that you've done it once," she explained. "So having done it once, I can see the advantages. I was in our house on Long Island on the sea with my husband [writer and editor Harold Evans] from September to January. It was fantastic, sort of an ideal life, really. We really enjoyed it because he was writing too."

Though her career path is still up in the air, L.A. will likely factor into Brown's next reinvention. "I do love coming here, having the sun on my back," she enthused. "I have a lot of friends here from my various lives. I spent a couple of weeks here during my Vanity Fair years, and I can see myself very happily spending winters in Santa Monica. I think my kids would love it. They find it appealing. I might well rent a place this winter and see how I like it. I'd like to come up with a subject that's based out here.

"I remember running into Prince Charles at a party in L.A. many years ago. He kept asking me, 'Don't you find Los Angeles terribly strange?' " Brown recalled in a dead-on imitation. "And I just thought, 'Well, no -- I think you're terribly strange!' The myth about Los Angeles is that it's all about glamour. But it's really about hard work."

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