It was 1983 when I met Stephen, a gay Kiwi in L.A. He was like many others in Hollywood, trying to get “the big break”. Sadly to this day I don’t think he ever did . . .
But back to the story. The first time I met him was at a mutual friend’s house in Marina Del Rey, the largest marina ever built at that time.
So as the afternoon progressed we all started to throw out ideas on how to make a few bucks. I had only recently arrived and was living there illegally and Stephen was in the same boat, although he had been here a bit longer.
I don’t recall who came up with the idea for our business but by the end of the day the plan had been hatched.
We were going to start a butler service and call ourselves “The British Butlers” although he was from New Zealand and I was from Ireland . . . hey, it’s LA, as long as you have an accent, they love you.
So over the next few days we got business cards printed with the silhouette of a butler carrying a tray and the phrase “Purveyors of Quintessential Quality” across the top . . . it was all very elegant. The second hand tuxedos we dug up at a used clothes shop on Sunset Drive completed the ensemble.
We got our first “gig” a few days later.
It was a fund-raising banquet for Senator Ted Kennedy at the Solomon Estate in Bel Air, formerly known as the Harold Lloyd Estate. Built in Hollywood’s heyday, it was palace of a house.
Being Southern California the master planners of the event had decided to set up the meal in the gardens, under a vast marquee.
Stephen and I were but two of the 48 butlers there that night. I don’t remember which month it was but, in California it was usually a good bet that the weather would be fine. It wasn’t.
With so many politicians and celebs in attendance, the marquee was not filled with your standard variety of clientele. The supporting flagpoles were approximately 12 feet long . . . I can’t remember exactly!
Two feet under the soil, eight feet up to the peaked roofline and then two more feet above where they slotted into the canvas…all very classy huh?
Classy yes but in a tropical rainstorm..hardly practical.
Of course nobody really knew what the weather might bring, I think it’s the same everywhere…still to this day!
So anyway, the band is playing, Kennedy and his security detail enter and everyone sits.
Stephen and I and the other 46 butlers commence serving the first course walking on a green astroturf carpet that meanders from the kitchen down the steps across the grass and into the tent.
All was fine for 10 minutes until the deluge started.
Now the marquee held it’s own until the rain got heavier and heavier, coming down in torrents. That was when we noticed there was a problem with the fancy design. The water began to pool between the raised flagpoles on the edges and the main sloping roof in the middle.
After five minutes the pools in the canvas began to sag downwards all the way around the tent . . . and this was one massive tent!
But the caterer thought the rain would stop soon and so ordered us to begin the second course. We did . . .back and forth, back and forth. The astroturf carpet we walked on was slowly sinking into the mud below.
It was then I observed people starting to notice the ever growing, bulbous, hanging canvas above their heads. You see there was no drainage for the water to go…but we kept serving….
The caterer was running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off. He was unable to make a decision whether to stop serving food, evacuate the tent, or continue like nothing unusual was going on.
He chose the latter. Stephen and I and a couple of other butlers decided to do something before people started drowning on the lawn of the Bel Air mansion.
We picked up a steak knife each and rammed them into the bulging ceiling. Water poured out all over the floor, splashing onto some of the tables, the guests, the food.
We had no choice as the whole structure might collapse and that would definitely out-publicize the whole fundraising whatzit . . .
Eventually the marquee was evacuated and the whole evening was a washout…
It was when we were all back in the kitchen that I commented to Stephen what a really nice and happy group of butlers they were,
“So friendly! And all evening they were brushing water off my arms and smiling. One of them even took a towel and dried my hair for me after the big splash”.
Stephen looked me up and down and said smiling,
‘Alan . . . that may be because they’re all gay . . .you’re the only straight one here!’
True story! I was 26 then and still quite innocent!