Northside SF
Bellingham by the Bay

Diane Weissmuller just winged into San Francisco, back from a party in Miami. There are parties, and then there are parties.

“This [was] the most lavish thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Diane observed. For Diane to say this – well, it’s fairly astonishing. She, the widow of Johnny Weissmuller Jr., has been to lots of Hollywood soirees, as well as S.F. evenings on Russian Hill when one might think the night should never end – or could ever end – until dawn crept in unseen.

“And, Bruce,” Diane said to me, “the old days when we partied were pretty grand, but I fear the fun has moved elsewhere.”

Miami? Could be. Have all the great parties left San Francisco? Where have all the parties gone, long time passing?

I think not. Maurice Kanbar threw a great party the other night at Chez Kanbar in Pacific Heights. Real Sacramento River caviar, Maurice’s Blue Angel vodka, and a torrent of talent from LitQuake just as revitalizing as the freshwater sturgeon eggs. There was Jane Ganahl, redheaded, splashy and funny. Armistead Maupin and Barnaby Conrad III, witty, terse and sweet. Mr. Maupin is glowing in the success of the Tales of the City stage show at A.C.T. It’s a hit. San Francisco never seems to tire of its own kitsch. Well, that’s harsh. We San Franciscans can get jazzed about new literary up-and-comers, but also a little sentimental about the 70s when Tales of the City was serialized in the Chronicle. It was a hit then, too. That’s when Army Maupin made the gay life in S.F. a soap opera, worthy of all the great radio shows of yesteryear, such as Mary Noble, Backstage Wife. Gosh, think of all the backstage wives – be they men or women. Army knows how to tell a story. That’s what counts. There are half a million stories in The Scantily Clad City by the Bay. But let’s hope they fall into the right hands.

I will always be grateful to Mr. Maupin for introducing me to Laura Linney, who played Mary Ann Singleton in the PBS version of Tales of the City. Many PBS affiliates refused to air the show, particularly the stations in The Bible Belt. I still like to think that San Francisco is a town where troublemakers may thrive. I never quite understood why people from Texas and Oklahoma would confront me about this licentious city, then demand details about sodomy. Their interest in the topic seems to me to be so, well, unnatural.

Also at Maurice’s party was Merla Zellerbach, a great lady, a swell writer, and the former editor of the Nob Hill Gazette. There are some who would ridicule the Nob Hill Gazette. That’s silly. Lois Lehrman, the publisher, knows exactly what she’s doing. She knows her readership, she knows San Francisco. A newspaper has to know what it is. Just ask Rupert Murdoch. (Over at KCBS, managing editor Dory Culver, with a newspaper background, does not hesitate to say she loves the Murdoch/News Corp. scandal. Dory is above schadenfreude. She simply would like to see, as I do, some of the invidious media oligarchs exposed for what they are.) I wonder if we San Franciscans can be scandalized by anything anymore. I sure hope so. The City is different things to different people, depending on circumstance. A scandal here, a scandal there. Detractors of the Nob Hill Gazette remind me of that line from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, where the indefatigable Lady Bracknell chides her nephew: “Never speak disrespectfully of society. Only people who can’t get into it do that.”

Under the more-than-capable leadership of Peter Stein, the Jewish Film Festival, now 31 years old, was a great success this year, drawing more than 30,000 people from all over the world. Peter and crew threw a party for the 94-year-old screen legend, Kirk Douglas, flying him in from L.A. for a Sunday afternoon. Not only was Mr. Douglas honored for his extraordinary cinema work, the festival bestowed their Freedom of Expression Award on the actor, mainly for hiring the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to write Spartacus under his own name. “This effectively broke the Hollywood Blacklist,” says Peter. Trumbo had to live a shadow life under the creepy influence of “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy and his HUAC pals during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Mr. Douglas agreed to appear at the Castro Theatre at 1 p.m. for the event. The deal was to get him home back in Beverly Hills by dinnertime, and safe and sound he went. By the way, all the beat cops in the Castro District dropped by the movie house to ask about Kirk Douglas. The police love him. Maybe that’s because Mr. Douglas could play both the good guy and the bad guy so convincingly. Mostly good guys. And we sure could use more good guys right now.

Bruce Bellingham is the author of Bellingham by the Bay. His new book has a working title, “Wait ’Til Your Father Gets Home.” But Bruce only wants to be home by dinnertime. Reach him at

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