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George Christy Talks About Barbara Lazaroff, Wolfgang Puck, Oscar Parties, Jeffrey Katzenberg and More!

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Who knows? In another world, she may have been a doctor. Having kindly looked after friends – as she has these many years! – and friends of friends, whose health predicaments needed – or need – guidance. Listening to her recommendations for what’s best for this or that ailing problem, we’ve been blown away by her extensive knowledge. Is she a medical psychic? Possibly, and with her open heart, help is always on the way.

Her intimates know this about Barbara Lazaroff, a caregiver, if you will. Fitting, then, that she’d be honored, along with Dr. David Hardy and Holland Taylor, during the A Faire of the Heart dinner benefiting the Serra Project (1987) and Aid for Aids (1983) in the Crystal Ballroom at The Beverly Hills Hotel, which we long ago christened the Pink Palace in Paradise in a Town & Country cover story. The Serra Project provides financial assistance, housing and other humanitarian services for those with HIV/AIDS.

“Visiting one of the Serra Homes,” remarked Barbara, “I was moved by how warm and clean and peaceful it was. Vicki Freda and I toured the bedrooms, and I couldn’t help thinking if only my sons Cameron and Byron’s bedrooms were as tidy …

“I simply can’t turn away from pain, poverty, hunger or abuse … I find it our moral obligation to do something, anything to help.” Introducing Barbara, her beau, John Hanwell, described the hands-on charities that she supports. Hers is a soaring spirit. That she is a force, we’ve never doubted, and lately discovered she’s available for speaking engagements!

We bonded with Barbara in 1982 when the first Spago opened on Horn Avenue overlooking Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. The site was an Armenian restaurant, Kavkaz, owned by Yervand and Miriam Markarian. Yervand introduced the town to his flavored Stolichnaya vodka bottled with lemon peels, and chef Miriam’s rack of lamb in a pomegranate marinade was the star attraction during a time when Los Angeles hadn’t morphed into a destination city for lovers of good food.

Voila! Suddenly, culinary genius Wolfgang Puck and designing whiz Barbara reconfigured Kavkaz’s dining room. They created an ambiance that crowds flocked to for Wolfgang’s superb cuisine from his innovative open kitchen and Nancy Silverton’s exciting desserts. Along with creating their dining empire, Wolfgang and Barbara toiled tirelessly to raise multimillions for Meals on Wheels and for cancer research.

In appreciation of Hollywood’s loyalty to Spago, they underwrote those magical Oscar parties hosted by the late literary agent Irving “Swifty” Lazar. We’re proud to take credit for suggesting to Spago manager Tom Kaplan to reach out to Swifty to host the night there. Tom asked if we would make the call. We did. Upon hearing that it would be his party without any expense for him, Swifty jumped. Until then, he was hosting his Oscar parties at the Bistro and at the Bistro Garden, where he was paying the basic costs.

Popular as the current Vanity Fair Oscar soirees are, they can’t hold a candle to the heat that Swifty’s evenings generated. Wherever you glanced: Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Billy and Audrey Wilder, Sean Connery, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, studio chiefs, top agents and managers, a fabulous mixete, as the French say. Glamorous and titled Europeans flew in from wherever and added their je ne sais quoi to the glitter of the night. Why is it that today many celebrities lack that mysterious allure? Beyoncé. She’s got it. Britney Spears? What do you think?

In 1997, Barbara redesigned the space and the welcoming patio for the new Spago on North Canon Drive. Even trucking in that magnificent more-than-100-years-old olive tree from a horse ranch in the Valley. After that, Barbara created her fabled décor at Chinois in Santa Monica with Wolfgang introducing the world to his vision of Chinese cuisine. And then there was Granita in Malibu. Barbara’s Imagining Designs firm became world-renowned for her original concepts.

No secret – or is it? — that Barbara’s overdue to be anointed to the International Best Dressed List. Her couture wardrobe includes Valentino, Dior, Versace, Galliano, Ungaro, etc., plus her colorful pairings of couture designs that are exemplary. The late Vogue editor Diana Vreeland believed that “a passion for fashion is intoxicating.” As it was for Diana (pronounced Dee-AH-nah). As it is for Barbara.

Readers as we are of The New York Times, we’ve followed Frank Bruni’s perceptive dining-out reviews and insightful articles. His Times’ Sunday Magazine profile of billionaire David Murdoch who aims “to live to 125” was compelling. Assigned now to the Times’ Sunday and Wednesday Opinion Pages, he dissected the malaise that’s gripped our country in this past Sunday’s edition with The Fall This Summer. Retrieve it, if you will, from the Times’ website, and you’ll be rewarded with an enlightening and stimulating read.

In The Fall This Summer, he mentions movies, among other subjects. “This summer the major ones were more bereft of originality than ever, a sadly familiar crop of sorcerers, sequels, Smurfs and superheroes. And the superheroes were foreign or second-rate. Thor? The Green Lantern? Where are Batman, Superman and Spidey when the economy is in free fall?”

A month earlier, DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg weighed in on this year’s movies during a Fortune magazine conference in Aspen. About movies so far in 2011, “They suck. Unbelievable how bad movies have been.

“For me, the bloom is off the rose for a moment in time, driven by a singular and unique characteristic that exists in Hollywood – Greed.” But, Jeffrey, Hollywood’s not alone. The “gimme” climate pollutes Washington’s shameless earmarks and Wall Street’s robber baron shenanigans. Agree?

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