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George Christy Talks About Botticelli’s Bastard, Joni Berri, Neile Adams McQueen And More!

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“If walls had ears … that’s the adage that inspired writing my thriller, Botticelli’s Bastard.  About a painting stolen by the Nazis in  Paris when they were plundering the best of European art during the 1940s,”  reveals  author Stephen Maitland-Lewis.

We were at the pizza-and-wine book-signing party hosted at Nonna of Italy in Beverly Hills by philanthropist Joni Berry for her award-winning spouse.   They were back from their second residence, the French Quarter apartment in New Orleans, where they participated in the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong jazz fete.  

No secret, as friends are aware, Stephen dogged Joni for forever until she bogged down one day “to get rid of him” and conceded reluctantly for lunch.   “The moment we sat down to order, I knew he was ‘Mister Wonderful’,” sighs Joni,  “and wondered why in hell I took so long to meet.  Who knew?”

Chicago-born Joni’s the heiress of the Eichenwald Foundation.  She underwrites the annual Professional Dancers Society luncheon presided over by Mitzi Gaynor.  This spring, PDS honored Leslie Caron to support dancers in need. 

“A first-class novel, part thriller, part mystery,” praises playwright and Oscar-winning writer Sir Ronald Harwood about Botticelli’s Bastard.  

“Centuries of history culminate in a vivid, moving, and highly accurate account of art plundering and postwar restitution efforts,” adds Professor of European History Jonathan Petropoulos. “Stephen provides fascinating insight into the contemporary world.”

Queueing for the book-signing: Florence Henderson, Barbara Lazaroff, Verena King with best friend Bruce Boxleitner (a prince among emcees, as we’ve observed at Chuck Fries’ dinners), Dolores Nemiro (who brings joy year after year with her dancing at the SHARE shows), Alex Berliner, Ruta Lee, Cheryl Kagan, David Niven, Jr., Kate Linder, Norm Crosby, Keith McNutt of the Actor’s Fund, Loreille New, Peter Mark Richman, Nonna of Italy’s general manager Oscar Rios (who many remember from his being at Spago). 

Oscar mentioned that his Nonna regulars include Leo DiCaprio with dad George, Bruce Willis, Bette Midler, Mel Gibson, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Lillian Zacky of Zacky Farms, owner of Nonna of Italy with son Scott.  Zacky Farms is famous for its poultry and for employing more than 1500 workers in California.

Friends were wowed by the photographs of Neile Adams McQueen’s  grandchildren, Steven and Madi (pictured on this page).   Steven’s named after his King of Cool grandfather Steve McQueen.   Now in his last season of Vampire Diaries, Steven’s also featured in the new Abercrombie & Fitch ad campaign.  Dad is Chad McQueen, mom being Stacia, now wed to hockey champ and L.A. Kings’ president Luc Robitaille.  

“Chad has another son, Chase McQueen, 19, being trained by the Galaxy coaches for goalie.  A wonderful athlete who’s six foot six, Chase belongs to the Cheshunt Futbol Club in England, and I haven’t any doubt, barring injuries, that he’ll be in the World Cup someday.    My youngest grandchild Madi’s 17, still in school and most likely will go into acting.”

Not long ago, Neile had knee replacement surgery (not unexpected having professionally danced and sang since her youth).  She enthuses about Dr. Andrew Yun at St. John’s Health Center.  “Really terrific … I felt very secure with Dr. Yun, his team and his bedside manner.   Yes, there’s high pain, but you must do your exercises, and it will pass.  I recommend him to friends, and everyone’s happy.”                 

The good news is that with her knee surgery success she’s back onstage singing her heart out, as she has for years, having lately finished a sell-out engagement in Paris.   “No matter what you hear about the French people, they love and adore American performers!”

Neile’s next local appearance is on Sept. 26 and 27 at the Cavern Club in Silver Lake.  Paris beckons again in November.

Photos by: Wire Image/Jesse Grant and by Neile Adams McQueen Archives

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