Monday, March 24, 2014


  The Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach has a starry history as the place where Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack liked to party, where the Black Tuna drug cartel ran their operations from a luxury suite in the 1970s and where scenes from Scarface, Goldfinger, The Bellboy and A Hole in the Head, among other movies, were filmed.
   But now? After a one billion dollar renovation, the addition of two new towers and four swimming pools, the 1,500 room hotel, which opened in 1954, leaves a lot to be desired.
sardines on the beach
   Sinatra and has clan probably weren't asked to pay $44 for a chair and umbrella on the hotel's private beach or join literally hundreds of bodies crammed in like sardines around the pools where music blasts out over loudspeakers all day. Or be told after waiting half an hour for a seat to order a burger in one of the hotel's 12 restaurants that it could take up to an hour to arrive!

  My two nights there coincided with spring break which brought hundreds of wealthy teens and twenties to the hotel for sun and fun. 
samba party
   A concert on the hotel's lawn, at which some of the voice stars of the animated movie Rio 2, Jamie Foxx, Sergio Mendes, Janelle Monae and Kristin Chenoweth performed, was also packed to capacity, the numbers boosted by 257 samba dancers who broke the world record for the number of dancers samba-in in unison.
  All good publicity for the movie, good business for the hotel and a lot of fun for the spring breakers.
  But I won't be checking back in for a while, unless I have to.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


   When magician Jim Steinmeyer offers guests a drink they cannot be
sure what they will get. One of his tricks is to pour a variety of
different coloured, multi-flavoured drinks from the same container.

    Since he first created it for television it has become a popular
party piece for those in the know.

   But when he poured water from a jug for me in his kitchen, it was
just iced water. Disappointingly, there were no tricks. Although, as
someone who has spent his life devising and creating illusions, Jim
has plenty up his sleeve.

   Some of his latest magical creations will be among the spectacular
highlights of Aladdin, the Disney musical extravaganza which opens on
Broadway next week.

   The show has given Jim massive scope to create startling new
effects involving Aladdin, his magic lamp, the genie who appears from
it, the villain who becomes trapped in it and, of course, a magic
carpet which flies without the use of wires. "Twenty years ago it
couldn't have been done," he says enigmatically.

     His name may not be widely known to the general public, but
55-year-old Jim Steinmeyer is something of a legend in the world of
magic. He has designed and created illusions for leading magicians,
including Doug Henning, David Copperfield, Ricky Jay, Siegfried and
Roy and Lance Burton.

   For Copperfield he created the now-famous illusion of making the
Statue of Liberty vanish, which was featured on a live television
special; he has made animals disappear for Siegfried and Roy, whom he
calls "the royalty of the entertainment world" and both Copperfield
and Henning have performed Origami, his illusion in which the
magician's assistant steps into a box which folds into a small cube
which is penetrated by three swords before being unfolded, and the
assistant emerges unharmed. Alice Cooper used one of his effects on
his recent tour, in which the singer was confined in a metal torture
device then impaled with a rack of sharp spikes.

    Steinmeyer is also a historian of magic with a particular interest
in Victorian and Edwardian-era performers and has written dozens of
books and papers about magic and magicians although, he says: "It's a
profession that's dying. It started dying when vaudeville died and
there is a feeling we just missed the good old days."

   He takes me though to his magician's cave---in reality, a bright,
airy office in the garden of his home in Burbank, California, just
down the road from the Disney headquarters, where he worked for a
while developing theme park attractions for their Imagineering

  His office is lined with bookshelves containing books on magic; his
many awards, including one from Britain's Magic Circle, are dotted
around the room; posters of old-time magicians adorn the walls and, intriguingly, two boxes, one metal and multi-coloured and the other resembling a wooden coffin, are at one end of the room. Both have been used in performances for the same trick although, says Jim, "There are literally dozens of different
ways to saw a woman in half."

   Jim Steinmeyer has the look of a magician, with a neatly-trimmed,
pointed grey beard and piercing eyes, yet he is modest and
self-effacing, preferring instead to be the brains behind the stars of
the shows.

  "I have always had a fondness for stage magic but working with other
performers has always been more interesting to me," he says. "I always
felt my job was to support really good performers and I've never had a
hankering to perform myself, although I've done a little bit now and

  But when it comes to magic, there is very little new under the sun
and nearly all magic tricks and illusions have been performed before,
sometimes centuries ago, he says. The Haunted House in Disneyland uses
an illusion based on Pepper's Ghost which was first performed in
England by Dr. John Pepper in 1862. And a woman has been sawn in half
on stage ever since British magician P.T. Selbit did it in January
1921 at the Finsbury Park Empire.

  Jim Steinmeyer keeps the secrets behind many of his illusions to himself, although, he says: "Magicians are guarding an empty box because everything is an illusion. The reason I won't tell you how most tricks are done is because you would be so disappointed.

   "You really don't want to know."

Thursday, March 6, 2014


  Turns out that Kiefer Sutherland and I have a favourite pub in common. I caught up with the star of 24on a chilly day on the West London set of the new series 24 Live Another Day which is being filmed entirely in London.
  Kiefer has taken a house in Mayfair for the duration of filming and in what little spare time he has he has been exploring the Shepherds Market area.
   "Have you tried The Grapes pub?" I asked him, naming the Greene King pub tucked away in the corner of the Market.  "Yes, it's a great pub," he answered, to my surprise. "I love the chicken pie they do. Maybe I'll see you there."
   There wasn't much chance of that as I was only in London for a couple of days to write a piece on the new 24 series which is being filmed under security so tight that the producers aren't giving away any details of the plot and don't even want the location of the studio to be named.     
   Kiefer, however, was more forthcoming and told me that his Jack Bauer character is on the run in London, pursued by the CIA, MI5 and MI6 while trying to stop a terrorist plot which could change the world.
   The story features a Julian Assange-type character who operates a hacking ring from a disused shopping mall and who has as one of his followers Jack Bauer's former sidekick Chloe O'Brian, played by Mary Lynn Rajskub.

 Since they have been in London Kiefer and Mary have not only battled bad guys but have struggled to combat the cold and damp of an English winter.
    “It’s really different but it’s fun to be here and on the streets,” Mary told me. “It’s colder, there’s a lot of tea and the crew is pretty hardcore. It will suddenly become frigidly cold and start raining and nobody even blinks an eye. They just pull up their jackets, pull some trash bags over the camera and we don’t miss a beat.”


Saturday, March 1, 2014


  Braved the rain on Friday night to look in at the British-Consul General Chris O’Connor’s bash for British Oscar nominees.
Sir Alex
   But it was Sir Alex Ferguson who stole the show.
    The former Manchester United manager was the surprise guest at the party where he mingled with 26 British Oscar nominees and posed for photographs with partygoers.
    Relaxing in the Consul-General’s living room, Fergie told me  of his thoughts about Manchester United’s poor season and predicted better things to come.
    “They’ll be all right,” he said. “It’s early days and there’ve been a lot of changes.” And David Moyes? “He needs time.  I was there for 27 years so with a new manager, it takes time. But they’ll be OK.”  
    Fergie told me he was in Hollywood to attend the Oscars and the legendary Vanity Fair party afterwards as the guest of a friend.
   “I’m here for the big show,” he said.
   The rain-lashed party was held in the Consul-General’s garden in the posh Hancock Park area of the city under a massive tent, hurriedly erected as the worst storm in three years hit Los Angeles.
     The guests included Dame Helen Mirren, who left quickly when her high heels sunk into the sodden grass; Steve McQueen, the Oscar-nominated director of 12 Years A Slave; and more than a score of technicians, including those who worked on Gravity, which was filmed in London and is one of the favourites to win the Oscar tonight (Sunday).
   Also there was my old mate Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje ---Wally---who had stopped in on his way to an Italian film party where he was due to pick up an award for his role in Pompeii.
  But apart from Sir Alex, the guest attracting most of the attention was Philomena Lee, the real life subject of the movie Philomena, who, with the movie’s writer and co-star Steve Coogan, has been a regular feature at parties and promotional events around the world, even having an audience with the Pope.
   “He’s a lovely man,” she said of the Pope.
   And Steve Coogan? “I love him to bits.”



  It's always a pleasure seeing Nicole Kidman, whom I first met 21 years ago on Batman Forever. A lot of water under the bridge si...