In 1972, when I relocated to Los Angeles to produce the Billie Holiday movie, I met a lovely woman who eventually became my wife. On her birthday, I strolled into Giorgio's Boutique, the most fashionable woman's wear shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills (which meant it was the most fashionable shop in the city.) I exited the store with a nice gift....and a new friend. Over a game of pool at the table set in the center of the spacious store, while drinking a cocktail from its bar, I had an initial conversation with the store's dashing owner, Fred Hayman. That led to a two-hour lunch the next day at his regular table at Spago, Wolfgang Puck's celebrated restaurant on Canon right next to the office building owned by Mr Hayman which bears his name on the top in distinctive red script against a yellow background. This led to a weekly lunch for more than 30 years, either at his table or at a corner table at Nate 'n Al's Deli. I was his guest when the City of Beverly Hills and the Rodeo Drive Committee awarded him its 15th Annual Rodeo Drive Walk of Fame Award. In the world of fashion, this is a big deal...previous winners have been Grace Kelly, Cartier, Valentino, Armani and Tom Ford. Fred Hayman earned this distinction the hard way, as a retailer of ingenuity and genius who almost singlehandedly created the mystique about Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, helping to elevate it from an ordinary shopping street in a well-to-do village to the pantheon of world-famous shopping streets.
Fred's son Robert and family at the birthday party on Sunday.
Over the years I have written about Fred and his world of fashion, perfume, intrigue and suspense in the cutthroat world of retailing empires. There is a wonderful biography of him written by Rose Apodaca, a former West Coast Editor for Women's Wear Daily. (It's title is Fred Hayman..The Extraordinary Difference, The Story of Rodeo Drive, Hollywood Glamour and The Showman Who Sold It All. You can get it on www.fredhayman.com or at Amazon.) I was there and watched as he and his third wife, Gale, in 1981 created a signature perfume while breaking all the rules of retailing (holding back the product from stores clamoring for it). It caught the fancy of the women of the world and they then sold it to Avon at the height of its fame for a fortune. (A great deal of the resulting fortune has been donated by Fred and his wife Betty to many many charitable causes.)
From his childhood in Zurich and Paris to his arrival in New York at sixteen, joining the U.S. Navy during World War II, and returning to civilian life in the kitchen at the old Waldorf-Astoria, Fred has essentially been a food-and-beverage man most of his life He was brought to L.A. in the early fifties by Conrad Hilton to open the Beverly Hilton Hotel. He brought the Golden Globes there, helped make it a world-class hostelry before being unceremoniously dumped by a jealous manager. He and his third wife took over a failing women's retail shop on sleepy Rodeo Drive to which he had loaned two thousand dollars, and he found his métier. Unconventional, irrepressible, contentious, they fought each other and the world, achieving miracles. He was been fashion consultant to more than a dozen Oscar shows and changed the look of Hollywood in the doing.
On Sunday I was invited by wife Betty and son Robert to attend a small 90th birthday party for Fred at his Malibu home. As I sat and watched the handsome silver-haired fox be greeted by many old friends and former employees, I thought back to the day in September, 1996 when I was privileged to attend their wedding at this same estate. He and Betty Endo had been together some 18 years at that point, but both felt the time was right to take the relationship to the next, ultimate level. Now if there was one thing that I know about Fred, it is that no detail - no matter how small -escaped his attention, from the choice of wines to the matchbook covers to the selection of songs by the 75-piece mariachi band at the entrance. (And yes, on this Sunday, there was a mariachi band playing at the entrance and in the garden.) That wedding ceremony and party was the most incredible I have ever attended, from Merv Griffith and Ed McMahon taking turns emceeing to having food stations along the driveway from tbe best restaurants in Los Angeles. (Jimmy Murphy's son was there Sunday and we talked about the wedding food from Jimmy's, as I did with Bob Spivak of The Grill. He reminded me of the four-pound tins of caviar at every table. I reminded him of the plane flying overhead with a banner, "I Love You Betty," ending with a fireworks display to rival that of the 4th of July.)
If you've spent any time on Rodeo Drive, you will have noticed the glistening 14-foot silver statue of a headless woman gracing the median lane of Rodeo Drive's Walk of Style. Fred had quietly, unheralded, paid famous sculpture Robert Graham a six-figure sum to do the gorgeous figure, "Torso," and on Sunday I was looking at a small model of it residing on the Hayman patio. I sat next to him this day and was appreciating again the miracle man I am privileged to call my friend. He is an American revolutionary. Under the yellow-and-white colors of his Giorgio Beverly Hills store and his namesake follow-up, he really did radically change the way the world considers Los Angeles style, how the beauty business operates (did he ever!), even how magazines 'smell,' (remember those Giorgio perfume stripes? They were his innovation). and the possibilities of retail and branding. If you get a copy of his book, with the distinctive yellow-and-white cover and red signature, it is bearing a smiling portrait of the gracious man with his loyal German Sheppard dog gracing the spine of this volume. Somewhat symbolic, for yes, even at 90, though somewhat diminished, he still has a spine of steel and a will to match. That is Fred Hayman.
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