I have lunch at least once a week with a fellow named Fred Hayman, usually at his regular table at Spago, which is next door to the Canon Drive office building in Beverly Hills owned by Mr. Hayman (which bears his name on the top in distinctive red script against a yellow background.) If we don't eat at Spago, we'll dine at my regular table at Nate 'n Al's Deli (that's a joke). What's not a joke is that Mr. Hayman was honored this week by the City of Beverly Hills and the Rodeo Drive Committee with the 15th Annual Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award. In the world of fashion, this is a big deal. Previous winners have been Grace Kelly and Cartier, Valentino, Gianni and Donatella Versace, Tom Ford and Giorgio Armani. They even honored designer Edith Head, who did all the costumes for my W.C. Fields & Me film.
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... matching if not exceeding Fifth Avenue, Bond Street and the Rue St. Honoré. When I first came to Los Angeles, a visit to the Giorgio Boutique on Rodeo was mandatory, and while I could hardly afford to buy his men's clothing (except at the occasional sale), I did hang out at the bar in the center of the store and played pool with whatever star was waiting for his wife or mistress to finish shopping among the racks of couture clothing and glitzy footwear.
Coincidentally, a rather incisive, utterly engrossing biography of this extraordinary man has been published this week, and if you have any interest in the worlds of Beverly Hills, fashion and perfume, or intrigue and suspense in the cutthroat world of retailing empires... then this is the book for you. A former West Coast editor for Women's Wear Daily, Rose Apodaca has taken what turned out to be a five-year writing journey into the life of Fred Hayman and, in so doing, she recounts the fascinating tale of a retail and perfume empire which was created out of fierce ambition and passionate love. While it came asunder after some four decades, it resulted in the worldwide acclaim accorded to Rodeo Drive and the legendary Mr. Hayman. I was there and watched as he and his third wife, Gale, in 1981 created a signature perfume which, breaking all the rules of retailing (holding back the product from stores clamoring for it), caught the fancy of the women of the world... and which they then sold to Avon at the height of its fame for a fortune. A good part of which, I must note, has been quietly donated by Fred and Betty to a large host of worthy, oft-unseen organizatons and causes for the benefit of one and all. I know a little about what they do charitably, and yet I keep finding out more and more about their gracious efforts to make this a slightly better world.
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 then 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, brought here in the early fifties by Conrad Hilton to open the Beverly Hilton. He brought the Golden Globes there, helped make it a world-class hostelry, and was unceremoniously dumped by a jealous manager. But when he and third wife Gale took over a failing women's retail shop on sleepy Rodeo Drive to which he had loaned two thousand dollars, he found his métier. Unconventional, irrepressible, contentious, they both fought innumerable battles with each other and the world, and achieved miracles. I watched yesterday as Gil Cates, producer of many Academy Award shows, presented the medallion to Fred and commented how Hayman had been the first fashion consultant to more than a dozen such Oscar shows, changing forever the look of Hollywood in the doing.
As I sat in the audience today watching the handsome, silver-haired fox be lauded by friends and associates, I couldn't help observing his stunning and quietly self-assured wife Betty, who has been his main support and stalwart friend for over thirty years. And thought back to that day in September, 1996, when I was privileged to attend their wedding at the Hayman estate in Malibu. They had then been together a long and tumultuous 18 years, but both felt the time was right to take the relationship to the next, ultimate level... a formal wedding. Now, if there is one fact about Fred Hayman that is undisputed, it is that he pays attention to the smallest detail. Yes, he can catch the big picture... but let one stone be left unturned and he will find it. Every thing from the choice of wines to the music in the air to the matchbook cover gets his scrutiny. So you can imagine what the wedding ceremony and party was like... from Merv Griffin and Ed McMahon taking turns emceeing to having food stations along the driveway from four of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. (Jimmy Murphy was sitting next to me today, and we recalled that one of the restaurants that day was his Jimmy's.) I remember four-pound tins of caviar at every table, and 75 mariachis playing endlessly... a plane flying over with a banner, "I Love You Betty"... ending in a fireworks display to rival that of Manhattan's Fourth of July blast.
My eyes wandered over to the glistening, 14-foot-tall silver statue of a headless woman gracing the median lane of Rodeo Drive's Walk of Style... with the knowledge that Fred had quietly, unheralded, paid famed sculpture Robert Graham a six-figure sum to do the gorgeous figure, "Torso"... a small model of which resides in the Hayman Malibu patio. Having garnered an advance copy of Rose's book, Fred Hayman: The Extraordinary Difference: The Story of Rodeo Drive, Hollywood Glamour and the Showman Who Sold It All, I spent the entire Memorial Day weekend reading until all hours... and appreciating once again the miracle man whom I am privileged to call my friend. He is an American revolutionary. Under the yellow-and-white colors of his store, Giorgio Beverly Hills, 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 strips? Those were his innovation), and the possibilities of retail and branding. Think of Dynasty and Judith Kranze's Scruples and you'll think of him.
May I suggest that you go to fredhayman.com on the Internet and order a copy of the book with the distinctive yellow-and-white cover, red signature, and smiling portrait of the gracious man with his loyal German Sheppard dog gracing the spine of the volume. Somewhat symbolic, for yes, he has a spine of steel and a will to match. That is Fred Hayman.
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for twelve monthly issues), email him at jayweston@sbcglobal
Follow Jay Weston on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaywestonsbcglo