The odd coupling of an interior designer with flawless taste and a bright, spunky woman with a wealthy mate is such a leisure class cliché. No problem. Whenever Hollywood reality swerves toward the trite, passes absurdity and winds up on the cover of Us Magazine, 42-year-old Gigi laughs, and then fictionalizes it.
Her new novel, "The Starter Wife," follows the adventures of 41-year-old Gracie Pollock after she is dumped by her studio executive husband and banished from El McMansion, the Brentwood starter castle decorated by her dear friend Will. Gracie, Gigi wrote, "had sworn she'd never be one of those Hollywood wives who paid for friendship — whose best friends were their Pilates instructors, personal trainers, interior decorators . But she grew to love Will; she loved that he told her the truth — that basically, she had no taste." Actually, Gracie is discerning enough to observe that "The house was supposed to be Modern Spanish, but it veered more into Modern Office Building with Spanish moldings."
How can Gigi, a busy, happy, irreverent "wife of," create a sweet-and-sour fairy tale about a bored, miserable, insecure and increasingly angry "wife of"? Like the proverbial amorous porcupine, she conducts her business delicately, careful to make fun of herself first and to avoid wounding friends. And who better to detail the folkways of a company town where the sign-off "Love ya" must be followed by "mean it," than this very well-informed girl guide in her uniform of Dolce & Gabbana shirt and size 25 jeans? She can ridicule moneyed enclaves where homes are equipped with security systems so elaborate and confounding that they're never used, because she knows the territory.
Before her husband Kenny left to pursue a better matrimonial deal in "The Starter Wife," Gracie wondered "how she had come to live on a street where a three-year-old, five-million-dollar mansion was considered a tear-down." The Grazers live on such a street. Every weekday, workers' trucks clog the road where a nouveau Mayan temple, a shingled supercottage, a Georgian manor and a majestic Prairie-style villa are in various stages of completion.
A thick wooden gate, a long driveway and an attitude separate the Grazers' home from its neighbors. "I like to call myself blue-collar," Gigi says, "but my husband always says that's ridiculous, at this point." When the revolution comes, her heart might be on one side of the barricades. She knows she'll be stuck on the other. Yet rich is one thing. Showy is another, and the Grazers don't go there.
Their compound was built in the late 1930s by Cliff May, the ranch house prophet of the West Coast. May was a sixth-generation Californian whose idealized single-story houses recalled a mythical frontier where homes sprawled over wide, open spaces. His most romantic designs combined the informal layout of historic adobe homes with modern amenities, but he also built lots of prosaic tract houses. The former would suit Butch Cassidy, in a good year. The latter were more Ward Cleaver. Gregory Peck and his first wife once lived in the Grazers' house, from 1947 to 1952. Brian bought it from a USC professor 12 years ago.
The low-slung, U-shaped hacienda sits on a grassy four-acre spur with 300-degree views — of a wild, wooded canyon, the Santa Monica Mountains, the Getty Center and the Hollywood hills, Century City, downtown and the coast. The house is partially notable for what it is not. Not grand: There is no baronial living room that looks freshly dipped in a vat of caramel, nor a kitchen vast enough to serve up three squares to a regiment. Not pretentious: It is not accessorized with the sort of safe, status art (Hockney, Graham) displayed in so many self-described collectors' homes.
It is not overdone. Not huge, or at least it appears, at first, not to be. The front of the structure curves around a courtyard of stone and gravel, revealing no hint that its wide corridors lead to other wings with rooms opening onto secluded patios and terraces. "I used to get lost in that house," Brian says, "because the hallways have these twists and turns."
A lower floor occupied by a screening room and Gigi's office isn't visible from the entrance, nor is a pool or a guest house built into the hillside. Brian's office, the original guest house, is in sight, but it looks like a fetchingly landscaped ranchero outbuilding, not a 3,000-square-foot space that contains his work room and art studio on one level, a gym hidden beneath and balconies overlooking the Pacific.
Brian's latest film, "Cinderella Man," a Depression-era drama starring Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger and directed by his partner, Ron Howard, opens June 3. Even when pre-premiere buzz is strong, he is always as nervous as a virgin bride until the first weekend's box office is tallied. The house felt like a refuge the first time he saw it. It still does. "Sometimes I walk out on the lawn and look over the whole city and the ocean and I feel so grateful," he says.
The producer, 54, has been making movies ("A Beautiful Mind") and television shows ("24"), for more than 25 years, and has done time around Hollywood moguls who value their residences as symbols of power. In his heyday as an agent, Michael Ovitz would invite business aquaintances to his home and show off his art collection, a deliberate and frequently effective intimidation technique. Instead of aping such methods, Grazer reverse-patterned.
"I made a choice about 20 years ago, when Michael Ovitz was my agent, to create the opposite effect from what he tried to have, in every environment that I have control over," he says. "I want to make people feel relaxed and super comfortable. When people are intimidated, you don't get the best out of them, they don't tell their best stories. At my house, the bar is just a place to have a martini and relax. The bedroom has a great view, but it's only as big as it was 40 years ago. When we were thinking about expanding, some people suggested we could build up and have even better views. I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to make it overpowering."
The couple have been together 14 years, married nearly eight. Gigi went to Hollywood High and UCLA, then worked her way up from receptionist to head of television development for programming guru Fred Silverman, dispensing with a starter marriage along the way. She bumped into Brian at Orlando-Orsini on Pico Boulevard, where they'd each gone for a business lunch. "I kind of fell in love with her at first sight," he says. "Beyond being beautiful, she was so clever. I loved that she's so creative, and there's an untamed quality about her." One dinner and a margarita and a half later, they were inseparable.
While Brian was becoming one of the most successful producers in Hollywood, Gigi found her own tutors in how not to live. "I remember going to the home of the head of an agency," she recalls, "a very fancy, dark house that felt ominous and heavy to me. The women who worked at the house wore starched aprons. We'd seen a movie in the screening room, and on the way out, we noticed that the table in the dining room was set for breakfast. I didn't even have my own kids at that point, but I thought, 'No. Not in my house. Not ever will my children wake up to a set table. Who do they think they are?' We're not royalty. Kings and queens can live that way, but look how screwed up their children are."
Five-year-old Thomas Grazer makes his own bed, and his mother cooks him pancakes for breakfast. He was a toddler when designer Smith started working on the house. For two years, while the Palisades spread was expanded, renovated and decorated, the family — including Riley and Sage, the teenage son and daughter from Brian's first marriage who spend half their time with each parent — lived in their Malibu Colony house. For part of their exile, Gigi was pregnant with Patrick, now 19 months old.
They also have a home on the north shore of Oahu; he surfs, she doesn't. The family plans to spend some time at their Malibu beach house again this summer. Gigi hopes the neighbors will still welcome them. In "The Starter Wife," Gracie describes the Colony as "the most expensive ghetto in the world," with houses "inches apart." If that doesn't offend the locals, perhaps the pilot Gigi's written for ABC, "The Colony," will. But she doesn't consider it her job to tend fragile egos. In her opinion, anyone who doesn't get the flavor of satire that spices her work should just lighten up.
A producer often incubates ideas, then finds a creative team able to understand and execute his vision. On the Palisades property, Brian played his customary role. "I look at a lawn and see a lawn," Gigi says. "Brian Grazer looks at a lawn and sees a football field and a guest house underneath it."
Work had been done on the house when he first bought it — walls were knocked down to make some rooms more spacious and a new living room was created by enclosing a patio. But the narrow lawn beyond the library's picture window bothered Brian. "I always wanted to have a big lawn," he says, "and the way it was, if you threw a ball, it went over the hill."