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After years of rehearsals, she found her movie's star

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After 11 years of married life in Paris, my French husband and I divorced. I packed up our two kids and returned to my native California, to Los Angeles — a place I considered not so much a city as a motorized less-than. No cafe-lined grands boulevards where the chic could stroll and discuss philosophy, just plenty of strip malls filled with doughnut shops and nail salons where regulars carped about traffic and cellphone service.

But my kids needed to keep up their French, and L.A. had not one but at least two French schools, so I anticipated the positives. We would get a dog and walk to Griffith Park from our darling little 1920s Spanish house in Los Feliz. We would shop at Say Cheese, which boasted a reasonable offering of the real thing. We would make friends with the zany expats at the Lycée International.

Still, as a single mother, the L.A. dating scene loomed eerily. I visualized seedy used-car salesmen, stiff bankers or worse: self-absorbed Hollywood types peddling the next box-office fluff. The above-the-line Armani guy, for example, plagued by gout and starlets, or the high-top-sporting wunderkind writer with uncombed hair, sweet and brilliant but unable to get past draft two, would be unsuitable prospects. I barely had enough patience for my own children.

And yet the first Angeleno I dated was such a Hollywood type. He had a fascinating sense of himself and regaled me nonstop with his list of accomplishments: He wrote for TV, he wrote for film, he did a little stage acting. He spoke some French, he knew wine, he lunched with Players. He was a good listener and asked a lot of questions, but when he'd say of my experiences, "it's all material," I didn't comprehend that he was taking notes to use in his own work. Soon enough he dumped me for another woman. It took me a while — way more time than he deserved — to realize that the most interesting thing about him was how interesting he found himself.

The second man I dated was also a Hollywood type, a producer. Smart and funny, attractive, though a tad old, he ignored my kids and cooked tasty meals. He read widely and had a sailboat. We worked on a screenplay together, and for many months we had a lot of fun. But disturbing problems lurked: his preoccupation with my meager bank account, his shoebox full of maxed-out credit cards and his ongoing litigation over a film he'd produced but couldn't get distributed. When he approached my father for a loan on a movie deal, it finally dawned on me that he was a total bottom-feeder. As I pulled away from him, he first threatened suicide, then invited me to a picnic on his boat.

Around this time, Carol, an old friend from Paris, spoke to me about Tony, a friend of her husband's. Carol told me he was a handsome, down-to-earth attorney whose parents were famous in Hollywood. Well, two of those attributes sounded good. I wasn't so sure about the Hollywood parents.

Carol persevered. She and her husband invited my 13-year-old daughter and me to a rooftop barbecue one beautiful afternoon in May at their home, the stately El Royale apartment building in Hollywood. They introduced us to Tony. We made small talk about the spectacular view, and I wondered when he was going to bring up his Hollywood background, but he didn't. He asked my daughter about her French school and her friends and activities. He spoke about his own children and their schools and friends. On the way home, my daughter told me she thought he was cute and asked me if we were going to date.

Later that week, he called and invited me to a fancy dinner party. There would be several other couples — a few actors, a director who would later win an Oscar and the director's producer-wife. The dinner went well, though Tony didn't talk much. It was nearly impossible to get a word in over the Hollywood glam-speak: names dropped, box-office projections floated, fledgling deals whispered.

Afterward, Tony dropped me off and said we'd be in touch. A week went by, then two. By the third week, I feared the date had led to a non-starter, but finally Tony called and asked me to a movie. He picked me up and then realized he'd forgotten the tickets at home. As we headed to fetch them, he told me about his Hollywood childhood.

His Oscar-winning father, producer Buddy Adler, had died when Tony was 11. His child-star mother had died when he was 20. When we got to his house, he invited me in. On the mantle in the living room, there was not only his father's Oscar but his father's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award as well. When Tony stepped out of the room to retrieve the tickets, I handled the awards. They felt cool and dense and somehow distant. I knew then that Tony and I would get along fine. We dated for three years, lived together for three years and then married. And though he's not a Hollywood type, he's the Hollywood-type-of-my-life.

L.A. Affairs chronicles romance and relationships. Past columns and submission guidelines are at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at home@latimes.com.

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