CHOOSING THE TASTE MAKERS : They Won't Share the Stage With Just Anybody

Imagine the spectrum of successful people in the arts and entertainment businesses and the opportunity to single out some of them to discuss matters of taste on the following pages.

The idea was for them to tell us, the curious gazing at Mt. Olympus, what inspires them. Just possibly we'd gain some insights.

They needed to be from many disciplines and not be over-hyped in the media. With a People magazine, USA Today and "Entertainment Tonight" mentality sweeping the nation, avoiding the instant celebrity also was crucial.

As a result, the potential list was reduced by about 90%. After more consultations with Calendar staffers, we narrowed the names to about 50. All of a sudden, everyone became a critic: Why is she on the list? No one's heard from her in two years. Blankety Blank? Too esoteric. So and so? He already had his 15 minutes!

Of course, what such decisions finally boil down to is . . . a matter of taste.

From the media's perspective, it's always fascinating how the most inaccessible of personalities often become accessible when there is a project to promote. Suddenly, they're the ubiquitous faces on talk shows, in magazines, in newspapers. Flip the channel, turn the page: They're there.

On the other hand, the well-known difficulties in trying to get people like Sam Shepard or David Mamet to speak with the press--even when they have a project to promote--made them unlikely candidates, but candidates we would pursue nevertheless. Why? Because they fit the parameters. They're not flash-in-the-pan names. They're individuals with substance and a track record of achievement.

No one wanted to be the first to commit to a Taste Makers interview--sort of a "Catch-22." Each time an individual's press representative was asked about arranging an interview, the question came back: Who else is on the list?

Pauline Kael doesn't have a press rep. She answered the telephone herself. But she asked the same questions as the publicists did, including the usual "What's it for?" and "How soon do you need it?"

For Kael, as for everyone else, it was obviously important to share the stage with people of similar stature. When told a few of the names, she agreed to meet with Calendar's reporter.

"It would take only about a half hour of your time," I told her, optimistically, and overly eager to seal the arrangement. "Only a half hour?" she replied skeptically. "Well, maybe a little longer," I admitted. She knew and I knew, of course, that it would take more time, but by then it didn't matter. She recognized a sales pitch for what it was. (P.S. The interview took two hours.)

Stephen Sondheim was pleased to be invited. But in a written note, he asked Calendar to "forgive" him because he is at work on a new musical and has "to avoid all extracurricular activities." (If forgoing an interview with Sondheim contributes to giving the world another musical from this master, then it's well worth Calendar's loss.)

I was told by the publicist for David Mamet's play, "Glengarry Glen Ross," that the playwright would be available for one type of article (in connection with the opening of "Glengarry" in Los Angeles). Or perhaps for Taste Makers. But the publicist could not say for sure because Mr. Mamet was not reachable at the time.

Then came word from the publicist that they preferred an interview about the play. But our stage department did not. Would Mr. Mamet instead do an interview for Taste Makers? No, he would not. Word came back that the playwright would rather do some smaller interviews in Los Angeles--he didn't want to be overexposed, said the press rep.

Meantime, we were getting commitments from others, including Alan Pakula, whose first film since "Sophie's Choice" is due early in 1986, and Quincy Jones, who needs no introduction.

Whoopi Goldberg, the star of "The Color Purple," played hard to get (at least from Calendar's perspective) for weeks. She was more bicoastal than ever this season. After several efforts by her publicist, the comedienne who's making a film known in the industry to be "in trouble," couldn't clear the time. It's no wonder. That was about the time the movie "Jumpin' Jack Flash" lost one director (Howard Zieff) and gained another (Penny Marshall).

Restaurateur Alice Waters up in Berkeley was as difficult to reach as it is to make a last-minute reservation at her popular Chez Panisse. Writer Barbara Isenberg tried for days to make contact, subsequently learning that Waters was on her honeymoon. But even after she returned, it took several more phone calls.

Sam Shepard's new play was about to open in New York and he simply wasn't available, according to the film company handling the release of his latest film, "Fool for Love." (Whatever his reason, though, Shepard did have the time to be interviewed for a recent cover of a national news magazine.)

Artist David Hockney's schedule didn't permit time out for an interview, according to a spokesman. Then there was Lily Tomlin, whose interview with writer Paul Rosenfield had to be cancelled because she was ill and under doctor's orders to do nothing but rest between performances of her Broadway show.

In all cases--whether interviewed on these pages or not--these are busy people. Hard to reach. Hard to pin down. But given the influence of their work, the difficulties it took to reach them seem minor--and the payoff hopefully major.

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