LOS ANGELES FESTIVAL : ROBERT J. FITZPATRICK: A TRAIL OF TWO CITIES
More than anyone else, Robert J. Fitzpatrick created the Los Angeles Festival. To learn what motivates this high-energy, fast-moving arts impresario, The Times spent a 14-hour day trailing him June 11. It turned out to be one of the last typical full days Fitzpatrick spent putting the festival together, before going off to Paris for several weeks on his Euro Disneyland project. That day provided an inside look at the festival, which opens Thursday .
Eighty-four days to go until the opening of the $5.8-million, 24-day Los Angeles Festival, and Director Robert J. Fitzpatrick awakens at 5:30 a.m. at home in Encino. He dons one black sock and one gray sock--and does not discover the mismatched pair until 12 1/2 hours later--before grabbing a quick shower at the downtown Embassy Hotel, the mezzanine of which serves as festival headquarters. Fitzpatrick is clearly a man in a hurry.
Fitzpatrick is in pain. His right shoulder aches and there’s a pinched nerve in his neck. A chiropractor, who treated him the night before, attributed the trouble to stress. “He told me, ‘What do you expect, holding down three jobs?’ ”
Besides directing the 1987 festival, successor to the Olympic Arts Festival which he also ran, Fitzpatrick, at 47, is ending a 13-year tenure as president of CalArts in Valencia, and beginning a new role as president of Euro Disneyland, the nearly $2-billion entertainment and resort complex to be built outside Paris.
From a 7 a.m. breakfast meeting in Bel-Air with Maureen Kindel, president of the city’s Board of Public Works and chairwoman of the festival’s board of directors, until 9:10 p.m., when pain forced him to quit, The Times trailed Fitzpatrick. He left during intermission of a musicale at the High School of Performing Arts on the Cal State L.A. campus. Fitzpatrick’s 16-year-old son, Michael, sings bass in the choir.
In between, Fitzpatrick logged 157.3 miles, smoked at least 21 cigarettes and received about a half dozen shoulder massages from, among others, choreographer Bella Lewitzky, KCRW radio interviewer Lyn Kienholz, associate festival director Tom Schumacher and his 12-year-old daughter, Claire.
Between stops, he made phone calls to Paris, too numerous to count. He wears a two-faced watch, the main face for Los Angeles time, the other set 9 hours later for Paris. Invariably, Fitzpatrick’s first sentence to driver-assistant Jeff Kurtti is: “Can you pass the phone over, Jeffie?”
7:07 a.m . After ordering a breakfast of poached eggs on wheat toast and tea at the Bel Air Sands Hotel, Fitzpatrick grins at Kindel and pulls a slip of paper from his briefcase: “At last count we sold $951,939 in tickets. Sixty-eight percent of the seats that we budgeted to be sold. Three months before the festival!”
Conversation skips to Festival 1989, which he hopes will focus on Latino and Asian culture. He suggests picking as his successor “someone who has the ability to stage a festival, to get a fresher perspective.”
7:35 a.m. Fitzpatrick suggests to Kindel he would like to ask the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for $500,000 for 1989. “I think if we invite them to a couple of things, they’ll get a sense of this festival as an ongoing thing. We’re not calling it the Los Angeles City Festival. . . . What I’d like to do is ask for $500,000 (for festival ’89); I’ll settle for $250,000.”
Asked about the timing of his request, Fitzpatrick says: “Probably in mid-festival. The first elocution lesson that I had when I was with the Jesuits was from Cicero, when he talked about the first rule of every speech: Reddere benevolos. Render your audience benevolent. Soften them up.”
8:06 a.m. “Call the CalArts switchboard,” Fitzpatrick orders Kurtti. Fitzpatrick is on the way for his next-to-the-last board meeting. “I hope this phone works for Paris, Jeff.”
8:45 a.m. Meets with Dan Pavillard, vice president for development, who discusses possible tributes to the out-going president. Fitzpatrick wants none of it. “Sounds like I’m dead.”
10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m . A visit to the new Euro Disneyland office in Glendale. Walking into the 80-by-60-foot room where Disney designers are constructing models for the five-acre complex, Fitzpatrick beams with pride. “All this is ours.” Fingering the model made of butterscotch-colored polystyrene foam, a material that is sturdy yet allows the designers to make intricate mock castle designs, Fitzpatrick muses: “If Michelangelo had this, he would never have made anything of marble.”
1 p.m. Entering KCRW at Santa Monica College to tape an “Arts L.A.” segment about Los Angeles Festival with Kienholz, Fitzpatrick tells a joke on himself. When he first got the Euro Disneyland offer, his son Michael quipped: “Why do you want to give up being a cultural somebody to be a French Mickey Mouse?”
1:15 p.m. “How did you decide which countries to go to scout companies?,” Kienholz asks.
“Part of that was started with a telephone,” Fitzpatrick replied, “in which I took my Rolodex and I called everybody from outside the United States that I had ever known or met, and said, ‘What is it that you have seen in the last two years that irritated, provoked, frustrated, in which you rejoiced, any of the above, but which six months or a year later you still think about or you’re still aggravated about and you still enjoy thinking about? . . . I placed, in a several-month period, several hundred phone calls, obviously in the United States as well. With that collection of names, I literally sat down with a map and tried to figure out what made sense in scheduling several trips, what were the performance dates available.
“Some things I saw, and it was true in the Olympic Festival as well, were absolutely wonderful, but they were the kinds of wonderful things that we get here regularly. So if it was simply one more soloist, or one more classical musician doing something that the Philharmonic does very well, it didn’t make sense for the festival to do it. I’ve been very adamant in my own personal definition of what’s appropriate for a festival in this city, and that is that it be things that we wouldn’t normally get access to, things that are somehow special, somehow different, and will provoke us, stimulate us into understanding things we might not have understood, or seeing things in a different way that stretch us, that push us.” He says he didn’t want to duplicate 1984 or “live in reflected glory.”
2:45 p.m. After lunch at a sushi bar in West Los Angeles, Fitzpatrick visits Bella Lewitzky’s outdoor studio overlooking Universal Studios. Lewitzky and her dancers are choreographing a new work based on the sculptures of Henry Moore, a spare piece that Fitzpatrick considers “a marvelous juxtaposition” to other dance that the festival is presenting. As Fitzpatrick ambles in, Lewitzky says to her dancers, “I don’t have to introduce you to Baby (Sol) Hurok?” Fitzpatrick earlier gave his pack of cigarettes to Kurtti. Lewitzky doesn’t allow him to smoke on the premises.
3:20 p.m. Lewitzky gives Fitzpatrick a jar of her special vitamins. She says she worries about his health, what with all those cigarettes and bad hours. He says his doctor tells him he’s “in the best of health.” Lewitzky frowns.
3:40 p.m. Stuck on the Hollywood Freeway going back to his office, Fitzpatrick returns a call from Karole Armitage who heads the Armitage Ballet. Besides offering the West Coast premiere of “The Elizabethan Phrasing of the Late Albert Ayler,” Armitage wants to add a ballet called “The Tarnished Angels” to the program; it will be a United States premiere. “You say it’s (the work) hot? " Fitzpatrick repeats. “I love it; it’ll be a great juxtaposition to the ‘Elizabethan.’ ”
4:25 p.m. Back at the office he discusses design plans for “The Mahabharata” with festival production head John De Santis.
5 p.m. In a conference call with Armitage, Fitzpatrick, De Santis and associate festival directors Tom Schumacher and Leigh Drolet approve the added ballet. He also learns from Drolet that on June 11 the festival took in another $10,800, bringing the total to $962,239, and projects they will hit the $1-million mark within two weeks.
5:30 p.m. Fitzpatrick and key staff members meet with representatives from the Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency to discuss advertising copy for newspapers. Fitzpatrick loves the headline: “Enjoy 24 Days of Culture Shock” but he worries that the copy isn’t specific enough about individual troupes, and he sends the copy writers back to their words.
5:55 p.m. Emerging from the ad meeting, Fitzpatrick dramatically falls to the floor in the Embassy lobby, flat on his back, proclaiming to one and all: “If I don’t do something about this shoulder, you’re not going to have a festival director.” Fitzpatrick goes to the showers.
After a salad at his desk, it’s off to the high school. Fitzpatrick’s timing is exquisite. Just before the curtain goes up, he slips into a seat reserved for him by his wife, Sylvie. By intermission, he has decided to call it a night.
9:02 p.m. On the way home, he talks about dropping in at Los Angeles Theatre Center to catch the last act of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Kurtti turns around with a look that suggests the man in the back seat has taken leave of his senses. “Even when I was a kid in school, I couldn’t sit still,” Fitzpatrick muses, and grins contentedly.