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COLUMN ONE : Town That Tells Time on a Rolex : Beverly Hills is a small place really. It’s money and glitz that make it different and, for most, irresistible.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Beverly Hills is a small town really, just five square miles of wide streets and tall trees and, it seems, a jewelry store on every corner. Beauty shops outnumber booksellers 534 to eight. It is easier to find a psychiatrist than a gas station.

Nearly 34,000 people call Beverly Hills home and, for the most part, they do so with pride. A good number are film stars, corporate executives or millionaire immigrants. They tend to be big dreamers and connoisseurs, and they can hold serious conversations about such things as poise and savoir-faire.

Beverly Hills’ shady lanes are traversed by more Rolls-Royces per square mile than anyplace else on Earth. Each year, from off the lot of the Beverly Hills dealership, 150 gleaming new models roll out at an average cost of $155,000. The dealer reports that these automobiles almost always are driven home by white male buyers who already own one. They almost always pay cash.

It is possible in Beverly Hills boutiques to pay $25,000 for a leather jacket, $90,000 for a mink blanket. The costliest home is a hillside French chateau with 40,000 square feet, a disco, two gymnasiums, a tennis court and two-lane bowling alley, now listed for $30 million. The cheapest home is a 1,400-square foot structure with one bathroom just inside the city limits, priced to move at $665,000.

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Wealth provides a moat of sorts. At a time when surrounding cities grapple with crime, gang warfare, urban decay, financial deficits, Beverly Hills remains what it always has been--a symbol of the finest in life, of quality and social refinement.

“If there were a Camelot on Earth,” boasts City Councilman Bob Tanenbaum, “it’s Beverly Hills, in my opinion.”

Under the glossy exterior, Beverly Hills is a complex, often-contradictory place, more than just the sum of its price tags. It is as fragile and intricate as a Cartier watch, a balance of big-city commerce and small-town quiet.

Nowhere are there bigger or better parties. Nowhere are the schools so consistently excellent. Nowhere are the donations to charity so blessedly enormous, or the servants so impeccably dressed, or the swimming pools so languidly beautiful.

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Still, renters outnumber homeowners. Democrats outnumber Republicans. Jews outnumber Christians. Some of Beverly Hills’ children actually qualify for free school lunches.

The city government is run by 654 employees, most of whom commute each day from lesser homes, lesser communities, as far away as the Mojave Desert. Only six live in town.

“Frankly, most of us just can’t afford to buy a house here,” said Fire Chief William M. Daley, who drives in every morning from Torrance.

There are, of course, some troubles in paradise. Drug abuse and wretched extravagance wage a silent, ongoing battle against the forces of philanthropy and public service.

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Beverly Hills has one of the highest divorce rates in California. On a per-capita basis, it ranks among the nation’s leaders in plastic surgeons and psychiatrists. Bedford Drive, at the base of the foothills, is so crowded with psychiatric offices that doctors facetiously refer to it as “Couch Canyon.”

“In Beverly Hills, people relate money and financial success with being happy--then they find out it doesn’t work that way,” said Dr. Jerome L. Oziel, who has spent 15 years treating the psyches of the rich.

For some, he said, the problem is being born with a silver spoon--and discovering that it isn’t quite good enough.

“There are people who will rent a home and try to make it appear as if they own the home, or who will lease a very expensive car and try to make it appear that they bought the car for cash,” Oziel said. “When people fall from grace in Beverly Hills, they fall further. When they go bankrupt . . . when they have to move out of a $4-million house and move south of Olympic (Boulevard), it’s very obvious.

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“It’s really a very small community.”

Each day, the city swells to 150,000 or more inhabitants--bankers, tourists, shop owners, maids, gardeners. Then at night, as the professionals return home, the gardeners load up their rakes and clippers in pickup trucks; the maids line up at the bus stops along Wilshire and Sunset boulevards, heading for inner-city Los Angeles.

And, almost with a sigh, Beverly Hills shrinks back to size.

At his shop on Rodeo Drive, Giuseppe Battaglia caters to customers who think nothing of spending $15,000 to spruce up their wardrobe. At Battaglia, a pair of crocodile shoes is priced (but there are no price tags) at $1,700; a white satin shirt costs $600. Italian-made Brioni suits come in plain wool for $2,000 or with 14-karat gold pinstriping for $6,000.

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In a back-room office, the graying, 79-year-old Battaglia sits within walls of floor-to-ceiling mirrors, so that his own image is reflected back on itself a thousandfold, smaller and smaller and smaller, into infinity.

“I’m not one of the crowd,” he will tell you. “I was a genius.”

Battaglia goes on to call himself one of the best-looking men of his era, claiming that his physique was once the equal of heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson. He was a gallant womanizer, knighted for his clothing designs by the government of Italy, who brazenly came to America in 1950 without knowing a soul or a word of English.

In 1961, he opened on Rodeo, then just a quiet, difficult street. “The first 10 years I never drew one penny of salary,” he recalled.

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Now Battaglia is a wealthy man, and Rodeo Drive is the spiritual heart of Beverly Hills--"the most staggering display of luxury in the Western world,” in the words of author Judith Krantz, who re-created the street for the opening scene of her novel, “Scruples.”

Success really began with a calculated marketing effort in the early 1970s, when shop owners chipped in to hire a publicist so they could exploit the abundance of celebrity patrons.

Soon, news releases were picked up around the world.

“You’d always see familiar faces coming in and out of here,” said Sid Klein, who helps his wife run Frances Klein Antique and Estate Jewels. “We had everybody--Charlton Heston, Charles Bronson, Faye Dunaway. The Gabor sisters were in all the time. Laurence Olivier. It became easier and easier to get a story planted about Rodeo Drive and its affluence and the fact that you’ll see more Rolls-Royces in 10 minutes than you’ll see in Cleveland, Ohio, all year.”

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In time, nearly all the world’s best-known designers were represented--Gucci, Cartier, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, and so on--as well as a chic assortment of art galleries and restaurants. The patrons became a mix of local shoppers and jet-setters from Japan, Saudi Arabia, Europe and elsewhere.

At Cartier, where the average couple buying a wedding ring spend $30,000 to $50,000, the largest clientele are members of the entertainment industry and Japanese tourists, said manager Maryam Saghatelian.

Like many companies, Cartier has greatly expanded its line, adding high-end jewelry such as a $2-million ruby ring. Sales volume has grown 25% to 40% each year for a decade.

The popularity of the three-block strip has sent Rodeo Drive lease rates soaring, from $1 a square foot in the early 1970s to as high as $14 a square foot today. Now, new shops often find they cannot afford the overhead. Turnover is high, and competition has further raised standards of service. At one clothier, for example, a shopper can order a drink at a complimentary bar and sip it in front of a fireplace.

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Rodeo Drive has never been more successful, but today, like much of Beverly Hills, it is making a conscious effort to protect its status. Facing unprecedented competition from Los Angeles-based malls such as the Beverly Center and Westside Pavilion, the shopkeepers of Rodeo Drive are looking to make changes.

Along with landowners and city officials, they have begun studying--and bitterly debating--an ambitious improvement program that initially was expected to bring to Rodeo Drive decorative granite sidewalks, new street lights, landscaped medians and more.

Already, however, the estimated $50-million price tag has forced elimination of the granite sidewalks. Now a scaled-down, $30-million plan is being reworked in anticipation of a City Council vote next summer.

Meanwhile, the marketing efforts of Rodeo Drive merchants are expanding.

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Bijan, a by-appointment-only men’s clothing showroom operating in Beverly Hills and New York, is spending $9.5 million this year and more the next to advertise its own line of clothing and fragrances.

Bijan sells suits for $3,500, mink-lined denim jackets (originally designed for Ronald Reagan) for $7,500 and diamond wristwatches for $125,000. An admiring competitor grinned as he held up one of the company’s slick, $25,000 ads in Town & Country--an ad that shows Bijan himself as a model, laughing aloud.

What the ad does not show is the store’s location, or how one can find it. It is assumed that the sophisticated buyer will know.

Behind the courthouse where actress Zsa Zsa Gabor was convicted of slapping a Beverly Hills motorcycle cop stands a tall, nondescript brick building, landscaped with trees. Each day, all day, the trash trucks roll in, dumping the city’s garbage--seven tons at a time--onto the huge concrete floor.

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Until semitrailer trucks arrive at intervals to haul the debris to landfills, workers carefully monitor odors, now and then sprinkling a sort of granulated perfume around the base of the garbage heap.

“What we’re using now is wild cherry,” said Kenneth Palmer, a city sanitation official. “We’ve used banana in the past and, I think, citrus.”

The unusual practice is just one example of the city’s attention to detail, a sign of its determination to do the job right. The city machinery of Beverly Hills is oiled generously with $110 million in annual revenues--four times most cities its size--derived mostly from property taxes, sales taxes (primarily from the Rodeo Drive district), business-license fees and hotel taxes.

The 654 full-time city employees represent a work force triple that of comparably sized Manhattan Beach.

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To a great extent, the huge staff exists to maintain what residents like to call a “village atmosphere.” Trees are a civic obsession. In addition to the veritable forests that grow in private lawns and gardens, the city itself maintains more than 30,000 trees of 50 different species, planted along streets and in parks. It works out to nearly one public tree for each resident, all carefully matched, years ago, to the scale and character of the homes.

Workmen trim them by hand--no chain saws--to keep down the noise.

“We spend $2.5 million annually on our trees,” Parks Supt. Marcelino G. Lomeli said proudly. “Per capita we spend . . . maybe more than any other U.S. city.”

The small-town political climate also contributes significantly to the high standards of maintenance. A resident who complains about a pothole is likely to have connections extending right into the mayor’s or city manager’s office. As one official noted, such a person isn’t satisfied to hear a city employee say, “We’ll get to it.”

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“They want to know who’s going to get to it and when,” said Public Services Director Richard E. Putnam.

City employees react accordingly. When a pothole was reported recently on busy Wilshire Boulevard, the complaint was logged at 1 p.m.; the pothole was fixed by 4 p.m.

“Things that take other communities weeks or possibly even months to respond to, we have done within 24 hours,” Putnam said. “We’re told to check situations out and do what’s appropriate.

“And we know what’s appropriate: Fix it.”

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Police response times in Beverly Hills average less than three minutes, or roughly three times faster than it takes police to arrive at the scene of an emergency call in nearby Los Angeles.

“Somebody hears something in the alley . . . we respond,” boasted Beverly Hills city spokesman Fred C. Cunningham. “We have a program where if somebody is leaving (town) and they report to the Police Department, we’ll try and check their homes to make sure they’re OK. If time permits, (the police) will get out and check the doors and make sure everything’s locked.”

The reputation of Beverly Hills police is one of toughness. Critics express fear of the police, citing brusqueness and forcefulness by officers handling exactly the kind of traffic stop that earned Gabor a jail sentence. On the other hand, few residents fear walking at night. The city averages just two murders a year, most of which, because of abundant investigative manpower, are ultimately solved.

Burglaries and robberies, however, number in the hundreds. In recent months, the city has again fallen prey to a ring of Rolex watch thieves, well-dressed men who approach their victims even in broad daylight to steal a $15,000 or $20,000 watch, said Police Lt. Robert P. Curtis. The phenomenon first surfaced several years ago and reappeared late last year.

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“They will follow someone home or to a place of business and, as they get out of the car, approach them right there, often at gunpoint,” Curtis said. "(The thieves) demand (a) Rolex watch, often bypassing other valuable property--including money.”

Kerman Beriker, general manager of the Beverly Hills Hotel, strolled through the lush, Medi terranean-style grounds, past gloriously colored impatiens and bougainvillea, past pool-side cabanas where movie moguls orchestrate deals by telephone, past workers scrubbing the carpeted outdoor walkway, and entered a bungalow featuring its own kitchen, patio, fireplace, fax machine and, not least of all, five telephones, including one in the toilet stall.

How much a night? he was asked.

“A thousand.”

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The hotel, acquired by the sultan of Brunei in 1987 for $200 million, is a cornerstone of the community, both socially and historically.

After the turn of the century, city founder Burton E. Green hoped that oil under what were then bean fields would bring him vast fortunes. Instead, his wells hit water, and he turned to development.

He dreamed of a world-class retreat, and his hotel, opened in 1912, was a Taj Mahal in the middle of nowhere--"halfway between the city and the ocean,” as one newspaper described it. More precisely, the site was 10 miles west of downtown Los Angeles and seven miles from the beach, at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Ultimately, the urban sprawl of Los Angeles and West Hollywood would completely enclose the new city, but when Beverly Hills was incorporated, two years after the hotel was built, the town had only 550 residents.

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Green tried purposefully to woo the rich and famous. Gracefully curved streets and estate-size lots were laid out on the flatlands and hillsides surrounding the hotel, north of what is now Santa Monica Boulevard.

The business district, meanwhile, was established just south of the boulevard, deliberately encircled by smaller lots intended for shopkeepers and servants.

Even today, that dichotomy remains.

The south half of town, containing more than half the population, generally feels an inferiority to the north. On the south live a mix of homeowners and apartment dwellers; young professionals and quasi-successes, drawn by the prestige of a Beverly Hills address; working parents and old-timers, some of them hanging around through the grace of rent-controlled $400 and $500 apartments.

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In the shadow of enormous wealth, the people of the south sometimes struggle to survive. Single parents in some buildings have been known to share rooms or even sleep on the floors of tiny apartments so that their children might go to Beverly Hills schools.

“Our very first year here, our older daughter was extremely depressed,” recalled Bella Haroutunian, now a successful manicurist who owned a beat-up, 10-year-old Pontiac when she moved to Beverly Hills in 1974. Her daughter would insist on being dropped off a block from school so that friends would not see the ugly, aquamarine automobile.

“She kept telling me, ‘Mother, why did you bring me here? I don’t belong here. My clothes are different. Our car is not the right car.’

“It was very difficult,” Haroutunian said.

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Former pinup girl Jutka Burtman, now in her late 40s, immigrated from Hungary and occupies the same Spalding Drive condominium she has owned for 13 years. For a while, she was among the affluent, traveling by Rolls-Royce and private plane. Then her husband was ruined in business before dying last year of a heart attack.

Now Burtman jogs every day with her little dog, Zsa Zsa, and observes a city she finds both beautiful and superficial.

“This is the worst city in the world as far as looks and having to be young to be noticed,” Burtman said. “Everybody wants to keep up with the Joneses. . . . The rich, they’re never satisfied . . . and not everybody’s super-rich. There are a lot of big cars (whose owners have) no money in the bank.

“It’s a lot of phoniness, I can tell you. It’s sickening.”

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North of Santa Monica Boulevard, the emphasis on wealth and life style rises to stratospheric levels. The homes of the north are showcases with as many as 18 bathrooms, with tennis courts and pools, with giant master suites and vast atriums, with temperature-controlled wine rooms. Typically, each is attended by at least two housekeepers, a nanny if there are children, plus platoons of gardeners and pool-service men, freeing the true occupants for other pursuits.

The Beverly Hills Hotel, shrouded in tall, elegant palms, is a setting for innumerable parties, bar mitzvahs, black-tie fund-raisers and, on average, 75 to 100 weddings a year. Movie stars and wheeler-dealers congregate in the pink-and-green environs of the Polo Lounge, where a phone rests at every booth.

“You need to go to the Polo Lounge because everybody goes there and you need to be a part of it,” explained general manager Beriker. “If you’re meeting in the Polo Lounge, it automatically gives some credit to that meeting.”

Beriker sees to it that pool-side hotel guests are handed chilled towels during the summer. Frequently, day or night, he and his staff go on scavenger hunts to locate that perfect vintage champagne that a guest craves, or to find a record album that someone hopes to hear.

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“They will come to us and say, ‘I want (to rent) a red Ferrari Testarossa and I don’t want to have more than 5,000 kilometers on the car,’ ” Beriker said. “Or they will say, ‘I want (a Mercedes-Benz) 560SL, black, and I want to have not more than 300 miles on it.

“We don’t ask why. . . . We manage it.”

Howard Hughes lived in one of the bungalows for 11 years.

The larger hotels--the Beverly-Wilshire, the Beverly Hilton and, just outside the city limits, the Century Plaza--are focal points of Beverly Hills’ awesome philanthropic efforts. Fund-raising dinners typically draw 800 guests at $200 a plate, week in, week out, for causes ranging from cancer research to political campaigns.

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The Jewish Federation Council, which raises $50 million a year in Los Angeles County to fund a variety of charities, draws at least 10% of that from the relatively tiny city, said spokesman Ron Rieder.

“Our contributions range from $1 to six figures . . . ,” he said. “There’s just so much wealth there it’s unbelievable.”

Increasingly, new money has poured in from overseas, particularly from Iran and, more recently, Japan. Today more than 40% of Beverly Hills schoolchildren are foreign-born, half of those from Iran. Real estate agent Gila Yashari, a one-time Iranian beauty contestant, has taken to videotaping expensive properties for clients who know very little about Beverly Hills--except that, soon, they will live there.

“People who spend $10 million, half the time they won’t even see the house they’re buying,” she said. “They hear about Beverly Hills and that’s it--it’s sold.”

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Among the extremely rich, self-indulgence often runs amok. Women have been known to dye their poodles pink or blue to match the color scheme of a party. Caterer Giovanni Bolla recalls seeing 45 limousines at the first large bash he handled 12 years ago.

A more recent event was staged in a rented mansion that once belonged to actress Gloria Swanson. Bolla covered half the pool with a dance floor. On the tennis court he erected a 45-foot pole festooned with $50,000 worth of red, white and blue flashing lights. Twelve bars were set up, serving brand-name liquor, and lifts and chains were used to hoist a dozen massive ice carvings into place, one of Mt. Rushmore. Preparations for the $40,000 event took a week--as did the cleanup.

But the result was that dizzying sense of affluence, that fabulous and breathtaking magic, that is Beverly Hills.

“It was,” said Bolla, “unbelievable.”

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Even the human body becomes a creative canvas for aesthetic improvement. Scores of plastic surgeons in town specialize in the decorative shaping of nearly every anatomical part, including eyelids.

Attitudes become jaded. The buyer of a new Rolls-Royce in Beverly Hills generally keeps the car no more than five years, racking up 10,000, maybe 15,000 miles, before trading it in, said Peter Cloke, general manager of Gregg Motors Rolls-Royce of Beverly Hills.

“People become a little bit bored with the color,” he explained. “They’ve looked at the car for long enough.”

Not everyone is impressed with such extravagance. Like the silent Indian in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the hired servants tend to nod and obey, forming unspoken impressions.

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Gloria Lopez, 37, a single mother who speaks limited English, was a maid for a time in one palatial mansion. Like most maids, who typically earn $350 a week, she stayed in the workplace during the week, as did her young daughter. They returned on weekends to an apartment in North Hollywood.

Among other duties, Lopez was the keeper of the woman’s closet, a cavern where she sorted dresses by color and kept 60 pairs of shoes lined up like marching soldiers--"high heels with high heels, boots with boots.”

Although she spoke kindly of her former employers, Lopez found it an alien world, one she was glad to leave come week’s end.

“I’d say, ‘Home sweet home,’ ” she recalled.

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One veteran butler, requesting anonymity, spoke harshly of a world populated by what he called arrogant, self-centered people, their lives frequently marred by drug abuse.

“These people are monsters--no morals, no scruples, no one cares about anybody else,” the butler said. “There are definitely some exceptions, but as a whole . . . the people I know (here) are either weird or rude or a combination of both.”

As children play with dolls and games, Dr. Ada Horwich, a Beverly Hills psychological therapist, watches from another room, hidden behind a two-way mirror. Often with a parent or two, she observes firsthand, as a scientist in a laboratory might, the anxiety and frustration on the faces of the young.

A few are hyperactive. Some crave attention or cheat at games or abuse their toy dolls. Some 7- and 8-year-olds regress to baby-talk and pacifiers.

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The little playroom horrors make it clear that the rich do not always live happily ever after, Horwich said. Children, in particular, often suffer emotional problems in Beverly Hills, more so than in most other communities.

The offspring of brilliant, successful people are themselves expected to be brilliant and successful. They are taught to hide their emotions, to bury insecurities behind a wall of self-assurance. They learn to be competitive about cars, clothes, hairstyles, test scores, dates, personal appearance.

“Bright, sensitive children become this facade,” Horwich said. “They get praised for their accomplishments, but the real person inside never gets spoken to. These are children who are lost, who can’t find themselves. . . . It’s heartbreaking.”

Worse yet, super-achieving parents are often too busy to communicate with their children, or the family is shattered by divorce. “It’s not unusual for children to be left with maids who literally let them do almost anything short of burning down the house,” said psychiatrist Brian P. Jacks.

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Nanny Cindi Seward was hired to care for young children in a home so massive that she had her own wing, complete with an elegant kitchen, dining room and fully stocked refrigerator. But the job ended painfully after only a month; the two children rebelled so violently, trying to win their parents’ attention, that it seemed they wanted “to murder the nanny,” Seward recalled.

“I don’t know why (the parents) wanted kids,” she said with disbelief. “I think the kids are in therapy now.”

Acutely aware of how they fit in--or do not fit in--even many adults suffer. To the world they show one face, but inside they compare themselves unfavorably to more successful neighbors. Beverly Hills psychiatrists say they frequently treat depression, anxiety attacks, eating disorders and sexual dysfunction.

Fear of failure is heightened in such a town, a striving, assertive place where everyone seems to have connections in politics, business and community groups. So intricately woven is the gossip grapevine that one woman complained, “You can’t even cheat on your husband.”

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Joe Bradley knows different. Hectic careers, travel and an emphasis on glitz and self-indulgence lead naturally into divorce, drug abuse and affairs, said the private detective, owner of Superior Investigations.

For Bradley, Beverly Hills truly is a land of opportunity. He has spent 10 years moving through the town’s traffic in an unmarked car, trolling the underside. He has tracked rich men who were found to be providing their mistresses with cars and apartments . . . neglected wives involved in romantic entanglements with gardeners and hairdressers . . . prostitutes . . . dissolute parents drinking their way through bitter custody battles . . . spouses locked in divorce suits attempting to hide millions of dollars in assets.

At $45 an hour, Bradley has tracked suspected infidels out of state, even out of the country. He has worked for paranoid men who--no matter what, and for no apparent reason--always believe they are being followed. In fact, he has followed a few such men himself--just to make sure that no one else was.

“These rich businessmen, their lives are all messed up,” he said.

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Alex Vinay, a 16-year-old sophomore, sat on a wall outside the campus of Beverly Hills High School, decrying the town’s prodigal reputation. He finds it difficult to admit he’s from Beverly Hills.

“People think you’re a snob,” he said. "(They think) you spend money all over the place.”

He is matter-of-fact about owning a car--a $20,000 Audi. “I liked it, I guess, and my dad bought it.”

At the high school, certain privileges are expected. Nearly every upper-class student owns some sort of vehicle, typically a late-model Honda, Jeep or BMW. (The standing joke is that the teachers’ lot is easy to find--it’s the one with the old cars.) The cafeteria is run by the Marriott Corp., offering selections that range from bagels and salads to hamburgers and pizza.

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But some students appreciate it more than others. Senior Nick Koskoff, 17, the owner of a new Ford Bronco, said his goal after graduating is to get out of Beverly Hills. He described the people as gossipy, materialistic and phony.

“I don’t like it here too much,” he said.

Senior Guy Oseary talked differently: “I’m honored to graduate from Beverly Hills High. I like it here.” His plans? “I’m starting a record label. I work for a rapper--his name’s Ice-T.”

At the schools, all young Beverly Hills residents, rich or poor, are given a chance to excel--a birthright the town has aggressively guarded. Seventeen oil wells on the high school campus pumped enough of Jed Clampett’s Texas Tea to carry the school district through state educational funding cuts in the 1970s.

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As the price of crude oil fell, city government stepped in. A lopsided agreement was drawn up calling for the city to rent school facilities at deliberately exorbitant rates. The school district makes available athletic fields for use by city recreational programs, for example. In return, the district receives rental fees that will total $4.6 million this year alone.

The money helps to keep class sizes small--about 10 students fewer than those in Los Angeles--while paying for additional counselors, music teachers and more.

A strike by Beverly Hills teachers last fall ended when parents stepped in, pledging $600,000 toward salaries.

Despite the strike, the report card for the school district is strictly summa cum laude: 91st- to 99th-percentile rankings in all subjects and at all grade levels, based on statewide exams. No fewer than 94% of high school graduates go on to college.

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“There’s no other high school in the country that sends that many people to college,” Mayor Max Salter said. “It’s a spectacular number.”

Ellen Byrens called the maid to serve coffee cake and gazed out the window overlooking her pool and the city below.

The “hysteria” of these old women living up in the hills rankles her, she said. As chairwoman of the city’s Fine Arts Committee, she still burns over the way fearful homeowners rose up, many years ago, to defeat plans to place the Hirshhorn art collection in the Greystone Mansion, a colossal, 55-room structure that still sits vacant--a civic white elephant.

For all that it has, Beverly Hills is without a single museum, concert hall or sports arena.

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“Beverly Hills, in my opinion, is a cultural wasteland,” Byrens said.

But after 40 years, she wouldn’t live anywhere else. It is not just the fact that she can call the mayor at home, or that friends pass and wave in their cars, or that, if she needs money for a phone call, she can stop in any number of shops on Rodeo Drive. Nor is it the kindness that neighbors showed--some of whom she hardly knew--after her son was killed 11 years ago.

The magic of Beverly Hills goes beyond all that. It is an intangible quality, a series of gestures over cappuccino, an iridescent evening in a lighted garden.

“The quality of life here,” she said, “is wonderful.”

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Condominium owner Burtman calls the town “a fairyland . . . absolutely beautiful. Once you’ve tasted the good life, it’s hard to get used to the other things.”

Those who leave the city generally return, or they try to take a part of it with them.

Jewelry salesman Sid Klein recalled a wealthy German industrialist who once visited Rodeo Drive with his beautiful young wife. At Klein’s store, they eagerly snapped up costly trinkets to the tune of $300,000 and, on the way out, spied a $90,000 diamond necklace in the window, which the wife also wanted.

Irritated, the industrialist stalked out.

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Two days later, he called from New York, insisting that Klein and his wife bring the necklace, posthaste. Airline tickets were waiting, as was a limousine at the airport in New York and a luxury hotel suite. The Kleins delivered the diamond necklace secretly, and the industrialist concealed it from his wife until late the same night when, in the privacy of their own suite, he hid the treasure in the bottom of her champagne glass.

Klein laughed.

“Now that,” he said, “is savoir-faire.”


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