The Tracey Papers
Where other people see burglars under the bed, Tracey Ullman sees possibilities.
Take the Beverly Hills Madam’s bed. Please.
“I love that she kept money underneath her bed,” Ullman says, licking her creative chops. “She never gets up all day. If she ever has to get out of bed, it’s like, ‘Dammit, I’ve got to get out of bed. I’ve got to get dressed.’
“That’s when something major happens that she has to get dressed. She’s very angry because she had to get out of bed today because of some stupid hooker in Venice.”
Fa-la-la. Could that be the sound of a comic character springing full-grown from Ullman’s forehead? Or merely the lovely lilt of someone recounting yesterday’s news?
You may have made the acquaintance of the late Elizabeth “Madam Alex” Adams in the pages of this publication. We here at the mother ship like to consider the newspaper a finished work. But Ullman, proprietress of HBO’s character-fest “Tracey Takes On . . .,” looks at it as raw material.
She even looks at raw material as raw material.
Take her character Fern Rosenthal, the suburban matroness from Long Island. Pretty please.
“I love it when I see [tourists] like her in England,” says the bicontinental Ullman, who spends time in London with her husband-executive producer, Allen McKeown, and two children. “There’s no water pressure--you can’t flush, you know? People can’t really shower, and they can’t really flush the toilet. It’s terrible.”
So that’s why you live in L.A.?
“Yeah. At my house in London, I’m always having these pumps fitted in my shower and trying to get it like American water pressure. That’s why I love it here. It’s the water pressure. It’s the shower and the toilets.”
So no more griping about the freeways.
We are lounging in Ullman’s cavernous office in Santa Monica, where Takes On Productions hangs its hat, as well as its wigs and teeth, a different pointy set for every Traceyfied incarnation.
The room is fairly bare except for a desk, a couch, comedy awards, a full-length mirror and a set painting of the eighth wonder of the world--a woman of a certain age who actually has not had plastic surgery.
“It’s ’66 or ’67, and she looks like she’s got nice-smelling skin and she looks about 45, 50. I just like older women presented in a dignified way, especially in this town where there’s so little respect for anyone over 40. I’m fascinated by age because I’m 38 now.”
Catch it while you can, that flash of the real Ullman, because the actress and writer would rather cede the spotlight to Fern or the snarly, fuzzy-headed Beverly Hills attorney Sydney Kross or even the retired makeup artist Ruby Romaine, for that matter. They and Ullman’s other personae make their bow in her first book, “Tracey Takes On” (Hyperion), shooting off their mouths on various topics the way they do on the show.
In other words, when the Book People approached Ullman to do a celebrity tell-all, she said no and yes.
No, she wouldn’t tell all.
“I’m not gonna say who I saw on drugs, who I saw on the toilet, who’s a bitch, who looks awful in the morning. Until you’re 85. I don’t mix in that sort of stuff because I’m just here for the work.”
But, yes, Sydney would be happy to.
The litigious Sydney on fame: “Fame has come to the legal profession, but we still have one advantage over everyone else. . . . We get to bill for our 15 minutes.”
Boogie Queen: Anyone interested in being able to rock ‘n’ roll when you’re 81?
Here’s some advice: Rock ‘n’ roll until you’re 81.
That’s how “Boogie Woogie” empress Hadda Brooks has managed to maintain both her boogie and her woogie. The pianist-singer is 81 and still boogying.
For cold cash, by the way.
She has an album, “I’ve Got News for You,” coming out on Virgin Records this summer. And she and Charles “Mr. Blues” Brown were pulling in 600 people a night in San Francisco over the holidays. And when she was done with her own woogying, she listened to other people do it, to the tune of five restaurant stops a night.
“It means I can hold it pretty good,” Brooks tells us at a recent press luncheon at the House of Blues honoring Black History Month. The do was done by the performing rights organization Broadcast Music Inc.
Way back when, the L.A. native attracted admirers like Humphrey Bogart and Count Basie, who backed her on a single. And at the moment, we join their ranks. Being out and about as we are, it is imperative that we, too, hold it pretty good. And what exactly is she holding?
“I’m drinking vodka on the rocks,” reports Brooks, who is also one of the first African American women to have her own TV show. “If I don’t take rocks, I take pebbles.”
Chocolate Chippies: Attention all women friends of Henry Jaglom! You are hereby notified that if the indie filmmaker plans to gift you, it will be in the form of Enid Futterman’s new book, “Bittersweet Journey: A Modestly Erotic Novel of Love, Longing and Chocolate” (Viking).
“There’s something so powerful about it and so affecting, it knocked me out and made me think that it was the best gift I could give girlfriends.”
As a friend of Futterman’s and the auteur behind the film “Eating,” Jaglom is more interested than most men in what nutritional substances we gals insert into our mouths.
“I’m always amazed at what a girl I am. That I get it.”
So we were interested to know how big a bite he’d taken out of the first printing.
“Thirty-two so far. That’s just starting. I can hardly wait for Christmas. And I’ve got people’s birthdays marked down.”
We are lounging at the Regency Club in Westwood, where we are surrounded by gourmets, gourmands and chocolate enthusiasts. They are being feted and courted by the American Institute of Wine and Food and Hawaiian Vintage Chocolates, which have joined to fuel a reading of Futterman’s lusciously illustrated novella.
Full disclosure. We too are women who love too much.
Chocolate, that is.
Futterman, a librettist and photographer, explains why. (Just for the record, New Yorker Futterman is a wisp of a size 4, which casts some doubt on her chocolatizing expertise, but we proceed.)
“I wanted to explore this obsession that I have and a lot of women have with chocolate. As little girls, we’re taught to be good girls. We consequently push a very important part of ourselves away, the dark primal wild self that is very, very much a part of what it means to be female.
“We look for it outside of ourselves instead of inside where it really is, so we look for it in relationships with bad boys. And we look for it in good chocolate.”
A belated Valentine’s Day hint: Blow off the bad boy, but keep your paws on the Godiva. If only we’d known.
Brown’s Towns: Jerry Brown likes to spread the wealth around, namely his. If the erstwhile California governor is your idea of tomorrow’s Oakland mayor, you can put your money where his mouth is--but only up to $100.
“Whereas the No. 2 candidate maybe has 190 contributors, I have 1,200. By the election, I’ll probably have 4,000.”
From all over California, that is. Brown’s bid to be the populist of fund-raisers brought him to the plush lands of Beverly Hills-adjacent-hood the other day. He was stumping at a lunch at the home of socialite-investor-art collector Richard Weisman. Brown’s late dad, Pat, and Weisman’s mother, Marcia, had gone to high school together in San Francisco, and their sons are longtime friends.
Which doesn’t necessarily explain why Angelenos should invest in the Oakland mayoral race.
“As Oakland goes,” Brown says, resplendent in Beverly Hills black, “so goes L.A. So goes America. The crisis the president talks about--the public schools, safe cities, welfare reform--that shows up in an urban space. And people feel I have the creativity to do something.”
Oh, yes. There’s another reason people come to pony up:
“Because they’re basically friends of mine.”