It's well over 90 degrees in Encino, but guitarist Steve Vai gamely suits up in his bright yellow beekeeper jumpsuit and veil. Three days ago, he was flying back from a performance in Japan. Today, two newspaper photographers swarm around him as he pulls the yellow sleeves over his tattooed arm. Nearby, TV producer Don Colliver fits a veil over his head and tucks his jeans into his socks to keep out angry honeybees. Inside, Vai's wife, Pia, oversees the bottling of honey.
It's honey harvest day at Vai's palatial home in the San Fernando Valley (last year their harvest yielded more than 900 pounds), and a team from "Celebrity Hobbies," a new show on cable's Do-It-Yourself Network, has arrived to document this celebrity's beekeeping pastime. Vai, 42, was a guitar prodigy who worked with Frank Zappa as a young man, toured with the band Whitesnake in the 1980s and eventually embarked on a successful solo career.
The guitarist-turned-beekeeper has spent the better part of an hour sitting on a stool in his guitar room sharing his six-year hobby with the camera crew. Vai knows how to capture a swarm. ("Bang a pot near the swarm until the queen lands," he said. The swarm follows.) He knows the difference between English and Italian bees. ("Italians are the best. They're so mellow.") He's enraptured by the queen. ("Honeybees have always seemed beautiful to me. If you look at their faces ... with those big almond eyes.")
A group of about 25 flush-faced friends with sticky fingers crowd their kitchen and dining room, extracting the substance from honeycombs and pouring it into bottles that will go out to Vai's circle at Christmas or be auctioned off on his Web site to raise money for charity.
Vai leads the media out to a shady corner of his yard. "So here we go," he says with a wave of his gloved hand.
Everyone is suited up, but the TV crew seems a bit nervous. It hesitantly follows Vai to a cool patch under a giant tree, where the bees live in three wood boxes that look like filing cabinets. "You can get pretty close as long as you don't get in the flight path," he explains. "Where is the flight path, Steve?" asks Colliver.
The crew moves closer. The sound man detects a problem. "They're not buzzing," he says. Vai pauses over the hive. He has played host to the crew for well over an hour now. Everyone is sweating. He offers his best explanation for the colony of Italian honeybees. "This is really a very mellow hive."
On a recent night in Hollywood, Peter Bart, Variety's editor in chief, and Peter Guber, founder of Mandalay Entertainment, took the stage to talk about show business and their new book, "Shoot Out" (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2002). The duo, who also teach a class at UCLA, addressed about 100 people seated in a lecture hall on Sunset Boulevard. "Shoot Out," they said, is a "how come" book, rather than a "how to"--but "how to," as in how to break into the world of Guber and Bart, was topic A for their audience at the event, sponsored by the Harvard Independent Film Group.
At times the talk resembled a class on the political economy of Hollywood, as Guber, especially, lamented a lack of risk-taking in the industry. "We know the aptitude is there," he said. "Where's the attitude?" After all, he said, "we're in the emotional transportation business."
A lot of listeners, though, just wanted to be in business.
"How can actors make themselves into a franchise?" one listener inquired. (The two Peters offered no shortcuts. It takes talent, they said.) In the lobby after the talk, several people took the opportunity to introduce themselves with a quick pitch as they got their books signed.
Standing outside, three Harvard graduates considered the crowd.
"There were a lot of dumb questions," said Cat Deakins, a freelance photographer. "Definitely extension-school people."
Her friends, Sandy Stringfellow and Milly Diaz, giggled. "It's totally about networking," said Stringfellow. "Totally," echoed Diaz. "That's what Harvard's all about: flagrant self-promotion," Stringfellow said.
"I'm sure there's some of that: 'Could you sign my book, and by the way, here's my script,' " she said. "Hollywood is the schmooziest place I've ever been."
At the reception, held across the street at Fabiolus Cafe, Arthur Roberts had come with a producer friend who wanted to hobnob, Roberts said. "I don't need it," he said, explaining he had 37 years of movie and TV credits. "I'm just hanging out."
As Bart arrived, he was quickly cornered by those wanting a photo or seeking his advice. So what could he impart?
"In so many ways, there's something impenetrable about show business, and yet there are so many ways to penetrate it."
Three New Yous
More notes from the decline of the empire: ABC is looking for two women and one man for "Ultimate Makeover," a new show that, according to ABC.com, "will make dreams come true for three special people, and will encompass plastic surgery by a prominent Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, as well as the skills of a dream team of hair, makeup and wardrobe people and personal trainers."
Larry King, Richard Dreyfuss and Alan Thicke attending the Jackie Mason show at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills this week.
City of Angles runs Tuesday and Friday. E-mail: angles@latimes. .com.