The Classics at Costco


It was a typically frantic Saturday afternoon at the Costco in Culver City. The parking lot was at a standstill, and crowds of harried consumers pushed overloaded shopping carts. The only sign that something was afoot was a TV camera crew huddled near the entrance.

Then, cellist Yo-Yo Ma stepped from a sleek black sedan with composer John Williams behind him. They studied their surroundings. The two musicians had taken a break from rehearsing for their Sunday night performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to promote “Yo-Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams,” a Sony Classical release.

“I know this isn’t what you’re used to doing at a Costco,” said one member of the Sony Classical team. “But have a good time doing it.”


Suddenly, a young voice pierced the crowd. “Cellists rock!” Ma looked up to see a small boy in an oversized T-shirt with his fist in the air. The cellist paused to offer a handshake and a smile. “I agree with you,” he said quietly.

Rounding a corner, the two musicians spotted their fans. Hundreds of people awaiting autographs and handshakes were lined up near stacks of bestsellers, vacuum cleaners and household appliances. (Event coordinators estimated that 2,000 people lined up for the musicians during their two-hour appearance.) At the sight of Williams and Ma, they broke into applause.

House painter Greg Hanson, the first person in line, had driven in from the Seattle area and arrived four hours early to get Williams to sign a movie poster for “The Empire Strikes Back,” the 1980 film that Williams scored. Near the line’s end, David Wertheimer, 14, carried a Stradivarius he wanted Ma to autograph.

“It has absolutely no value,” he said, “but I decided to just have it signed, probably just bring up the value.” Costco’s no Carnegie Hall, but the Washington state-based members-only discount store is one of the world’s largest CD retailers, and the Culver City store is the company’s third busiest.

That was enough to occasion Williams’ first visit to the discount chain. “This experience ... is all new to me,” he said. “I’ve heard of this institution, but I’ve never been anywhere near it. Amazing to see what’s done here.”

Minnelli and Her Friends at Skybar

Liza Minnelli and David Gest commandeered the Mondrian Hotel’s Skybar on Thursday night for a piano party and lavish dinner to celebrate their recent engagement.


A healthy crowd of media and autograph seekers turned out for the event, but many of them were too young to recognize the famous guests, who glittered on the A-list years ago.

Former Andy Warhol Factory habitue Sally Kirkland was among the most visible guests to stop for reporters. She donned a metallic gold wrap and a vividly pattern skirt and carried an unwrapped engagement gift for Minnelli: a small statue that appeared to be a Hindu goddess. “I didn’t get it at Tiffany’s like I was supposed to,” she said. “[But] I thought she might like this for her collection. I don’t know which goddess it is, but I thought it might be a spiritual blessing.”

Behind her, 1960s “it” couple Paula Prentiss and director Richard Benjamin spoke fondly of Minnelli. “We’ve known them both a long time,” Benjamin told a reporter.

Rodney Dangerfield grew impatient when Minnelli and Gest were fashionably late. “They’ll be married three years by the time she shows up!” a friend advised: “She’s never been on time in her life!”

As if on cue, the petite singer and her fiance emerged from the press line. Both were decked all in black. It was well past sundown, but Gest wore dark sunglasses. Minnelli was immediately enveloped in hugs and kisses. “You look great!” floated on the crowd as they made their way to their table, which was positioned in front of a small stage and a baby grand piano.

As guests ate dinner, R&B; vocalist James Ingram serenaded the couple. Later, Minnelli took the stage and with characteristic flair belted out “I Love a Piano” and “New York, New York.”


By 11 p.m. waiters were clearing dinner plates and the party was winding down. Minnelli looked around, musing on the evening, and summed it up in a word: “Sensational!”


Brown Considers

Appealing Verdict

James Brown is considering an appeal of a jury’s Wednesday verdict that he must pay $40,000, which represents a year’s salary, to his former employee Lisa Ross Agbalaya for wrongfully terminating her from her job managing the West Coast operations of James Brown Enterprises Inc.

Agbalaya’s lawsuit demanded $2 million for sexual harassment, emotional distress and wrongful termination, claiming that Brown fired her after she refused his sexual advances. The jury cleared Brown of sexual harassment.

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