It's a trophy wife world; the men merely live in it

Times Staff Writer

There among the rhinestone-encrusted Miu Mius, patent leather Dolce & Gabbanas, Yves Saint Laurent pumps and Fendi sandals of the Beverly Hills Barneys New York shoe salon, Heather Thomas was standing up for what she believes in.

"It's an exploration of a much-maligned demographic," the former "Fall Guy" actress and now famed political salon hostess said of her new novel, "Trophies," whose prologue -- and on Tuesday night, its launch party -- takes place in the shoe salon. "I wanted to debunk the myth of trophy wife as dizzy bimbo. It's a commedia dell'arte stock character, but I have yet to meet one."

There are, she acknowledged, witches and bimbos in every demographic. But those glamorously vacant beauties draped uselessly across the arms of the rich and powerful men who married them: Thomas would have us say goodbye to that stereotype. Wearing a bright blue dress with a frilly collar she snagged from the Barneys display window about an hour before, and speaking in a voice growing raspier from every "I'm so glad you came," she succinctly redefined "trophy wife": "Women of means who are blessed with the privilege of service. That's the greatest luxury of all.

"Schools, public parks, disease research facilities, social causes and politicians all get off the ground with their seed money. Men aren't going to give you money until you've got all your brochures and your board and directors. You can write these women off, but they may be re-writing your legislation." (A portion of Tuesday's proceeds went to the Rape Foundation in Santa Monica.)

A beachy read with a pointed point of view, her Hollywood tale follows titular trophy Marion Zane through the at-times dog-eat-dog world of five-star fundraising. Though it's far from a tell-all: "I would never say something bad about someone in print," Thomas, a Democratic activist and philanthropist, flatly declared before clarifying, "except George W. Bush."

Hollywood may have more to fear from Thomas' mother, Gladdy Lou Ryder, who joked that she recognized some of the characters. "There are times when you're reading it and you're thinking, 'Have I met that person?' It leaves a lot of questions."

As Champagne flutes, bottled water and sliders made the rounds, Thomas explained how it came to this. The author of movie and TV scripts, she turned to fiction after becoming particularly frustrated with the progress of a certain pilot, which she did not name, on the now-defunct UPN. "We put our hearts and souls into it, and we got pretty beat up," she said. Then "Starter Wife" author Gigi Levangie Grazer stepped in: "Gigi told me to write a novel." The activist said she put everything but her family aside to do so, holing up for seven months and finishing it just before the presidential campaign got fully underway.

"I remember having a conversation with Barack Obama, saying, I have to finish this thing or they're going to sue me," she said.

At the signing table, Rebecca De Mornay leaned close to offer her congratulations. Flash bulbs greeted the arrival of former Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd and his wife, Selma. Co-host Levangie Grazer circulated while Arianna Huffington co-hosted from afar -- the Web doyenne had to bow out to attend a family affair. Gotham Group President and Chief Executive Ellen Goldsmith-Vein was on hand to discuss "Trophies' " film prospects. "We've been approached by a few people," she said.

Does Goldsmith-Vein corroborate Thomas' thesis that trophy wives are the new power brokers? "That's what I'm telling you, babe," she said. "These women are going places."

Environmentalist Laurie David showed up in a satiny gold Stella McCartney dress. "She gave it to me to wear," David said. "I'm not usually this dressed up." En route to another party highlighting McCartney's fashionable eco-consciousness, David was making it a two-cause night.

"I don't really have an opinion on trophy wives," David said. "I'm the wrong person to ask. I don't know any. Most of the women I know are environmentalists. They have a lot of brains, they're passionate and they raise tons of money.

"Heather's one of the smartest women I know. Half the time I have no idea what she's talking about, she's so smart. And beautiful. So you can be both."

As the evening wound down, Thomas wrapped up an interview with a crew from Canal+ (French documentarians are following a few of Hollywood's more powerful, politically active women) and sat down for a quieter chat with Andi Matheny, a friend from her UCLA days. "Do you think at first people underestimated you as a trophy wife?" Matheny asked.

"I hope they did," she said. "It sounds so glamorous."


For The Record Los Angeles Times Saturday, May 10, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction Heather Thomas book: An article in Friday's Calendar section on the book party for Heather Thomas' novel referred to Army Archerd as a former Daily Variety columnist. Archerd now writes a blog for Daily Variety.
Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World