Monthly Archives: April 2005

When it first appeared in the New York Times several days back, I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to say anything about “The Mystery of Hollywood’s Dead Republican”.

Then Val Holley, author of the invaluable Mike Connolly and the Manly Art of Hollywood Gossip” dropped me a line:

“I only noticed the big piece on him in yesterday’s NY Times — once again, here was a high-flying, coke-addled “gay Republican political operative.” What with Arthur Finkelstein, Gucky, and countless others, is anyone doing a book on this? Is the public too jaded to care anymore? I realize there have been other books, including “God’s Bullies,” about this schizoid phenomenon, which dates back at least to Roy Cohn. But this fresh spate of awfulness seems to cry out for a well-done book. I don’t want to do a book on it, but someone should. Would you? Perhaps your keenest interests lie elsewhere at present. Maybe David Brock should be sentenced to write it.”

Well maybe he should. But “inconvient” and/or “messy” passings are a Hollywood tradition, as scribes as notorious as Kenneth Anger, and scrupulous as Gavin Lambert have come to note over the years. And so in its own semi-matter-of-fact way does the first paragraph of David M. Halbfinger and Dennis McDougal’s piece:

On the morning of Saturday, Feb. 26, a day before the Academy Awards, the actress Carrie Fisher woke up in her Beverly Hills home next to the lifeless body of a gay Republican political operative named R. Gregory Stevens.

Thus ended one of the more improbable friendships that Hollywood and Washington have known – and a globe-trotting, adventurous, but ultimately debilitating existence that might be fodder for a Tinseltown thriller, if it only had a satisfying resolution.

You mean like the one for Chinatown? Naw, this is a lot closer to Short Cuts

Before its abrupt end, Mr. Stevens’s journey had taken him from the beaches of San Clemente, Calif., and the slopes of Sun Valley, Idaho, all the way up the Republican ranks to a job in the first Bush White House at age 26. And it launched him on a jet-setting career as a political fixer manipulating elections in backrooms and palaces from Costa Rica to Croatia, Thailand to Togo, South Korea to the former Soviet Union.

Along the way, he survived disease in Africa and shrapnel in a leg in either the Middle East or the Balkans, depending on whom you believe, and he somehow acquired a mysterious piece of metal – this an autopsy confirmed – in the back of his skull.

“He thought he was invincible,” Ms. Fisher said in an interview. “The way he died, it was like Patton dying in a car accident.”

Or better still like that most legendary of all Gay Republicans Lawrence of Arabia

At long last, Mr. Stevens, in the months leading up to his demise, was growing tired of his hard-driving life, and he was talking to Ms. Fisher about slowing down, traveling less and maybe building himself a room on her estate.

His life ceased, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s report, when the cocaine and the prescription narcotic oxycodone in Mr. Stevens’s system overwhelmed his already enlarged and diseased heart. Ms. Fisher, upon hearing from a doctor friend of the coroner’s conclusions, sounded comforted to learn that toxicology levels indicated Mr. Stevens might not have been noticeably high when he arrived in Los Angeles. “I would’ve seen it if he was on a lot of drugs,” she said on Tuesday. “I know what that looks like. That’s the thing that killed me: I thought, how did I miss this?”

And truth to tell, Carrie Fisher misses very little. Of course, as I note in Open Secret she “missed” the truth about Bryan Lourd. But that may well have been an ill-advised attempt at a Triumph of the Will & Grace on her part. And as Elaine learned on that memorable episode of Seinfeld, it’s not easy to get a man to “change teams.”

Arguably the most noteworthy of all Hollywood “spuds,” the offspring of the “Oh Mine Papa” crooner and the star of the greatest musical ever made , has had an amusing part-time career as an actress, and a really interesting full-time career as a novelist, screenwriter and “script doctor.” But it’s her status as the ultimate Holywood “insider” that most fascinates. I met her in the flesh only once at press junket for one of the Star Wars movies (The Empire Strikes Back, I think) yet as a journalist and L.A. resident she’s never been far from my thoughts as we have friends and acquaintances in common. Back in the early 90’s when the late great Richard Rouilard held “Gaywatch,” the Sunday get-togethers at the house he’d rented right on the boardwalk in Venice, Carrie Fisher’s latest mot juste was invariably related. She knew absolutely everyone, darling. Especially if they were gay.

In fact in the Fruit Fly Pantheon, Fisher’s right up there with Dorothy Dean — at least insofar as influence and “networking” goes. (No one touches Dorothy when it comes to wit.)

Mr. Stevens, 42, had flown into Los Angeles from Belgrade late that Friday night; joined Ms. Fisher at a star-studded pre-Oscars party at the home of her ex-husband, the talent agent Bryan Lourd; and then followed her home a while after she left. The two friends watched Greer Garson in “Mrs. Miniver” on television around midnight, and talked about Ms. Garson’s record seven-minute-long Oscar acceptance speech for that role.

Wagging Hollywood tongues have made much Stevens’ Oscar-season visit its proximity to the arrival of a clutch of Bel-Ami Beauties in town at the same time. But a gay man given to lounging around with Carrie Fisher and watching an old Greer Garson movie isn’t up to “merge with a splurge” at an al fresco orgy, no matter how chic.

When they finally called it a night after 2 a.m., Mr. Stevens’s loud snoring kept Ms. Fisher awake until she got him to roll over, according to the coroner’s report. At 10 a.m., two friends arrived and awakened her for brunch. But when she went to wake Mr. Stevens, she found him unresponsive and cried out to her friends for help

Well at least his passing was peaceful.

The abbreviated coverage of his death hardly did Mr. Stevens justice: some newspapers confused him with another political consultant in Washington by the same name, and lifted paragraphs from a company bio hyping Mr. Stevens’s minor role in recruiting Hollywood celebrities to support the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000.

How rude.

In truth, Mr. Stevens was not much of a celebrity-wrangler, friends recalled – though that likely had more to do with the Democratic leanings of many in the entertainment industry than any shortcomings of his.
Even in Ms. Fisher’s famously topsy-turvy world – as a writer she has tapped her drug and alcohol addictions and failed marriage to an industry power broker to create autobiographical fictions – her friendship with Mr. Stevens was jarring on its face.

Maybe. But only up to a point. He was a gay man who needed a friend like Carrie Fisher. Perhaps for reasons that aren’t easily encapsulated.

The grandson of a German Baptist minister, Mr. Stevens, came from conservative California stock, and had worked for every winning Republican presidential campaign since Ronald Reagan’s re-election. Ms. Fisher, 48, is a stalwart Democrat who has contributed to the campaigns of Republican b�tes noires ranging from Bella Abzug to Hillary Rodham Clinton to Tom Daschle.

Yet Mr. Stevens’s tales of intrigue and exploits the world over captivated Ms. Fisher after she met him on a plane about eight years ago, somewhere on the way to a dude ranch in Nevada. And Mr. Stevens’s tensions with his own family, some of whom remained unaccepting of his homosexuality and appalled by his drug use, according to friends, may have struck another chord.

“He fell into my life as though he’d always been there,” Ms. Fisher said in her first lengthy interview about Mr. Stevens.

Props to Carrie for being there.

As a boy growing up near the beach in San Clemente, things always seemed to happen to Mr. Stevens that no one else could imagine, his aunt, Normajean Hinders, recalled: he once was followed home by a seal that simply refused to go back out to sea.

His parents divorced while Mr. Stevens, the youngest of four brothers, was in high school, she said, and he headed to the University of Southern California. But he left after two years to become an intern for Drew Lewis, the former federal Transportation Secretary, who was a ranking official in the 1984 Reagan re-election campaign. He would not get his bachelor’s degree until the mid-1990’s, Ms. Hinders said.

Mr. Stevens followed Mr. Lewis into the private sector as his assistant but returned to politics in the Bush-Quayle campaign in 1988. That led to a job as the White House’s liaison to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he helped find jobs for political appointees.
He spent three years at HUD, interrupted by a stint back in California at the state Republican party, where he worked on Pete Wilson’s 1990 gubernatorial campaign but made no secret of his desire to get back to Washington.
In 1992, Mr. Stevens, 30, went to work for the Republican lobbying powerhouse of Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly.

Roger Stone, a former partner, remembered Mr. Stevens as a “very engaging, fun guy to talk to” and a “quintessential staff man, very thorough and focused.”
Early on, Mr. Stevens made clear he wanted to work overseas, Mr. Stone said, and the firm, which played a behind-the-scenes role in elections in Angola, Kenya, Nigeria, Thailand and the Philippines, among other countries, was happy to oblige.

“It’s hard to find people, men or women, who are willing to just uproot and go to a foreign country for six months,” Mr. Stone said. “And he was willing to do that.”

That’s always been the great gay advantage. No wife or kids or “responibilities” to tie you down. You can get up and take off for anywhere at a moment’s notice. You ca ingratiate yourself into all sorts of places and situations. Social-climbing, by other means.

The C.V. outlined above is most remindful of the late, unlamented Terry Dolan — save for the fact that Stevens apparently wasn’t an ideologue. Just an operator.

Mr. Stevens stayed at Black, Manafort just two years before setting up his own consulting company based in Sun Valley, where his family had a vacation home. Several years later, missing the stability of a large firm, he joined the equally powerful Barbour Griffith & Rogers, whose lead partner was Haley Barbour, now the governor of Mississippi. (Mr. Barbour, through a spokesman, declined to comment; a spokesman for the lobbying firm promised that a partner, Lanny Griffith, would answer questions, but Mr. Griffith did not return calls by press time.)

But from the early 1990’s on, Mr. Stevens’s home was really an airplane seat, friends said. He would disappear for weeks or months at a time, returning with ever more tales that seemed too fantastic to be true:

There was that time in Togo, when Mr. Stevens had to tell President Gnassingb� Eyad�ma that he was going to lose an election. “So the president told him to get the hell out of the country, and then he canceled the election,” said one of Mr. Stevens’s colleagues in international political intrigue.

Or the time in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, when the same colleague, who insisted on anonymity to protect continuing relationships, dispatched Mr. Stevens to work on the election to succeed President Eduard A. Shevardnadze. “The problem with the way the election came down was that Shevardnadze’s successor, Mikhail Saakashvili, was so popular, and the opponents were so outgunned, that it was almost going to be a flawed election,” the man said. “There had to be the semblance of a free election. And Saakashvili, who was educated here, looked like an American tool. So to help the Russians have less heartburn, we sent Greg over to help one of his opponents.”

Or the time in the Philippines, when Mr. Stevens told friends he lived with Imelda Marcos for three months – and listened to her stories of swimming nude with Mao Tse-tung – while urging her to support his hopeless presidential candidate. “He got Imelda to get into the race on the understanding that she’d dive out of the election and support his candidate in the final two weeks,” Ms. Fisher said Mr. Stevens recalled.

“The guy was brilliant,” said Neil C. Livingstone, chief executive of GlobalOptions, a risk management and security firm, who worked with Mr. Stevens in various corners of the world and Republican politics. “It takes someone else a week to figure out all the angles, but Greg would walk in and two hours later he’d say, ‘This is what’s going to happen; this is what we have to do.’ “

Here Stevens comes off as a cross between Arthur Finkelstein and Bruce Chatwin

Mr. Livingstone said Mr. Stevens had compiled a record of 18 victories for presidents or prime ministers in 26 elections worldwide.
In between his intensive foreign assignments, Mr. Stevens seemed no less driven when socializing with his stateside friends – whether chartering his annual tour bus to the Virginia Gold Cup horse races in The Plains, throwing parties in his postage-stamp-size apartment in a luxury Pennsylvania Avenue building, or just rustling up a dinner date from among the attractive women who always seemed to surround him.

“He always wanted to be busy,” said Christine Samuelian, a State Department officer who got her first job in Washington through Mr. Stevens in 1989. “He’d call up and say, ‘Let’s ride bikes on the waterfront,’ or ‘I’ll come over and cook you dinner.’ He loved being with people. He had a lot of friends, and he loved to be doing stuff all the time. It was through him that I experienced Washington.”

This constant motion and “at the center of things” quality was there from the start as “Gay Patriot,” Dan notes on his blog.

And then there’s this:

Mr. Stevens had at least one long-term romance, with James Huguley, whom he met in the Bush-Quayle campaign, according to several friends, who said their breakup years ago devastated Mr. Stevens. Mr. Huguley, now an actor living in Los Angeles, said he was comfortable acknowledging the relationship but declined to discuss it. He said he had remained in touch with Mr. Stevens all along, though, and had seen him as recently as December.

I’d be devestated if I lost a Babe like this myself!

Until Mr. Stevens inherited a large sum two years ago – it was supposed to be his at age 30, friends said, but his family had kept it from him for an extra 10 years for reasons that are unclear – he was plagued by chronic money problems, friends said.

His taste for cocaine – acquired at age 18, his brother Grant, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, told investigators – may have had something to do with those troubles.
Yet, to a person, even those who knew or suspected that Mr. Stevens was using drugs said he managed to hold himself together well enough to deflect their efforts to help.
Charlie Black, lead partner at Black, Manafort, said many at the firm speculated that Mr. Stevens was using drugs, but that “the guy showed up for work and did his job.”
“We all knew he had a substance abuse problem,” said a former colleague, who insisted on anonymity to avoid alienating Mr. Stevens’s survivors. “Some days he was ricocheting off the walls. There’d be these telltale signs – crossing and uncrossing his legs, his eyes darting around the room. We had no illusions. But he was in denial. He was very open about his gayness but not about his substance abuse.”

Now this is really interesting. A generation ago it would have been the other way around.

Rather than releasing him from the pressure to work, Mr. Stevens’s inheritance may have given him the means to “afford all the drugs he wanted,” the former colleague said.
Like many of his friends, Ms. Fisher said she had tried several approaches to get Mr. Stevens to face his drug problem. But she also said that Mr. Stevens was typically so disheveled, jet-lagged and red-eyed after arriving at her home from halfway around the world that even she could not tell if he was high or sober.

Mr. Stevens had been exceptionally fit, friends say: he grew up surfing and playing water polo, was an avid biker and weightlifter, and introduced in-line skating to his Washington friends before any of them had heard of Rollerblades.
But travel and drug use took a heavy toll. One former boss who saw Mr. Stevens six months ago said he looked like he had put on 50 pounds and hadn’t slept in three days.

In November, 10 days after the election, he was arrested in Washington for possession of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia, according to the coroner’s report. Later that month, the report indicated, he showed up high at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Sort of the Paul Bowles version of Ordinary People.

Mr. Stevens had made some half-hearted forays into entertainment business over the years. For instance, in 1999 he made some legislative introductions for recording artists fighting copyright law. The next year, he helped lead the Bush-Cheney entertainment industry committee, which was charged with recruiting celebrities. Through Mr. Barbour and his partner Lanny Griffith, Mr. Stevens’s mentor at the lobbying firm, Mr. Stevens reached out for help to their fellow Mississippian Sam Haskell III, then the television chief of the William Morris talent agency.

“He could be very persuasive,” Mr. Haskell said. Mr. Haskell did his best and helped put together a mixed bag of stars that included Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Reba McEntire, Kelsey Grammer, Drew Carey and Bo Derek.

Not that “mixed.” They’re all Republicans!

Mr. Livingstone, who worked with Mr. Stevens on the committee, said it had actually accomplished little in Hollywood, but had lined up many Nascar drivers and country-western singers to support the Bush campaign.

But Mr. Stevens was trying to go Hollywood in his own distinctively roundabout, far-flung and slightly sketchy way: he was deeply involved in a $20 million project to build low-cost film studios in Belgrade, to take advantage of the rising cost of film production in Serbia.

Cue Matt Welch!

At the time of his death, Mr. Stevens represented Pink Films International, a television production company in Serbia and Montenegro, and had solicited American producers to shoot cheap remakes of 1950’s B-movies in Belgrade. One deal, with the Hollywood producers Craig Baumgarten and Lou Arkoff, fell through, Mr. Baumgarten said, because he suspected Mr. Stevens’s Serbian partners had ties to Slobodan Milosevic.
All the while, Mr. Stevens kept in close contact with Ms. Fisher, speaking every few days by cellphone, and crashing at her Beverly Hills home every time he had a chance to fly home to the United States. There he would catch up on his sleep, and shopping, and hair coloring, or go to the spa for a massage, she said.

Yes, I’m trying to imagine Slobidan Milosevic going to a spa massage with Carrie too.

He did not try to trade on her friendship, Ms. Fisher said – though each year he pleaded with her to help get some of his bosses into the Academy Awards. The weekend he died, in fact, he had flown to Los Angeles to escort two of his firm’s partners to the awards ceremony.

“He knew he couldn’t promise to deliver on bringing me or my friends to the Republicans,” Ms. Fisher said. “But he could on occasion bring his friends here. He wanted me to get all of them into the Oscars – that became a yearly thing. That’s the only time he ever asked me to do anything.”

And so they watched Mrs. Miniver.

I’m sure he’d already seen Shampoo