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This story first appeared in the Feb. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Maybe the siren call of those McCarthy Salads at The Polo Lounge is just too tempting. Less than a year after Hollywood loudly boycotted The Beverly Hills Hotel after its owner, the sultan of Brunei, implemented the anti-gay Sharia law in his country, some industryites are creeping back. Making it safe: visitors who either are out or maintain close ties to the LGBT community.
Among them are producer Megan Ellison (she sat at the downstairs coffee shop Jan. 28), Miley Cyrus (she stopped by with boyfriend Patrick Schwarzenegger on Jan. 10) and Dita Von Teese (who Instagrammed a shot of herself there Feb. 1).
Meanwhile, on Feb. 12, top stylist Cameron Silver, who actually helped launch the boycott, sent out an invite to a trunk show he is co-hosting on March 11 with Irena Medavoy for socialite Ann Dexter-Jones at the sultan’s other L.A. luxury lodging, Hotel Bel-Air, which — perhaps due to its secreted geography in the hills — never received the same attention as its sibling. “Apparently, our international exposure and awareness among the public has led to the sultan not implementing these barbaric laws,” Silver tells THR, adding that the trunk show “will inevitably shine light on this once again and reignite the conversation.” (Kerry Brodie of Human Rights Campaign, the primary organizational driver behind the boycott, shoots back at Silver: “Frankly, any suggestion that he’s somehow putting the brakes on this horrific new penal code strikes me as outrageous and ill-informed.”) Medavoy, in a social diary for THR in January, wrote that she and husband Mike Medavoy had co-hosted a dinner at the Bel-Air Hotel over the holidays, that was attended by Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, Laura Dern, Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone and Starz’s Chris Albrecht.
Some never abandoned the famed Pink Palace, including Russell Crowe, Rose McGowan and Kim Kardashian, framing their patronage as a defense of the hotel’s caught-in-the-crossfire staff. (Bruce Jenner, Kendall Jenner and Justin Bieber have recently been spotted there as well.) And at least one who has dropped by, Stuart Piper, London agent to septuagenarian gay icon George Takei, tells THR he wasn’t aware of the boycott.
HRC, still attempting to enforce the boycott, zeroed in on John Legend for planning to appear at a Feb. 5 party there for luxury magazine L.A. Confidential. He pulled out and his rep denounced the sultan’s “heinous” laws, but the event went on. Selma director Ava DuVernay, Diplo and Common, all three previously confirmed attendees, also failed to show. Guests who did attend included model Petra Nemcova and Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles real estate agent Josh Flagg.
Even among players who aren’t dining there, the ambivalence is palpable. (In January, the Polo Lounge dropped in THR‘s annual ranked survey of Power Lunch restaurants from No. 2 last year to 22 in 2015). Last month, CBS Films’ Terry Press told THR, “I miss it every day.” Added top Gersh agent Leslie Siebert: “If only we could return.”
HRC’s Jason Rahlan considers the high-profile visits anomalies — ones that ongoing advocacy will rein in: “Unconfirmed reports about a half dozen individuals who may or may not have recently gone to the hotel isn’t an effective measurement of anything. If they’re going to the hotel, the odds are they don’t know about the Sultan’s draconian laws. And if we learn they don’t know about them, we’ll follow up with them appropriately.”
Rahlan also pointed to the many events that have abandoned the hotel and show no sign of returning — the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s high-profile Night Before Party, long a fixture at the Beverly Hills Hotel, is happening tonight at the Fox lot. Said Rahlan: “The Beverly Hills Hotel used to be an institution, and as a result of the Sultan’s draconian new laws, it’s radioactive. That hasn’t changed. Look at John Legend’s decision last week to refuse to attend an event that was literally being thrown in his honor. Ask the many prominent citizens, business leaders, philanthropists and elected officials who over the past nine months have taken a principled stand in support of the rights of women and LGBT people. Ask the many respectable organizations who have permanently moved their annual events from the hotel. Are they going back? Has their opinion about the Sultan’s abhorrent new laws changed? Most important, has the opinion of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that these laws could further violence and discrimination against women and LGBT people? The answer to each of these questions is an unequivocal no.”
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