Star power sparks an inn-filtration
You'll meet everyone you ever dreamed of meeting on the terrace of your restaurant," a wise man told me one day as my partners and I began plans for our new inn and restaurant in tiny Big Sur, Calif. I smiled. Real celebrities, to me, had always been people who'd really accomplished world-class deeds.Skip to next paragraph
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Over the years I'd met Winston Churchill, Adlai Stevenson, Eleanor Roosevelt. Now those were real heroes. Was I to get excited by hanging out with mere famous faces? Movie stars and that sort? That'll be the day, I sneered to myself.
Fortunately, that glorious day did arrive, and in the nick of time. On the resort's opening day, I was feeling frantic. We were located in the middle of nowhere. A huge mortgage was staring at me. Most of my partners had jumped ship by then, and I was alone on what felt suspiciously like the Titanic.
Although lots of cars drove by, none of them stopped. Our new staff stared at me with only one question on their sad faces, a question for which I had no answer.
I'd grown up in celebrity-laden Beverly Hills, but had never learned the power of pure celebrity. Nor did I understand a phrase I kept hearing: word of mouth. What was that "word of mouth" compared with the money I no longer had to buy ads in glossy magazines? "Everyone knows you have to advertise," I sobbed to a longtime pal one day on the telephone. "I guess we're doomed."
"Oh, no you're not!" she shouted back. She raced up the coast from L.A. to see our new place. She had a warm heart, beauty plus brains, and I showed her around proudly.
"Listen," she finally said, "you're not broke. You're exclusive. You choose not to advertise as a policy. Get it?"
Well, not really. But Candice Bergen knew what she was talking about. Soon enough, she got two friends, Steve McQueen and his wife, actress Ali MacGraw, to come up and stay with us. They were terribly nice, kept coming back, but after all, they were just actors. What could they do for us? Boy, was I dumb.
Just mentioning they had stayed at this fabulous new inn in Big Sur, that's what they did for us. Others came to see, and did the same. I failed to hear a growing, rumbling sound, like a landslide, behind me. It was the roar of famous faces responding to the most powerful advertisement in the world: word of mouth.
"Being rich doesn't have the cachet it used to," Truman Capote once said. Well, fame still did. Reservations started pouring in. My banker called a few months later. "Quick! Build the rest of the guest rooms," he shouted. "You've got a hit on your hands! "
The next thing I knew, the president of Columbia Pictures was calling me from Hollywood, unhappy about a guest room he'd been assigned by us. I told him honestly that we only had two suites and both were booked at the time he wanted to come.
"You don't understand!" he shouted. "I can't be seen coming out of anything except the McQueen suite!" I almost asked him which one that was, but stopped in time. Then the head of production at Universal Studios wanted to hold his wedding at our place, as did the granddaughter of Ireland's president.
Even Doris Day was married at my little house in Carmel. A newspaper columnist in San Francisco, now calling me constantly for guests' names, once suggested I put wedding cake on the menu. Was he joking? I had no experience at this. Of course, I also had no experience in paying our bills on time, but all that was changing, too.