Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Luncheon Society/Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Stacy Schiff on “Cleopatra, A Life”/San Francisco—Credo September 12, 2011

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There’s a great movie line that says, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” However, when looking at Cleopatra, her life outpaces any legend.

In contemporary terms, Cleopatra is seen through the refracted lens of Elizabeth Taylor’s Hollywood portrayal.  Bits and pieces were added into the stew throughout the centuries, with generous helpings from Plutarch and William Shakespeare. She wasn’t the classic beauty as seen through modern eyes, but she had the guile and smarts to outmaneuver her enemies and build an empire.  It kept her in power for a generation and launched the persona that remains until this very day.  

Unlike many leaders of antiquity, there are no source documents for Cleopatra’s reign or even her life. Only one word from Cleopatra has survived the centuries, “Genesthoi,” which means, “Let it be done.”   The ensuing stories were written by Cleopatra’s enemies during and after her fall written by Romans and were largely fiction. They portrayed her as the libidinous tramp who used her wiles to entrap and weaken the two main leaders of her generation, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.  

 

Cleopatra, A Life,” written by Pulitzer Prize Winning author Stacy Schiff, takes us into her world by compiling the source documents of that era to give us the best understanding of her times. Wedged into history three centuries after Alexander the Great but only a generation before the birth of Christ, Schiff constructs an ancient world and examines her life—right up to her death. When the facts present two alternatives, she explores them all in great detail. Did Cleopatra die of an asp bite to the breast or by drinking a cocktail of poison? Is either just another piece of fiction that embellishes the legend but hides the fact? Continue reading

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The Luncheon Society/Dean of Film Writers, Richard Schickel, on Martin Scorsese/San Francisco—Fior D’Italia/May 9, 2011/Los Angeles—Napa Valley Grille/September 10, 2011

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It is fair to say that “Conversations with Scorsese,” places one of the best film writers aside one of the industry’s best directors. Over the past four decades, Martin Scorsese has delivered gem after gem on the screen and having our old friend Richard Schickel talk us through his career helps to better understand his artistic genius.

Thankfully, Scorsese likes to talk. We’re ever thankful that Schickel loves to ask penetrating questions. Together they create a 400 page oral history that sums the director’s career thus far. At the end, you have the feeling that you’ve been riding shotgun at every location shoot; that you’re there at every tortured edit; and you’ve been present for both the good and the tough times.

For the past four decades, spanning his tenure at Life, then Time Magazine, and now at Vanity Fair, Richard has given readers the best seat in the house when it comes to the movie industry.  When he joined us last year for lunch at Chez Mimi in Santa Monica to discuss his book about Clint Eastwood’s relationship with Warner Brothers, it was oneHollywood story after the next. On a sunny afternoon in May, Richard delivered in San Francisco and did it again in early September in Los Angeles.

 

Richard Schickel brings them alive.  Nobody knows the industry like the Dean of Film Writers.  Richard has written over 40 books, created over 40 films, and has narrated the filmmakers comments for countless DVDs. His film, “You Must Remeber This,”  serves and the unofficial history of Warner Brothers. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta on the Murdoch Phone Hacking Scandal/Manhattan—Danal/July 14, 2011

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Ken Auletta, who writes the influential “Annals of Communications” column for The New Yorker, joined  The Luncheon Society in Manhattan for a return visit. 

Last year he talked about Googled, his New York Times best-seller how Sergey Brin’s and Larry Page’s endeavor redefined the mantle of leadership within Silicon Valley, especially now that Facebook has emerged as its greatest challenger. 

This year he talked about Rupert Murdoch and the phone hacking scandal that is mushrooming mushroomed over London.  Executive after executive within Murdoch’s empire have walked the plank.  The most painful departure was Rebekah Brooks the editor of News of the World, his signature London tabloid. Added to the list were Tom Crone, who ran legal affairs for the far flung empire, and Les Hinton, who ran Dow Jones. The question remained: would the scandal move from one side of the Atlantic to another?

Note: Special thanks to our friend Shari Foos, who hosted the Luncheon Society gathering in Manhattan.

Humble Start. The first chapter of the phone hacking scandal bubbled into public view mid-decade when members of the Royal Family discovered that their voicemails had been pilfered, which was a violation of British law. The subsequent investigation soon circled the offices of The News of the World. Within months, their Royal Editor and an investigator pled guilty to the charges and were shuttled off for short jail sentences. Mistakes were acknowledged, apologies were made, and promises were made that nothing like this would ever happen again. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Veteran Political Analyst Jeff Greenfield on his new book “Then Everything Changed”/Los Angeles—Napa Valley Grille/July 9, 2011

 

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Jeff Greenfield likes to say, “History doesn’t turn on a dime; it turns on a plugged nickel.”  As a veteran political commentator for ABC, CBS, and CNN, Greenfield makes the case that we underplay the role of dumb luck and random chance in current events. 

In his new book Then Everything Changed,”Greenfield builds three very plausible scenarios of how minor shifts could generate far reaching results in American politics.

We tend to look at history from the resultant first and walk backwards to explain events in rational detail; C = A + B. However, the events are so fluid and so ever-changing that a close election could go in several different directions because of movements that take place below the waterline.

 

Kennedy vs. Nixon; Nixon vs. Kennedy. When we look back to the race between Nixon and Kennedy, the narrative always favors the Massachusetts Senator because he won.  However, a simple trip here or a stumble there and John Kennedy would have returned to the Senate; his narrative would have been “too much, too soon.”

Likewise, President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt  in Miami Beach in early 1933, a month prior to taking his oath of office. Had he stood a foot to either side of the microphone while giving an impromptu speech, he would have been shot and killed before delivering his first oath of office. Instead the bullet found its way into Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak’s  chest, who was in town and shaking FDR’s hand. Cermak died en route to the hospital; his last words to FDR were, “I am glad it was me and not you.”  Had FDR died, his Vice President—a very conservative John Nance Garner —would have been a very different leader and would have killed any New Deal legislation. The Great Reforms that built The Greatest Generation would have died stillborn. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/John Callas, JPL Project Manager for Mars Rovers on Spirit, Opportunity and the Future of Exploration on the Red Planet/Los Angeles-Maria’s/June 26,2011

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It is the most amazing cell phone; it gives the term “long distance” a whole new meaning.  Each morning, Opportunity the remaining Mars Rover, sends a text to John Callas’s  cell phone that shows its movements during the previous Martian day or “sol.” Even though the two planets are separated by an average distance of 142 million miles and the rover crawls at a speed of 1 cm per minute, it is always good to keep a close eye on your children.

 

 

Callas, who has been the Project Manager of the Rovers since 2006, continues to drive breathtaking discoveries on only a shoestring budget. Opportunity and the now-silent Spirit have revolutionized unmanned spacecraft and robotic exploration in ways few could have imagined a decade earlier. It was always understood that man would have to step foot on Mars to be able to grasp its terra firma, but no more. Thanks to these two rovers, we now know that Mars is not the dead rock concluded by both Viking missions in the 1970’s. Not only was Mars alive with oceans of ancient water, but thanks to the subsequent Phoenix lander, samples of the polar ice cap were melted and water vapor appeared; where there is water, there is often life. We also know that the real action surrounding life on Mars might take below the surface, something that only patient and sustained exploration could unearth.

Space flight has long been a fixture of The Luncheon Society. Apollo Astronaut Rusty Schweickart has joined us on several occasions for conversations about Near Earth Objects and in January 2007 brought along Mercury Astronauts Wally Schirra,  Scott Carpenter, and Soviet space pioneer Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space. Mission Control head Christopher Kraft talked about the challenges of a manned space flight to the Moon and the herculean challenges to Mars. Former NASA Ames head Scott Hubbard joined us twice, first for a conversation about rebuilding the Mars programs after the failure of the late 1990’s and later with Nobel laureate Doug Osheroff, to help us understand the managerial failures that took place as members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board  after the shuttle disintegrated in the upper atmosphere. The Principal Scientist of the Mars Rovers, Steven Squyres joined us in San Francisco and most famously  in Los Angeles where Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, sat with us around the table.  A longtime friend of The Luncheon Society, John Callas has joined us at two intervals during the Rover’s time on Mars, first in 2006 and now in July 2011. Continue reading