When I was working at RAI (Italian public television) on Paolo Limiti's popular daily variety show: "Alle Due Su Rai Uno," as a producer/editor, one of my duties was to take care of the foreign guests. Paolo loved old Hollywood stars so we had guests like Cyd Charisse, Sophia Loren, ect. When I heard Lauren Bacall was coming I was just as excited as everybody else. Never guessing what a prima donna (to put it nicely) she would be. Paolo Limiti told my colleague Roger Mazzeo (model, actor, and singer on the show) that we were to pick her up that night at the Four Seasons in Milan and accompany her to where we would all be having dinner that night. I didn't know that secretly she was hoping to have dinner alone with Paolo and that the idea of us two tagging along (not to mention there were about 10 people total) was distasteful but it didn't take long to find out. As soon as she came down to the lobby of the hotel (after complaining to the concierge about something or other) she asked us: "And what are you two doing here?" And when we directed her to a white limo that was specially ordered and waiting for us, she looked disgusted: "I hate Bentleys, but I especially hate white ones." As the poor chauffeur tried to maneuver his way over the tiny cobblestoned streets of Milan, she kept complaining: "Oh God, cobblestones. I don't understand, why are you two here and why on earth are you coming to dinner with me? Who are you?" When Roger who is very sweet tried to explain: "well, we work on the show and..." She bluntly cut him off with a rhetorical: "No, I mean, who ARE you? And where the h#$% are we going?"
The car had been going for some time and it seemed like we were driving out of Milan's center. It was getting foggier and more isolated by the minute. The chauffer explained to me in Italian that it was a slightly secluded club that we would have all to ourselves. I had a feeling this wasn't exactly the place she wanted to go to. "Why are we going so far?" Roger innocently answered: "Because Paolo wants to give you a special treat?"
She looked like she wanted to slap him. "If he wanted to give me a special treat I wouldn't be sitting in a white stretch limo with you two driving who knows the $#@ where!" (I actually found her rude outbreaks very amusing and was laughing hard, on the inside.)
Obviously she had wanted to make a big entrance in some fancy spot right in the center of town with just Paolo Limiti, the host of the show. Things were about to get worse. At the table she refused everything that was offered to her and looked at the 'waiter' who was actually the owner and a very good friend of Paolo and said: "How is it possible you do not have a simple green salad? How hard is that to make?" Then, when Paolo told her about this delicious burrata that they sell in Milan, she replied: "Well, if it's so good, why didn't you buy one for me?"
I had spent the entire day simultaneously translating so it was hard to stop especially since Paolo was happy for me to edit what he was saying, to add little anecdotes, like: "He has the top rated variety show on television," or "He was just voted most popular Italian TV host". So we were both taken aback when she just turned towards me and ordered: "Will you PLEASE stop talking to me?"
This was right after I mentioned that my brother had gone to an apt viewing in the Dakota (where she lived in NY) and had mentioned what a beautiful building it was. "Why on earth would YOUR brother go to the Dakota?" (He lives in the Ansonia now not too faraway from her but I decided to not mention that.)
The restaurant's wall was covered with photos of actors like Sylvester Stallone or Sharon Stone posing with the owner so when he came over to ask if she minded taking a picture with him, nobody was too surprised with the rude answer: "Of course I won't take a picture with him. I know what these people are like. They'll put it on the wall so that it seems as though we are friends." (The week before Cyd Charisse had happily obliged). It was especially embarassing since the owner was clearly a good friend of the host Paolo. At this point I was gestured to get up from the table and follow Paolo's assistant to another room. "We have a small problem. Who knew Lauren Bacall was such a 'iena' (Italian for 'not so nice')?" he confided in me. "We need you to escort her out of the restaurant. And act surprised by the journalists and photographers waiting outside."
I was pretty sure she wouldn't believe journalists had spontaneously followed us all the way to the restaurant on the outskirts of Milan. And it was raining, maybe she would hit me over the head with an umbrella. She seemed to particularly have it in for me. I fell in that category of unimportant people. I could always tell the real stars, those were the ones who treated the 'unimportant' people well. Because they didn't have to. Made me wish I was the daughter of an important director she would some day audition for. I could stand next to my Dad as she was about to read her lines and say: "Remember me?"
When I had to take poor Cyd Charisse, a real trooper, to the 'bathroom' near the studio and she discovered it was 'bagno alla turca' basically a whole in the ground she merely said: "Oh, interesting."
I didn't wait around to hear what Lauren Bacall had to say when I brought her into the same bathroom. In her defence, it was pretty grim and the funny part was, in true Italian bureaucratic spirit, it could only be opened by one special 'bidella' (janitor) who we had to look for and who arrived with an air of extreme importance as she indicated that she had the key hanging from her neck as though she were protecting some hidden treasure: "Oh, you need to go to the 'bathroom' of the studio."
(The picture above is the way I would like to remember Lauren Bacall. When I complimented her on her beautiful skin in the dressing room she mentioned loving a certain Italian skin product. If she had been sweeter I might have bought her some.) Btw, is anybody reading this blog?? Hope it's not just Lauren Bacall...