This Month: The stars come out swinging at the Sarasota Film Festival.

By staff April 1, 2005

I don't understand something. Every time I do something bad I get punished. I get slapped on the wrist or worse. But every time Gary Busey does something bad it's perfectly acceptable. Even cute. It's not fair. Why can't I be treated like Gary Busey?

Just as every film festival goes down in history for something memorable, the 2005 Sarasota Film Festival will be remembered as the year Gary Busey came to town. Over at the Herald-Tribune, certain writers were walking on eggshells to describe his behavior. Unusual words were used, words like "boss," as in "he tried to boss me around." and "mellow" as in "after dinner at Fleming's, with its 15,000-bottle wine cellar, he became much more mellow."

The festival was different this year but as fascinating as always. The show biz timing couldn't have been worse, unfortunately. It was wedged between Sundance and the Screen Actor's Guild Awards, which have become the hip new thing in Hollywood and everybody goes. Everybody except Gary Busey, that is. And the European legends who showed up to be honored-Leslie Caron and Rutger Hauer. Peter Falk and Paul Reiser came, but they had a highly personal and risky movie to sell. The only one here to party was Lainie Kazan, and she turned out to steal the show at every opportunity, particularly the tribute dinner, which she emceed. Her professional style made all the difference in the world. Particularly when the mike kept falling from the stand.

I don't know what it's like in other towns that have film festivals, but here it's still the parties that count. That's what the locals look forward to, and why not? We have to spend 360 nights a year going out and seeing the same old people. Please, for five nights a year let us have our noise, our clothes, our movie stars. We deserve it.

My favorite party is still Night of 1,000 Stars, held as usual at Michael's on East. The whole place was taken over, which meant it had all sorts of different areas for different moods, crowds, noise levels, etc. Several spaces were roped off as VIP areas. I sat in the VIP area one year, I thought with a sigh. But that was not to happen again, as the security guards had clearly been warned about me.

The place is packed to just within a hair's-breadth of uncomfortability. There's live music in the bar, a DJ in the ballroom. Jumbo shrimp everywhere. A young crowd, plus a couple of old geezers in what their wives assured them were hip, fun party shirts.

The word geezer certainly doesn't apply to David Mills, even though he is "getting up there." He was one of the first people I bumped into, and it was, as always, a pleasure. He is no longer allowed to run for the Sarasota County Commission due to having been there too long already-more darn term limits!-but now has his sights set on something up in Tallahassee that involves passing real laws. Good luck, Commish!

Actually, come to think of it, the party was lousy with politicians. Well, not lousy, but you know what I mean. The three women responsible for our most recent dramatic election-Katherine Harris, Jan Schneider and Christine Jennings- were out in force, studiously avoiding each other. Katherine, dressed in a rather severe suit of what I judge might be midnight blue taffeta (no jewelry), told me she was busy with plans for her new house; and when I told her that I lived but three blocks away, well, her face was a study. Christine was more elaborately dressed, in a white mink chubby complemented with gold and diamond jewelry. We discussed the problems of the elderly-in a strictly political sense, of course. I didn't talk to Jan Schneider, but I must say that she was wearing a lovely stole.

The next night Leslie Caron was being honored; and I thought she might want to meet me beforehand, so I sent over a copy of our February issue and graciously suggested she give me an interview. Well, have you seen our February issue? It's the one that's 400 pages long. It's already known around the office as "the hernia issue." You can't read it in bed because it's too heavy to rest on your stomach. Well, Leslie took one look at this and had word sent for me to meet her at 7:30. I decided to bring along my assistant, Kay Kipling, to transcribe what would undoubtedly be a groundbreaking interview.

I'd met Ms Caron before, of course, at the Lichters' house in Mexico City. I think it was 1973, which really wasn't that long ago; and I was rather surprised that she not only didn't remember but insisted that she knew no one named Lichter and had never been to Mexico in her life. (It turns out I met Jeanne Moreau; my face is slightly red.)

We had a lovely chat. She told me that, with all her years of dance experience, until recently she spent each morning at the bar. "Me, too!" I exclaimed. Then we spoke stimulatingly about couture, and when it finally came time to part, I leaned forward and whispered something I'd been meaning to mention the whole time.

"You've got a spot on your dress."

She looked down.

"That little red thing." I pointed. It was about the size of a watch battery and right on her lapel.

"C'est la Legion d'Honneur."

"Say what?"

"La Legion d'Honneur!"

"Speak English, sister," I advised helpfully. "You're not in France anymore."

Then she was whisked away.

During the tribute dinner I was sitting one table away from Katherine Harris, who was between her husband, Anders, and Gary Busey. Everything seemed very nice and cordial; people were stopping by to say hello, take pictures, etc. A certain well-known Sarasota businessman was waved over by Katherine at one point to say hello. Well, Gary snapped. "Hey, #&%*$, you just *&^%$ ruined my story," he said to the businessman. Then somebody wanted to take their picture together, so the poor guy put his hand on Gary's back to pose. "Get your &%^# hands off me, you *&%$," snarled Gary, as which point the businessman started to get the hint and got out of there. Poor Katherine then had to smooth over the situation, which she did quite well, I'm told. The next day I read in the paper that she was being appointed to the Homeland Security Committee; and I must say, I breathed a sigh of relief. If she can handle Gary Busey, those terrorists are going to be a piece of cake.

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