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Notebook

American Notebook

15 December 2012

9:00 AM

15 December 2012

9:00 AM

I bumped into Steve Martin dining with Eric Idle at a Beverly Hills boîte, as one does. ‘I really enjoy your Spectator diaries,’ said Steve. ‘And I,’ said Mr Idle. ‘And you and the roller-skating nuns were the best thing in the Olympic finale,’ I chirped back. Hollywood folk love to give each other compliments. I buttered up George Clooney at the Carousel Ball, where he was being honoured for his charitable work in Haiti and the Sudan, by telling him how much I adored Argo, which he co-produced, and that same night I told Shirley MacLaine how much I liked her in Downton, even though I’d gladly have maimed her for the part. I was impressed by my self-restraint.

At an Academy screening of Hitchcock (in which Anthony Hopkins was brilliant) some patrons sitting behind us told me how ‘great’ I looked. A few minutes later a very haggard-looking actress, much past her prime but trying hard, was hailed by these same punters with cries of ‘Great to see you again’ and ‘You look sooo beautiful!’ After she left they turned to each other and hissed, ‘God she looks terrible.’

We hurtle down the winding track on the elegantly streamlined Acela service from NYC to Boston. The Connecticut countryside flashes past, the trees a symphony of colour. American train travel is superb. All employees have a welcoming smile on their face, from the Acela representative who greeted us with a porter, who proffered a wheelchair. ‘A wheelchair?!’ I boomed in my best Edith Evans. ‘Why?’ ‘In case you don’t feel like walking in those stilettos,’ he countered suavely. Needless to say, I eschewed said conveyance and chatted merrily to the two friendly Amtrak policemen who escorted us through the terminal. Breakfast was delicious — an omelette stuffed with capers and onions and a warm croissant lighter and tastier than anything the Cote d’Azur has to offer. If I could, I’d take a train over a plane every time.

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We arrived at the Boston Hotel, which used to be a jail. It has extraordinary views over the Charles River from the full-length windows. How the convicts must have enjoyed their days gazing at the boats through their barred-up windows. While Percy went outside to have a cigarette — smoking bans are draconian in the US — I attempted to ring room service and was faced with a perplexing machine labelled cisco, the size of an old-fashioned telephone. It also looked like a telephone in that it had a handset with a cord attached, but that is where all resemblance ended. There was no ringtone when I picked up the receiver, and an incomprehensible list of services came up on a blue screen. There were 13 black buttons with hieroglyphic images on them so I pressed the only one I recognised — a question mark.

The screen magically displayed a list of missed calls, received calls and placed calls. Since I’d only just checked in, I sat staring at it and then the message ‘Lost not found’ came up on the screen. I dropped the receiver and locked myself in the bedroom, thinking I might be a victim of a new form of tele-evangelical revival. I shivered under the covers and waited for Percy to return and order me a cup of tea. I turned on the TV, which had only 30 buttons on the remote, and by some miracle managed to get a programme that did not feature endless adverts for Christmas. I was rewarded by having to listen to interminable doom and gloom about fiscal budgets, conflict in Israel and generals being ordered about by their privates.

I was devastated when the couturier Nolan Miller died earlier this year. Not only was he the most wonderful designer but he was also one of my most dear friends. To honour his memory, Bel Air hosts-supreme Mary Hayley and Selim Zilkha, Nolan’s colleague Mark Zunino and I gave a smashing party to celebrate his life. Instead of mourning we all had a great time eating, drinking, dancing and singing his praises. Everyone expressed their admiration for a man who dressed some of the most iconic movie stars: Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren. I doubt another Hollywood designer can boast such a star-studded line-up, and that was before he dressed Charlie’s angels, Love Boat lovelies and of course the Dynasty dames.

Dynasty would not have enjoyed the success it did had it not been for Nolan’s stylish contributions. How we used to love huddling over magazine pictures of Princess Diana and deciding which one of her outfits we would copy for my character Alexis. In a tribute to Nolan’s high standards, the invitations for the celebration read, ‘Dress to make Nolan proud’, and all the guests did. Nolan was extremely witty, often spouting bon mots such as ‘Women are like elephants. I like to look at them but I wouldn’t want to own one’, and ‘If you’re looking for a committed man, go to a mental hospital.’ RIP Nolan — I shall miss you.

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