All week we’ve been following preparations for the hotel visit of a famous actress, her arrival, the days subsequent, including yesterday, when she had a problem with her fax.

It is almost time to leave — but not yet.

“More than 400 society and civic leaders attended a luncheon and fashion show at the hotel today,” reports my secret correspondent, the hotel manager. “Fortunately, while all of this was going on, Ms. Star behaved herself — until she flew into a rage over the fact that the operators couldn’t overcome the fact that she had somehow taken one of her phones off the hook, which prevented them from directing the calls to that line as she had instructed. Of course, she wouldn’t allow anyone to explain the situation to her (she chewed out — and hung up on — the operator who tried), nor would she allow anyone to enter her suite to put the phone back on the hook. I finally had to call her secretary and ask her to come back to the hotel (her staff and the rest of the cast are staying at a budget motel down the street) to remedy the situation.

“Spent the rest of the afternoon smoothing ruffled feathers in PBX and at the front desk — and assuring everyone that they wouldn’t be ‘written up’ for any alleged infractions of our standards even if Ms. Star complained about their performance during her brief tenure. (The staff is beginning to count the HOURS until her departure.)

“I finally left the hotel around 6:00 p.m., after she headed for the theater and I was confident she couldn’t inflict any more emotional damage. Took one of the hotel pagers home with me to ease everyone’s mind (only fair — after all, I got us into this starry mess).

“Kind people that they are, our staff feels sorry for her–they think she must be terribly unhappy to be so disagreeable all the time. Maybe they’re right.

“Yesterday, my counterpart at one of the hotels where Ms. Star will be staying next called. ‘Rumor has it that she’s a handful; how bad does it get?’ I told him what I’ve told you. ‘That’s what I was afraid of.’

“He said that they drew the line on moving furniture in the suite. ‘We have expensive stuff up there, and we’re tired of replacing it.’ In fact, when they reached this point in the negotiations, he tried to convince the travel agent to book her at another property. But the TA insisted.

“What prompted this hotelier to call me was that by the strangest coincidence, a meeting planner happened to have just come to his property from the hotel where Ms. Star was last in residence. This meeting planner told him that by accident the cell phone he had ordered through the hotel had been inadvertently given to Ms. Star and vice versa. Since the meeting planner’s number had been distributed to all of the attendees (and there were close to a 1,000 of them!), it was imperative that he and Ms. Star trade phones (if nothing else, to save her from hundreds of nuisance calls). The hotel, which had arranged the cell phone rentals for both, contacted Ms. Star and before they could explain the problem, she told them to ‘F— Off!’ and hung up. Somehow — at great expense — they were able to redirect the calls or advise all of the attendees of the situation. But everyone was shocked at her intransigence.

“I forgot to tell you that I wrote her a letter late yesterday afternoon and asked that it be given to her after she returned from the theater last night. I decided to apply some ‘reverse psychology’ and allow her to direct her anger at me. It may have worked: There was not one unkind word or irrational act from her today. Not a peep.”

And what was the text of this miraculous letter, I wondered?

Dear Ms. Star [he wrote]:

It is a great pleasure to have you at The ———-. Your visit continues a tradition of hosting Hollywood royalty that began at our historic hotel more than seventy years ago; and, as you might expect, we treasure it.

We understand how difficult it must be to find an acceptable home on the road, especially when your venue changes weekly and the demands on your time are extreme. No doubt it is doubly frustrating having to manage your domestic affairs through a revolving door of people and regional customs. Throw in the fact that perfection is a process (not fully achievable in a week, much less a few days), and disappointment is inevitable, as much as we wish this were not so.

More to the point, many of our staff come from the poorest sections of the city, and you can imagine the joy they derive from being able to please our distinguished guests with the services they provide. This is particularly true of stars of your caliber. From the doormen to the housekeepers, you could not find a more devoted following or one more intent on making you smile. A kind word is all they require.

As a gesture of goodwill and a first step in mending any misunderstanding, we would be very honored if you would accept the enclosed gifts. The first is a cookbook that contains a brief history of the hotel, with a mention of Maria Callas and her historic visit many years ago. The second is a commemorative box designed exclusively for us by Tiffany & Co. Only a few were made, and we wanted you to have one as a keepsake.

With kindest regards,

“At this point,” continues my friend, to me, “I think I went into the bathroom and washed my mouth out with soap–for all of the bad things I was THINKING about saying to her. I’m still blowing bubbles.”

Not long afterward, Ms. Star’s limited engagement ended and she went on to the next city, the next cowering hotel staff.

“She left around 6:30 a.m. Even though a bellman saw her leave, everyone harbored a doubt that she was REALLY gone. Since my associates know that I’ve faced everything from grizzly bears to bobcats, they left it to me to enter her suite and check it out. I knocked first, of course. But it wasn’t necessary; she was gone. Gone now, and probably gone forever. I was relieved to see that the suite didn’t suffer any permanent damage. She broke a lamp earlier in her stay, but considering what could have happened — and what stars have done to our suites in the past — we got off very, very lightly.”

SETTLING THE BILL

“This morning I learned that at the last moment, Ms. Star switched credit cards on us. She established her credit with the touring company’s card and, on departure, asked the front desk to bill it to her personal card. This usually poses no problem; but given the enormous sum involved, it required a little more than just the basics to obtain an authorization code from the credit card company — to wit, her home address. Oh, great.

“Fortunately, we were able to leave a message for her secretary. (Somehow we didn’t think Ms. Star would entertain this question.) The call was not returned for most of the day. Each time I passed the front desk I asked if we had heard from the secretary, and the answer was invariably ‘no.’

“It brought to mind the agony I went through a couple of years ago when I went out on a limb for a somewhat obscure governmental agency from Zambia (at least, I think it was Zambia). They brought in their minister of agriculture and an entourage intent on seeing everything — first-class. I think when they finally wiped the last crumbs of room service from their mouths, the bill topped $50,000. And I didn’t have a credit card to back it up. Or a check. Or U.S. dollars. Or Zambian dollars. Or ANYTHING. Just a promise to pay from a very diplomatic retainer in Washington, D.C., who waved away my doubts with, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get paid. I PROMISE.’ O.K. Sure. No problem.

“Every night I went home and tried to forget what a dent $50,000 would make in my personal balance sheet. What would it be like sleeping out under the stars. One week, no check. Two weeks, no check. Three weeks, no check. By the fourth week I was checking flight schedules to Zambia (and inquiring about the financial soundness of the Zambian government). Finally, in desperation, I called the diplomat again and asked him — in the interest of Zambian-American relations (not to mention my sanity) — to make good on his promise . . . via FedEx. Please.

“Something in my voice must have struck a charitable chord because the next morning that beautiful FedEx packet arrived with a cashier’s check for $50,000.

“About 4:30 p.m. Ms. Star’s secretary returned our call and cheerfully gave us the address. All’s well that ends well.”

 

 

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