Willie and Wilkes Wax Nastolgic
by Hank Donat
The only thing that floods my mind with more jokes in less time than Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein being attacked by a dragon is news that the wax museum at Fisherman's Wharf is installing a figure of Mayor Willie Brown. "But the real Willie is already so lifelike," says Jeff Thompson, a local thespian who last saw the mayor when they sat together to watch Forrest Gump at the old Regency.
Wednesday's party hosted by Wilkes Bashford on Sutter, where the wax likeness was unveiled, was both the San Franciscan's wet dream and Tom Ammiano's worst nightmare. Ammiano, who did not attend, might have been haunted by the sight of two Mayor Willie Browns identically dressed by Wilkes, of course, commanding center stage before a huge crowd of local characters.
It was the presence of those characters that drove palpable nostalgia throughout the evening, nearly upstaging Da Mayors themselves. Dubbed, "Celebrating San Francisco" by Wilkes, the party honoring Willie and the giant candle was packed by Wilkes with hand-picked quintessential San Francisco personalities of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Nostalgia is the San Franciscan's favorite tonic. It goes so well with martinis.
Harry Denton is always in the mood to party and was cutting a rug, or tile as it were, a few feet from Sir Francis Drake doorman Tom Sweeney who was decked out in full beefeater. Harry said he liked my glasses, a sentiment which was returned. If only Aaron Spelling were present we could have been an ad for Lens Crafters, but there was no sign of anyone from LA-LA Land in this crowd, this bash by the bay. Not far from that love fest were society nun Sister Patrice Burns and Ann Moller Caen, the widow of San Francisco's legend Herb Caen. Mr. Caen was on everyone's mind and his name was on more lips than the oysters served at this early evening soiree of swells among the threads at Wilkes.
Only the shelves were better dressed. Certainly not winning any points for fashion was the great Strange de Jim, who appeared wearing a pillow case over his head. The anonymous source who was the only figure mentioned in Herb's column more often than Willie Brown, looked not at all out place among the elite... in San Francisco that is!
Wilkes introduced the Examiner's PJ Corkery and anointed him as the successor to Herb Caen. "There's only one Shakespeare," PJ told me, "But we can work the sonnets in our own voices."
Before I digress into the tenor of a society column, let me say that the great lady and fundraiser Bella Farrow said no one did society reportage better than the late Pat Steger. Those are also footsteps none of us could follow, for who could ever squeeze into Pat's delicate heels? Bella was a hit heckling in the stairway with Charlotte Shultz and the chanteuse Pat Yankee. Pat's been singing in San Francisco since 1947. When Wilkes told the crowd the wax museum is the City's most visited attraction and that the wharf is not just for tourists, Bella contradicted with a quip asking when was the last time anyone in this crowd visited the wharf, not counting dinner at Alioto's. Restaurateur Ed Moose paid no attention.
Old and new San Francisco were gently gliding past each other like two coasting cable cars. It was nice to see up-and-coming jazz star and new San Francisco institution Paula West toasting Pat Yankee. Sharing the elevator with Paula was a hoot. I told her the last time I rode the lift with a singer it was with Billy Idol at the Nikko. Paula, who confesses she wouldn't mind being cast in wax someday herself if that means she's made it, also said she hopes to make some "Billy Idol money." You will Paula, you certainly will!
The striking presence of Rozzalynd and Josephine Wiebe of Nob Hill only made the absence of Vivian and Marion Brown more conspicuous on this Night of a Thousand half-way-to-the Stars. There were three Browns at the affair, however, thanks to a visit by Jerry Brown, mayor from the other side... of the bay, that is. Jerry looks great and deserves kudos for his graciousness after a questionable remark by one of our esteemed City officials that Oakland was the place you can go to for free if you take the Bay Bridge.
When the drapes were at last drawn it was impossible not to pay attention to the men behind the curtain, so uncanny was Rodney Fong's likeness of the mayor. Asked how it felt to be memorialized for all time in wax, the mayor whispered to me, "This will do just fine because I'm not coming back." So there you have it, no seances for Willie. If you have any unfinished business with the mayor, one day you can take the 30 Stockton to Fisherman's Wharf and tell it to the dummy... and tell him Pat Montandon sent you!
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Copyright 2001 Hank Donat