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Hollywood writer honors tradition

TORONTO -- Canada Every year at the Toronto Film Festival we gather, the friends of George Christy, to have lunch in the Four Seasons Hotel. This is a tradition going back so far that no one except George remembers how it started, or what it represents. Christy, who writes the "Good Life" column for the Hollywood Reporter, invites some 70 of the chosen to a private dining room, where we eat chicken pot pie and gossip among ourselves.

The pot pie is a story in itself. One year George served pot pie, and Garth Drabinsky, then the chief honcho of Cineplex Odeon, pronounced it excellent. The following year, chicken pot pie was served again in his honor. And the year after that. We have had pot pie now for five or six years running.

George stands up every year and makes a toast thanking the chefs of the Four Seasons for working so closely with him in planning the menu, and we all think, "Chicken pot pie again."

This year, there were phone calls for a week beforehand among the friends of George, who are all aware that Drabinsky is involved in a nasty legal battle with Mike Ovitz and others who have taken over Livent, the company Drabinsky founded to stage vast spectacles such as "Ragtime" in rehabbed palaces such as Chicago's old Oriental, now under reconstruction.

Would Drabinsky still be invited? Would chicken pot pie still be served? Yes, and yes. And it was his first public appearance since the whole disagreement surfaced. As it happens I was seated only one person away from Drabinsky, and I observed we had him to thank for the chicken pot pie.

"It is very good pot pie," he observed. "One of the best I have tasted."

"I got a lot of peas this year," I said. "Last year I got only one pea."

"George no doubt spoke to the chefs."

I looked around the room, seeing Rosanna Arquette and Helena Bonham Carter, Mekhi Phifer and John Waters with his little pencil mustache, good Donald Sutherland and Cameron Diaz with her merry smile, Edward Furlong and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, director Norman Jewison and his wife, Dixie, and all of the other friends of George, all blissfully eating their pot pie.

Naomi Campbell, who is filming in Toronto, popped into the room for a second, and George took her from table to table.

"The last time I saw you," I said, "Harvey Weinstein was bidding $50,000 for your navel ring."

This was at a charity auction at Cannes. Campbell, who was the auctioneer, informed Weinstein that her navel ring was not up for auction.

"Sixty thousand," he reasoned.

"He paid the money but he never got the ring," she said. "It was all for charity."

"I'll bet he didn't really want the ring," I said, as an unsettling image flashed into my mind of the bear-like Miramax chief with a pierced navel.

Soon George Christy returned to our table. The genius of George and his column is that he knows everyone in show business and likes, and is liked, by a high percentage of them. His column runs stories about parties and premieres, benefits and soirees, festivals and fund-raisers, all illustrated with dozens of tiny photos of the rich and famous, sometimes shown in conversation with the poor and famous. It is a column nobody in the biz ever misses, especially if they want to see how they would look on a postage stamp.

"Did you notice that I had the chicken pot pie again this year?" George asked Garth.

Garth looked down at his little porcelain pot, which was entirely empty, he having used a soup spoon to scoop out the last morsels of pot pie. Perhaps he reflected that the printed menu advertised:

Chicken Pot Pie George Christy In honor of Garth Drabinsky

"Yes, I did," he said, manfully suppressing no doubt an urge to add, "Everyone at this luncheon has been talking to me about nothing but pot pie, pot pie, pot pie."

Well, if you are chatting with a man who is involved in a big and messy public dispute and you have a subject like pot pie at hand, my advice is, stick to the pot pie. If I should meet President Clinton in the next few days, for example, pot pie will be at the tip of my tongue.

Someone asked Drabinsky about the Lewinsky scandal.

"Well, after what I've been through, I have a great deal of sympathy for him," Drabinsky said. "This is costing me a year of my life. More than a million dollars in legal fees. And what did I do? I'm 50 years old. Where do I go from here?"

"You'll bounce right back and still be doing marvelous things when you're 75," a friend reassured him.

Yes, he no doubt thought, and if I do, I'll still be eating this pot pie.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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