You would not believe the scene at Landmark's Theater 2 last night. The house was packed with friends of a fellow named Shep Gordon, people who have known him since his college days in Buffalo through a long career managing famous musical acts (Alice Cooper for 40 years) to the period when he repped pro bono (for free) almost every famous chef in the world. After the screening, comic Tom Arnold led a question-and-answer session with Shep and the audience which provoked much good humor. But then again, Shep always provokes good humor... it's part of his incredible charisma. He spotted me sitting in the first row and walked over to ask if I were still publishing my Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter, and I handed him several recent copies. He told me that he would be in town for one more screening with Chef Roy Choi emceeing and then, making a flying gesture, he was off, back to his aerie in Maui. I reminded him that Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and I had visited his home there a few years ago, after the Hawaiian Food Festival. He invited me to return anytime. Best offer I've had in a long time. His spacious home on the beach at Maui is the center of so much exciting activity that it's tempting. You never know whom you will meet there... from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Miss Universe. Food galore, cooking going on all day and well into the night.. no one goes hungry or is unhappy at Shep Gordon's place. The vibe is just right.
When asked why he wanted to direct this documentary on Shep, Mike Myers (he of Wayne's World and Austin Powers fame) said,
When I was at a low point in my life some years ago, I asked him if I could spend a few days unwinding at his place, and he quickly invited me. I spent two months there and he took care of me like a baby, perhaps saving my sanity. That's the kind of guy he is, and why I wanted to show the world the true picture of this extraordinary man.
Mike went on to mention that they first met in 1991 when he wanted to use an Alice Cooper song in Wayne's World, and Shep agreed. This 84-minute documentary film, SUPERMENSCH: The Legend of Shep Gordon," is irresistible, a charming, poignant and somewhat crazy portrait of a man who is half-saint and half-sinner. Though the sinner part of his personality is no longer on display, the saintly part is amusingly presented. Shep has been a Buddhist for many years, as have I, and we kid each other that we are both Jewish and Buddhist... he calls himself a JewBu and I use the term, Zen Juddhist... but we both end up in the same pew of meditation, contemplation and contentment.
I knew Shep when he (and I) were young; he was a funny, engaging druggie, a rock 'n roll manager who smoked a lot of weed and enjoyed the company of a lot of lovely women (who loved him back. Just ask Sharon Stone.) It was Janis Joplin who in 1968, on Shep's first day in L.A., introduced him to her boyfriend at the time, Jimi Hendrix, at the Hollywood Landmark motel where they were all staying. When Jimi asked him if he was Jewish, Shep replied yes and Hendrix said, "Then you should be a manager." Shep asked him whom he should manage and Jimi told him Alice Cooper, a rising young rock star. That was 40+ years ago, and Cooper tells us in the film that they have never had a written contract or even an argument. Incidentally, despite his wild antics on stage, Shep told the audience that Cooper is straight as an arrow, never has smoked a joint or touched any drugs. (Which could not be said of Shep in those early days.) He managed many of the top names in the music world, some of whom are interviewed in the film. Canadian country singer Anne Murray for one, Willie Nelson, Luther Vandross and then Groucho Marx. In a hilarious segment, Shep tells how the comic's finances were in disarray, and we see Groucho rambling on about Shep. There is a touching segment about Teddy Pendergrass, before and after hus being crippled in an accident.
As a restaurant critic, my friendship with him deepened when in 1993 he became the manager (pro bono-mostly for free) of several dozen of the world's top chefs, who were earning a pittance of what they should. New Orleans' Emeril Lagasse tells how Shep turned his life around and how together they created a large cooking empire of products. (Bam!) In the film, Shep tells how his food/chef obsession began when he met the courtly Roger Verge at his legendary three Michelin-starred eatery, Le Moulin des Mougins, during the Cannes Film Festival in 1972. (Coincidentally, I was there with my fim,Lady Sings the Blues, which closed the festival that year.) In the film, Shep admits: "When I first met him, I didn't know who he was... but I immediately decided he was someone I wanted to learn from." Shep studied cooking with him, and they became close friends, traveling the world together. "What I learned from Mr. Verge," Shep says, "is that you can be successful and happy. I had only seen success and misery. And his joy came from always putting the comfort of other people before his own." (The night that Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and I had dinner at Shep's home in Maui was magical... I remember the dictum that no business could be discussed at the dinner table... only warmth, wisdom, friendship and pulled pork.)
Wolfgang Puck assembled a few dozen chefs at Spago in '93... Paul Prudhomme, Charlie Trotter, etc... and they opportuned him to take over their management, which he did. The era of the celebrity chef directly resulted from this beginning. Shep recognized that TV was the avenue for the chefs, and collaborated with the new Food TV Network to successfully advance both their causes. As a film producer, I worked with him in the '80s at his film production company, Alive Films, where he did such indie classics as "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "Trip to Bountiful."
The last third of the film deals with the emergence of the "new" man which Shep slowly became... probably incepted when he met, cooked for and hosted at home the Dalai Lama. He prepared a cup of yak tea for his holiness only to have him laugh and say that he hates that tea, joking it was why he left Tibet. Now 66, balding, wearing glasses and free of all drugs except Nova Scotia lox, Shep makes his home on the beach of Maui a mecca for people of all stripes and persuasions. He met, married and then divorced a lovely "raw food" chef. Last year he suffered an intestinal heart attack and almost died, but seems to have made a full recovery, still playing lots of golf. We see how he had helped raise a family of handsome black children, now grown, the grandchildren of a long-time friend who died.
This frenetic, fun film, produced by Beth Aaia, features some reenactments, vintage photographs, docu footage, testimonials, interviews with such close friends as Michael Douglas and Sly Stallone, and Myers' own commentary. A production of A&E Indie Films, a company called Radius-TWC (yes, that's Harvey's baby), which had the Oscar-winning documentary, "20 Feet From Stardom," last year, saw the picture at the Toronto festival and grabbed it for distribution.
I strongly urge you to see this fascinating film... you will emerge from the theater smiling, feeling good that you met a real mensch, and perhaps even thinking a bit more about how you can incorporate some of his loving attitude into your everyday life. I know that I did.
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