Birthday bash hit by outrage

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 May, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 May, 1997, 12:00am

The most famous party of the spring season in America has nothing to do with the Oscars or the New York fashion world. Unusually, it was thrown by Jack Davis, a political consultant well known within San Francisco circles but obscure to virtually everyone else.

Not that the affair was not a glittering one: the city's mayor Willie Brown and a host of other politicians and celebrities were on hand to wish Mr Davis a very happy 50th birthday. But it is amazing how many of them have since that infamous evening dived for cover and sworn they only had one drink and left early.

The problem with the evening was the entertainment, some of which would probably have shocked revellers at a Courtney Love birthday bash, let alone those at a party in honour of a respectable politico.

The organisers of the event - and with friends like these who need enemies - made one particular mistake when they put on a performance which they claimed was an allegory of Apache Indians torn apart by alcoholism. It featured a woman in black bondage gear who carved a bloody pentangle out of the skin on the back of a male colleague, and then proceeded to sodomise him with a bottle of Jack Daniels.

When news of the raunchy party leaked to the local media, it was not just your average upright bourbon drinker who was outraged at the spectacle. San Francisco has never seen such an outpouring of disgust and dismay in its long, liberal history.

The reason for the moral revolt has as much to do with money as it does with sex. For while Mr Davis was embarrassed enough to have laid on such a show in the presence of local VIPs, what was worse is that the scandal came just as he was leading the campaign to raise public money to build a new football stadium for the feted local heroes, the 49ers.

In a few days, local citizens will be asked to cast a ballot to approve the city council's plan to sell bonds to pay US$100 million (HK$773 million) towards a new super-stadium and shopping complex near the site of the famous Candlestick Park, where the team now plays.

Officials from both the city and the 49ers argue the project will not only provide superior facilities but create jobs and prosperity in what is a rundown and poor neighbourhood of San Francisco.

But when a group of energetic residents put on a fierce campaign to derail the plan, the 49ers hired Mr Davis to lead the campaign to get the ballot passed. He is a seasoned political stalwart, having helped get Mr Brown elected mayor as well as leading the push on another stadium project for the city's baseball team.

While campaign consultants (unless they are Dick Morris) are supposed to stay in the background and quietly get things done, Mr Davis' party has dominated the stadium debate in a way the team's owners could never have imagined.

Instead of arguing whether the US$100 million is money well spent or not, the debate is now being dominated by a discussion of whether a sex act with a liquor bottle disqualfies the football team from getting the arena it wants.

Campaign workers have resigned in disgust, and some printed badges saying 'I Wasn't There' to get across their point.

Mr Davis offered to resign from the campaign but was allowed to stay, since it already appears too late to change the course of the vote.

Even in a country where actors and athletes command salaries in remote galaxies where the Starship Enterprise has never reached, the showbiz industry tries hard to set limits.

Eyebrows were therefore raised when NBC executives caved in last week and agreed to pay three actors in the top-rating sitcom Seinfeld an astronomical US$600,000 each per episode.

Nobody disputes the fact that Jason Alexander, Michael Richards and Julia-Louis Dreyfuss are enjoyable parts of the show starring Jerry Seinfeld, but their wages seemed a little excessive when one considers that the season will last for 22 shows, each of which lasts little more than 22 minutes after the commercials are removed.

The three co-stars, who previously earned a not unsizeable US$160,000 per episode, had been pushing for US$1 million each, arguing that they were missing out on the huge profits the show has made over the past eight years.

Their claim has revealed just what a cash cow a successful TV show can be. Just one 30-second advertisement - and there are about 14 in each episode - will pay the salary of one of the three, since they are retailing for nearly US$600,000 each.

Revenues for each episode are expected to be about US$15 million, or more than US$300 million for the series. It is estimated that with lucrative syndication rights around the world, Seinfeld will soon have made US$1 billion in total - that is more than the gross domestic product of your average Third World country.

What is inestimable is the hidden amounts of revenue which stem from the mere existence of Seinfeld on an evening's schedule, drawing viewers and advertisers to all the programmes that surround it.

NBC has tried its best to restrain the wages of Dreyfuss, Alexander and Richards so as not to set off a stampede among other stars; but there appears to be no doubt they are earning every penny.