Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood, v3.0

A close reading of VH1's hilariously detailed countersuit [at The Smoking Gun, naturally] against David Gest and Liza Minnelli for sabotaging production of their "reality" show with (mostly his) obstructionist diva behavior yields an obvious, all-too-NYC explanation: Gest simply doesn't know how to deal with a co-op board.

Liza and David, image: thesmokinggun.com Sure, Gest's demands that VH1 put up his LA stylist in a nearby apartment for the scheduled duration of the shoot (6 months: $60K), that a VH1 staffer "stick her head inside the oven" to see if it's clean enough to shoot, and his refusals to appear when "he wasn't looking his personal best" get the media attention. But all VH1's real dealbreakers--the hours- and days-long delays getting into the couple's apartment; abruptly imposed shooting limits (from 30 shooting days per 10 episode cycle to 10 days per year [italics in original]); and constraints on their crew (restricted numbers, limited drilling/installation of equipment, etc.) can be traced back to the co-op board. Or more specifically, to Gest's failure to get the co-op board on board before signing the deal with VH1. How is this possible?

Co-op boards wield a lot of power over many New Yorkers' lives, most notably when they bare their lives (and financial statements) to be approved to buy an apartment. But boards also regulate a lot of how and what we do "in our own homes." Under the grandfathering clause, the dowager on the third floor is the only one allowed a dog. Construction work--even drilling a hole--can only be done in the summer, when the neighbors are in the Hamptons. Remodelling taking longer than five months? No problem, the $2,000/day fine meter is running. The oven thing sounds like pure Gest, but David's demand that a VH1 gaffer installing lighting vacuum the dust up immediately sounds like ducking a "no construction" clause.

Joan Crawford, image: reelclassics.com Kay Thompson, image: eloisewebsite.com Lizzie Grubman mug shot
Is this another example of "show business people" running afoul of co-ops? Maybe, if Liza's building was a serious co-op, on Fifth, Park, or CPW. But apparently, the only pre-req the Imperial House--on 69th between Lex and Third (Third!)--has for celebrity residents is bizarrely crafted eyebrows. Joan Crawford lived (and died). Kay Thompson lived there, with Liza. And before she took that, um, sublet in Riverhead, Lizzie Grubman lived there during her starter marriage.

A Google search of the building's address doesn't turn up any co-op board horror stories. But what it does turn up makes one wonder if David Gest had a reason to think video shoots in the building would be okay. According to the last search result on this Google page, an outfit called Regular J o e V i d e o also operated out of 150 E 69th (Sorry about the spaces; you'll have to Google it for yourself. Not the the kind of site traffic I'm after, thanks). A quick visit to RJV's (not work-friendly) site offers a distinctive genre of "reality" programming (I believe the industry term is "amateur"), one which involves digital video, the delivery guy, and the guest room. (No pun intended, I swear. These people'll sue anything that moves.)

Did Gest, who moved into Liza's apartment with his collection of Judy Garland memorabilia, get some neighborly advice that, "Hey, shooting video's no problem; I do it all the time. Wanna see?" Who knows? One thing is clear: A co-op board's power doesn't extend to pre-nuptial veto. for better or worse (and it's certainly debatable at this point), when Liza decided to marry again, her fiance didn't face a grueling co-op interview. But once he moved in and fell under their purview, the co-op board made it very clear who was wearing the pants in the Gest/Minnelli house.

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: February 10, 2003.

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