Public Eye

The San Diego Union-Tribune – Monday

Want to sleep in a movie star’s bed or romp in a rock star’s Jacuzzi?

You can, for a price, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reports that more celebrities than ever are renting their homes to strangers. Of course, the celebrity doesn’t come with it, but if you rent a private villa in Acapulco owned by singer Julio Iglesias, you do get a stunning bay view, a personal bartender who staffs a thatched-roof bar in the middle of the pool, and a team of masseuses at your disposal for daily visits.

Upscale-vacation planners tell WSJ that there has been about a 50 percent jump in the celebrity-rental business in the past two years.

For example: Virgin Group Ltd. chairman Richard Branson’s private island in the Caribbean is booked more than a year in advance. So are Mick Jagger’s and Princess Margaret’s homes on the Caribbean island of Mustique.

On Branson’s island, you get a staff of 31, three villas and two beaches complete with electric coolers stocked with champagne. Jagger’s six-bedroom villa is $15,000 a week. If you want to rent the 14th-century castle near Bath, England, owned by actress Jane Seymour, you’ll pay $21,000 for seven days. You can even stay in the Palm Springs home where Elvis Presley is said to have proposed to Priscilla for $6,000 a week.

Why would cash-rich and normally privacy-seeking celebs open their doors to unknown renters? Real estate agents say some are discreetly trying to sell their homes by offering what amounts to test drives. Others just like the extra cash or want to keep their staffs occupied.

“The Duke of Devonshire can’t walk all 60-plus rooms of his manor every day,” Gregory Patrick of Tours of Enchantment in Houston, told the Journal. “So although he doesn’t need the money, it helps to have the toilets flushed.”

The leasing is usually handled by management companies, so there’s no celeb contact. The guests are said to be doctors, lawyers, business types, and the nouveau riche dot-commers.

But no Geraldo Rivera, Barbara Walters or Peter Jennings.

“We’ll rent to anyone with money, except the media,” says Jeannette Cadet, who oversees house rentals for the Mustique Co.

Occasionally, things don’t always work so well for the stars. A renter who opted for country-and-western singer Randy Travis’s home on the Hawaiian island of Maui asked the female chef to work naked. She quit on the spot.

Tribute to Walter

It was an emotional hour last week when Larry King hosted Charlie Matthau, Dyan Cannon, Carol Burnett and Jack Lemmon to pay tribute to the loveable Walter Matthau, who died earlier this month at age 79.

Lemmon, Matthau’s acting partner in movies from “The Odd Couple” to “Grumpy Old Men,” said he was at home when his wife told him that Matthau had died. He said Matthau, who was in ill health in recent years, would have loved it that Lemmon was actually sitting in the bathroom “on the throne” at the time.

Lemmon said his wife told him, “you’ll never smile again,” then broke the news about his longtime partner, whom an emotional Lemmon said was his best friend both on and off the screen.

Son Charlie, a filmmaker who directed his Oscar-winning father in “The Grass Harp” in 1995, said he was very close to his dad and his death was “something I’ve dreaded all of my life.”

Flash

[] Lauren Bacall, who was honored as a Woman of Achievement by the Women’s Project & Productions, a nonprofit theater group in New York, required $2,000 for hair and makeup before she would agree to appear at a fund-raiser. Artistic director Julia Miles told New York magazine that the group depended on Bacall for help in raising money, so paying for her beautification “is a small thing for us to do.”

[] Comedian Argus Hamilton says Vice President Al Gore is so desperate for a strong running mate that “he told his campaign chairman to put Harry Potter on the short list.”

Who said what

[] “If you’re smart, you’ll learn from the hard lessons in life. You’ve got a one-shot deal — unless you’re Shirley MacLaine.”

— Judge Judy to “Entertainment Tonight,” who also said that when she remarried her ex-husband, Judge Gerry, her vows were “for better — or forget it.”

[] In a recent issue of the Chico News & Review in a story on the great chefs of Chico, chef Robert Allison of Christian Michaels’ Ristorante says, “There’s a reason why lamb and goat cheese go together, and it’s not because they’re from the same animal.”

[] Robert Downey Jr., serving a three-year prison sentence for drug possession, has been sending his friends art and writings. “It’s like anagrams and all this weird other . . . ,” said friend Josh Richman to Vanity Fair. “I mean, it’s so prison!”

E-mail lavish praise or scathing criticism to currents@uniontrib.com, or fax (619) 293-2432.

Copyright 2000 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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