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This town is comically blasé about celebrity. There's just too much of it for people to take it seriously. The relatives from Ohio may go slack-jawed when Dick Van Patten settles into a booth next to them at Solley's, but a true Angeleno (defined as anybody with a working vocabulary gathered from the Los Angeles Times's "Calendar" section) is obliged to look away, suddenly fatigued, positively enervated, by the sheer boredom of life here. A true Angeleno might—if he can manage any sympathy at all for the pathetic gawkers from Ohio—muster the scorn to mention that he bumps into Jamie Farr at Von's from time to time or sees Frankie Avalon regularly at the Sagebrush Cantina. But just the thought of it usually sinks him into torpor.
How to explain it, except to say that this is a city where the Hollywood Reporter and Casting Call are sold right alongside Big Truck and Equipment Trader at convenience stores in even the remotest areas of Los Angeles. It's a company town, and the workaday industry is fame.
Ohio relative: "Let me get this straight. You saw Jamie Farr squeezing lettuce heads?"
True Angeleno: "Kids," (keeping his head up, trying not to doze) "the things I could tell you." (Sound asleep now.)
So here comes Earvin (Magic) Johnson walking into Le Dome, no Buckeye closer than Pasadena (an Ohioan would have better luck petitioning the Rose Bowl for 50-yard-line seats than trying for reservations at Le Dome), to meet Michael Ovitz, described around Hollywood as the most powerful man in the Western world. Ovitz, who heads Creative Artists Agency and thus assembles most of the talent you see at the neighborhood Cineplex, routinely dines with such clients as Paul Newman and Bill Murray without any more fuss than would attend an oil change at the local gas station. But, as we say, here comes Magic, and Le Dome's patrons, all true Angelenos, glance up and see six feet nine inches of maximum celebrity ambling their way. There is a time to be blasé (almost always) and a time to be slack-jawed (now!). They give him a standing ovation.
To the extent that anyone can own a layout like Los Angeles, Magic does. It's hard to say why this is his town, except that nobody else in this entertainment capital has sustained such purity of effort and enthusiasm for 11 years, not to mention a talent for public performance that has allowed Laker basketball to be celebrated as Showtime. He can do what he wants here, and for all his playful innocence, he is not unmindful of the opportunities this gives him. Perhaps you saw him last September on the televised MTV Awards, presenting Janet Jackson with a nice little trophy. You may have been at the Forum when rap star M.C. Hammer decided he needed a new posse and called Magic to the stage. Magic is everywhere, does everything.
If Magic wants to host a heavy-hitter golf tournament at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades—done. ("Kids, don't embarrass me," says the true Angeleno, "but that's Jimmy Garner and Bob Wagner on the veranda.") His own charity basketball game—a sellout. ("The guy coaching? With the head shaped like a wedge of cheese? Arsenic") As for Janet Jackson, if Magic decides he would like to hear a little Rhythm Nation, he promotes her concerts at the Forum. Sellouts again. A lot of guys would just go out and buy the album, but that's Magic, and this is Los Angeles.
One more thing: Not that this is the ultimate celebrity certification, but the man does have a sandwich named after him at the L.A. version of the Stage Deli. Some kind of triple-double.
If you're going to own a town, and you're 31 years old and full of life and your fiancée is grudgingly permitting yet another extension on that marriage deadline, Los Angeles is probably the town to go for. The variety of experience available so overrides the city's inconveniences that operating elsewhere is almost unthinkable. During a hot spell when Los Angeles turned in a rare single-triple, Magic was asked if he would consider moving back to Michigan. He was dumbfounded. And own what? Detroit? It's entirely appropriate that Magic lives on a ridge with a 180-degree view of the Los Angeles basin. An admitted view freak, he likes to sit on his back porch to examine his turf. King of the hill, etc. His town.
But here's the thing: When Magic sits there alone, banging a Pepsi out of his poolside machine, he's actually looking way past the hills that contain all this celebrity and out into the far reaches of the nation. He has ideas that go beyond holding the notes on L.A. Are you surprised? Did you think that just because the man can make those no-peek passes with such ease—just because he's the athlete to the stars—he doesn't have ambition?