A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg

Swimming With Lauren Bacall


We returned to the ranch the night of the Mancos, Colorado concert. It was early July of 2003, and the basin was in that lush green phase between the delicate, pale buds of Spring and the wilting leaves of Fall. The wildflowers were in bloom, and deer, elk, and cattle roamed the fields and pastures together in their own safe covens. It was the best time of the year to walk the dirt roads to the back of the ranch or to drive friends around the property. From the big clearing you could look north and see majestic peak after peak, fading into the distance.


     Even as we enjoyed the views outdoors, our minds were focused on the construction taking place in Maine and the Soundstage concert that Dan and the band would perform in Chicago in four weeks. We spent hours making drawings and answering emails from Bryan, who was keeping us informed about progress on the new house. The basement had been dug, the cement for the foundation poured, and now framing was underway. It was exciting to see our ideas coming to life, and we were looking forward to seeing it in person. 

     There wasn’t a lot to do before the Soundstage concert, other than Dan keeping his voice and fingers nimble. As usual, before a concert or tour, some time was reserved on sunny days for sitting out on the back deck. Dan liked being tan for performances, and I liked the downtime. Between our separate and combined projects, and the housework that always needed doing, it seemed we were constantly in motion. I treasured those lazy hours, lying side by side in the deck chairs. Warm and drowsy, we rarely discussed practical matters, but even when we were considering something important, it sounded slow and insignificant.

     In August, we met the band in Chicago for the filming of the Soundstage concert, which would eventually air on PBS. The lighting and staging were beautiful, and it was interesting to watch all the cameramen moving around the stage while trying to remain unobtrusive. I sat with our friend Elliott Delman in the risers to the side of the stage, so I had a great view of the entire room. It had been a long time since I sat in the audience, and I was struck all over again by how much his fans loved and respected Dan. While he was singing, they were completely silent, and then every song received a standing ovation.

     Later, Soundstage sent Dan a DVD of the concert; it was theirs to air, but they needed his approval to sell it. He wasn’t happy with it, though, and declined. I didn’t ask why; I never got involved with business decisions unless asked, but I did notice him frowning and adjusting the volume throughout. I had taken photos of him all during the summer tour, and he looked good, but the Soundstage cameras seemed to add ten pounds. So, it might have been the sound, his performance, his appearance, the band, or something else entirely.

      In the end, it didn’t matter what Dan wanted. Every time PBS aired the concert, new bootleg copies showed up on YouTube, and for sale online, looking and sounding terrible. Stemming the flow of bootleg posts and CDs would be a never-ending, full-time job, so this illegal trafficking of copyright-protected material continues, in plain sight.

After the Soundstage concert, we went to Maine, where Bryan’s crew was making great progress. We were renting our friend Pauline’s cottage, just ten minutes up the road, so we would walk down and meet Bryan onsite in the afternoon. We discussed progress and answered or asked questions, all the while trying not to get in the way. Then, after the crew had gone home for the day, we would return to take our time wandering through the skeletal rooms, envisioning walls, furniture, and art. 


     Occasionally, we spotted a calico cat watching us from a distance. She (calico cats are almost always female) was feral, and visited the building site on a regular basis to eat scraps left by the crew. In many cultures, sailors considered cats on board to be good luck. For centuries they were a working part of a ship’s crew, killing the rats that otherwise would have endangered food supplies. So, we were happy to have a tri-colored forest kitty watching over the creation of our new home.

     We’d arrived in Maine in August. On Halloween, the house was covered in Typar building wrap, so the crew could continue working on the interior through the winter. We stayed a few more days, sailing, shopping for antiques, and daydreaming about long happy days in our house by the sea.


     Dan had some meetings to attend in Los Angeles, so we flew there for a few days. We stayed at the Hotel Bel-Air, which was always a treat. I loved the old-Hollywood feel of the place, and the tropical plants and palm trees that filled the pink-walled gardens of the property. We marveled at the big blue Hydrangeas that grew so willingly, thriving in the California climate and low altitude. Each time we checked into a room, I couldn’t help but wonder what stories it could tell.

     In his younger days, Dan stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The stories he told of those days usually took place in bars or limousines, and they always involved booze, drugs, and crazy characters from the city of lost angels. Later, he wanted the quiet seclusion of the Hotel Bel-Air, where Hollywood’s biggest stars had been finding refuge since 1946.

     Dan’s days of playing stadiums were behind him now, but you never would have known it within the hallowed grounds of the Hotel Bel-Air, where every guest was treated like royalty. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for all of Los Angeles, where, to some, you’re only as big as your last hit.


During his heyday, Dan’s favorite place for dinner had been a small, popular Italian restaurant on Santa Monica Blvd. He and the Eagles ate there frequently and knew most of the long-time staff by name. He remained a loyal customer, and we stopped in for dinner any time we were in Los Angeles. 

     We had arranged to meet Nina Avramides, Dan’s long-time assistant, and her husband Pierre, there one night after a concert at the Greek Theater. We arrived with road manager Bill Thompson and photographer Henry Diltz. The smell of garlic and grilled steak greeted us, making my stomach feel twice as empty as it had on the drive there. 

     On past visits, the manager always greeted Dan warmly, but he was away from the host stand so we waited in the small area between bar and restaurant. One of the Italian waiters approached us and said we could wait in the bar until our table was free. As his eyes scanned the noisy bar, Dan told the waiter we were looking for Nina. With a look of haughty disdain, the waiter turned his head and said, just loud enough for me to hear, “Who’s Nina?” I wanted to knock that smug smirk off his face, for dissing Dan. Instead, as I followed Dan into the crowded bar, I looked at the waiter with equal disdain and said, “You don’t know Nina??”

     After a while, the manager came and found us in the bar, greeting Dan and Nina warmly. He led us to a big booth and we all slid in, except for Henry, who sat in a chair opposite us, taking pictures. The food was fantastic, as always, as was the chance to catch up with Nina and Pierre. 

     Also with us was Barbara, my friend Rebecca’s stepmother. Barbara lived near Los Angeles and was a fan of Dan’s, so when Rebecca heard Dan would be playing the Greek, she called us. Dan arranged tickets for Barbara and a friend, and I sat with the two women in the audience. After the show, I led them backstage and they were thrilled to meet Dan. Then he invited them to join us for dinner, and offered them a lift in the limo. By the time we were into our first glasses of wine, they were having the time of their lives.

     Henry had immediately noticed two beautiful Swedish girls sitting at a table near us, and struck up a conversation with them. They could have been twins, and he alternated between photographing them, and our group. Once our dessert dishes had been cleared, the girls came over and stood by our booth. When Henry captured the moment, most of our table was caught up in a discussion the Swedish girls were having with Barbara and her friend. I was focused on some food between my teeth. In the middle of the noisy chaos of the room, Dan alone is looking at Henry, enjoying the moment with his old friend.


On our second day in L.A., we wandered along the shops in Beverly Hills. As someone who had been making her own clothes for much of her life, I was shocked at the prices. I knew the saying, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” so I peeked at the price tags when no one was looking. The markup on one simple knit top must have been at least 2,000 percent! Dan would have bought me anything I wanted, but even with my mother’s voice in my head saying, “You get what you pay for,” I couldn’t reconcile the price with what I knew the fabric must have cost.

     We ate lunch at Nate ‘n Al’s delicatessen, and Dan had his usual Reuben Sandwich. As we were leaving a designer store, I looked across the street and saw The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. We went in and were amazed at the huge selection of international cheeses and wines. While looking over one cheese-filled counter, we were astounded and delighted to find Pecorino de Pienza, the cheese we had loved so much in Tuscany. We bought a wedge, and the flavor brought back happy memories of following our noses through the narrow streets of Pienza in search of the famous sheep’s milk cheese. The Cheese Store shipped, so we happily took a card with us.

     Two blocks later, we turned on to Rodeo Drive. We passed a gallery I recognized, and this time I was the one with a story to tell, about a crazy character from the city of lost angels.


In 1979 I was between bands and staying with my parents until I could find work. One Sunday, there was an ad in the Los Angeles Times that said, FEMALE BACKUP VOCALIST WANTED. Backup? My mind went straight to that first dingy bar and tiny stage. But the ad also said FOR LAS VEGAS. I’d never been to Las Vegas, and it sounded exciting. It had been five years since my last dismal foray into the L.A. music scene, but I’d been a minor then. I was twenty-three now, and I felt ready to try again.

     The phone was answered by a nice woman who told me that the band had just started rehearsing. They needed two backup singers, and they already had one. I drove down to L.A. and auditioned for Randy B, a tall, skinny black dude who was the band leader and frontman.

     I was exactly what he was looking for. The other singer was a tall, thin blonde; we were matching bookends. Patricia Shanks was a classically trained opera singer. She was a little younger than me, very pretty, and a good girl who didn’t do drugs. She’d never been in a Top 40 band before, so she didn’t realize how strange Randy B’s rehearsal setup was. 

     In an old, empty recording studio in a downtrodden part of town, the four musicians in the band rehearsed in the main room, while Patty and I rehearsed our vocal parts by singing along with a boom box in a separate room. We could see the band through the thick sound-proof windows, but we couldn’t hear them or talk to them. Randy flitted in and out of the studio, but never actually stopped to sing with us, or the band. 

     He had a small plastic nasal inhaler in his jacket pocket that he used frequently, and he seemed much more concerned with his stage clothes than the music. One day he took Patty and me to Bill Whitten’s “Workroom 27” studio in Santa Monica to check on the progress of his flashy new stage clothes. There were four outfits, one for each set, and they were classic Whitten: metallic fabric jumpsuits with accents of cut mirrors and studs, similar to the ones he’d made for the Commodores. We were impressed!

     Five years later, Whitten would design Michael Jackson’s signature crystal and rhinestone-covered gloves and socks, so the audiences in the big venues would be better able to see Jackson’s amazing hand and foot moves on his 1984 Victory Tour.

      Patty and I were to have matching outfits, but they wouldn’t come from Workroom 27, they would come from the mall. We were given shiny spandex pants in bright colors, skin-tight Danskin camisoles, and four-inch heels with transparent lucite uppers. This look was all the rage in the ‘70s; it could be worn to the disco, or to the office, if you happened to be a hooker. We were both young and thin enough to pull the outfits off, but modest enough to be incredibly self-conscious in them. The wedge heels were actually quite comfortable, and we liked them.

     We had three weeks of rehearsals before traveling to Las Vegas. During that time, I was staying with Randy’s family, in the spare bedroom of their classic suburban house. Like almost every other house on the block, there was a pool in the backyard and a two-car garage. Randy’s wife, Cheryl, was a kind and pretty redhead, with a good job managing an art gallery on Rodeo Drive. It was her American Express card that would pay for the Whitten jumpsuits, spandex outfits, rehearsal space, and airline tickets. She obviously had complete confidence in Randy, and his big plans for a triumphant return to Vegas. We would be performing at no less than the Hilton Hotel on the strip, which paid well. That was good, because we weren’t going to be paid much for rehearsals.

     As the day of our departure for Vegas got closer, I was getting anxious about how the various parts of our performing machine were going to work together. We had four sets of disco and Top 40 songs worked up, but Patty and I still hadn’t sung them with Randy, or the band. This was sheer madness to me, and I told Randy so. He finally allowed us to join the band in the main room when we had just three days left in the studio. They played the songs and we sang our backup parts. Randy was too busy making last-minute arrangements to attend. It was awkward at first, since there were no lead vocals, but I filled them in where I could, and we sounded fine. 

     I felt much more prepared, but I was still concerned about Randy. He said he could sing these songs in his sleep, though, and this was just how he had always worked. The day before our big debut, Randy and Patty and I boarded a plane for the quick flight from LAX to Las Vegas. The band was driving with the equipment and would meet us there. 

     At the Maxim Hotel and Casino, Randy went to the front desk and checked in. He gave Patty and me our keys, and we went up to unpack our things. We were excited to be there, and nervous about the gig. As we were talking and unpacking, Randy knocked on the door. He was sorry to report that a mistake had been made with reservations - he didn’t have a room and the hotel was booked up. He would have to stay with us. At the look on our faces, he assured us he’d sleep on the couch. 

     I asked why he didn’t just stay with the band, but he said they were in a motel on the other side of the city, sharing two small rooms. This was news to me, and I was shocked by Randy’s shabby treatment of his band. Patty was looking very nervous and unsure, which helped me immeasurably. I pulled up my big-sister pants and told Randy he absolutely would not be staying with us; he would simply have to make other plans. It worked; he left, and lo and behold, a room magically became available at the Hilton.

     There are some parts of our Las Vegas adventure that I’ve blocked out. Maybe that’s why they say, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” because no one wants to remember what happened in Vegas. Anyway, to this day, Patty remembers some parts and I remember others, and together we’ve managed to piece it all together. 

     Away from the wife and kids, Randy began hitting on us, especially Patty. After he made some moves on her in an elevator, we stuck together and avoided being alone with him. Working together at the rehearsal studio day after day, she and I had become friendly, but now, in a new place far from home, we were quickly becoming friends. I loved hearing her beautiful mezzo-soprano voice as she sang arias in the bathroom while getting ready. It was a crime to waste that talent on disco, but you get work where you can.

     The next day we took a cab to the Hilton to meet the band for a sound check. The sound check quickly became a big, fat reality check. We weren’t setting up in a club or theater; we were in the bar just off the casino. And, we weren’t there for the first night of an extended, well-paying gig, we were there to audition. Randy’s triumphant return as a headliner in Vegas was nothing more than an audition to play in the Hilton Hotel bar. By now I knew that the inhaler he used so frequently contained cocaine, so everything was starting to make horrible sense.

     As the band set up, Patty and I left in search of tea and coffee, and a place to talk in private. Finding a casual restaurant, we huddled together in a booth, still trying to process this new information. We decided there was nothing for it but to get through the audition.

     That night, when we got back to the lounge, there were two Italian businessmen, sitting at a table to the right of the stage. They were from the talent agency that was representing Randy, and he looked nervous as he introduced Patty and me to them. He had a lot more riding on the next four hours than I’d imagined.

     The band moved to their instruments, and Patty and I took our places on the stage.  When we were ready, Randy bounded up on the stage looking manic; his eyes were glassy and he licked his top teeth frequently as he introduced himself to the small crowd. He attempted some banter, which went over like a fat raccoon on the end of a skinny branch, so he turned to us and said, “Let’s get it on!”

     The band started the first song and Patty and I began doing our rehearsed moves. Oh yeah, we had the matching dance steps and everything. Randy didn’t come in where he was supposed to, so the band repeated the opening chords. Patty and I did our moves again. Randy was gripping the microphone tightly, and moving to the music, but he wasn’t singing. He missed the intro again, and again the band circled back. I figured he was so nervous he’d forgotten the words, so I sang them, to get us into the song, and he immediately joined in. He got through the first two verses before floundering again, so I jumped in and got him back on track. 

     Patty sounded great, but this was her first band gig and she was freaked out by the unexpected turn things were taking. I just wanted the song to end, so we could get to one that Randy actually knew. 

     That didn’t happen. 

     Maybe it was extreme stage fright. Or maybe, with his coked-up overconfidence and sense of invincibility, he just assumed the words would come to him. Maybe it was a little of both. I continued singing both his parts and mine, dropping out when he jumped in, and looking to Patty from time to time just to assure myself this was really happening. She was dancing and singing as rehearsed, but her deer-in-the-headlights eyes were all the confirmation I needed.

     Somehow, we made it through that first set. On the break, Randy ran upstairs to change his clothes. It must have been a sauna inside his disco space suit; I was wearing a spaghetti-strap Danskin top, and I’d been sweating like crazy. Fifteen minutes later, Randy made a grand entrance in another fabulous pantsuit. He gathered the band together to tell us that we would be doing the first set all over again. 

     It’s a common nightmare for entertainers: you’re on stage, the music starts, and you can’t remember the words. Then you realize you’re naked. Randy was living that nightmare now and dragging us along with him. At least he wasn’t naked: the mirrors on his beautiful suit reflected the colored stage lights and sent them scurrying along the floor to the casino. In that moment, I would have given anything to be sitting out there at a Blackjack table, $10,000 down and wondering idly if that was a Commodore onstage with the two skinny blondes.

     Randy was the boss, though, and we had signed contracts for the night. So, back into the nightmare we waded, mangling “Reunited” by Peaches and Herb, and Chic’s “Le Freak.” Awww.....freak out! Those lyrics have had a whole new meaning for me ever since that night.

     While waiting for Randy to change for the third set, the Italians asked me to sit for a moment in the booth with them. They said they would like to represent me. I took their card and told them I’d think about it. I couldn’t focus on anything but how the next set was going to go. I needn’t have worried, though: Randy had us repeat set one for the last two sets as well. By the fourth set, he had started to relax and remember most of the words. Not surprisingly, we didn’t get the gig. 

     Patty’s clearest memory of the audition is a bouncer standing beneath a ceiling light at the back of the room, with cocktail napkins stuffed in his ears.


     I’m sure we must have gone to eat something before attending the band meeting in Randy’s room. Actually, this entire meeting has been erased from my mind, but Patty remembers that when we got there, Randy was in bed with a woman (who was not his wife) and that’s where he stayed during the entire meeting. No wonder I erased it. 

     Instead of apologizing for lying to all of us about the nature of the gig, or for not knowing his parts, he said he intended to “reorganize.” Patty and I kept quiet, but when we got back to the Maxim we called Randy and told him we quit. He was furious. He said he wanted the outfits back, and he was coming over for them now, so we put them in a dry-cleaning bag and left them outside the door. I kept the lucite shoes; he owed me.

     When we wouldn’t open the door to him, Randy went downstairs to the front desk and asked to see the room bill. He unclipped his wife’s credit card from it, then he went to the head of security. I don’t know what terrible story he told, but the guy came up and knocked loudly on our door. He told Patty and me that if we couldn’t pay for our room in the morning we would be going to jail.

     Any money we'd had three weeks ago been spent on food, and Randy had given us nothing but promises. We were completely frazzled now and hardly slept a wink that night. Randy called the room again and again, high on coke. Patty remembers me holding the receiver in my lap, and Randy’s tinny voice repeating, “Jeanie! Jeanie! Jeanie! Jeanie! Jeanie!” as she and I looked at each other in fear and wonder.

     Luckily, for no reason she could think of, Patty had brought her contract with her. It saved us. Bright and early the next morning, I went down to the office to plead our case. The daytime head of security was a different guy altogether. Once he saw Patty’s contract, clearly stating that Randy was responsible for our accommodations, and he heard about Randy removing his credit card in the middle of the night, he said we were free to go.

     Patty was flying back to L.A., using her return ticket. I had nothing to fly back to, and my old Outrigger roommate, Carol, lived in Vegas. I called, and told her I was in town and stranded - could I crash with her? She was between boyfriends and said she'd be glad for the company. 

     From our hotel room, Patty and I called for a taxi and then we fled, keeping an eye out for Randy. Hugging goodbye, we agreed to stay in touch. She flew back to the city of angels and I began making my way through the city of sin.


On our last day in Los Angeles, Dan and I had lunch at the Bel-Air, then we put on our bathing suits and headed for the pool. As we lay there, soaking up the sun, he was reminded of one of his favorite L.A. stories. Whenever Dan said, “Did I ever tell you about the time...” I would always ask him to tell me anyway, just because he was such a good storyteller.

     In his thirties, Dan was in town on business and staying at the Bel-Air. While doing lazy laps in the swimming pool, he saw Lauren Bacall come out of her pool-side bungalow. She sat under the umbrella just outside her room and ordered lunch. Then she stood, removed her robe, and slipped into the water. As they passed each other in the pool, Dan said “Hi,” and she said “Hello,” in that famous husky voice. 

     He hobnobbed with famous musicians and celebrities on a regular basis, but the kid from Peoria called his mother as soon as he got back to his room, to tell her that he had just been swimming with Lauren Bacall. 

     At the end of the story, he paused for a moment and smiled at me. “That would be a good title for a biography,” he said, “‘Swimming With Lauren Bacall.’”


Posted January 23rd, 2021  Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2021