Dotson and Tennessee

Dotson Rader’s play about close friend Tennessee Williams has its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse, with Al Pacino starring as the brilliant, tormented playwright.

To kick off its new development program, PlayWorks, the Pasadena Playhouse is setting the bar high with its inaugural production of Dotson Rader’s God Looked Away, starring Oscar- and Tony-winner Al Pacino. The acclaimed actor portrays Southern playwright Tennessee Williams in a turbulent period of his life, following years of fame sparked by the critical success of The Glass Menagerie in 1944 and a string of other plays now part of the American theatrical lexicon: A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on A Hot Tin Roof (1955), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959) and more.

Joining Pacino on the boards is Judith Light (Transparent), a two-time Tony-winner, as Williams’ close friend Estelle, and Miles Gaston Villanueva (Jane the Virgin) as Baby. Directed by Robert Allen Ackerman, the production runs until March 19.

Williams’ work is no stranger to The Pasadena Playhouse, which served as the backdrop for three of his world premieres in the 1940s: You Touched Me in 1943 (co-written with Donald Windham), The Purification (1944) and Stairs to the Roof in 1947. More than 20 years later, writer and novelist Rader befriended Williams and later wrote a memoir about their close friendship: Tennessee, Cry of the Heart (1982). Both were gay men — never romantically linked — from different eras, who bonded at a time when taboos against homosexuality were beginning to be challenged in America.

Rader started writing a play about Williams after the playwright’s death in 1983 but later shelved it. He resurrected the project about a year ago, workshopping the play with Pacino. who, according to Rader, has uncannily captured Williams’ humor, pride and stubbornness as well as his unyielding defense of people living on the fringes of society.

Arroyo Monthly: You’ve written fiction, nonfiction and even a memoir about Tennessee. Why write a play, something you’ve never done?

Dotson Rader: Well, he was a playwright! I started working on this six months after he died because I was afraid of losing him. I’m aware that memory corrodes and memory revises itself and memory becomes unreliable. I wanted to get it all down. I also started to see things being written about him that were just not true and they were sanitizing his life. This happens all the time. They were making him acceptable — and part of his brilliance was his willingness to write about things that were unacceptable, about the outcasts and the broken, the disconsolate, the rejected of life, the wretched — all qualities that, in ways, you could apply to him.

This is the first play in the PlayWorks program. What are you looking forward to?

The live audience is like a second writer on the project. We are trying to get this play where it needs to be. We’ve had table readings, roundtables and workshops, but when you put it in front of a live audience, you see things so differently. You sense when the audience is getting restless or bored. Things you thought would bring a laugh don’t. Things you thought would get a little twitter get a big laugh. You gradually learn what works. Every other kind of writing, you’re dealing with a magazine editor, a movie director or other editors and that is really an audience of one. But not with a live audience…It’s exciting.

How has it been to see your words leap from the page to the mouths of actors?

Tennessee was difficult, we had arguments, but we loved each other. It’s like Lionel Trilling’s line about a marriage, “So often the very thing that makes a marriage unbearable, makes it unbreakable.” We were friends for 14 years, and I can only say this about a handful of people: not once, ever, was I bored. He was very self-dramatic, but he was so alive. And Pacino brings that vividness of Tennessee to life.

We had our first reading with Al about a year ago and I sat there listening to the actors read and I don’t know how the hell he does it, but Al caught the cadence of the way Tennessee talked. I could close my eyes and I could hear Tennessee.

Tell us why you chose this particular point in the playwright’s life.

The play takes place in 1981 and in the present. The play opens like Menagerie with a monologue by Baby, the narrator. All you’ll see on the stage are Baby’s memories of Tennessee, because that is all that exists now, because Tennessee is dead and everyone is gone. It’s over. Finished. These events take place so long ago and Baby is the survivor, like Tom in Menagerie. The play, his memory, is colored by his own feelings, as memory is.

I picked this point in Tennessee’s life because that is when the final bell rang. I don’t want to say too much, but this was a critical point in his life, this one weekend in Chicago, the weekend of his last play. Chicago is where fame found him, it’s where Menagerie opened; he had been a bit of a failed writer until then; his first play, Battle of Angels, flopped terribly. Suddenly Menagerie became this incredible phenomenon. Chicago is where success found him — only now, success is gone. And he’s back in Chicago hoping it will happen again.

A lot of what you’ll hear Tennessee say, he said in real life. Everyone is based on real people and I could tell you who they are, but I’m not going to. (Laughs.) You’ll see!

Why is God looking away?

The play will tell you that.

Like many artists, Williams was keenly creative but he also fought many inner demons, especially later in his life — alcoholism, drug addiction, abusive personal relationships. How do you make these moments a serious examination of life, loss and character on stage, instead of just a presentation of sensational events?

What’s in the play is in the play because it is true. These things are here because there is a theatrical reason for it, because it serves the drama. Look at this way: You’ve been married to someone for a long time and you have two hours to tell people what that person was like — so you edit his life, you pick out what is most representative of what it was like being with this person. While the play covers a weekend, that weekend becomes representational. The audience has to leave understanding why and where he was and why the play ended the way it did. The play is about the stripping away — everyone on the stage is stripping away, pulling off masks. As the play goes on, people reveal themselves as who they actually are. Things that don’t seem at all remarkable or sensationalistic to me, others may find discomforting. But truth is discomforting. I don’t want to be part of the coterie of sycophants and academics who sanitize the lives of public figures. Theater is a safe place where you can hear the truth — even when it is uncomfortable. (Pause) Maybe what you see on stage is the price he had to pay to give us the beauty he created.

What do you want the new generation of theatergoers to understand about Tennessee Williams, the man?

The play begins in the present and we step into the past, on that cusp of history just after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan; 1981 is the end of the ’60s and ’70s. It’s the end of that period of freedom, of social experimentation, of when people didn’t know that drugs were bad, of sex being wide open — that incredible period comparable to France and Weimar Germany in the 1920s. When every question was open, every possibility presented itself, when all restraints were gone.

It was also the period right before the beginning of AIDS and the beginning of terror. We started to realize that something was happening. We were losing friends and it suddenly begins to dawn on us the price we have paid for personal freedom. It’s a period in American social and artistic history that isn’t going to happen again. Not only in terms of Tennessee’s career — it’s about the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another in American history.

I think young people will like the play because it deals with freedom and a world without fear, unlike what they know now.

Is the play hopeful?

The play is true.

What would Williams think about the social media culture of 2017? Would he tweet?

Tennessee used a manual typewriter until he died. He didn’t like electric typewriters. If he were here today, he’d still be on Key West typing on his old Royal manual typewriter.

What do you miss most about Tennessee?

Of all the people I’ve known in my life, he had the most real presence. He was so completely aware of life and where people were around him. And he was sensitive to them. That’s what I miss the most. He had intense sympathy for the losers in life, for the marginalized, for the people who were beaten before they even began.

He had great contempt for the money people. The only problems he ever had with his plays, and what ultimately undid him, was with the money people. “Oh, you can’t write that! The matinee crowd won’t go for that!!!” He knew he needed them, but he often thought, “If you had so much money, can’t you make the world hurt a little less?” He got involved in the anti-war movement and protests with me and he was always baffled by the problems that could be fixed with just a little bit of money.

Tennessee, I don’t mean to speak for him, but you can see it in his plays, saw the immorality of money people who don’t put money into things that matter — like art, writers and the truth — but who spend only on themselves. He quoted Andrew Carnegie, “A man who dies rich, dies disgraced.” Tennessee saw his own talent and many gifts — he was a Christian, you see — from God as challenges to see if we can use them for good. Tennessee used his gifts the best way he knew how, on behalf of the people who had no voice.

God Looked Away runs through March 19 at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. The curtain rises at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tuesday performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Feb. 14 and 28. Ticket prices range from $126 to $206. Call (626) 356-7529 or visit

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A Garland of Public Gardens

Here is a baker’s dozen of lush nearby gardens where you can get back to nature.

The days are getting longer, the weather gloriously warmer. It’s the perfect time of year to visit the many lush gardens blooming in Arroyoland and its environs. Whether botanical, meditative or drought-resistant, they each have something to brighten your day — flowers to buy, plants to admire, opportunities to learn. David R. Brown, the executive director of Descanso Gardens, says, “Botanical gardens attract visitors in search of an experience close to nature. Part of their purpose is to connect people to plants and cultivate a greater appreciation for the connectedness and interdependence of life on earth.” Here are 13 gardens, botanical and otherwise, that do just that.

Arlington Garden

295 Arlington Dr., Pasadena

(626) 441-4478 |

The three-acre Arlington has been delighting locals since 2005, when Betty and Charles McKenney, in a public-private collaboration, turned the land, owned by Caltrans and leased to the City of Pasadena, into a water-wise oasis of more than 350 trees and thousands of drought-tolerant and native plants, highlighting many that are rare, endangered and native to California — San Diego ambrosia, bush anemone, rainbow manzanita and big-cone spruce among them. An Italian-style allée, a pathway flanked by sycamores leading to a vernal pool, a grid-pattern orange grove, a seven-circuit labyrinth and meandering paths all add to the garden’s charm. 

Open/Hours: Daily until dusk. On-leash pets are welcome.

Entrance Fee: None. Open to the public.

Fun Fact: The garden’s orange grove yields hundreds of pounds of oranges, which are made into marmalade by E. Waldo Ward & Sons and sold locally at the Pasadena Farmers’ Market at Victory Park, Jones Coffee Roasters and Heirloom Bakery, among others. Proceeds support the garden’s care and maintenance.

Descanso Gardens

1418 Descanso Dr., La Cañada Flintridge

(818) 949-4200 |

The land on which the 150-acre Descanso Gardens sits once belonged to E. Manchester Boddy, the owner of the now-defunct Los Angeles Daily News (no relation to the current Los Angeles Daily News). It was there he built his 22-room mansion, still a centerpiece of the gardens, in 1937. During World War II, when Japanese-Americans were being sent to internment camps, Boddy bought two successful Japanese nurseries, acquiring nearly 100,000 camellias and subsequently running a commercial camellia garden from the property. Today, Descanso Gardens also includes a lilac garden, rosarium, xeriscape, Japanese teahouse and a bird sanctuary. The Descanso Gardens Enchanted Railroad, a one-eighth-scale replica of a diesel train, takes visitors around a section of the park four days a week. Boddy House is available for special events including weddings, conferences and filming; and the Stuart Haaga Gallery, free with admission, rotates exhibits throughout the year.

Open/Hours: Daily, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Entrance Fee: $9; seniors (65+) and students with ID, $6; children 5–12, $4; members and children under 5, free.

Fun Fact: Prior to Boddy selling his estate to the County of Los Angeles in 1953, Walt Disney considered the land as a potential site for Disneyland.

Exposition Park Rose Garden

701 State Dr., Los Angeles

(213) 763-0114 |

Though Exposition Park opened in 1913, the seven-acre sunken rose garden wasn’t built until 1927.  In 1933, the L.A. Times described it as the “greatest rose garden in the world”; in 1991, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today there are 20,000 rose bushes and 200 varieties. Not surprisingly, it’s a popular spot for weddings and photography. So that the roses can be pruned, the garden is closed from Jan. 1 to March 15 by the L.A. City Department of Recreation and Parks, which has been operating it since 1928.

Open/Hours: Daily, 8:30 a.m. to dusk.

Entrance Fee: None; the city charges for photography and weddings.

Fun Fact: Before the turn of the 20th century, the garden’s precursor, Agricultural Park, was a locale for horse, camel, greyhound and auto racing; a saloon that housed L.A.’s longest bar; and an elegant brothel.

Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino
(626) 405-2100 |

The Huntington, home to rare manuscripts, important artwork and a dozen spectacular gardens spread across 120 acres, is well known as a cultural jewel in the San Gabriel Valley. Guests can find just about everything here, from lily ponds to the Australian, Desert and Jungle gardens, to fine examples of Chinese and Japanese gardens, to rose and camellia collections, just to name a few. The Helen and Peter Bing Children’s Garden is designed for little ones ages 2 through 7, while the Huntington Ranch is a demonstration garden that holds workshops and classes focused on sustainable urban agriculture. The Huntington also has annual spring and fall plant sales and free second-Thursday lectures featuring gardening experts and authors.
Open/Hours: Wednesday–Monday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.
Entrance Fee: Adults $23 ($25 weekends); seniors (65+) $19 ($21 weekends); youth (4–11), $10; under 4, free.
Fun Fact: Most of the sculptures found throughout the gardens are from the late 17th and early 18th centuries and share a common theme: love.

James Irvine Japanese Garden

244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles

(213) 628-2725 |

Folks in the know visit the secluded and award-winning James Irvine Japanese Garden, a hidden oasis in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo, by going through the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center. Also known as Seiryu-en or “Garden of the Clear Stream,” it presents an assortment of plants, flowers and blooming trees, cedar bridges, stone lanterns and a hand-washing fountain. This serene sanctuary was patterned in the Zen tradition after the famous gardens of Kyoto, and is also available as a venue for an outdoor wedding or other special event.

Open/Hours: Tuesday–Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; call for weekend schedule.

Entrance Fee: None.

Fun Fact: The garden features a 170-foot cascading stream.

Kyoto Gardens

120 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles

(213) 629-1200 |

Another hidden gem in Little Tokyo, Kyoto Gardens, a tranquil half-acre of plants, flowers, waterfalls and ponds, is perched on the rooftop of the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. It is a re-creation of an ancient Japanese garden in Tokyo created for the 16th-century samurai Lord Kiyomasa Kato. Kyoto Gardens is available for weddings, private photography and filming; groups of 50 or more can enjoy an elaborate afternoon tea ($48).

Open/Hours: Daily, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. seven days a week; call ahead to make sure no event is scheduled.

Entrance Fee: None

Fun Fact: A number of movie and TV projects have been filmed at the garden, including Her, Rampart, The Runaways, Law & Order: Los Angeles, The Biggest Loser and NCIS Los Angeles, among others.

Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens

5333 Zoo Dr., Los Angeles

(323) 644-4200 |

There are more than 7,000 singular plants, representing more than 800 distinct species, at the L.A. Zoo, which seeks to educate the public about the importance of plants and the vital role they play in the lives of their animal residents. The zoo boasts native, succulent and edible gardens, as well as rare plants such as cycads, bald cypress and Chilean wine palm. Plants are organized according to their indigenous origins and then paired with their corresponding geographical regions within the zoo.

Open/Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Entrance Fee: $20; seniors (62+), $17; children 2–12, $15; under 2, free. Ticket price includes admission to both the zoo and gardens.

Fun Fact: The zoo is a plant rescue center for illegally imported items confiscated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens

3500 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles

(323) 737-4055 |

A travertine marble labyrinth, a replica of the one found at France’s Chartres Cathedral, blends in with a small Asian-themed meditation garden at Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens, established in 2002 as a nonprofit spiritual center in L.A.’s Jefferson Park neighborhood. Self-described as “a spiritual oasis in the city,” the garden features 16 water fountains, a koi pond and several intimate seating areas, along with hundreds of trees such as bamboo, cypress, jacaranda, tipu and tabebuia; flowers such as jasmine, azalea, rose and birds of paradise; and flowering plants such as stephanotis, oakleaf hydrangea and pittosporum, among many others.

Open/Hours: Tuesday–Friday and Sunday, 12 p.m.–4 p.m.; fourth Saturday of the month: 12 p.m.–4 p.m.

Entrance Fee: None. Donations are welcome.

Fun Fact: For about 10 years beginning in the late 1930s, famed musical director and choreographer Busby Berkeley was the owner of the Guasti Villa, an L.A. Cultural Monument that serves as the gardens’ headquarters. It was later a home for unwed mothers and, after that, a boardinghouse for budding actresses.

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

1500 North College Ave., Claremont

(909) 625-8767 |

At 85 acres, the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden is the largest botanic garden dedicated to the native plants of California. Tucked in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, it serves as an outdoor classroom to the students studying botany at Claremont Graduate University as well as the public, offering a variety of classes and workshops to the latter. (There are also programs and tours designed specifically for children in grades K-12.) The garden is comprised of three sections: Indian Mesa Hill (mature cultivars and wild species of native plants), the East Alluvial Gardens (where the Desert Garden, Coastal Dune and California Channel Island collections are found) and Plant Communities (home to four-needle pinyon, California flannel bushes and boojum trees).

Open/Hours: Daily, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.

Entrance Fee: $8; seniors (65+), $6; children 3–12, $4; under 3, free.

Fun Fact: In addition to those from California, plants found in southern Oregon, western Nevada and Baja California, Mexico — in botanical terms, the California Floristic Province — are all represented at Rancho Santa Ana.

Storrier Stearns Japanese Gardens

270 Arlington Dr., Pasadena

(626) 399-1721 |

The two-acre Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden, conceived for a private residence in the 1930s, is the last existing garden created by Kinzuchi Fujii, who designed and built Japanese landscapes throughout Southern California in the early decades of the 20th century. Visitors at this pond-style stroll garden will find four bridges, a formal teahouse and a traditional cedar-log “waiting house” amid its flora, two large ponds, a 25-foot hill with a cascading waterfall; spreading sycamores and old oaks shading a winding dry riverbed, stone lanterns and granite statuary. Guests can stop and take this all in at numerous gathering points and vistas throughout the garden, which also hosts a number of cultural events and educational programs throughout the year.

Open/Hours: Still a private residence, the garden is open to the public the last Sunday of each month; every Thursday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; and by reservation for private invitation-only events, including weddings.

Entrance Fee: $7.50 online, $10 at the gate.

Fun Fact: This is one of two Japanese gardens in California listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants

10459 Tuxford St., Sun Valley

(818) 768-1802 |

Considered to be the father of the native-plant movement in California, Theodore Payne was a pioneering nurseryman, horticulturist and conservationist. His foundation was established in 1960 and today operates a retail nursery that has the region’s largest selection of California native plants, many of which are drought-tolerant and low maintenance. These include sun-loving perennials, chaparral shrubs, desert plants and riparian, as well as trees, grasses, vines and groundcover. The property also offers visitors an art gallery and a three-quarter-mile walking trail to Wildflower Hill, providing a grand vista of the San Fernando Valley from the summit. Classes and field trips for both children and adults are available through the foundation’s Education Center and outreach programs.

Open/Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Entrance Fee: None. Friendly dogs on leash are welcome.

Fun Fact: Members receive a 20-percent discount on the purchase of a Plant of the Month. The designee for March is the burgundy desert willow.

Wrigley Gardens

391 S. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 449-4100 |

Encompassing four-and-a-half acres, Wrigley Gardens surrounds the Italian Renaissance–style Wrigley Mansion, the headquarters of the Tournament of Roses Association, and showcases more than 1,500 types of roses, camellias and annuals. The Wrigley family, heirs to the chewing-gum empire, handed their private residence to the City of Pasadena in 1958 on the condition that it was to become the new home of the TOR.

Open/Hours: Free tours of the Tournament House are given each Thursday at

2 p.m. and 3 p.m. through the end of

August. Reservations aren’t required except for groups of 10 or more.

Entrance Fee: None

Fun Fact: William Warriner, named the country’s No. 1 rose breeder, developed the Tournament of Roses Rose, a pink variety resistant to black spots, white powder and rust, in honor of the TOR’s centennial.

Alternative Foods

Don’t believe everything you read when you’re served alternative facts about food.

There are so many things I feel like writing about this month. But I must continuously remind myself that this is a food column. Food. Not politics. Not social injustice. Not environmental activism. Not healthcare reform. Food.

And yet, if you are a loyal reader (I know at least three of you are), you have surely come across all of these topics in my column before. Sure, food is a critical element of life that must be made accessible to all. And yes, my industry is swollen with problems — pitiful wages, lack of decent healthcare, no medical leave, epidemic misogyny. We must stand up to all of this, and we do. There have been some great strides against this mess in the past few years. But I think the bigger point is that artists, culinary or otherwise, have the power to grab the attention of the masses, and with such power comes a duty. I’m not suggesting that I am a great artist. Just that I have a platform. So, I intend to use it.

With that in mind, I will use this food column to point out injustice when I see it. And sadly, I see a lot of it. We are being inundated with propaganda from all sides, so it behooves us to sift out what is real, and what is fake. But that isn’t always easy, because the fake stuff is often more appealing.

Velveeta, for instance, might be attractive to less-educated cheese connoisseurs. It is creamy and smooth and is utilized in many All-American dishes that are often described as “safe” and “comfortable.” And its bright orange color is certainly eye-catching. But it isn’t cheese. It’s “cheese food” and is so highly processed that it doesn’t require refrigeration, which is never good. The same is true with cheese in a can, and the stuff they extrude onto your nachos at the ballpark. But please, don’t be lured by its viscosity. It is evil. And while it is an unabashedly American product, it will not serve us well, nutritionally. It also makes us the laughingstock of the International Cheese Community.

Similarly, oat bran once promised to Make Your Diet Great Again. Every conceivable product jumped on the bandwagon, and Americans were led blindly into an all-out high-fiber war. Products without the oat bran label were deemed unhealthy and were shunned by consumers. What they didn’t mention is that adding oat bran to your Cap’n Crunch did not Drain the Swamp of other nutritionally corrupt effects. There was still a ton of sugar and preservatives. Sadly, we didn’t learn from this, and we repeatedly fall for the outrageous claims, whether they be in the guise of whole-grain, all-natural or sugar-free. A sugar-free, whole-grain Oreo will still make you fat. No slogan will ever change that.

Low-fat foods are also dangerous. Paranoid, reactionary organizations warned of the dangers of fat. They told us that it was bad, and that we should ban it from our diets. But there were consequences of such a ban. Anxiety over the dangers of fat led to a plethora of products containing processed fat. But they failed to warn us that, although these foods had reduced levels of cholesterol, they contained processed fat replacements which had their own problems and led to extreme weight gain and chronic disease. That there is evil in fat, it turns out, was an alternative fact. But alternative facts, no matter how ridiculous, can lead to panic and, as a result, those products that already felt marginalized by their fat content suffered even more. What we must realize is that fat is good for us. We need fat in our diet to keep our communities strong. Some of the most deliciously healthful foods are those with fat. Our country was built with the help of fat, and it is fat that makes America strong. Diversity in our diet is imperative for national health.

If our leaders can’t remember where we failed in the past, perhaps they should take a look at the history of grocers’ shelves.

Velveeta-Free, Low-Fiber, High-Fat Mac ’n’ Cheese 

Macaroni and cheese is generally considered to be a comfort food, a foodie term I find exceedingly annoying. Translated into plainspeak, comfort food is a fattening, high-carb, nap-inducing food that you generally turn to when it’s time to eat your feelings. FYI —I’m currently having a lot of feelings.


1 pound macaroni noodles (or try shells, bow-ties or ziti)

4 tablespoons butter, divided

½ yellow onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

½ teaspoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons flour

1½ cup milk

¾ pound Italian fontina, Gouda or Muenster cheese, grated

½ pound yellow or white cheddar cheese, grated

2 cups bread crumbs

¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence, or dried thyme


1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and stir, bringing it back to the boil. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the noodles are half-cooked. Drain noodles, cover with cold water to stop the cooking and set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery and thyme, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender and translucent. Add the flour and stir until all is well coated, then cook another minute until the flour begins to brown. Add the milk slowly, stirring out any lumps as you go. Cook until the sauce is thick, then strain into a large baking dish, and discard the vegetables. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste, then add the cheese and stir until mostly melted.

3. Add the macaroni, and stir until well coated. Mix the breadcrumbs with Parmesan and herbes. Spread the mac evenly in baking dish and top with crumbs. Dot the top with remaining butter, then bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at


went back to school last week. Not for classes and not for any kind of reunion (the reunion part may come later). I returned to Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy for the first time since I left, more years ago than I care to remember, because I received a mysterious phone message from a Sister Giulii (pronounced “Julie”). I called the number; the voice on the other end of the line was husky and casual and, I thought, entirely unclerical. My memories of the Flintridge sisters’ voices were full of crisp pronunciations and formal deliveries. Sister Giulii sounded like a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in a while. Which is pretty much what she turned out to be: a Flintridge classmate appearing out of the fog of our combined academic past. She’d tracked me down after reading one of my Arroyo columns about Flintridge, and she’d called to invite me to drive up to our old school together. She’d pick me up in her car, she said.

Say what? A Dominican nun with a car? I wondered how she’d manage to handle the wheel with all the long skirts, coifs, veils and capacious sleeves of her habit. And what kind of car would she drive?

The car turned out to be a Toyota Corolla. White. Clean, with a small clutch of papers on the passenger-side floor. These were brushed casually to the side so I’d have more leg room. This was the Giulii I’d known all those years ago, all right. The same spark of humor was there in her dark eyes. Her mouth still looked as if she might laugh at any moment. She was still pretty. Her thick dark curls were cropped short and, while the hair had remained thick, it had gone white. But she was not wearing a habit. Sister Giulii had on jeans and a gray T-shirt embossed across the front with the crest of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy. I could not have been more surprised if she had been wearing a sarong.

We drove to La Cañada, talking about classmates who had entered the order. One girl, nicknamed Tyke, was the wildest student in our class, the one who found a way to smoke without being caught (and expelled), the one who managed to smuggle up a bottle of mouthwash laced with vodka, left school in the 10th grade and entered a Carmelite novitiate. Giullii told me Tyke left the Carmelites (the most enclosed of orders) and reentered the world after a few years. We talked about the suspense, during summer holidays, of waiting for the handsomely engraved card that invited you back for another year. If you did not receive that card, you weren’t welcome to return; it wasn’t like being expelled, but not being invited back to Flintridge would have made it difficult to be accepted at another private school. We traveled up St. Katherine Drive (the same route my mother and I had taken after weekends and holidays at home) until we reached the top. And there was the school, a sprawl of red-tile-roofed white buildings and lush landscaping with a rustic, bougainvillea-draped bridge that crossed over the drive to a compound of four-room cottages reserved for upperclassmen. I remembered how excited I was when, as a junior, I got to live in one of the cottages; all Flintridge students are boarders, and being allowed a space in a cottage felt as grown-up as scarlet lipstick and My Sin perfume.

The school, which was once the Flintridge Hotel (donated to the Catholic Church in the ’20s by its owner), looked the same as we walked up the flight of stone stairs to the entrance. The old hotel lobby still had the check-in desk where students signed in after weekends at home and where all incoming calls were screened. The big room off the lobby — where school plays, the junior and senior proms and the ceremonial senior ring ceremony were held — hadn’t changed, with the exception of a large lectern at the center of the room, facing a number of chairs. Sister Giulli explained that this was now the chapel. I was rather disappointed: My memory of the original chapel with its beautiful altar and rows of benches seemed much more the real deal to me. But the life-size statues of the Madonna holding the infant Jesus and Saint Francis with a small dog at his side were just as I remembered. The long hallway leading to the students’ rooms was unchanged. The Green Room, where we gathered after dinner for bridge games and dancing to donated record albums, was the same. But now it’s painted white and there is a very big flat-screen TV attached to one wall. I guess there’s not much dancing there now, or games of bridge and hearts. But just outside the room’s French doors, the patio with its round stone fountain was so familiar I half expected to see Sister Benigna bringing out the basket of sweet pastries she referred to as “afternoon lunch.”

The highlight of the day was meeting Sister Carolyn McCormack, the president of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy. Sister Carolyn greeted me with the warmest of hugs and the kind of smile one doesn’t see often: wide and true and welcoming. She was wearing a habit, and I noticed the differences from those my teachers wore when I was a student. The new habits are shorter and the coif and veil are less constricting. The black cotton stockings and low-heeled shoes are unchanged, however.

Sister Carolyn, who was named Educator of the Year by the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce in January, is apple-cheeked, with deeply intelligent eyes that hold an extra push of blue. Those eyes see you as you are, and when she leans in to speak she has the gift of making you feel as if you’re the only person in the room. She invited me to return to Flintridge, even to speak to any students interested in journalism. We met in the dining room, called the refectory when I was a student there. The big room is not much changed — the ceiling is as high and the candled chandeliers are still in place, but the white-clothed tables for eight have been replaced by round vinyl-topped tables bearing the Flintridge crest. And now, instead of meals served by the sisters, there are long tables with a choice of meals for self-service. I didn’t meet any students that day, but I saw a couple of girls studying at the other end of the dining room. The dark blue uniforms we wore when I was a Flintridge student have been replaced with red blazers and pleated skirts. Way more attractive.

It was a great day for me, and if it’s true you can’t go home again, you can most assuredly go back to school.

Cool Down

Shady gardens are tricky but rewarding.

Every summer there are days when the heat is sinister — hot outside, hot inside. The A/C is on but my ’20s Spanish home is still 84 degrees. I pad back and forth, feeling like a snow leopard in an Arizona zoo. I eye my garden and pine for shade.

Trees. I need more trees.

“Trees are the most beneficial plants in our urban landscape,” says landscape architect and Cal Poly Pomona professor emeritus Bob Perry, conveniently supporting my obsession. Trees not only shade our homes, he points out, they also sequester carbon from the atmosphere “and transpire their moisture, which [reduces] air temperature and direct-sun heat load on our houses.”

With temperatures rising and Southern California vulnerable to drought (despite recent rain), cultivating shade just makes sense. Sure, gardening in the shade can be tricky, but with a little know-how, you can cultivate spots that are cool, lovely and soothing.

Over the 13 years I’ve lived in San Gabriel, I’ve added shade to my lot: a native Catalina cherry, some gorgeous red-barked manzanitas, a feijoa (pineapple guava tree). But as the trees have grown, the shadows have deepened and I’ve had to reexamine what will thrive.

To state the obvious: Plants need sun to photosynthesize and grow. That makes deeply shady areas, including the north side of structures, a challenge for gardeners. For these full-shade spots, Perry recommends understory plants from temperate or subtropical climates—flora that evolved to grow beneath a thick tree canopy. That includes the Japanese aucuba (Aucuba japonica), an evergreen shrub with variegated leaves; various maples, aspidistras and philodendrons (both commonly sold as indoor plants) and some species of Berberis, such as Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium) and creeping barberry (Berberis repens).

Many of these plants need year-round water to look their best, so I prefer plants from Mediterranean climates — California, Chile, South Africa, Australia and the Mediterranean basin. Perry recommends these as well. “It’s a limited palette, but dry shade is as tough as it gets,” he says. “When you talk about dry shade, you are dealing with sort of a double negative.”

Las Pilitas, a native plant nursery near San Luis Obispo, offers an exhaustive list of California flora for full and dry shade on its website (, with the caveat that many might prefer partial shade. Among the more popular plants on the list are various species and cultivars of coffeeberry, monkey flower, Heuchera, currants (Ribes indecorum and Ribes sanguineum glutinosum) and hummingbird sage.

All of these natives have thrived in shady spots in my garden. On the north side of my home, along a path between the house and a perimeter wall, I converted a dank zone of calla lilies and lawn into a thicket of (mainly) natives. The new plants mostly thrived and didn’t need as much water, but I discovered that each niche had its own microclimate. Several patches turned out to be sunnier than I thought, affording me a wider range of plants.

Jill Morganelli, horticultural supervisor for the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, recommends studying your shade before you plant. “Maybe keep a little journal,” she says. “Go in the morning and see what the sun is, go out there in the afternoon, and then you also have to do that at different times of the year.” 

My thicket matured, providing an attractive privacy screen, but some of the plants, including a nectarine tree, languished as others grew up around them. At the northwest corner of the house, a manzanita caught late-afternoon sun in summer.  It grew slowly but steadily, eventually shading out a coffeeberry shrub.

“Most trees need full sun,” says Morganelli, “and when you start getting into shade and growing against buildings, there’s no air flow, so molds and root rot can really intensify.” She adds that people tend to overwater shady areas, leaving plants vulnerable to disease. 

I’m stingy with water, so my biggest problem is determining whether aggrieved plants have taken too much umbrage or are in need of a drink.

Morganelli strolls among ferns at the Arboretum in Arcadia. She points out other shade-tolerant plants: orange-flowered Clivia, an evergreen, bulb-like (rhizomatous) plant from southern Africa; Peruvian lily (Alstromeria); and shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana), a shrub with blooms resembling crustaceans.

Because shady areas are darker, Morganelli says, variegated and white-flowered plants, including the lighter azaleas, look especially pretty. “At night it literally illuminates your garden,” she says.

On hot days, one of Morganelli’s favorite Arboretum roosts is a bench under a stout coast live oak. ”Don’t try to plant magnificent gardens under oaks,” she advises. “It’s just not going to work.” Indeed, because of the deep shade and chemicals (tannins) this tree exudes to inhibit other plants, nothing is growing under it. “But look at the glorious shade,” Morganelli says.

The Arboretum’s Engelmann oak grove is a refuge for L.A. County’s largest remaining congregation of these rare native trees. I asked Jim Henrich, the Arboretum’s curator of living collections, to meet me there to discuss gardening around oaks.

The Engelmanns slant west in unison, a carpet of weeds at their feet. Henrich hopes to replace the weeds with a few sparsely planted natives, perhaps evergreen currant and bunch grass — but around the periphery. “The best thing of all is not to plant under the tree,” he says, “and just allow natural leaf-litter accumulation. It’s the best mulch.” California oaks are adapted to dry summers. New plantings will need more frequent summer water, which can leave oaks vulnerable to fungus, especially if moisture concentrates near the trunk. (One exception: In the first few years, young oaks benefit from regular water.) For trees generally, it’s best to water at the dripline — the zone under the outer circumference of the branches.

“If you have to plant under the tree, you should probably stay at least 15 feet away from the trunk,” Henrich says, adding that you’ll need to select plants that survive on less frequent but longer (deeper) watering. To avoid excessive root disturbance, keep plantings sparse. It’s good advice for working around any kind of tree.

Perry recommends installing a drip irrigation system at a tree’s dripline. “Cover it with mulch and strategically plant,” he says. “Put an emphasis on plants that spread and sprawl.” Cluster things, he says, so instead of a carpet, you’ll have mulch and “drifts and groupings and islands” of plants.

First and foremost, water the trees. “Our big trees, even coast live oaks, are not necessarily water-thrifty plants,” says Perry. “They have a big surface area to cool.” So prioritize: allow portions of your yard to be drier, rely less on lawn and other thirsty plants. That way, says Perry, “collectively you’re using less water because you are focusing it strategically on the plants that really do the good things for our environment.”

Exactly. Trees. Big shady trees.

Presidents’ Day Revised

Get to know a little more about the office we celebrate on Feb. 20.

February is traditionally a time when we wax patriotic and remember the great leaders of our past. This year, that tradition is more important than ever. If nothing else, we should remind ourselves that, as a country, we have endured, despite our electoral blunders.

The third Monday in February is a federal and state holiday; in California, it’s called Presidents’ Day. Our state leaders agreed it was better to have one all-encompassing day than to celebrate Lincoln on the 12th and then Washington about a week later on the 22nd. I am sure this was economically motivated to keep people at their desks, but the joke’s on them — because many institutions still take off the traditional birthdays, in addition to the newer Presidents’ Day. California still lists both birthdays on calendars, but state employees no longer get both days off as paid holidays. California — keepin’ it classy and ambiguous.

How you spend your Presidents’ Day holiday is entirely up to you. I fully expect the majority of Californians to turn it into a long weekend of skiing or theme-parking. But may I suggest that, in this tumultuous time, you spend this Presidents’ Day getting in touch with some of our past leaders. If you do, I think you may find that our current situation, though dire, is not without precedent.

Historically, our country has often elected the famous over the populist. And it is not unusual for our choices to perform less illustriously than promised. George Washington, of course, was beloved by the masses as a warrior and gentleman farmer, though the farming part was really just theoretical until his retirement, at which point he still left the actual labor to his hundreds of slaves. Not exactly how we like to celebrate him. We prefer to make up legends about honor and cherry tree preservation.

Jefferson was well known for his Francophile ways and his bouffant wig. And while he penned our most cherished egalitarian document, he personally preferred not to mingle with the common folk. He has been celebrated as a proponent of ending the importation of slaves, but those views were based not on his desire to end slavery, but rather to increase the value of his in-house slave-breeding program.

Lincoln is often considered our greatest president. But while the Great Emancipator despised slavery, he was unwilling to do much about it until it became clear that emancipation would give him leverage against the Confederacy, by eliminating its labor force. Also, he condescendingly referred to Sojourner Truth as “Aunty,” a catch-all name for household servants. He is also known to have referred to slaves in general as “Cuffie” — a demeaning variation on the West African name Kofi. Not cool, Uncle Abe. Not cool.

Andrew Jackson was super-popular after defeating the British at New Orleans during the War of 1812. He was the first to ride mistrust of the political establishment to victory, promising to directly represent the common man. But once in office his lavish banquets earned him the nickname “King Andrew.” He also ushered in the spoils system of political patronage (jobs in return for political support), effectively killing civil service as it had been known. Not exactly a step toward good government. Also, Old Hickory killed a guy in a duel, threatened to kill many others and initiated the Trail of Tears, the forced relocations of thousands of Native Americans in the Southeast. So much for the Man of the People.

In the election of 1876, New York’s Democratic governor, Samuel J. Tilden, beat Rutherford B. Hayes in the popular vote by nearly 300,000. But contested Electoral College votes in several states kept the results in dispute well into January. (Sound familiar?) Congress set up an Electoral Commission, which determined the Electoral College count at 187-186 — in favor of Hayes. The victor was, for the remainder of his term, known as “His Fraudulency.”

Warren G. Harding got the job because the Republican Party thought he looked presidential. Unfortunately, his looks were the only presidential thing about him. His oratory skills were subpar, and his speeches were described as “an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.” (Again — sound familiar?) In addition to his communication deficit, he was known for tawdry extramarital affairs, illegitimate children and the Teapot Dome scandal, in which the interior secretary received payment for secretly and exclusively leasing federal oil reserves to the Mammoth Oil Company. And he had the worst nickname ever — “Wobbly Warren.”

So, my fellow Americans, the White House has a long history of arrogant, aggressive, morally confused inhabitants. Luckily, we have always been able to balance it with sobriety, discipline and restraint, though not necessarily in the same administration. I have every expectation that we will come out on the other end a stronger, smarter nation.

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at

Sour Grapes Salad

Here’s a suggestion for the inaugural party I am sure you are totally having


1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon celery seed

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 pound seedless grapes (green and red, mixed if possible), halved

1 Fuji apple, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

½ red onion, sliced

1 large cooked chicken breast, shredded

1 cup walnut halves, roughly chopped

½ cup golden raisins


In a large bowl combine sour cream, lemon zest and juice, celery seed, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl, and toss to evenly coat. Adjust seasoning if needed. Serve on a bed of lettuce leaves — and with a positive attitude.

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at

Art is a Risky Investment

Here are a few pointers for aspiring collectors who want to take the plunge.

We might fantasize that art is the perfect investment — buy something you love by an emerging artist, live with it for years and then sell it to make a small fortune on your foresight.

“One of my clients acquired two Helen Frankenthaler paintings in 1966, large paintings, and he bought them for $2,500 each,” says Culver City art dealer Edward Cella. “We helped him sell one for $700,000 and the other for more than that. The collector knew what he was looking for – Frankenthaler was already well known by then; she was an important emerging woman artist.” Indeed, by 1964 she had already been included in Clement Greenberg’s landmark LACMA show, Post-Painterly Abstraction, and she continued to work and exhibit; today she’s recognized as a major contributor in the history of postwar American art.

But, like most dealers, Cella cautions against expecting an art purchase to yield such a big return on your money — there are too many variables, including the artist’s career and reputation and the unpredictable art market in general.

For most people, buying art is a luxury. It’s true, you may be able to buy work for a few hundred dollars from small galleries or weekend art fairs, and anyone familiar with Antiques Roadshow on PBS has seen the lucky few who made lucrative finds in their grand-aunt’s attic or at a flea market. If you watch the show enough, however, you also know that some objects just aren’t worth as much as people expect, or they’re only worth a fraction of the going value, due to their poor condition or questionable provenance.

The art dealers interviewed for this story suggest that investment-grade art will probably cost in the thousands, and the buyer must be prepared not to get the money back when it comes time to sell. Although Citibank and some private dealers see art as an “asset class” like stocks and bonds, many question this idea. Most agree that investing in art is risky business.

One can buy wisely, however, writes Alan Bamberger, a San Francisco–based art consultant and author of The Art of Buying Art (Gordon’s Art Reference; 2002), on his website, “Anyone can buy and collect art intelligently … All you need is a love and appreciation of fine art, a desire to collect and a willingness to familiarize yourself with a few simple techniques that will allow you to assess and evaluate any work of art dating from any time period by any artist of any nationality.”

Bamberger proposes a set of questions for the potential buyer to consider, namely:

“Who is the artist?

“How significant is the art?

“What is the art’s provenance, history and documentation (or more simply, where has the art been and who’s owned it)?

“Is the asking price fair?”

This overlaps with advice the Los Angeles gallerists offered aspiring buyers: Begin with research, research and more research — going to museums, galleries and art fairs, and reading up on artists whose work you like. “The best thing an individual can do is to establish an aesthetic and an awareness of what exists,” says Jack Rutberg, who has been running his La Brea gallery for over 35 years and specializes in some blue-chip artists. “Spend time in museums. It really is important to look at the Old Masters, all the way through to the modern and contemporary artists. The Norton Simon Museum is probably the greatest tutor one could have — you could start with the South and Southeast Asian art, then the Old Masters such as Cranach, Memling, just look at the remarkable hand.”

Blue-chip artists are stars whose works can command six-figures-plus (think Richard Serra, Ed Ruscha, Agnes Martin, David Hockney). Like blue-chip stocks, they are pricy, but in a category that makes higher returns more likely when you are ready to sell them after a decade or more. “If a high priority is that the artwork retains value,” says Elizabeth East, a director at the prestigious L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice, “I suggest focusing on well-established artists with solid track records, like David Hockney. But there is never any guarantee.”

Of course, few of us can afford to buy those artists. So is it possible to put together a modestly priced art collection and expect its value to eventually increase?

Two areas often recommended for beginning collectors are prints and photographs. Since these works are produced in multiples, they are less expensive than one-of-a-kind art. Some of the same evaluation criteria hold, however, such as the condition of specific works by artists of reputation (those reviewed or featured in major publications, collected by museums, shown at biennials, etc.). With prints and photographs, it is recommended that you look for signed works in small, limited editions. Works produced in the thousands, for example, will generally be worth less than works by the same artist produced in an edition of 100 or fewer.

“In my exhibition, Surreal/Unreal [through Feb. 18], I have over 100 works, and every one would be worthy of a museum collection,” says Rutberg. “They range from $350 to over a million.” He points out that there are many things in the show under $2,000, including works by Giorgio de Chirico and Roberto Matta, one of the last to join the Surrealists. Cella suggested looking at the photographs of Pedro Guerrero, a principal photographer for Frank Lloyd Wright. Guerrero was the subject of a PBS American Masters documentary in 2015, and Cella’s current show, Guerrero: Calder & Nevelson, In Their Studios (through March 4), features photographs he took in the studios of artists Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson.

It is important to determine the condition of the work and its provenance (origin or previous ownership). A reputable dealer can provide information about the artist’s background and track record and can vouch for the authenticity and source of the work. Sometimes artists do sell their own work, and the Photo Independent Art Fair was established in L.A. in 2014 to provide a venue for that. This year the fair takes place April 21 through 23 at The Reef in downtown L.A. Photographers have also sold their own work at another local fair, Photo L.A., which falls in January, although most exhibitors are galleries. Answering Bamberger’s question No. 4 — is the asking price fair? — can be particularly challenging. After gathering information about an artist you’re considering, you’ll want to look at comparable sales for that person’s work. You can do this online, and study databases on auction houses’ websites, or on, and Some sites require a subscription — for example, the Blouin Art Sales Index charges $39 a month or $199 for a year of access. On you can search without a subscription for works currently for sale, although you often will see the note “price on request.”

Those with very large amounts to invest might want to look into services offered by specialized fund managers, such as Citibank’s Private Bank Art Advisory & Finance group. Its website says, “Our art advisors can guide you through the art world, providing personalized acquisition and selling strategies, as well as collection management services.” But even Citi, in the smaller print, offers the disclaimer, “Alternative assets such as art are speculative, may not be suitable for all clients and are intended for those who are willing to bear high economic risks.”

In the end, collectors and dealers share this mantra: Buy what you love. Then, whether or not the work appreciates in monetary value, you will still have it gracing your wall, enhancing your quality of life. “Perhaps the best return you can achieve from art,” says East, “is the enjoyment it gives you over time.”


The new president’s tax proposals include a huge cut for the mega-wealthy, but they also make it harder for them to donate to charities.

The federal income tax code is very complicated stuff. That’s why most news outlets don’t even try to explain its bloated and byzantine byways to Americans — 70 percent of whom do not even itemize on their tax returns. Most taxpayers want to know only how much they’ll have to pay or get back. Or, in the case of the uber-rich and corporations, whether they’ll be able to insulate themselves from taxes altogether.

Under President Donald Trump’s tax proposals, the very wealthy appear likely to receive a big bonanza in tax relief, depending on what news sources you read. The New York Times, for example, warned about potentially dire consequences of Trump’s proposal to repeal the estate tax. Last November, the paper reported that if Trump’s plan passes, “a host of taxes that affect only the very richest Americans may be eliminated, along with almost all tax incentives to be philanthropic. As a result, wealthy families may find it much easier to amass dynastic levels of wealth.” It went on to say that the plan would “allow for the creation of generational wealth to rival that of the last Gilded Age, after which the modern estate tax was enacted in 1916.”

Another story in the Times business section said “the wealthy are already partying like it’s 1989. If Trump makes good on his tax cut promises, billions are expected to go back into their pockets.” The writer inexplicably sought out Robin Leach, whose 1980s TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous got big ratings. “Cars will get bigger, houses will be more luxurious and it will be OK to wear jewelry and gowns again,” Mr. Leach, 75, enthused.

The current federal estate-tax exemption is $5.49 million per individual, almost $11 million per couple (surviving spouses can carry over each other’s unused exemptions). That means an individual can leave $5.49 million to heirs and pay no federal estate tax. Above that amount, the tax rate is 40 percent.

Current law also allows estate assets to receive a “stepped-up basis” designation which permits any capital gains to escape taxation when they are passed to heirs. In other words, a stock purchased for $100,000 that has appreciated in value to $1 million by the time of the original purchaser’s death, will escape capital gains taxes because the Internal Revenue Service “steps up” the initial purchase price to its valuation at the fine of transfer.

Trump’s plan seems to go much further, although it’s short on specifics and leaves a lot open to interpretation. It has a provision to repeal the estate tax entirely. Some analysts say it might then be replaced by a capital gains tax, which is currently 20 percent — half the estate tax. And even that 20 percent might be avoided, according to analysts at The Tax Foundation, who interpret Trump’s proposal to mean that “the gain would be subject to tax only when the inheritor sells the asset, not upon the death of the decedent.” Critics contend that means taxes may never be paid on a family’s real estate assets, like the Trumps’ hotels, residential buildings and golf courses; heirs could borrow against such holdings, while the properties themselves are passed down through generations.

We reached out to certified financial planner Mitchell E. Kauffman, ¬owner and managing director of Kauffman Wealth Management, an independent financial advisory services firm with offices in Pasadena and Santa Barbara. We asked his opinion of Trump’s tax plan and whether he’s noticed any jubilation among his wealthiest clients. Kauffman says no to the latter question and calls Trump’s tax plan, in his opinion, a “mixed bag, with a lot of moving parts,” many of which have not been clarified yet.

“Some things Trump is proposing are very friendly to high–net–worth people, but he’s also talking about putting limitations on deductions, which particularly affect mortgage deductions and charitable contributions. The affluent tend to be the strongest charitable donors,” he adds, so diminishing those deductions “most likely would not be very favorable to affluent people.” Nor would it be good for nonprofits, he adds. “We know that the National Council of Nonprofits has expressed concern over this, which they see as a potentially tremendous setback in their efforts to support charities and nonprofits.”

The estate tax, he says, is the easiest part of the plan to address. “Eliminating the estate tax has been a cherished goal of conservative Republicans for a number of years. And with a Republican congress and administration, most analysts are predicting that the estate tax will be eliminated — which would mean that when people pass, their assets would go to their heirs without any additional taxation. But estimates show that only .02 percent of all estates that are settled each year are subject to the federal estate tax, so proponents of this argue that the impact is more symbolic than financially impactful on the economy and the budget.”

A key concern for Kauffman is the possibility that if the estate tax is eliminated, the current stepped-up basis designation might also be eliminated. In that scenario, he says, heirs at all financial levels who inherit a property would receive the same cost base that the decedent had, which would create a much higher capital gains tax than under the current system.

Another key concern for Kauffman revolves around the proposed limits on deductions. “For a state like California, which has higher state and local income taxes, right now individuals can deduct those state and local taxes on their returns, which in essence puts some of the burden on the federal government. If the Feds limit deductions, it could prompt state and local governments to raise taxes in order to compensate.” And, Kauffman says, that limit on deductions might also impact how much mortgage interest people can deduct, “which could have a detrimental effect on affluent real-estate markets such as the one we have in Pasadena.”

The caveat to all this, Kauffman says, is that we’re just talking about proposals now, and we have no idea what Congress will actually pass into law that might differ in some basic directions or help offset any drawbacks.

A number of organizations have evaluated Trump’s tax proposal and come up with overview analyses, most of which predict tax cuts for all income brackets, with the biggest cuts going to the top tier of wealth. The Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, for example, predicts “the highest income taxpayers (.1 percent of the population, with annual incomes over $3.7 million) … would experience an average tax cut of nearly $1.1 million — over 14 percent of after-tax income. Households in the middle fifth in income distribution would receive an average tax cut of $1,010, or 1.8 percent of after-tax income, while the poorest fifth of households would see their taxes go down an average of $110, or .8 percent of after-tax income.” Another group, The Tax Foundation, estimated that middle-class taxpayers, on average, will see a nearly $500-per-year income boost from Trump’s plan.

The most publicized analysis was performed by NYU law professor Lily Batchelder, an expert on tax policy who worked for President Obama’s National Economic Council. Her study examined the likely effects of Trump’s proposed tax law changes on individuals and families. Batchelder’s findings, which Trump spokespeople call “pure fiction,” estimate that more than half of America’s single parents and one-fifth of all families with children could see their federal income taxes rise if Trump’s plan is enacted. His proposed tax breaks for these families would add up to less than those they receive today, she said. She concluded that the plan would eliminate the head-of-household filing status along with personal deductions and would impose higher rates on certain income, all of which would combine to raise taxes for many low- and middle-income taxpayers.

Need a Financial Adviser?

Pros recommend strategies for consumers in the market for a financial planner who will look out for their interests — not his.

Selecting a solid financial adviser can be as bewildering as negotiating a maze.

There are many types of investment professionals with different titles, duties, qualifications and forms of compensation. Some adhere to a code of ethics that requires them to be a fiduciary — someone who acts in the client’s best interests, not his own — but others do not. (Dodd-Frank phases in a rule requiring all financial professionals who deal with retirement planning to act as “investment advice fiduciaries,” beginning April 10 — but the Trump Administration is expected to shred that mandate.) You also have to determine the type of adviser who will best understand your needs and comfort level with risk — avoid planners who typically work with a particular range of assets that don’t match your holdings.

A good way to begin your search is to weed out the people who are not qualified to provide objective financial advice or serve as fiduciaries. Brokers, for example, buy and sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other products for their clients. They are not fiduciaries and are held to a lower ethical standard. They also receive commissions — payments for opening an account for a client or on the sale of a financial product by the company offering that product — and may persuade you to buy these products, whether or not you need them.

Investment advisers offer guidance on buying securities and manage them for their clients; but unlike brokers, they are generally not in the business of selling securities. They are also known as investment managers, wealth advisers, asset managers, wealth managers or portfolio managers. Registered investment advisers (RIAs) are firms registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission that uphold fiduciary standards.

A third category — financial planner — explores all your financial needs and helps you devise a plan to achieve long-term fiscal goals. “It’s important that a financial adviser be well-versed in more than just investments,” says Mitchell E. Kauffman, a certified financial planner and financial adviser at Kauffmann Wealth Management in Pasadena. “They should know tax planning, estate planning, retirement planning and managing risk. Our clients prefer someone who is more comprehensive, who can look at the whole picture instead of parts of it.”

Certified financial planners, or CFPs, are licensed and regulated by the Washington, D.C.–based CFP Board, which administers an exam to people who wish to earn the CFP designation. CFPs may provide the most objective financial advice because they are fiduciaries, many of whom earn a flat, hourly fee rather than a commission, so they have no incentive to sell their clients products they might not need.

The CFP Board’s website ( provides a list of certified financial planners, with their specialties and compensation methods as well as contact information. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, a group of fee-only professionals, similarly lists its members on its website (; you can also search the Financial Planning Association website ( for CFPs in your area. After you’ve compiled your list of names, use the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) BrokerCheck ( to see whether any have been disciplined for unlawful or unethical behavior.

You can now select three or more CFPs and schedule interviews with them to determine whom you should hire. During these interviews, “the most important thing you are looking for, by far, is total and honest disclosure,” Carl Richards, a financial planner in Park City, Utah, told The New York Times. “If you get the sense someone is hiding things or avoiding your questions, move on.”

Some financial planning firms prepare lists of questions for prospective clients. Leah Snell, a CFP and the partner and managing director of Pasadena-based Snowden Lane Partners, has a three-page list of detailed questions designed to unearth information about a financial adviser’s business structure and qualifications, relationship management, investment philosophy and compensation.

Percy E. Bolton, a Pasadena-based fee-only financial adviser, has a questionnaire on his website to help you determine if a prospective financial planner holds to a fiduciary standard. The final question asks the planner to sign a fiduciary oath declaring s/he will act in the client’s best interests, will not receive any money contingent on a client’s purchase or sale of a financial product and will disclose any conflicts of interest that could compromise the planner’s impartiality.

Bolton maintains that determining a financial planner’s fiduciary status and form of compensation should be paramount concerns for prospective clients. You should ask the planner if s/he charges a flat fee or works on commission and find out how much the adviser typically charges.

Other key questions include:

• What experience do you have and how does that relate to your current practice? CFPs are required to have at least three years of financial planning experience.

• What licenses, credentials or other certifications do you have?

• What services do you or your firm provide? Financial planners generally cannot sell insurance or securities without the proper licenses, and they cannot provide investment advice unless they are registered with state or federal authorities.

• What types of clients do you specialize in?

• How do you plan to manage my money? “Advisers can range in investment ideology and it is important to understand the types of investments you would likely own, the risk associated with the investments chosen and the scope of how those investment decisions are made,” explains Alexander Leu, managing director at Pasadena-based Penniall & Associates. “Clients should always understand their portfolio and be educated by their adviser along the way.”

“Planning advice is also crucial,” Leu adds. “What type of planning advice will you be getting? Will it be included in the investment management or will you be charged a separate fee?” He says his firm shows potential clients the planning advice they will receive and sets expectations for how this advice will be delivered. “It is important to know if you are getting a real financial plan or simply a CFP spitting out some basic projections via a financial-planning calculator,” he says.

• How much contact do you have with your clients? Some financial advisers meet with their clients once a year to review their investments; others may meet every three months or more frequently. If you believe you need more support, you will want to make sure your financial planner holds frequent meetings and respondsto phone calls.

• Do you work independently or with a team? Some CFPs argue that a sole practitioner will provide more personalized service than a large firm. Leu, like others, says, “Clients should be looking for a team approach and a firm with many qualified specialists …You want to make sure that the adviser you chose has … professionals around him that can provide a sounding board for collaborative advice they deliver to clients.”

• Personal characteristics: The CFB Board lists seven key traits you should expect from a financial planner: competence, objectivity, integrity, clarity, diligence, compliance and privacy.

It is important that you feel comfortable talking to your adviser and believe he or she understands your needs and goals. “One of the biggest things that is often overlooked is a person’s ability to listen,” says Kauffman. “One thing I’ve learned in my training is if I’m saying two or three sentences in a row, I need to shut up.”

“The most important thing, in my opinion, is chemistry,” says Linda K. Polwrek, a CFP in the Pasadena office of Waddell & Reed. “Do you trust this person, do you feel comfortable sharing your hopes, dreams and certain details of your life with this person? Financial planning is a very intimate process. You share not only your hopes, dreams and goals but all kinds of personal and confidential information about your health, money and financial dynamics.

“Integrity, trust, authenticity and a genuine desire to help people are paramount in an adviser,” Polwrek adds. “Trust your instincts about whether you can relate to each other.”

Bowie Through A Lens

A new Forest Lawn Museum exhibition presents intimate images of the rock star turned art tourist.

Ana Pescador carefully shuffles a pile of large color photographic prints on a table, thumbing through crisp bright images of the late pop star David Bowie visiting historic and cultural locations prior to his only concert in Mexico City, in 1997 — Bowie on the blue steps of the Frida Kahlo Museum, Bowie admiring details in a Diego Rivera mural, the rocker hiding behind a traditional mask.

As the new museum director of the Forest Lawn Glendale Museum, Pescador brings out an image of Bowie standing deep inside the massive Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. Here is a man surrounded by darkness, illuminated only by a cigarette lighter.

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“This one is particularly poignant for me,” she says. “It has so many connections. [It evokes the] candlelight celebrations we do here at Forest Lawn, but it’s also about Bowie physically and spiritually inside Mexican culture.”

Pescador, a native of Mexico and former CEO of the Latino Art Museum in Pomona, is prepping for the first stop of a new traveling exhibition she curated — David Bowie: Among the Mexican Masters — which runs through June 15 at Forest Lawn. It features almost 40 intimate, never-before-seen images by renowned Mexican rock and jazz photographer Fernando Aceves.

Twenty years ago, Bowie arrived in Mexico City a few days prior to his Earthling concert, to soak in the local art, history and culture. Aceves said that Bowie had done his research and knew exactly what he wanted to see. Aceves’ photos were to accompany an article Bowie would write for Modern Painters magazine, but the article was never published. “I had already worked with many rock stars like the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney and others,” says Aceves. “But David was special for me. I had been listening to his music and watching him in movies for years. I was a little nervous, but I found him to be very human and approachable.”

Photographed only with ambient light, Aceves’ images show Bowie with a relaxed grin and child-like wonder exploring historical landmarks (e.g. the National Palace, the Palace of Fine Arts) and cultural treasures, including murals by David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, Rivera, Kahlo and more.

Part of the photographer’s assignment was to be a fly on the wall, capturing Bowie, not as a fashion model, but as an “artist paying tribute to other artists,” explains Aceves. “I think David’s gift was his ability to blend in and be local. I understood why people call him ‘the chameleon,’ because he became part of the scene, the landscape.”

The photos capture a casual side of Bowie that fans rarely saw. “David was used to being photographed throughout his artistic career. He knew how to model with makeup and lights,” says Aceves. “Here, these photographs show him looking human — not as a rock star or a movie star but as a human being experiencing the cultural landscape of Mexico.”

The Bowie exhibition is part of MXLA 2017, a yearlong cultural exchange between Los Angeles and Mexico City. The initiative celebrates L.A.’s connection with the Mexican community through performances, exhibitions and special events. MXLA 2017 will be part of the Pacific Standard Time L.A./Latin America project from Sept. 15 through Jan. 31, 2018, along with the Getty, LACMA, the Greek Theatre and Walt Disney Concert Hall, among others.

Located on the verdant grounds of the century-old cemetery, Forest Lawn Museum has been presenting eclectic programming designed to appeal to a wide audience — including many who aren’t traditional museumgoers. In the past few years, the museum has offered popular installations on the art of Legos, motorcycle design, record-album covers and movie posters. Prior to the Bowie photographs, the museum showcased the work of legendary Disney artist Eyvind Earle. After the Bowie exhibition wraps up in June, Forest Lawn will feature an installation from renowned Chinese artist Cao Yong, followed by a Charlie Brown and friends exhibition from the Charles Schulz Museum in Northern California. Those exhibition dates have not been announced.

It’s an ambitious slate for a small museum that’s still largely unknown. “So many people have said, ‘What? Forest Lawn? They have a museum?’” says Pescador. “I want people to see that Forest Lawn has a museum for the 21st century and that we are proactive in our choices. We are living in a diverse, multicultural society, so that’s what we want to reflect in our galleries. We want to be known as a museum of the community.”

Composed of three gallery spaces, the museum displays works from its extensive permanent collection in the front two galleries. On view are Remington bronze figurines, 15th-century stained glass by Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer, numerous paintings including Lincoln at Gettysburg by Fletcher C. Ransom and William Adolphe Bougereau’s Song of the Angels and even “Henry,” a Moai head from Easter Island.

“The world is changing so rapidly that it’s a challenge to attract new audiences,” explains Pescador. “To me there are only two options: offer innovative exhibitions, which we are doing, and two, make the museum available to the world. My goal is to be a virtual museum.” She’s planning a website dedicated to the museum’s offerings that would make its treasures accessible by art lovers around the world.

Glendale is the only Forest Lawn cemetery to have a museum. In the early 20th century, the idea for it percolated in the mind of Forest Lawn founder Hubert Eaton who, aware that many Californians could never travel to see art around the country and the world, decided to bring art to them. Eaton commissioned cast-from-the-original reproductions of Michelangelo’s Moses and La Pietà, among others. There’s also a re-creation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, painted in Italy from the original sketches, on display in an architectural space patterned after Westminster Abbey and Gothic cathedrals.

Now, instead of bringing art to the people, the museum’s goal is to bring the museum to the world. “It’s not the same experience seeing artwork online, but people who cannot come here, many want to know what we have here and what we are all about,” says Pescador. “We need to reach out and open our doors to the world.”

David Bowie: Among the Mexican Masters is a free exhibition through June 15 at the Forest Lawn Museum, 1712 S. Glendale Blvd., Glendale. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Visit for the schedule of lectures and musical events coordinated with the show.