A Chat With Journalist Ivor Davis, Who Traveled With The Beatles

I meet journalist Ivor Davis at the hospitality suite for the film Mondays in the Sun at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills on 7/22/03.

A pile of journalists wait to interview actor Javier Bardem.

Ivor is a short dapper Jew from Britain. We help ourselves to the free eats before finding a table in the corner. I ask him about notorious Australian tabloid journalist Steve Dunleavy, now a columnist for the New York Post.

Ivor: "I met him when he was covering the Mansons for one of the Australian papers. He was always a hell for leather guy, larger than life, almost a cliché of a journalist. He used to come to our house for dinner and drink a lot. We said, 'You're not driving home.' We'd put him in a cab and send him back to his hotel.

"The Manson case had broken. I had some good interview material with some manson members. I was working for The London Daily Express. I was their correspondent on the West Coast. Steve said to me, 'I hear you've rented a plane to fly off to Independence, California, for the arraignment of Manson. If I pay my share, would you take me along?" I said fine.

"We got on the plane. Because England was eight hours ahead, I had filed a four-page story, setting it all up, with great quotes. Steve said, 'Could I have a look at your story, Ivor?' I said sure. We land. He had my story. We went into the little terminal. He was on the phone reading my story to his desk. 'I did this and he told me.' He just ripped the whole thing off.

"I never saw him write anything on the trip. He just read other people's copy. That was the way he was.

"When you do a website, is it a lucrative venture?"

Luke: "Lukeford.net is a labor of love but it opens up lucrative opportunities.

"Could you give me a brief biographical sketch?"

Ivor: "I was a reporter at age 16. In those days in England, you could become a cub reporter. I worked for a few papers. I used to do freelancing for the British dailies. There were a lot more of them then. I grew up in the East End of London. My father was a Polish baker. My mother grew up in England. We were a working class Jewish family. I was Bar Mitzvahed. My family kept kosher. We went to an Orthodox synagogue. I played soccer for the Association of Jewish Youth teams. I played for England in the Maccabee Game (a worldwide Jewish sporting competition). We won gold medals. When I came to America, I played for America in the Maccabee Games. We didn't win gold medals. I played soccer for about 30 years.

"I was a freelance journalist working here for Reuters and the London Daily Express. In 1964, the Express editor called me up. 'There's a new pop group coming over, starting in San Francisco. They are on the road for 34 days. We've signed one of them to do a daily diary and you will be writing it. So get on a plane to San Francisco.' They were from Liverpool. I can't remember the name now. Oh, it was the Beatles.

"So I spent 35-days with the Beatles. It was an incredible trip. The Express obviously liked what I did. They hired me as a staff correspondent on the West Coast.

"I came to America at age 20, five days after John Kennedy was elected president, which was November 1960. I worked on daily newspapers in Santa Monica, San Gabriel Valley, San Diego. A year in each town. Then I came up here to work for Reuters and then for the Daily Express. I covered the ballerina Dame Margeaux Fontaine when her husband, Roberto Arias, was paralyzed by an assassin. We went back to Panama with them when he was ready to take his seat in parliament.

"I did earthquakes, disasters, stuff like that. All the pop groups and the movie stars and the Peter Sellers death. I worked for the Express from 1964-79. It eventually went tabloid. It used to have 50 foreign correspondents.

The Times of London hired me for 13 years. By that time, I had a family and I did not want to travel. Southern California is like heaven for a journalist.

"My wife Sally Ogle Davis (married Ivor in November of 1967) used to be a BBC anchor woman in Northern Ireland. We were editors at Los Angeles Magazine for 20 years. I did one of the first big stories on Robert Evans. She wrote for The New York Times Sunday Magazine. With a magazine piece, you could 5000-word and get your teeth into. Normally a newspaper story ran 750-words. Wherever I went as a foreign correspondent for the Express, they'd only want 450-words. It was frustrating and that's why I left.

"My wife and I have two kids. One lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with our new grandson, age two weeks, and the other one lives in Seattle with her baby.

"For the past few weeks, I've been coming to the TV Critics conference. I write columns for the LA Times and NY Times syndicate. I freelance stuff for magazines for England and Australia. I like it that I can pick and choose. Most of the stuff NBC has is not very good. I pick out a Charlie Sheen or Timothy Buttons, who's playing President Bush for Lionel Chetwynd's 9/11 project for Showtime. Chetwynd is a charming man. He'll give you the shirt off his back. He's very conservative. He got to spend an hour with President Bush.

"How did you get hooked into Cathy?"

Luke: "I've the hugest fan of her columns for years and then I met her through the LA Press Club. I took her to my Orthodox synagogue Friday night and had her sit behind the mehitza (partition)."

Ivor: "My wife and I have strong feelings about that. We're active in our Reform synagogue. We've been on the board. Last Thursday, we all took a bus to The Producers, which is outrageously funny."

Luke: "I hear you're working on a book about Jewish movies?"

Ivor: "Only because having written about them for so long, I felt the need. There isn't that much. There are websites with Jewish movies. There was a recent book by a critic in Texas about the top 50 Jewish movies. I've been talking to people about what is a Jewish movie and a lot of people gave me diverse answers. Is a Woody Allen film a Jewish movie? Is Schindler's List a Jewish movie? Is The Man Who Captured Eichman A Jewish Movie? Are Israeli or Yiddish films Jewish movies? A lot of people said My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a Jewish movie.

"My younger brother Barry, a retired history professor, happens to be one of the preeminent Yiddish experts in London. He teaches at YIVO (Yiddishe Vissenschaftliche Organizatzia). He was hired by the Prudential Insurance company in London to evaluate Jewish insurance claims that were never paid off due to the Holocaust. So as a PR gesture, Prudential said they would pay off if it could be proved the policies were legit."

I examine Ivor's religious bonafides.

Luke: "Did you have separate seating for men and women in your childhood synagogue?"

Ivor: "Yes, but when I go now, I prefer to sit with my wife. My wife grew up in an Orthodox community in Northern Ireland, which is pretty much dead. She said they all went on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the ladies sat upstairs and they didn't get books."

Why would ladies need prayer books? They're not required to pray, only men are. Women are in shul to gossip and to rest between reproducing.

Ivor: "I went to a Bar Mitzvah last October in an Orthodox shul and the women were out of it. I'm sorry. I just felt terrible."

Luke: "They're gossiping. They're happy that way."

Ivor: "That's what used to happen in Northern Ireland. They'd sit around in their new hats and gossip."

Luke: "That's what God wants."

Ivor, with a smile: "Oh, well, of course.

"When I was growing up, the rabbi used to bash you over the head and pull your hair. I went back two years ago and took some pictures of the shul and two guys came running out. 'Why are you taking pictures?' They were paranoid about security. I said I was Bar Mitzvahed in this place. We kept kosher. I used to take the chicken to the shochet (slaughterer). All that stuff."

Luke: "How far you've fallen."

Ivor: "We used to make our own wine at Pesach. We'd get sour cherries and put them in the bath. Only problem is you couldn't take a bath for about two months."

That's no problem for an Englishman. That's normal practice.

Ivor: "You'd put sugar in the top and let it ferment. And three months later, you'd start putting it into bottles."

We return from fetish state of the unwashed English to Ivor's book.

Ivor: "I want it to be encyclopedic but that always conjures up visions of boredom. My wife has been working on a book for sometime that I am not allowed to tell you about. It's about an interesting woman in Southern California who's been all over the world."

Luke: "What are you picking up about how Hollywood is reacting to the Mel Gibson film The Passion?"

Ivor: "People say the guy is crazy. He's doing the film in Aramaic, who's going to see it? Warner Brothers may distribute it to keep Mel in the camp. If you read The New York Times Sunday Magazine, you read a major movie star's father coming out with the craziest things. In Mel's drinking days, he'd say, my father is the most influential person in my life. It's like the Hitler movie Max. There will be some interest. CBS did Hitler with Robert Carlisle. Who's going to see this film [The Passion]? It's purely an indulgence.

"Have you seen a religious film lately that's done all right?"

Luke thinks for a minute. "No.

"What are the biggest obstacles to you doing good entertainment journalism?"

Ivor: "Even the two major syndicates are only interested in stories about young people. They'll say, 'Do a profile of that girl in American Wedding or a piece on that young guy Orlando Bloom.' A lot of the magazines I send notes to about people I'm interviewing say, 'They are not out profile.' They skew to age 31 max. The stories I want to do and the stories that sell are different. When I get their magazines, I see who their audience is, and I said it's about time I quit.

"Covering all this showbiz stuff is pure candy floss. The stories I've enjoyed are a good murder, or a good profile piece on somebody. I get a kick out of investigative reporting. I'm a frustrated detective. I don't keep my clippings. I did a book before the Manson trial began and it's just vanished. I'd like to get out again with a new beginning.

"My wife and I tell journalism students that we run a sausage factory. We get the material and in our house, we make the sausage and sell them to people. After a while, you get tired of churning them out. You want to do something with more meat."

Luke: "What about dealing with publicists?"

Ivor: "I've had my battles. We were blacklisted by several publicists. About eight years ago, Sally and I did one of the ultimate pieces on Hollywood publicists called 'Flacks Fatale.' We blew the lid off all of these publicists.

"If my name came up for a junket after that, I'd get turned down about 20% because of that article. Publicists are now stronger than the studios because the publicists have the stars.

"At least PMK's Pat Kingsley is a person you can engage in dialogue. She sold her company to a big conglomerate."

Luke: "Has any publicist offered you sex or drugs to manipulate story?"

Ivor: "No. I missed all that excitement. I missed nubile young publicists throwing themselves at my feet. It's one of the things that I regret in my life that it never happened.

"It was different on the Beatles trip."

Luke: "A lot of women throwing themselves at you?"

Ivor: "Just for the purpose of getting to meet the Beatles."

Luke: "It wasn't you?"

Ivor: "No, even though I was younger and handsomer in those days."

Luke: "It wasn't your wonderful way with words?"

Ivor: "The first half dozen times, I thought it was my wonderful way with words. But then when I spoke with the other journalists, who didn't have as wonderful way with words as I did, I discovered it was normal course. That was about the only time that sex reared its ugly wonderful head."

Luke: "Was that the most wonderful time of your journalism career?"

Ivor: "I was much younger. I wish I had taken a camera. I wish I had taken notes. I wish I had kept my interviews. I just remember and I've written a couple of magazine articles since then. A lot of the photographers I was on the road with have brought out books of their pictures.

"I'm having a great time now. I'm looking forward to seeing my grandson again. I love my wife and we have a good time. We travel. We went to Australia and to Argentina and looked up the Jews of Argentina in December. It was a fascinating and sad situation. In Argentina, most of the middle class business people were Jews and they've been wiped out. It was sad to go to shul. There were non-Jews who came in at the end of the service and they gave 300 of them a free meal downstairs."

7/23: Ivor writes: "Dear Luke: The transcript seems fine. Just one important thing. My wife thinks I am much handsomer now than when I was young. So do what Martha stewart did with her phone messages--white it out. Just kidding, best regards ivor PS: I still like to sit with my wife in shul."