Forget about private jets, vintage sports cars and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs. If you're an A-list movie star with money to burn there's only one game in town: No Limit Texas Hold'em. That's right, poker has come to Hollywood and no Friday night is complete without a high-profile celebrity tournament taking place somewhere in Beverly Hills.
So far, George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer have all hosted poker parties at their homes, but the game everyone wants to be in is the one organised by the actor James Woods on a weekly basis. Players have to ante up $5,000 to be included in Woods's magic circle, but that hasn't deterred Ben Affleck, among others, from beating a path to his door.
"Ben loves the game," says Mike Sexton, a commentator on the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour, one of several television shows that's cashing in on the new trend. "Jennifer Lopez accompanied him to several games when they were together, but she never played. She wasn't too thrilled with his gambling. He's a half-million-a-night guy and he's good."
One of the reasons movie stars are so keen on poker is that the odds are stacked in their favour. Chris Weitz, the director of American Pie and About A Boy, told me about a Hollywood poker tournament he'd taken part in recently in which the winners of various heats got to compete at a top table for a prize of $50,000. However, when it came to the celebrities, the rules didn't apply.
"They got to sit at the big table, even if they failed to win their heat," he said.
Even playing with a stacked deck, some celebrities still manage to lose. Earlier this year, James Woods sailed to the Mexican Riviera to compete in a million-dollar tournament organised by the Travel Channel. But lady luck deserted him.
"They took all my money," he said, referring to the professional card-players he was up against. "I have nothing left."
I was lucky enough to be given an insider's account of the latest trends in Hollywood trailers last week. I was on the set of a film called Synergy, making notes for a book I'm writing, when one of the executive producers offered to show me the inside of Dennis Quaid's trailer. (Quaid is the star of Synergy.) As he gave me a whirlwind tour, he checked off the various mod cons that qualified this as a "star trailer": step-up bedroom, full-sized fridge, make-up station. It was roughly the size of my house in Shepherd's Bush.
Incredibly, though, it was fairly modest by Hollywood standards. According to my tour guide, it was a "single pop-out", meaning it could only be extended in one direction, whereas some stars had "quadruple pop-outs". In fact, one of the celebrities he'd worked with recently had insisted on four trailers: a "star trailer", a "make-up trailer", a "work-out trailer" and a "friends-and-family trailer".
"He had them parked in a circle so they formed a little compound," he said.
Vinyasa Flow Yoga
Remember when Bikram Yoga used to be hot? Not any more. That's, like, so over, dude, it's not even funny, as they say in this town. The latest yoga craze is something called "Vinyasa Flow". To those unfamiliar with the sound of one hand clapping, the difference between these two schools is hard to fathom, but the fact that Bikram Yoka instructional tapes are now on sale in Starbucks may account for why the Hollywood crowd has moved on.
Classes in Vinyasa Flow are available at the Santa Monica and Beverly Hills branches of Yogaworks, a new chain of bending-and-stretching gyms, but if you're a hot young movie star the thing to do is to get one of the instructors to come to your house for some one-on-one tuition. Either that, or have one of the Hollywood studios fly you to Cancun for a Vinyasa Flow retreat. The fuel costs may be astronomical, but at least you'll be in touch with your spiritual side, if not the environment.
Kathy Hilton's Reality Show
Kathy Hilton, the mother of Paris, has landed her own reality series on NBC next year. Called The Good Life, it will follow the fortunes of 10 young women as they're taught how to conduct themselves in high society by the matriarch of the Hilton clan. During the show's eight-week run, the contestants will gradually be whittled down until a single winner emerges to claim her prize: a year's stay at the Waldorf-Astoria and a free car.
Just what will Kathy Hilton teach the aspiring socialites? Presumably, if her efforts to bring up her own daughter are anything to go by, the lessons in style and deportment will include how to get your picture in the tabloids, how to make a porn video what to do if your mother is an even bigger publicity hound than you are. It gives new meaning to Socrates's famous maxim that the unexamined life is not worth living.
I went to Magic Mountain last week, the Los Angeles amusement park that boasts the biggest roller coasters in the world. While my wife and baby waited on the sidelines, I queued up for a number of "rides", each more terrifying than the last.
First up was The Revolution. Built in 1976 to commemorate the bicentennial of America's independence, it was the first roller coaster to feature a loop-the-loop. A better name for this monstrosity would have been "The Washing Machine". By the time I stepped out of my seat I felt like a single, solitary sock that had been through half a dozen spin cycles.
Next was Goliath, so called because it towers some 285 feet above the earth. In terms of stomach-churning thrills, this made The Revolution seem like the Boston Tea Party. I stole a glance at my neighbour as we were plunging down the first drop and the expression on her face was identical to how I imagine someone would look if they were plummeting towards earth in an out-of-control 747 and knew that certain death was only moments away.
My final ride of the day was Viper, which boasts the world's tallest vertical loop. In fact, it features no less than seven loop-the-loops which means you're upside down more often than you are the right way up. A good name for this torture chamber would have been "The Rag Doll". If you shut your eyes, you get a pretty accurate idea of what it must be like to be a hare trapped in a greyhound's mouth.
At the age of 40, I was at least 25 years too old to visit Magic Mountain. Needless to say, I loved every minute of it.