Two Yorkshire girls give up their jobs to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood. What they find is a shallow world in which no one gives a fig unless you're already a somebody. Now they have written a book about their experiences and they are determined that, this time, they're going to make it big. Stephanie Smith talks to them.
It's like, Bridget Jones meets meets Thelma and Louise meets The Full Monty. In Los Angeles.
And it's all based on a true story.
For this is the tale of how two Yorkshire girls – in their own words, "two peas in a pod, both the wrong side of 35, and truly fabulous", gave up their careers in the City of London and left for Los Angeles to make their fortunes.
Except... it didn't quite work out like that.
What actually happened was that they met two gorgeous, if unsuitable, Latino-American men, and married them. But the marriages didn't work out, the fabulous girls lost lots of money, opened an art gallery in LA and met a fantastic Russian fresco painter, a genius, and made it their mission to promote and sell his work.
But, this didn't work out either, and they lost lots more money but, being fabulous, they refused to give in and instead decided to stalk – sorry, approach – the great and the good of Hollywood to try to persuade them to give their support, and money, obviously, so that the girls and the Russian painter, and a whole host of other creative people they have since met, could MAKE IT.
I think. It's not easy to establish exactly what it is that Shirley and Holly Yanez have been, and still are, trying to do.
It was 8am at their Los Angeles home when I called them and they were preparing for another mad day promoting and schmoozing and... stuff.
What's certain is that they have written
and published a book called Looking for Harvey Weinstein. They sent a copy to the Yorkshire Post offices, thinking it might be of interest, what with them both being from Yorkshire. (Actually, Shirley is from Leicester originally, but we won't let that spoil a good story.)
It's their account of their adventures as they try to sell art, pitch movie ideas and enlist the backing of various influential Hollywood players, but chiefly that of Mr Harvey Weinstein, big boss of Miramax Films.
It's going very well, say The Girls (this is how they always refer to themselves), and there's talk of turning it into a film, starring Elizabeth Hurley and Rebecca De Mornay. So, er, watch this space.
Before they decided to self-publish, Miramax had the book for six months, with their legal department. "But nobody jumps on it until it's a success," said Holly. "That's why the rejection level is so high and why people end up jumping off buildings because they can't make it."
Not The Girls, though, because they are survivors.
To begin at the beginning, Holly and Shirley have been great friends ever since they met in a Leeds pub years and years ago.
Holly, 39, is a Yorkshire lass, born and bred in Leeds, where she attended Lawnswood High School. Her mum, Margaret Hollingworth, still lives in Horsforth. Her dad, Louis, a farmer and cattle dealer, died four years ago.
In 1992, Holly quit her job as a headhunter in the City and set out for the bright far-off lights of LA. There she met and married salesman Michael Yanez. Shirley, who had her own business in the City, came over to be her maid of honour, and she met the best man and Michael's brother, Marty, and they also later married.
Confused? You should be. It's like Working Girl meets Pride and Prejudice meets Twins. In Los Angeles.
Sadly, the marriages didn't last. "Latino women stay at home and clean and look after the kids," said Holly. Shirley did five years, while Holly managed 10 (they refer to their ex-husbands as "the jailers").
Both are now cordially divorced and Holly has two beautiful daughters, Sophie, four, and Paris, three.
The Girls wanted to make it big, for themselves, of course, but chiefly for the sake of art. Fortunately, British accents help.
"If you're British, everybody thinks you're the daughter of the Queen," Holly said. So they opened an art gallery close to Sunset Boulevard. It lasted a year, during which time they sold not a single painting.
"Basically, it was flop because the place is full of plebs," said Holly. "There's lots of money and egos, but for anything of cultural depth, forget it."
In the process, however, they sort of adopted a Russian artist, Ilia Anossov, one of the few remaining fresco masters left in the world, Holly explained, who had been given "genius status" to come to the States before the end of the Cold War.
"And basically, he is still starving to death in a place where people have never heard of Michelangelo and think a fresco is a drink."
The Girls made it their mission to promote his work, calling themselves "evangelists for genius". But in LA, they discovered, genius all too often goes unnoticed.
"We uncovered this whole absolute joke of a business where nobody ever rings you back and you can't get anything done unless by scullduggery. We've spent $300,000 of our own money trying to promote different talented people."
These are artists and musicians. The Girls have also got into hip-hop and jazz. In 1993/4, when they started their business ventures, they were, as Holly put it "both flush", although not for long. Shirley sold her share of a business back in the UK and had £21/2m, but it was in shares and they ended up losing it all within three days.
"We never got the opportunity to diversify," Holly explained. "We ended up in America as poor as church mice with terrible personal situations and as immigrants. But we both had personal art collections back in London."
Which is how they opened their ill-starred art gallery. No-one was interested.
"The rich-poor divide here is terrific," said Holly. "The capitalist system tramples you and spits you out."
They had a film idea to pitch as well, of course, which was another reason why they wanted to get hold of Harvey Weinstein. More than one film idea, actually, so they set about the business of finding the right people to talk to. Their theory was that "going out for lunch was about stalking the rich".
"The most amazing thing that happened was getting the thumbs-up from Sir Michael Caine," Holly said. "It was in the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, and we were at a low point. The American Express card had been executed."
They spotted Sir Michael and his wife, Shakira, sitting outside. "We're great fans of him and Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. In fact, Steve Martin's office was one of the few that came back to us with information."
Anyway, they went up and pitched him their movie idea, Villa Pera, a story of scandal and deceit and doing up an old house in Tuscany (based on artist Ilia's dream project), and told him it would be "right up his ally".
"He was totally intrigued and couldn't have been lovelier," said Holly. He told them to write to his agent saying they had met.
Unfortunately the letter came back unopened and unread.
"That's what you're dealing with."
There's more of the same described in The Girls' book, a long series of encounters, semi-encounters and non-encounters with various players, including Tommy Lee, Ridley Scott, Gene Simmons, Robert Downey Junior, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise and, of course, Harvey Weinstein.
Mainly, it describes being rejected by every agent, publicist and manager in Hollywood, in spite of tactics that include sending flowers, lying in wait, pouncing and bombarding with letters and phone messages.
The Girls did eventually get to meet Harvey Weinstein, the man the myth, after much stalking and travelling half-way across the world to Cannes, where they scurried about wearing pink "Looking for Harvey Weinstein" T-shirts to promote the book they had by now written.
"There he is a big fish in a much smaller pond," said Holly.
It's like Sex and the City meets Terminator 2 meets Waiting for Godot. In the South of France.
So, has Mr Weinstein been of any help? "No help whatsoever, although he did pay 100 euros for the book, which was over the odds," Holly said cheerfully.
(In LA, the girls were coldly told by a
Weinstein assistant that they "would never get Harvey's ear". The big man, incredibly, was just not interested in their art or their tale of struggle and rejection in big, bad Hollywood.
Perhaps he was just a tiny bit more concerned about his portrayal in another book, published this week, Down and Dirty Pictures, by Peter Biskind, the journalist whose gossip-filled exposé of Hollywood in the 1970s,
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, was one of the
most talked-about books on the film industry.)
So, er, exactly what have the girls achieved? "Shirley, have we had any success?" Holly shouted over to her partner.
"In Hollywood, you don't get any credit, darling," said Shirley, taking over the phone. "It's a closed shop. It takes at least four years."
There is the book, of course, Looking for Harvey Weinstein, subtitled: The True Story of Modern Day Michelangelo. "It's a brutal self-help book," Shirley explained. "That's a success story. We're in our forties, don't forget, not 23 with silicone breasts."
The book, she added, is selling "really well", through their own website and through the Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble websites.
It's impossible to say how many exactly they have sold so far though, because they don't know how many have gone through the various websites.
And, great news, a couple of film companies are interested in turning it into a film, perhaps with Rebecca De Mornay and Elizabeth Hurley playing The Girls.
The script is a bit different from their own story, explained Holly, in that it's about two British girls who come out and find that they can't smoke and they invent this device called a 'ciggie thingy', which Harvey backs and they all live happily ever after. I think. But it is based on them.
Meanwhile, The Girls have been out book-signing in Los Angeles and doing lots of radio and press. "It's clear with press that it will be a bestseller,' Shirley said. "It's really funny and really controversial."
Delving in and out of the copy they sent me, I say that it's a brain-whirring, sometimes amusing, sometimes alarming, account of two certain-aged women, constantly necking back red wine and smoking joints, staggering about, blagging meals and drinks, bitching, bothering celebrities and looking for who knows what.
It's like Absolutely Fabulous meets Desperately Seeking Susan meets The Wizard of Oz. They tell their story in the third person plural – as in "The Girls needed a fag" – as if watching themselves from above.
Some of their remarks are a bit hard to take. "With a tilt of a glass and the flash of a thigh, the fat Arab was lulled into a false sense of security," they write of one of their victims, later conceding: "He was quite a pleasant chap for an Arab."
But it does give off a distinct whiff of the desperation and hysteria many come to find in Hollywood, a tawdry bright world where money, power and fame is there to see all around, as in mirrors, but never grasped hold of for real.
"It's the most ridiculous place to live," Shirley said. "I've travelled the world and this place is a joke."
So why stay?
"Holly has two children here. We can't just leave. And we've got to be successful here so that we don't walk away with a bitter taste in our mouth." firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking for Harvey Weinstein, by Shirley and Holly Yanez, Trafford Publishing. It costs $25, or £15, and $1 for every book sold will be donated to the First American Fresco School. Available through Amazon and through www.LookingForHarveyWeinstein.com
01 September 2004
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