Pat Montandon packs 'em in at Litquake event
Surprisingly, on a rather cold Monday night, the queue outside the Swedish American Hall for Litquake's Porch Light storytelling event took up most of the Market Street block and then looped back on the sidewalk. At least 50 people were turned away at the door.
What made the Porch Light gig sell out and then some? The event's rock star. A woman who, by her own admission, is nearing 80 -- Pat Montandon, the former San Francisco socialite who hosted her own television show in the '60s, wedded famous attorney Melvin Belli for less than 40 days in an unofficial shotgun ceremony in Japan, married and divorced Al Wilsey, wrote a column for the San Francisco Examiner, founded the philanthropic group Children as the Peacemakers and currently resides in Beverly Hills. She was joined by her son, Sean Wilsey, whose story of growing up among San Franciscan royalty, "Oh the Glory of It All," will soon be joined by Montandon's tale, "Oh the Hell of It All," which will be published in April 2007.
The mood inside the Swedish American Hall was downright giddy. The bar was serving a Montandon-tini. The Porch Light hosts and founders, writers Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte, were dressed in demure '50s style cocktail dresses, perhaps in homage to Montandon's first book, "How to Be a Party Girl."
"I'm crazy excited," said Porch Light performer Marcus Ewert.
Speaking before the event, Wilsey said that it would be the first time he would be performing at a literary event as an adult with his mother. "When I was a kid, I would come up with her onstage all the time, for Peacemaker stuff," he said, smiling, "but I don't think we'll actually be onstage together tonight."
Before intermission Montandon took the stage. Clad in a cream-colored sweater, a brown beret, a wide brown belt and a ruffled cream skirt, with her blond hair shining under the stage lights, she looked fantastic. She was a natural performer, moving between comic moments and more serious pronouncements with ease. She spoke of a disastrous booking on "The Tonight Show" before the publication of "How to Be a Party Girl" -- "The person before me was George Burns; I had to follow George Burns" -- and the steps leading up to the publication of said book. She went to New York with her then-boyfriend, Belli, and waltzed into the offices of McGraw Hill without an agent. "I would just stumble into these incredible things," she said, her voice carrying an exaggerated innocence that appeared to be an effective deterrent to more worldly cynicism. She spoke of the advice her friend Alex Haley gave her, to not let events or people "pull her down."
After the show Wilsey joined his mother at the side of the stage, greeting fans. The night had stretched to almost three hours of storytelling, but no one seemed to mind. People continued to stand at the bar to order the Montandon-tinis.
Causes Pat Montandon Supports
PETA, Women for Women, Amnesty International, Children as the Peacemakers, Peace to The Planet