Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2006

By James Verini

IN Hollywood, those who want to be famous far outnumber those who actually are famous, a tragedy about which none of us need be reminded. Still, it’s a rewarding sight watching the under-celebrated strut and preen as though it’s all they can do to beat back public adulation and keep their own white-hot native glamour from melting the overpriced denim right off.

Thus it was a rewarding night recently at Basque, where, at about 10 p.m., I stood at the bar in the club’s front room, trying desperately to find my way to the shallow end of a $12 vodka soda, and watched a few hundred aspirants from the dim corners of entertainment gather for a “red carpet event” to celebrate Mardi Gras.

After making their way past the understanding bouncers and forgiving publicist — “I’m sure you meant to RSVP!” — they were greeted inside the club, which occupies the old Deep space at Hollywood and Vine, by Alex Quinn, a film actor and cable television eminence petite. Attractive, with a sincere demeanor, Quinn hugged big, slapped backs and gave and received showy cheek-pecks. His guests in turn offered expertly pursed lips and hair-waves and “Blue Steel”-like leers. Quinn was flanked by his manager, Francine Marseille, who served as the party’s bubbly aunt, ushering the more-knowns among the unknowns onto the carpet and handing out swag bags.

You may recall Quinn rustling steers and breaking the hearts of pouty millionaires’ daughters last year on the televised train wreck “Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive” or his appearance on the E! special “Famous Last Names” — he’s a son of late blustery thespian Anthony Quinn. The name has afforded Alex a few breaks, but not as many as he’d like, so lately he’s striking a more novel path to stardom. He’s taken up with a fledgling nightlife promotions company, LA: Confidential, and has begun hosting parties at clubs like Basque, figuring that if his face appears in enough places, it’s only a matter of time before he’s technically famous.

It’s a growing trend, you should be warned.

For fear of rain, the Basque people had elected to lay their 10-foot-long swatch of red office carpeting down in the anteroom rather than outside, so as I soaked in the corner I was blinded by the light of two and at times even three flash bulbs bouncing off the hastily constructed white backdrop, printed with the party’s obscure cosponsors, which included Fiji Girls, a clothing line that seems to specialize in outfitting Midwestern sorority sisters with dubious tans, and some non-vodka-related company called Absolute Nightlife.

Mimping for the not-so-razzi were Michelle Deighton of “America’s Next Top Model: fame, the actress Monica Potter, Cassandra Hepburn from “The Amazing Race,” Nick Movs of the upcoming “Survival of the Richest,” and many others from the ever-expanding and unemployed ranks of reality TV, in which Quinn is deeply connected (before E! he worked as a production assistant on MTV’s “The Real World”).

Or so the press release said, anyway. I didn’t recognize anyone and had no luck asking around, as few of them appeared to know one another either.

An admirable sense of humor about this fact was in circulation among certain revelers.

“What have I seen that guy in?” asked an actor and sometime producer named Nick James, who was at the party hoping to meet investors for his next film. Not that there was a previous film.

“I think I saw him in the county lockup downtown,” said one of James’ unimpressed companions.

“I think I saw him at Baja Fresh,” said another.

Unknown though they may have been, Quinn’s invitees knew what they were doing. Their behavior was a closely studied pantomime of actual celebrities at actual red carpet events, a kind of apprenticeship program for the tabloids.

“I’m trying to market myself,” Quinn, who from certain angles bears a striking resemblance to his father, told me. “It makes sense business-wise. There were a lot of people in that room who were decision makers and lot of hungry, talented people who need to be put in front of decision makers. The idea is for photographers to get to know you.”

Working the room, literally

QUINN, who is 29 and grew up in Beverly Hills, hosted a similar event at Rokbar in January. His job is simple: He shows up, poses in as many pictures as possible, tries to chat up anyone of note, and at the end of the night collects a fee, in this case $500. Marseille takes 10% of that.

C-list nightlife has become a spectacle and a cottage industry in its own right. If the Vanity Fair Oscar party, for instance, is a place for Hollywood’s A-list to compare fabulousness and contemplate multimillion-dollar deals, parties like the one at Basque are a way for people like Quinn to feel somehow close to the action, to get their faces on Internet sites like Wire Image and dailyceleb.com and the pages of lesser-known magazines and try to drum up work, however paltry. (The Vanity Fair party being just days away, on this night Basque was also a place for guys to hand their Kinkos-printed cards to unsuspecting ingenues with assurances like: “My cousin’s roommate’s hairdresser knows Graydon Carter’s dog walker, so I can totally get you in …”)

Some feel the situation is getting out of hand. Anyone who’s so much as stumbled across a craft services table, it seems, is clamoring to host or co-host or co-co-host club parties.

“It’s cheesy, but it’s also the flavor of the moment,” said BoJesse Christopher, a promoter who manages parties at LAX and Privilege. “It’s just another sign of the over-saturation of the nightlife marketplace. Everybody wants to be a promoter now.”

Bona fide celebrities do attend Christopher’s parties. But, he added, the thousands of clubgoers who flock to Hollywood every weekend are so eager to see anyone recognizable, even quasi-celebrities will do. “I’ll go for the high-hanging fruit, but even when I end up with the medium and low-hanging stuff, it still gets bodies through the door.”

“I get calls every day,” said Jami Hennings, a special events manager at LAX, of fielding offers from the less than luminous. “They say all of these names, people they’ll get to come in, and I’ve never heard of any of them.”

Incidentally, Quinn reassured me he was not switching careers. “I’m still pursuing an acting career,” he said. “I just came off what I consider to be a very high-quality film.” In February he wrapped “Curse of Alcatraz,” about attractive young archeologists who discover something horrific and supernatural on the former prison island.

By 11 p.m., I’d made my way into Basque’s main room, where an also-ran from “American Idol” and her hangers-on were mouthing along to the music and showing off rehearsed-looking dance steps. I’d made sure to keep close to the wits from the front bar.

“Is that Ali G?” I asked, pointing to a character in a sock cap and dark glasses (the vodka sodas had accumulated nicely).

“No, that’s Prince’s second cousin,” said my new best friend.

It was neither Ali G nor, I’m fairly certain, Prince’s second cousin, but as we looked on Bill Maher did enter the room and take a seat near the dance floor. As often happens with Maher, whose presence either means a party is really good or really bad, he was approached by the blowsiest bottle-blond in the room, who yelled in his ear animatedly while the pint of white wine in her goblet threatened to spill onto his shoes. He nodded gamely until she attached the glass to her face.

“Why’d you come tonight, Bill?” I asked.

He frowned.

“So I could leave,” he said, and promptly walked out the back door.