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Interviews

Luxe Hotels Chairman and Founder Efrem Harkham Expresses Business and Life Philosophies in His Recent Memoir

 

"Living the Luxe Life: The Secrets of Building a Successful Hotel Empire"
Authors: Efrem Harkham with Mark Bego
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

When veteran hotelier Efrem Harkham bought a struggling hotel in Bel Air 31 years ago, little did he know he was launching what would become the Luxe Hotels brand — an international hospitality company. Now, Luxe includes the Luxe Collection Hotels representation company (which is limited to 200 member hotels) and the corporate-owned properties such as Beverly Hills’ Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel and Bel Air’s Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel as well the Luxe City Center Hotel in Los Angeles. Harkham sought to make the brand typify the name Luxe and be synonymous with comfort and refinement — something he hopes to do with the recently acquired Life Hotel in Manhattan.

The company employs over 300 and provides marketing, sales, reservations and other services for hotels in Europe, South America and Asia, as well as North America. As he explained in an accented English voice which mixes a touch of his life growing up in both Australia and Israel, he has a global perspective. “We created an international brand through the Luxe hotel name, like The Rose Garden in Rome. We gave it a face lift and BOOM, The Luxe Rose Garden. When that title enhances an existing hotel, it really serves in the duty of the name. Every state has one of these beautiful hotels. It was my idea that day that I’ve got to find these little boutiques in all these beautiful cities which needs to be granted that name. The idea was born right there.”

But there’s more to Harkham than just hotels. Hospitality isn’t just a job but a way of life for this 60-something. And it’s not just hospitality — it’s a mix of class, euro-styled elegance and a professional thoroughness that underlies his places and his business style. Thanks to years of experience — and through seasoned author Mark Bego’s skills (a New York Times bestseller with 62 books on rock & roll and show business under his belt) — Harkham’s life chronicle, "Living the Luxe Life: The Secrets of Building a Successful Hotel Empire" (Skyhorse), came to fruition as an insightful guide to both success in business and in spirit. Through his rags-to-riches American memoir, Living the Luxe Life details Harkham’s business philosophy, a commitment to excellence in all aspects of life, succeeding in a constantly evolving marketplace, and mentoring employees. He firmly believes that his methods provides customers with a superior product. Chapters expand on Harkham’s business model, touching on his belief in philanthropy, education, and patience.

And given his less-than-auspicious roots, one wouldn’t have thought hospitality was in the cards. “I was born in Israel. There were several hundred thousand people that arrived within a period of five years. That is a lot of people for a brand new country to absorb. There were food shortages and no housing, we were living in ramshackle camps. We lived in an old British barrack and we just put up walls inside. There were around a hundred thousand people in that area. One thing that we always did was, despite all the squalor, we always celebrated the Jewish holiday Shabbat, and that was a life saver. We brought joy to the squalor and you just work your way out of it by not giving up.”

LUXECOVERBorn in the Jewish state, Harkham’s religious experience helped define him and how he responded. “I was a very quiet child and I would watch my family sing and celebrate every Friday for the Jewish day of rest. There are a lot of Jewish holidays! I’m sure living in New York you know. During those years, we were all watching my Dad; my Mom was in a bit of shock, lobbying for us to go to school. We saw kids not having proper education and he lobbied hard for a school for 400 kids. He actually got the funds for a school and had it built for 400 children. He encouraged me and my siblings to help make it happen for the kids and to help them be confident in the world, to be able to find their strength.”

His next stop was even further away from the United States when he acquired Australian roots: “When we arrived in Australia, it was like arriving in Heaven. Oh my God! It is just such a beautiful and peaceful country. My brother was able to secure us a home there before we arrived. I started high school and being an immigrant from Israel was really foreign to the Australian teenagers. I was quiet, shy, introverted, and being the youngest boy in the family, I was passive. Arriving in Australia, I was getting a little chubby from all the good food, so at school I made an effort not to go with the heard mentality. I didn’t want to be like the other guys.”

Though it wouldn’t seem apparent now, Harkham survived his own share of contentious situations, and that taught him a lot. “I was using my ambition and drive to help my parents out of their financial issues. Over the holidays, I worked, I gave them money, they were always short on money. The school’s bully saw the opportunity to poke fun at me. I was the subject of lots of gang outs. I didn’t tell my family about it or my four older brothers. I was too proud to tell them that I was being harassed. I came home with two broken arms and black eyes and they would ask me what happened, and I would say a sports accident. They believed me. This gave me a lot of strength, not to go with the herd and believe that I am okay and that I have a mission to help my parents.”

While growing up in down under, he got his start in business at age 17 in Sydney. He worked as a salesman for Lulu, his older brother’s clothing manufacturing company. Lulu took off after he persuaded a buyer for a large retailer, Rockman’s of Australia, to carry one of the company’s jumpsuits. That achievement led to him establishing a successful track record in the rag trade. And all that drove his move into hospitality. “I felt that that’s why I succeeded in the garment industry. I put myself in my consumers’ shoes, and made sure that they were getting the best product that they could get for what they were spending.”

By selling his share of the clothing business, Harkham used his money to move to Los Angeles in ’78 and invest in commercial real estate, including the struggling Radisson Bel-Air Hotel — now the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel. “I went into hospitality with the same mentality of quality control. I tried being on my own, but I was convinced that it would be useless on my own, that I had to join with a larger entity, which, I did. I joined two international brands and in the process of doing so, sold my profits for even more. And I just went, ‘We’ve won!’ I signed a very long contract, 15 years. But after five years, I said ‘Bye Charlie.’ I realized that there were others exactly like me looking for representation and for someone who would help them be found by the consumer. I decided to stop complaining to the branch I hired and mustered the courage to create my own brand and philosophy.“

And that attitude is evident when you walk into any of Harkham’s one-hundred-plus luxury hotels. “I tell my team where ever they are: ‘We all have to lead.’ I expect my staff to look better than I do when I am out there. And they do this 24/7. It’s all about that attention which is personal and genuine. It has to be perfection. It’s a way of life, and we teach it to the staff and executives. We teach it to everyone.”

An example was cited. A woman battling a stubborn cold checked into the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel. Harkham noticed and ordered the restaurant to send her freshly made chicken soup free of charge. It paid off. The guest now returns often and tells her friends about the gesture. He added: “This resulted in a long friendship with the guest, her entire family and work associates.

“We make sure every student employee understands that we want customers for life, not just for one day or one stay. We want them to celebrate their anniversaries or their birthdays with us. So that is the mentality that we’ve engendered at the company.”

Harkham cited another example as to how he acts on his ideas: “When we celebrated Beverly Hills’ 100th birthday, we had a specially baked 4,000-pound cake that had 15,000 slices, and residents flocked to that event. With the hotels we represent, we carefully select properties that have a one-of-a-kind individuality, rarely found among many hotel chains and collections that abound today. Each property has its own distinctive personality and they’re often located near historic sites offering compelling design and unique architectural elements.”

Though he travels regularly, he tries to be home with his kids on weekends. While on the road, he practices yoga and meditation to keep his mind and body fit. “Closing out the world is what it’s about — 15 minutes in the morning and again at night. It helps me maintain my sanity.”

Living in Beverly Hills, he also invested in the local industry — Hollywood’s film business, becoming associate producer for “Gorky Park” a 1983 crime drama starring William Hurt. No doubt he took an interest in this extracurricular activity because his hero is Walt Disney. “Animation was executed by many before him but [Disney] introduced something new. He created magic and made it special — that’s my goal for the hotel industry."

Actor Michael Keaton Soars To Heights of Award Season Through "Birdman"

Norton & Keaton at 2014 NY Comic Con

Of all the Mexican new wave directors who emerged in the ‘90s, Alejandro González Iñárritu always pushed the envelope further than cohorts Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro. And he does so once again with Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance), a dark comic tragedy co-written with Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo.

Few films deconstruct the effects of mega stardom in such a unique way as does this film, with its long singular tracking shots, hallucinatory superpower sequences (exhibiting levitation and telekinesis), and 4th wall-breaking monologues.

Famous for portraying iconic superhero Birdman, actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) struggles to mount a Broadway play as a form of redemption from having played this one-dimensional character in three mega-hit films.

In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego, family miasma, career record and himself. While doing the play, Thomson copes with neurotic co-stars — particularly difficult and demanding Mike (Edward Norton) and the insecure Lesley (Noami Watts) as well as  on-again/off-again girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough), close friend/manager/producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis), ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) and daughter Sam (Emma Stone).

if any actor could play Thomson, Keaton was the man. The Pennsylvania native has had the kind of career the film deconstructs — in and out the media spotlight, coping with and running away from the mayhem of Hollywood.

Keaton’s own career turns have, at times, been surreal, he’s gone from being known as a great comic actor to a favorite of wacky director Tim Burton who transformed him from the cranky miscreant Betelgeuse (in Beetlejuice) into an emblematic Batman evolving a franchise then leaving it before it become a self-parodied costumed geek series.

keaton-closeKeaton himself has been in the wilderness literally, away from the spotlight on his Montana ranch; being tapped for this part has brought the 63 year-old actor back into the spotlight but also at the forefront of the awards season winning a Best Actor Golden Globe, several other awards and is in the running for the Best Actor Oscar.

As Thomson wonders in the film whether he has the talent or insight to be the both the actor and artist he believe he can be, so has Keaton. Playing Batman made him an iconic figure, one that could earn the big bucks just if he wanted to (working the conventions; reprising his iconic Tim Burton-directed roles), but he has shied away from Hollywood, directing (The Merry Gentleman) or doing interesting indies (Game 6 based on a Don Delillo story).

Besides, few films that address superhero worship actually star two people — Keaton and Norton — who have played two superheroes that stirred fan obsession.

This Q&A is culled from a Birdman press conference, the 2014 New York Comic-Con Birdman panel and some remarks to the press after his Golden Globes win.

Q: What does your amazing career resurgence feel like for you?

MK: How does it feel…??? It feels good!

Q: How did you get involved with Birdman?

MK: I got a call that Alejandro [González Iñárritu] was making this movie. When I asked what it was about, I was already working on another movie and they said, “Unfortunately, you can’t fly home because you’re in the middle of this movie.” But when his name was mentioned, I thought, “Well, maybe I should find a way to fly home.” I was a big, big fan of his movies. So, I flew home.

They couldn't tell me what it was about. Now that I've done the movie, I understand why they couldn't explain it, because I'm not sure what happened.

I went and had dinner with him. It was very pleasant and really interesting. [Alejandro] is a really interesting, extremely passionate guy, which is contagious. At the end of the meeting, he said, “Here, read this.” It took me about 27 seconds to decide, “Yeah, I probably want to do this.”

Q: What do you think of the Riggan Thomson character? Is he crazy? Is he depressed?

birdman posterMK: The character is Alejandro, so you should ask him… No, the character is really one of the most difficult things I’ve done, not in terms of the character necessarily, but in terms of how the film was made.

Within sometimes 30 or 49 seconds, you have to surf a lot of different emotions and fit them into this giant picture. Because this picture is always shifting and moving, and it’s got so many levels, therefore, it was really, really difficult. But I like that. I like "difficult" most of time…

Q: Did the director make you suffer?

MK: He tried. I go through what Alejandro goes through, the same thing. I think, “You’re the greatest. You’re wonderful.” And like Alejandro, 20 minutes later, the difference is, I go, “No, you’re actually more than that, Michael.” [jokingly] It keeps getting bigger.

Q: There’s a lot of underwear shown in Birdman… [a scene involves Riggan getting locked outside a theater mid-costume change, forcing him to walk through Times Square in his skivvies.]

MK: That’s Alejandro [smiles].

Q: What were rehearsals like?

MK: In this, as hard as it was, and as grueling as it could be, we had the luxury of saying the words over and over again. And as you start to hear them, being in a play, you go, “Oh, I never heard that line coming out of my mouth.” You find another level to it, without sounding totally pretentious and obnoxious. That was a great luxury to have. It was hard, though.

Q: Riggan clashes with an influential Broadway critic. You were also involved with a movie called Game 6, which also dealt with how a critics can affect a Broadway show. What are your thoughts on how critics can affect careers?

MK: This is where I’m a dope. I make it really simple. The first play I ever did, in Pittsburgh, someone walked up and said, “Hey, I read the thing in the paper. Someone said you were real good” or something like that. I hadn’t even thought of that part. And I still often don’t think of that part.

What I thought originally was, “You should be courageous and read everything.” I did that a couple of times. And then I thought, “I don’t want to do that anymore.” That’s just miserable, so I don’t really bother. I just don’t do it.

Admittedly, when someone says, “Hey, you got a really nice review,” I’ll read it. I’m willing to make myself feel better. I ain’t going to fight that.

It’s real simple for me. I think  — unless I’m really stupid here and there’s a strong possibility that’s true — I’ve basically been treated fairly, but I’m the wrong person to ask. There’s probably a lot of you out there going, “Oh no, you haven’t.”

But I think it’s been pretty fair. I don’t know, I’m the wrong guy to ask. By the way, I really liked Game 6. That was a Don DeLillo story.

Q: Is this a movie about a man going through a crisis/breakdown, or is he kind of becoming enlightened?

MK: Not “kind of.” There’s no “kind of” about it. It’s kind of tricky. I don’t want to be coy by saying, “I don’t want to give away too much.” I really don’t, because it would be unfair, frankly. But yeah, that’s the thing that you get.

the-batmanI’m in the movie and I read the script, and I did all the discussions, and I did all the rehearsals. And yet when I saw it, I go, “Wow, he had to go that crazy to get that sane." He had to go that crazy to find that little sweet spot.

Q: So now, how would you describe Birdman to people who haven’t seen it?

MK: When people ask me, I always tend to say, “It's not like anything you've ever seen before.” And then I say, “No, literally, it’s not like anything you’ve seen before.” It's not just a glib expression.

I don't know that I've seen any of my movies in 10 years, outside of looping and little bits and pieces in 10 years, but I've seen this movie two-and-a-half times…. And I'm going to watch it all the way through tomorrow [at its premiere]. And I'll watch it many, many times after.

I was watching it the other day, and I kept looking at the screen. I noticed things that I didn’t really get [before]. And I think, “Man, I could love this movie.” And then you realize, “Wait a minute. I’m in this movie.”

Q: Did you get to keep your Birdman costume?

MK: No, and what a great idea! How stupid am I not to keep one of those. Now I’m thinking of a way to get one.

Q: The superhero genre is part of the debate about and within this film. Having starred in superhero films -- Batman and Batman Returns -- what did you think of them?

MK: When Tim [Burton] called and I took the original Batman script home, I was mostly unfamiliar with the superhero books and wasn't that big a comic book reader. I thought, "I can’t imagine anyone making this movie the way I see the character, but I'm sure glad to read it."

I told Tim what I thought, and Tim was just nodding, his long hair going up and down. He was smiling and looking excited. I said, "OK, they're not going to make that, are they?" He said, "I don't know, let's find out!"

Q: Would you star in another superhero movie in the future?

MK: [I'd have to ask,] Who's directing, what's the cast and is the script good? What's it all about [before I could say.]

keaton-comic-conQ: You’ve always given spectacular performances, especially in comedies like Night Shift where you were cutting your comedic teeth. In a movie like that as opposed to a movie like Birdman, do you approach them the same?

MK: When I saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I had seen this kid as a young guy. Holy moly! This guy’s approach to comedy was so good and authentic, so I called and said I saw this guy in this movie, I want to do a movie with him. As it turns out, he was this wonderful actor Sean Penn. He happened to be funny, but what I dug about it was how authentic it was. Jonah Hill is the same way, so committed to the comedy. So I approach them the same: Do your homework and go to work.

Three Generations of Comic Authors at NYCC '14

With attendance numbers at over a hundred thousand, New York Comic Con at the Jacob Javits Center is an event that is so massive that it’s easy to get completely swept up and miss some of the finer details. But we at Film Festival Traveler wanted to take the time to give you some one-on-one with some great minds from the world of comics, both old and new and we are presenting a series of video interviews with some of the talented people that make events like NY Comic Con worth going to.

From drawing friend’s D&D characters in high school, to working in advertising, to creating comics online, Megan Levens’ artistic trajectory has been a self made one. Her art combines clean linework with an eye for the horrific in her comic Madame Frankenstein, written by Jamie S. Rich (Cut Your Hair) for Image Comics. Madame Frankenstein combines 1930’s style with a tale of obsession and flesh, as the myth of Pygmalion meets Mary Shelley by way of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Having cut her teeth on her semi-autobiographical webcomic,  Somewhere In Between, Levens’ Madame Frankenstein and her upcoming Ares & Aphrodite for Oni Press reinterpret classical myths in a thoroughly modern way.

Paul Pope has made a career for himself as both an avant-garde artist on the fringes and someone trying to get more kids into reading comics. Born in Philadelphia and having a strongly European aesthetic to his comics, Pope actually got his start in comics in Japan, working for publisher Kodansha and allegedly cranking out over 15 pages a week. His early works like Escapo (which was recently reprinted in a new colored edition) and THB got his kinetic style noticed, landing him work with DC and making Batman Year 100. But dissatisfied with DC’s unwillingness to let him helm a story aimed at a younger audiences, Pope set off to create his own series of graphic novels for young readers with Battling Boy, The Death of Haggard West and The Rise of Aurora West from First Second Books.


Possessing a dynamic style rooted American aesthetics of the 1950s, Howard Chaykin is the quintessential New York comic author. Having got his break into comics with the help of Gil Kane and Neal Adams at DC, Chaykin has created a comics with themes of noir, sci-fi, action, fantasy, eroticism, crime, and sometimes combining all of the above. Chaykin came into renown in the 1980’s with his contributions to Heavy Metal, his take on the pulp hero The Shadow for DC, and his own sci-fi political satire, American Flagg!. Currently Chaykin is working with Fantastic Four and Sex Criminals scribe Matt Fraction on Satellite Sam for Image Comics.

You can follow Renzo on Twitter @RenzoAdler or email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Brit Comics & Beyond with 2000 AD at NY Comic Con

With attendance numbers at over a hundred-thousand, New York Comic Con at the Jacob Javits Center is an event that is so massive that it’s easy to get completely swept up and miss some of the finer details. But we at Film Festival Traveler wanted to take the time to give you some one-on-one with some great minds from the world of comics, both old and new and we are presenting a series of video interviews with some of the talented people that make events like NY Comic Con worth going to.

2000 AD started as a humble British sci-fi anthology comic magazine in 1977, and has since become a stable of top sci-fi and fantasy talent from Britain. Authors and creators like Neil Gaiman, Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neil, and Grant Morrison either got their start at 2000 AD, or were regular contributors to it. Whenever the Big Two want to get some fresh talent, they look to 2000 AD’s crop of artists and authors. The most well known character to come out of 2000 AD is Judge Dredd, who since 1977 has been dishing out his own brand of the law in the dystopian Mega City One. The 2012 film Dredd, despite underperforming in the box office, has garnered a cult following, leading to the film’s executive producer, Adi Shankar, to create an unofficial sequel to the film in the form of an upcoming web series.

But Dredd is only a small part of 2000 AD’s stable of characters, which includes Nemesis the Warlock by Kevin O’Neil (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), The Kingdom by Dan Abnett (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Nikolai Dante by Simon Fraser and Robbie Morrison. Nikolai Dante is about a carefree and swashbuckling rogue that was created at a time in comics when most heroes were brooding, gritting, and strictly wore black leather. We spoke with Dante’s creator, Fraser, and 2000 AD’s head of PR, Michael Molcher, about 2000 AD, the new British invasion, what is the deal with all these Doctor Who fans?

Video by Rishi Gandhi.

To learn more, go to: http://www.2000adonline.com/

You can follow Renzo on Twitter @RenzoAdler or email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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