One of my great friends for many years is Michael Stevenson, an assistant film director who has been working for 57 years with some of the greatest film directors of the movie world, including Sir David Lean, Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski, Ridley & Tony Scott, Oliver Stone, Alan J Pakula, Steven Spielberg, Sidney Lumet and Michael Cimino. Among the actors and actresses he has worked with we could name so many; Peter Sellers, Robert Mitchum, Daniel Day-Lewis, David Bowie, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt and Faye Dunaway are just a few.
In 1970, Michael was awarded The Director’s Guild of America for his work with David Lean on ‘Ryan’s Daughter.’ In 2003 he was awarded a BAFTA for Services and Acheivement within the Film industry. Here he reminisces with some sweet stories of beautiful, heady days celebrating life...
I first started going to Osteria San Lorenzo in October 1963, when Peter Sellers kindly invited me to dinner. He introduced me to Mara and Lorenzo - back then the restaurant was only very small, with just a handful of wooden tables. People like Princess Margaret, Lord Snowdon, Sofia Loren, Carlo Ponti, Mr and Mrs Cubby Broccoli, and the Italian Ambassador were among the very first diners. The place was tiny, intimate and so welcoming, reflecting the generous energies of its young hosts.
I worked with Peter many times during my film career. He was wonderful to me and I will always remember my introduction to San Lorenzo, Mara and Lorenzo. In 1970, Peter’s then wife Lady Miranda Mancroft organised a great birthday party for him at San Lorenzo. I helped her with the invitations and with greeting the guests. Miranda had invited about eighty people, but over three hundred arrived, including Peter’s ex-wife, Britt Ekland, and the Queen’s cousin Lord Patrick Litchfield. Imagine, all these amazing people crammed into this tiny little Osteria. Everybody who knew everybody was there and one funny lady, I think it was a famous make-up man’s wife, refused to take off her new full mink. The waiters offered to take good care of it but she was adamant. The coat had a hood, and during the party, Peter O’Toole inadvertently flicked smouldering cigarette ash into it. Suddenly, it was on fire and the woman screamed “My mink! My mink!”. One of the waiters rushed to the rescue with a fire extinguisher and everybody laughed at this poor silly woman!
During the filming of ‘There’s A Girl in My Soup’, Peter had invited Mara and Lorenzo to Cannes. One morning, we were filming a beach scene outside the Carlton Hotel. In the distance I saw a couple walking by the sea towards us. To my surprise, it was Mara and Lorenzo. That evening, Peter held a great dinner party on his yacht and we all had the most wonderful time. I subsequently had dinner on many occasions with him at San Lorenzo, whilst he was dating Liza Minelli.
1969 came and Mara and Lorenzo opened San Lorenzo Fuoriporta in Wimbledon. I spent many lovely, long summer lunches there, especially my very first date with my girlfriend Elvira Nieto La Riva, a beauty from Venezuela who later became my wife. Lorenzo took many pictures of us that Sunday lunchtime. Most Sundays, Mara, Lorenzo, Ghigo, Paolo and Marina were there having lunch and talking with everyone. David Hemmings, Albert Finney and many others would be seen playing bocce (Italian boules) on the sandy ‘pista’ in the garden. David’s raucous laughter and betting calls were so loud and so funny that I can still hear him now - such great times.
One lovely Sunday lunch was spent with the great French star and icon, Catherine Deneuve, who always ate at San Lorenzo in Knightsbridge. This was her first visit to Fuoriporta, during a week in which we had been shooting Tony Scott’s “The Hunger”, and she absolutely loved it. Ridley and Tony Scott were frequent regulars there because they lived in Wimbledon.
Once I held a fantastic birthday dinner party at Osteria, blessed with Mara’s expert touch. Among my guests were Tony Scott, his girlfriend Glynnis, hairdresser Leonard Lewis and his wife Petra, photographer Clive Arrowsmith, Nadia and Suomi Lavalle, Catherine Deneuve and her handsome boyfriend. I had also invited cameraman Hugh Johnson, Susan Sarandon, David Bowie, Coco, Rupert Everett, designers Rifat Ozbeck and Tommy Nutter, as well as world famous Italian costume designer Milena Canonera. Mara did us all really proud and I enjoyed a birthday I shall never forget.
In fact, Clive Arrowsmith held many of his wedding lunches at Beauchamp Place where, on occasion, his dear welsh mum would get drunk and sing on top of the tables. Tommy Nutter, the famous Savile Row tailor would bring a beautiful indian princess for lunch twith me and my lovely mum.
Every Saturday lunchtime at San Lorenzo in Beauchamp Place was like a great club gathering, everybody knew each other in this fantastic atmosphere of relaxed, elegant, handsome creatives - what they called the ‘jet set’. Jack Nicholson would check in on Saturday lunch before he even checked into his hotel! One saturday, Leonard arrived with his girlfriend, heiress Marella Oppenheim, along with her grey cat. That same afternoon, Marisa Berenson ‘queen of the jet set’ was there with beautiful “Valley of the Dolls” actress, Barbara Parkins, who also starred in “Peyton Place”. I had worked with Marisa on Stanly Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon”. I also knew Barbara because she often dined there with Ryan O’Neill. It sounds as though I’m name-dropping a bit, but this is where all these people would hang out. If Dustin Hoffman was in town to promote Midnight Cowboy, this is where he’d be, it was the only place to be. This incredible mix of actors and actresses, studio creatives, fashion creatives, musicians, aristocrats ands, artists felt right at home here. Not many restaurants like this have ever existed.
Among my many other guests in San Lorenzo Knightsbridge have been Daniel Day Lewis, Sir Anthony Quayle, and Brad Pitt. One of the longest episodes was Christmas lunch with my wife and daughter, Elvira and Eugenia, Colin Farrell, Colin’s sister Claudine, his brother Eamonn, Rosario Dawson, Johnny Rhys-Myers, and Jeremy Woodhead (a famous make-up man). We began lunch at 1pm and finished at midnight, and then onto the Dorchester Hotel for further drinks with Angelina Jolie.
The best New Year’s Eve party was spent with my Elvira at Mara’s. We arrived at 9pm and left at 5am, the sun just starting to come up, having danced and sung all night to the wonderful music of the Los Paraguayos band, which Lorenzo had arranged.
My niece from Caracas once met the lovely Freddie Mercury, who held a party there after his farewell concert for his friends, band and crew. Joanna nearly fainted when I introduced her hero, Freddie. He was so friendly and charming..
Another time Elvira and I were having lunch at San Lorenzo in Knightsbridge and Mara sat us very near to the lovely late Princess Diana in one corner, while Michael Caine’s beautiful wife, Shakira, sat at a nearby table. Princess Diana was regular there with her young boys, Prince William and Prince harry.
And then there was San Lorenzo Fuoriporta. Sunday lunches with my mum and dad, sitting at a table next to beautiful, warm Twiggy, and my friend the wonderful clothes designer, Bill Gibb. All of us having a wonderful lunch, full of laughter and joy. Another Sunday lunch with Leonard and ‘Champagne Eddie’ began at 12.30pm and finished at midnight. I must also mention the dearly departed Piero De Monzi, who beagn his career as a SanLorenzo waiter and went on to open a wonderful Italian clothing shop in Fulham Road. These were typical days of long lunches, after a hard week’s work, a kind of celebration, in the company of such amazing people and in such beautiful restaurants.
My daughter, Eugenia, had many lovely birthday parties at San Lorenzo, thanks to Mara and Lorenzo. In fact, Ghigo is Eugenia’s Godfather. When she was a bit older, the birthday parties were at Fuoriporta, in the garden with her schoolfriends. Also, her Holy communion party was held there, and I’m eternally grateful to Ghigo, Paolo, Marina, Lorenzo and Mara, who were all there with her.
When I was interviewed recently regarding my long film career, I was asked who actually goes to San Lorenzo. I answered that it’s easier and quicker for me to tell you who doesn’t go to San Lorenzo. When they held their 50th anniversary on 17th October 2013, I witnessed a fabulous cummunion of dear friends and family. So many of the wonderful people I’ve mentioned were there, and we all felt Mara’s presence, despite losing her last year in April. One of my closest friends, the English actor Terence Stamp, was at her funeral. He loved going to San Lorenzo and he'd have deep conversations with her about life. I know that that they held each other in very high regard.
So to me, this was, and still is, a community of wonderful people, and not just of celebrities. A friend of mine, Steve “Stooks”, a film electrician, once asked me if I could book a table for him and his girlfriend for Saturday dinner. They had never been to San Lorenzo, but had always wanted to go and, when they did, they were looked after so well by Mara and Roz, the lovely cloakroom girl. That's what I loved about Mara, because she looked after all her clients, not just the rich and glamorous, but even a young couple visiting for the first time. May San Lorenzo and San Lorenzo Fuoriporta last forever in that spirit.
“Long Live San Lorenzo!”
Michael Stevenson 15th November, 2013