Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Tooth of the Matter: Dentists to the Stars


I just returned from a long session in the dental chair (don’t ask!). As always I was fascinated by the intrusion of Hollywood into dentistry, SoCal-style. I don’t know whether theatre programs in other cities contain glossy ads for dental specialists. In front of me right now lies a dramatic full-color ad from Performances Magazine, which is handed out as you take your seat at the Los Angeles Music Center. It shows a lovely lady in an evening gown emerging from behind a red theatre curtain, her pearly whites gleaming. The caption shouts, “GET NOTICED FOR A SMILE THAT PERFORMS,” and there follows the promise that a certain Beverly Hills cosmetic dentist “will take your smile from average to spectacular. Come see us for an award-winning smile that always gets a standing ovation!” Then, of course, there’s a web address.

My own dentists have never advertised in theatre programs, so far as I know. But I’ve long been amused by the signed celebrity photos on their walls. My kids’ orthodontist had a full array: I best remember the shot of Margot Kidder, in character as Superman’s Lois Lane.  Most of Dr. Abel’s photos were of famous adults, whom I assume had brought their children in for braces. That’s how I met Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash fame: he was pecking out song lyrics on his laptop as we both waited for our metal-mouthed offspring.

In my own dentist’s Beverly Hills office, two framed photos occupy a place of honor. One is a dapper shot of Gregory Peck, and the other is of Paul Newman, grinning as he leans against a race car. Obviously, these photos are decades old: they were prized possessions of the late Dr. Leslie Levine, the founder of the practice, who practiced dentistry until his late 80s. A man with impressive credentials, he attracted quite a range of stars. After all, even the rich and famous can suffer, as they age, from receding gums. My mother still remembers back twenty years, when she and my dad encountered yesteryear’s tap-dance sensation, Ann Miller, queening it in the waiting room.

When Dr. Levine passed on, his practice fell into the capable hands of Dr. Hessam Nowzari, former head of USC’s dental school. I like Dr. Nowzari (and he has a great smile), but I was unprepared when he asked me if I’d seen his movie yet. I went home with a DVD labeled with an image of a pharaoh and the caption “What Killed the Smile of Hatshepsut?” When I played the disk, it turned out that the real title is “The AA Bacterium: A Worldwide Epidemic.” The 30-minute film makes a strong point about the persistence, from before the time of the pyramids, of a supermicrobe that has disfigured the front teeth of countless unfortunates all over the globe. It makes for sober viewing (while conveying the upbeat message that a saltwater rinse of the gums can help today’s babies fight off AA’s future ravages).  But I was most struck by the film’s attempts at Hollywood drama. The narrator’s spiels, backed by ominous music, treat the microbe as an assassin, who has caused “tens of millions of people [to] bid farewell to their smiles.”

Not only is this happening in backward countries. Over gorgeous postcard-shots of a gleaming Los Angeles skyline, the narrator intones, “The capital of glamour, beauty, and stars. Who could believe that a hidden enemy is lurking behind the scenes?” Who indeed? Thanks, Dr. Nowzari, for teaching me something important. Next time, though, please get your screenwriter to tone down the Hollywood-inspired kitsch. 

8 comments:

  1. Get a load of that Superman poster. Absolutely no one is smiling. Hmmmmm.

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  2. You didn't mention the sadistic dentist in Little Shop of Horrors!

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  3. Hollywood truly is another world - what a hilarious post! Imagine meeting Ann Miller in that most mundane of places - the dentist's waiting room. The mind boggles. And that's the tooth!

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  4. I don't know if this will impress you, Mr. Craig, but I just left another dental specialist's office (don't ask). Seated in the waiting room was a man with a familiar face and -- because he was on his phone -- a REALLY familiar voice. It was Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers for the last 59 years. He smiled at my double-take. I think he gets that a lot!

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  5. I am not a baseball fan - but even I have heard of the great Vin Scully - glad to hear he's still getting out and about!

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  6. He definitely was part of my life from the time the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to L.A. He looked and sounded terrific -- good to see!

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  8. Thank you for visiting Beverly in Movieland, Amelia.

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