She's back! (Did you know she was gone?)

LA Confidential

IT'S TOUGH being Hollywood's first lesbian couple, no question. But maybe it's not quite as tough as Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche like to claim. It's been two years since DeGeneres came out right in the middle of her own television show. The media generally applauded her candour, and one might have been forgiven for thinking the torrent of publicity had done the couple nothing but good.

Ah, but Hollywood is a vituperative, cantankerous place, and six months ago the couple announced they were packing their bags and leaving town.

"Everything that I ever feared happened to me," DeGeneres complained to an interviewer from the Los Angeles Times. "I lost my show. I've been attacked like hell. I went from making a lot of money on a sitcom to making no money."

Heche chimed in: "And I was told I would never work again."

Sure enough, they sold their Spanish-style house in Hancock Park for well over $3m, said goodbye to their agents and told their publicists they would no longer be requiring their services. They'd be taking at least a year off, they said, because Hollywood "is a very hard town to be truthful in".

So saying, they moved all of an hour's drive away from Beverly Hills to the weekend resort town of Ojai. DeGeneres has since appeared in no fewer than three films - Roland Joffe's tongue-in-cheek thriller Goodbye Lover, the Truman Show clone EdTV, and a quietly whimsical romance called The Love Letter - while Heche has been directing dramas for cable TV, including one featuring DeGeneres and Sharon Stone as lesbian lovers. Hardly outcasts then.

And now comes the news that they have tired of Ojai after just a few months and have bought themselves a brand new house - slap bang in the middle of Hollywood. So they're back, and we had hardly realised they were gone. "I know everyone is going to say that our leaving is just another bid for attention," DeGeneres said at the time. Well, er, quite.

THE HECHE-DeGeneres duo have at least been discreet enough to stay away from Hollywood's latest epicentre of trendiness, the newfangled hotel The Standard on Sunset Strip, where slinky models flop over bubble seats at the bar, artworks are submerged into a foyer aquarium, and the blue astroturf sundeck comes with its own performance-artist lawnmower.

The Standard is the brainchild of Andre Balazs, who owns the celebrated Chateau Marmont and has now gone into business with Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio and two members of the Smashing Pumpkins. The converted old folks' home with an undulating white facade sets out to be self-consciously different, irrepressibly young and - perhaps surprisingly - cheap. Rooms come anywhere between $95 and $200 (pounds 60-pounds 125) a night, a snip by neighbourhood standards, and the tone is emphatically dressed down. Cellphones and condoms are on the house, and the cleaning staff promise they won't come knocking before noon.

Trendiness, of course, is an elusive sort of label, and a visit to The Standard last week for the opening of its new 24-hour diner (the hotel itself opened in April) revealed a few surprises. The models, it turns out, come largely courtesy of Balazs's wife Katie Ford, who owns a modelling agency in New York, and looked more like performers than bona fide trendsetters.

The waitresses were kitted out in yellow faux-1950s outfits that looked more tacky than retro. The food was excellent but out of sync with the cramped, deliberately uncomfortable surroundings. Most unforgivably, the place was nearly empty. Granted, the models and bright young things thronging the foyer are not exactly well known for hearty appetites, but as restaurant launches go this was positively lugubrious.

WITH EXCITEMENT building about the US release of Stanley Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut, insights into the late master's reclusive personality have come to light thanks to an oral history collected from his friends and colleagues by Peter Bogdanovich. We now know how he first fell for his wife Christiane (he saw her on a German television show), which movies he liked (Bergman and Woody Allen) and the origin of his fear of flying.

According to his best friend Jim Harris, he actually flew planes as a young man - until the day he nearly crashed into the fence at the end of an airfield. "He had forgotten to turn on one of the magnetos," Harris recounted. "He thought that if he - who is so meticulous about everything - forgot to do something like that, then the pilots could make these errors. If he could do that, then anybody could do it."

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