Biltmore workers hold a protest march in 2021 | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

OPPENBARBIE VS. BEANIE BABY MOGUL: I haven’t got around to seeing Barbie yet. I worry about gamma radiation exposure from all that pulsating pink. Instead, I went to see The Beanie Bubble — a less-than-epic cinematic experience about Beanie Baby mogul Ty Warner and three women he exploited, betrayed, and otherwise screwed over as he climbed to the top on their well-trod backs

For Santa Barbara — where Warner lives and does much business — it’s your basic local-billionaire-makes-bad genre. Spoiler alert: Each of the three women finds success and happiness after telling Warner — played as a megalomaniacal, micromanaging, back-stabbing, control-freak genius endowed with a too-eager-to-please manipulative man-child charm by a criminally miscast Zach Galifianakis — to pound sand as they walk out the door and into the sunset of destiny.

Credit: Nick Welsh

You can watch it at home on Apple TV+, but I preferred to see it up close and personal at the Hitchcock Cinema. It turns out everyone who watches it in theaters gets a free Beanie Baby, courtesy of Ty Warner himself. Back in the ’90s — during the speculative peak of the Beanie Baby day-trading craze — such a creature might have fetched as much as $10,000.

The night I went, only two Beanie Babies were given away. It was just me and one other guy in the audience. After the grand finale — think the final scene of The Godfather when all Michael Corleone’s enemies are sacramentally gunned down in synchronized slow-mo poetry — the other guy was moved to clap and cheer. Fearing such enthusiasm might be contagious, I got out before the credits rolled. Mostly I wondered why Ty Warner would have given anything for free at a movie that made him look more pathetic than nefarious.

Maybe he’s a bigger man than I. Or maybe he’s so relieved it’s such a stinker that people will pity him rather than shun him. I’ll never know. In real life, Ty Warner — imagine a hybrid of Willy Wonka of the chocolate factory and music producer extraordinaire Phil Spector, who gave the world such genuinely heart-throbbing hits as “Be My Baby” before later in life shooting a woman who decided she wanted to end their “date” and go home — is more incommunicado than UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang and former News-Press owner Wendy P. McCaw combined. In the United States, you’re only as important as all the people you don’t talk to. It’s a thing.

The Coral Casino Tydes restaurant balcony | Credit: Courtesy

But three weeks ago, Ty Warner — accompanied by his right-hand man Bill Medel — a one-time high school football star turned land-use consultant — paid a visit to the fourth floor of the County Administration Building for an up-close-and-personal meeting with County Supervisor Das Willams. On the table was a potentially explosive land-use fight pitting the billionaire against all the Montecito millionaires upset by changes Warner was proposing to the Coral Casino, one of the many landmark properties he owns. 

I’ll spare you details because the conflict was resolved behind the scenes before the supervisors could chop the baby in half. But Williams took the opportunity to ask Warner about the fabled Four Seasons Resort: The Biltmore — which Warner bought in 2000 paying twice what he now says it’s worth — which has lain dark since March 2020.

That’s three years the county has had to do without the $4.5 million a year in bed taxes — that’s a conservative estimate — that the Biltmore generates.  And it’s three years since the 450 presumably hard-working Biltmore employees were placed on indefinite “work furlough.” That’s meant no pay, no insurance, and no explanation

Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

According to Williams, at least two people have lost their homes as a result. According to the attorneys representing the workers in a lawsuit demanding as much as $6 million in unpaid severance payments, at least one Biltmore worker has committed suicide.

News flash: Williams said Warner and Medel indicated at their meeting the Biltmore would be reopening, perhaps as early as next spring. When I asked Medel to explain this unprovoked act of economic violence on the employees — and the county coffers — he said he was precluded from saying anything based on a gag order among the parties, the parties presumably being Warner and the Four Seasons, the Canadian-based hotel company that Warner contracted with to run his flagship hotel and with whom he is rumored to be feuding.  

As to when the hotel might reopen, Medel acknowledged he’d like that to happen but could not say when. Nor could he say what changes to the hotel he and Warner hope to make in the meantime. Nor would he hazard an estimate as to how many units of employee housing the Biltmore might be inclined to construct on one of its parking lots, though the number 42 gets bandied about. 

Biltmore workers hold a protest march in 2021 | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Medel took issue with the accusation that Warner is responsible for the one-sided class warfare waged against Biltmore employees, noting that the Four Seasons — as hotel manager — is responsible for hiring and firing. But the workers’ attorneys claim the Beanie Baby mogul is at fault. The Four Seasons notified Warner in May 2020 that the hotel was safe to reopen, they claim, but Warner refused to give them the permission to resume operations.

None of this was even mentioned in the Beanie Bubble movie. Nor was a lawsuit by a fourth woman — Kathryn Zimmie — who claims she functioned as Warner’s de facto wife for decades, helping him build his empire. Zimmie claims Warner had grown so abusive that, among other things, he allegedly choked her when she threatened to leave. Warner’s attorney dismissed such allegations as lies, but the lawsuit settled several months ago. There’s a gag order, so we don’t know the terms. 

News flash: I’m glad the other guy liked the movie, but save your money


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