As the “team leader” on the ABC program Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Ty Pennington, late of the Learning Channel’s Trading Spaces, might be one of reality TV’s few break-out stars. The Sunday night show is a smash, literally: Headed by the 39-year-old Mr. Pennington-a self-proclaimed “handy guy” with an impressive physique and a little soul patch under his lower lip-a group of eight telegenic designers charges into the bleak household of a disadvantaged family and declares that it’s remodeling time. The delighted family, having angled for this prize with an imploring letter, is dispatched on an all-expenses-paid vacation to a dude ranch or similar, while the Sir Galahads with abs direct a group of 100 workmen to gut and renovate the place. Walls are moved. Floors are replaced. Lives are transformed. After a few canned conflicts (will they fire the contractor? Will they finish in time?), the program inevitably concludes with group hugs, tears and exultant choruses of “Thank you, Ty.”
But a former Los Angeles landlord of Mr. Pennington’s, one S. Scott Mayers, feels anything but gratitude toward the chiseled carpenter.
“He’s damaged my reputation,” said Mr. Mayers, a well-preserved 65, sitting in the exuberantly decorated Venice spread he shares with three cats and overflowing collections of cookie jars, cigarette boxes and crinkled glass. A resident of this funky seaside community for over 30 years and a dedicated home-renovation buff himself, Mr. Mayers is accusing Mr. Pennington of misappropriating credit for his ideas in mass-media outlets such as Oprah and Extra and In Touch magazine, possibly damaging the credibility of his own fledgling company, Matrixx Design. “I don’t want to sue him,” he said. “It’s more that I want the record straight.”
The two men first met in the winter of 2002, when Mr. Pennington expressed interest in renting one of the three one-bedroom houses at 2009 Canal Street that Mr. Mayers had bought in 1984, along with a four-unit apartment building.
“I’d never heard of him,” said Mr. Mayers, a “psyche” therapist (Jungian rather than “fix-it,” he explained) practicing under the auspices of the Science of Mind Church. “He seemed a charming guy-real personable,” Mr. Mayers, who said he doesn’t watch much TV, told The Transom. They haggled a bit on price but eventually settled on $2,600 a month for the 600-square-foot bungalow, a block from the crashing surf.
Theirs was a detached but cordial landlord-tenant relationship. One day, Mr. Mayers’ gardener (lush landscaping is a Mayers signature) told his boss he’d spotted a photographer or two tromping through 2009 Canal. The landlord, whose own dwelling is a frequent stop on local architecture tours and has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, was unperturbed. “I thought, ‘He’s taking a couple of pictures.’” Mr. Mayers said. “I didn’t know to what extent. Which was quite extensive!”
Alarm bells chimed in February 2004 when Mr. Pennington announced that he was breaking the lease, which had been automatically renewed for a year the previous November. His representatives proved the document unenforceable on a technicality about boldface type. Mr. Mayers felt this was a bit “sleazy,” but shrugged. “I was pissed off, but also admiring,” he said.
Then a couple of friends told him that they’d seen Mr. Pennington mugging it up in 2009 Canal on segments of Oprah and Extra, calling it “my house.” The alarm bells began to clang, reaching a fever pitch after Mr. Mayers got his hands on a copy of the Feb. 23, 2004, issue of In Touch magazine (not one of his waiting-room subscriptions), which included an eight-page layout entitled “At Home With Ty Pennington.” The fawning story described how Mr. Pennington had “renovated and designed” this “abode” himself with “no screws or nails,” and was accompanied by pictures of the home-décor hunk posing coyly in the bedroom (“I added mirrors along one wall so the room looks twice the size,” quoth Ty) and lounging naked in a sudsy red free-standing tub in a bathroom trimmed with corrugated tin, which, on Extra, he invoked as proof of his frugality (“I put the T-Y in thrifty”).
The mirrors, the tub, the tin-all installed by the now-quite-miffed Mr. Mayers. “The chutzpah!” he said. “I mean, beytsim the size of bowling balls! ‘My this, my that. I use bright colors.’ No, dear!”
It didn’t stop there. These TV shows and the article turned out to be part of a promotional blitz for Mr. Pennington’s new book, Ty’s Tricks, published by ABC’s sister company Hyperion. “Ty’s Tricks, indeed,” Mr. Mayers chortled, providing a copy. On the frontispiece, Mr. Pennington poses looking every bit the former J. Crew model that he is, clad in low-slung cargo pants and a blue oxford shirt unbuttoned to reveal a tempting swath of toned, tawny flesh. He’s clutching a power tool in his right hand and standing in a brightly painted red doorway. “My house,” Mr. Mayers said bitterly.
Reached by phone, Mr. Pennington said the matter had all been blown out of proportion. “That might be the front door to his place. But that’s not really his house,” he said. “That’s a door.”
Mr. Pennington asserted that he had gotten his landlord’s permission to have the rented cottage depicted in the mass media. “I was like, ‘Dude, I’m gonna fix up your place and put it in magazines. This is what I do. I’m gonna make your fucking little shack here look fucking awesome!’”
(“I don’t remember any conversation like that,” Mr. Mayers retorted.)
“I mean, it was all black floors and white walls and a bathroom and a bedroom,” Mr. Pennington said. “It’s a great structure, I guess, but I mean, I came in and did my thing.”
(“That’s a lie,” Mr. Mayers said. “That’s a total lie. He did nothing.” He lovingly cataloged the buoyant color scheme of 2009 Canal: moss-green in the bedroom and bathroom, bright red on the doors, a “wonderful teal with lime trim” on the woodwork outside.)
Mr. Pennington continued that he was misquoted by In Touch (though a spokeswoman for In Touch would only say that the article spoke for itself), and that the “no screws or nails” comment-which Mr. Mayers understandably feared might alarm prospective buyers of the property-was intended to refer to the furniture he’d had shipped from his native Atlanta; in addition to his TV gigs, he has a furniture business.
“If they’re saying that I built the house, they’re completely wrong,” he conceded. But: “Scott actually didn’t really do it, either. He hired some Latino guys-but they are fantastic …. Scott’s pissed because I fucking moved out.”
Mr. Pennington, an aspiring actor who has appeared on Hollywood Squares and in the little-seen movie The Adventures of Ociee Nash (he was also a set production assistant on Leaving Las Vegas), was eager to discuss his upcoming projects, including an Extreme Makeover on a New York family (“Really hard to do, man …. We don’t have as much space to park our vehicles”), not to mention the new $1.1 million property he recently bought on Crestmoore Place with his manager and former model girlfriend, Drea Bock, minutes from the old pad on Canal. “It’s a lot bigger,” he said.
I’m Not Owen Wilson
The mysterious Internet blogger known as Rance is not Owen Wilson. Or George Clooney. Or Ron Livingston (Office Space).
At least, that’s what Owen Wilson told The Transom when contacted about recent rumors the Starsky and Hutch co-star was the man behind the Web log, the online personal diary of an anonymous Hollywoodite who posts three or four times a week-generating as many as 80 responses to each entry.
In his entries, he recounts everything from frustrating meetings with movie executives and trips to Cuba with celebrity friends, to seedy casting-couch stories and even what he shops for at the grocery store. And each account has the ring of truth: He not only invokes familiar Hollywood archetypes, but also comes up with some real doozies-like the time he stumbled into a room at an actress’ house, only to find bizarre photos of her dancing naked with someone in a devil costume. He never names names. And he tweaks minor details in order to keep his intrepid readership from finding out his true identity.
Guessing Rance’s identity has become something of a free-for-all. One e-mail sent to a blogger who had earlier opined on Rance’s identity read: “Rance talks about meeting Kato Kaelin before Rance was famous. Clooney had already been on ER a couple years by the time O.J. went knifey, hadn’t he? Owen Wilson is a good guess …. ” Another person e-mailed: “I think that the pseudonymous Rance blogger is Ron Livingston, of Office Space. He was at both Oscar and Globes pre- or post-parties, attended the Kill Bill premiere, and doesn’t current[ly] appear to have a business manager … all items that he’s mentioned in his blog.” (For the record, Mr. Livingston does have a manager.)
Apparently, Owen Wilson doesn’t even know what a blog is. He said, “I haven’t been online in months. I can barely write a thank-you note, so to keep an online diary is not possible.” But he did admit that someone had asked him on set the day before if he was indeed the mysterious blogger. As for Mr. Clooney, his publicist said: “No-I can say that without blinking.” And although Mr. Livingston’s publicist denied any involvement on behalf of her client, she added, “If it’s funny, then he is more than happy to take the credit for it.”
Let the guessing continue.