I was 20 years old when I arrived in Los Angeles from New York where, between bartending jobs, I had been studying acting with Lee Strasberg. Lee was an inspiring man—and kind. “You can get in that elevator as Peter Finch’s son,” he said. My father had recently won the first posthumous Oscar for the New York classic Network. “But you better come down as Charlie Finch,” he added. For some reason he called me ‘Charlie’ Finch. He and his wife Anna had these wonderful Sunday brunches where great film directors and avant-garde stars like Al Pacino and De Niro came over for a Bloody Mary and lox and bagels and mixed with publishers and artists. They were wonderful mentors to their students. Then suddenly Lee died. It was a hugely emotional moment for all the people he taught. I think we all felt pretty adrift. 

Acting no longer felt like my end goal or passion. I had started writing plays and scripts and was taken with it. I wrote play after play—none of them very good—but then eventually I sold a few bits and pieces which gave me the confidence to head West. So off to Hollywood I headed with $300 in my pocket and a head full of dreams about making movies that would change the world. On my first night I met Noel Marshall at the bar in the Chateau Marmont where I had bagged myself a room for $50 a night. Noel was married to Tippi Hedron and had produced The Exorcist. He gave me a job developing scripts. I started the next day and never looked back. 

I lived in a house owned by Damian Harris (the son of Richard Harris) and his wife Annabel Harris with Julian Sands and Rupert Everett and various other strays. Our group of friends were mainly other young Brits and European filmmakers. We hung out with the Richardson girls, Jimmy Spader, John Malkovich, Bennicio Del Torro, Mike Figgis, David Heyman and Cassian Elwes. We all loved film. It took me a couple of years to be able to pay any bills, but it was a fantastically fun time. When I got my first break, shooting Priceless Beauty, I left LA to shoot in Italy. Nothing much had changed when I got back to Hollywood, and I quickly fell back in with the old gang. 

Being a foreigner in LA in those days was not like it is today. LA was pretty unsophisticated, and my pals and I (missing home) decided that we needed to start a cricket club. So, with Zan Rufus-Isaacs, an English Lord working over in LA as a lawyer, I became founder and chairman of The Beverly Hills and Hollywood Cricket Club. It was an immediate success. Mick Jagger, Mike Figgis, Michael Chow, David Heyman, Hugh Grant all joined up. We played in our cricket whites on a roll-out mat right underneath the Hollywood sign. 

Charles Finch in Italy in the 1980s, making his first film Priceless Beauty.

Back then I was always broke and began to cook for pals to make some cash in between writing gigs. Entertaining became part of my way of life. At the time Michael Chow, the British-Chinese restaurateur, was feeding me in exchange for working with him on a script, and I asked him if I could host a little out-of-towners party at his restaurant, Mr Chow. That was in 1984! It was a wild party. Warren Beaty showed up—I don’t know how or why. So did Al Pacino and Sharon Stone. David Hockney, Leonard Cohen and Robbie Robertson. It was crazy. But a party was born. Oscar-time would quickly roll around and so would my annual party.

The Beverly Hills and Hollywood Cricket Club

At the time LA was a much smaller town than it is now. Hollywood was a close-knit community. Few restaurants stayed open late—it was an early town. But it was still all a little more permissive and bohemian. It wasn’t corporate at all. It was actually much chicer than it is now. There was this old-world charm which is hard to describe. The Beverly Hills Hotel (where the Oscars party has ended up) and Cabanas were popular weekend gathering points for pool parties and tennis. Those tennis courts have been turned into luxury suites for the super-rich. 

Charles Finch with Joan Collins at his pre-Oscar party in 2022. © Greg Williams

I have always spent about half the year travelling, but when London became more of my base for the brand and investment business I was developing, I noticed that the BAFTAs lacked the glamour they needed, and I started hosting my pre-BAFTA party. In an interview I had mentioned that I always kept Chanel N°5 on my desk as my mother was a big Chanel fan and that Karl Lagerfeld had dressed Sharon Stone and made costumes for my second film Where Sleeping Dogs Lie that I wrote and directed. Jo Alison at Chanel read the article and she got in touch to suggest we collaborate on my pre-BAFTA dinner. That was 25 years ago. Then 15 years ago Rebecca McCabe at Chanel in the US came in as a partner for the Oscar party. This gave the evening a fashion component—dressing up stars—but film and filmmakers have always been the central part of the evening.

Pedro Almodovar and Charles Finch in 2020 © Greg Williams
Charles Finch outside the Beverly Hills Hotel

A great party always has a mix of flavours. And it should be personal. Mine are personal parties, not public events. There is always a sit-down dinner. I encourage people to meet, and we set an informal tone. We have great filmmakers and young new talents mingling with business tycoons and politicians, which is part of why they are always so successful. 

In all the years of doing these parties—which is 40 this year—perhaps the funniest excuse not to come was when an actress left a message that she couldn’t come because she was lactating… I think it was someone from Mad Men. You work it out!

Featured image: © Greg Williams