PAUL STANLEY: PORTRAIT OF THE THERAPEUTIC ARTIST
November 26, 2009
By GUSTAVO TURNER

It's not an unfamiliar L.A. story.

Paul Stanley is co-founder and part-owner of an endlessly diversifying entertainment company called KISS. As "The Starchild," he sings, plays rhythm guitar and writes songs for the band. There's a new album to promote, Sonic Boom, which Stanley's really proud of, and a world tour that brought him to Staples Center last night.

Born in the middle of the baby boom, Stanley Eisen turned 12 when the Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show. He grew up in Queens, New York, and attended the High School of Music and Art, alma mater of entertainers, hip designers, real-life Mad Men and MAD magazine luminaries. Stanley studied art there, though he also dabbled in rhythm guitar and was under the heavy sway of those first, unstoppable Zeppelin albums.

Eventually, he went into showbiz, partnering with a driven Israeli immigrant who calls himself Gene Simmons and rising to the top of his profession.

There were highs in the '70s, some lows in the '80s, but the band soldiered on in spite of critics and naysayers. Stanley had been visiting Los Angeles for work since the early '70s. In the '90s he left the East Coast for good, had a kid with a gorgeous actress and bought a big place in Beverly Hills.

Fast-forward to 2001: The actress turned into a complicated divorce, and Stanley turned to his first love, art, for "therapeutic reasons." At the age when Sinatra was brooding about the September of his years, Stanley kept fit (give or take a heart scare or two), kept working at his day job, took up painting and rebuilt his home life with a lawyer he met at ritzy Italian restaurant Ago on Melrose Boulevard.

Now 57, Stanley is still very wealthy and still working hard for the band he started. He's happily married to his second wife, with whom he has two small children. Beverly Hills magazine described their small 2007 wedding at the Pasadena Ritz-Carlton as "magical."

Stanley travels a lot for work, and when we caught up with him on the phone he was in Saskatoon, Canada, nursing a sore throat. He couldn't wait to get back to his family and beloved adoptive city.

"I really like to unwind in L.A.," he says. "Since I got kids of all different ages, I do different things. With the young ones - I have a 9-month-old daughter and a 3-year-old son - I like to go to Paradise Cove [in Malibu]. We sit around and play in the tide pools. There' nothing I like better than that.

"But then with my 15-year-old son," he continues, "we go to McCabe's and play with the guitars there." It's easy to picture Stanley - the hip, older dad with the long hair - and his teenage son, Evan, driving to the venerable Santa Monica music store on the weekends, the latest Raconteurs (he keeps up with classic-sounding new bands) or old-school Humble Pie blasting from the stereo. "I love McCabe's," Stanley adds raspingly on the phone from his hotel room. "It's very old-school, reminds me of the guitar stores I used to go to in New York in the '60s." This doesn't mean he's averse to Guitar Center, where he and Evan continue their bonding sessions over expensive vintage gear.

Another thing Stanley loves about the city is high-end cuisine, particularly Italian. "I really like Cecconi's [in West Hollywood] and Osteria Mozza. Italy has my favorite food and it's my favorite place to go on vacation." While others, like boisterous business partner Simmons, spend the spoils of success on gaudier stuff, for art-crazy Stanley an ideal family vacation is renting out a Medici villa.

After years in the showbiz mecca ("Man, Sunset Boulevard! It just blew me away. When I first arrived, I thought the Rainbow on Sunset was the closest I had come to rock & roll church!"), this Queens boy is now enjoying the kind of personal L.A. renaissance experienced by many successful men his age as they move past the September of their years into uncharted Octobers and Novembers.

And he has even started getting attention for his paintings. The efficient lady who arranges Stanley's press appointments tells us that one day some people came over to his house, noticed the framed artwork and started raving about it. "After that, he starting showing it in galleries and it's made about $3 million in sales," she says. Not bad for a side gig begun as an exercise in post-divorce solace.

Still, the painter's life will have to be put on hold while Stanley minds the store. His main career in showbiz is what's paying for the very comfortable life of the Beverly Hills gourmand, the rented villas and the art supplies.

After all, Stanley Eisen plays rhythm guitar and writes songs for the world-famous band KISS.