Back at Redwood high school in the 80s, Tiffany Shlain and I used to pass each other in the halls. She was striking. Big blue eyes, long blonde curly hair, and a mysterious smile. It was the kind of expression hinting that she may have realized something amusing about high school and teenagers and was just biding her time until she could move onto bigger and better things.
Today, Shlain is an independent filmmaker, women’s rights activist and technology guru. Newsweek named her one of its “Women Shaping the 21st Century” when she was just thirty. She founded The Webbys (which Time magazine calls “the online Oscars”) and is an on-air internet expert for ABC’s Good Morning America. Her film “The Tribe” has been making the rounds at Sundance and other well-known film festivals around the country.
I’ll never forget a high school party she once threw at her father’s house in Strawberry. Her father, Leonard Shlain, a surgeon in San Francisco as well as a renowned author, was out of town that weekend. The massive house sat at the top of Strawberry point with amazing views of the Bay. There were so many windows it was as though the walls were made of glass. Even more extraordinary, however, was the roof. With the push of a button, Tiffany could make a large segment of the ceiling disappear, suddenly replaced by a roof of glass. It was like partying at The Jetson’s.
On the night of the party, the living room was packed with teenagers. Expensive looking sculptures and artworks appeared to be in terrible jeopardy. Think “Risky Business” and the glass egg. I remember thinking, “If my parents owned a house this nice, they’d KILL me if they found out I threw a party.”
“Well, we’re all still alive,” says Shlain, laughing at the memory, “I don’t think my father was aware of how many parties we had.”
Shlain says that growing up in Marin was a major influence on her pursuing a creative life. “Back in the 70’s,” she remembers, “Marin just felt like a place where anything was possible.”
She recalls how a Mill Valley kindergarten teacher scored an international hit song called “Mill Valley,” The Unknown Museum existed in downtown Mill Valley, and her father built a geodesic dome in their backyard to cover their giant hot tub.
“All the neighbors came and we had a geodesic dome raising party one day,” she says. “We had all these Peter Max psychedelic things on Plexiglas, a huge 12 foot diameter hot tub, and a speaker system. It was a very psychedelic trippy place where all the kids in the neighborhood would hang out. The dome blew over one night in a storm and was never repaired.” (A picture of the dome can be seen on this page.)
While press releases for Shlain’s The Tribe call it “a short film tracing the history of the Barbie Doll and the Jewish people,” her passion for the eclectic may have its origins in The Unknown Museum. “It was so bizarre and fantastic,” she says of the old store. “You could find anything in there. There was a curator who made a life-sized horse object with all these bottle caps and dolls glued on it and all these (other) fantastical things. “Now it’s a Smith and Hawkins or something,” she says.
To learn more about Tiffany Shlain and her multitude of projects, go to www.TiffanyShlain.com.