Tuesday, October 28, 2008

All About The Children

Bleecker Playground. 8:45 PM. Photo: JH.
10/28. Sunny Monday in New York with temperatures hovering in the high 60s. Down at Michael’s the white-haired man across the room lunching with Rachel Rudin was the great Kirk Douglas and his wife Ann, and another friend. Sometimes when you see a famous face in person, there’s a moment of familiarity followed by a few moments of inquiry (“who is that; he looks familiar”). Mr. Douglas who is ninety-four!! looks great and rather stately.

I was having lunch with Nazee Moinian whom you’ve seen in these pages from time to time. Nazee is married to a very prominent real estate owner and developer here in New York named Joe Moinian. She recently completed a Masters Degree at Columbia University in what I think was International Relations. True or not, that is her interest.

We met about three years ago although I can’t quite remember how. She is Persian-born, of Jewish heritage. She and her family emigrated here in the late 1970s at the time of the fall of the Shah when everything was coming down over there and the regime was changing.

Whenever we get together Nazee and I talk about international politics. A woman in her early forties and mother of five, she is very interested in participating in the dialogue between nations as to the welfare and the future of the world.

Joe and Nazee Moinian
A beautiful woman, and obviously very smart, she is now an American citizen although she retains a natural affection for her native land. It was she who told me that the Iranian people (the Regime excepted) are very Americanized and love many things American. This is apparently misunderstood by the international media who follow the official line of Mr. Amadinejad and his mullah supervisors.

When Mr. Amadinejad, the President of Iran was in town last year for UN Week, and again this year, Nazee was able to wangle an invitation to dine with him (and others). She attends for the opportunity to ask him about his policies toward the US and Israel. She said that although he is the president, the power lies with the Ayatollah Khameini. The Iranian people, she said, like the Israeli people, although the Regime, which refers to Israel as “the Zionist regime,” think differently. She also said that the Iranian people, who are the most Americanized of the peoples in the Middle East, like the Americans (whom the Regime refers to only as the Imperialist Empire or something along those lines – as opposed to “America” or “The United States”).

Nazee says that the Iranian people have no desire to “bomb” anybody else, nor do they desire the risk of being “bombed” by anybody else.

Nazee also likes President Sarkozy very much. A couple of years ago, she gave a dinner for Jean-David Levitte, the then Ambassador from France to the United States (covered here on these pages), who is now an advisor to Sarkozy. It was then that she reminded Ambassador Levitte that the Iranian people are not enemies of the Israeli people or the American people. The enmity comes from on-high where it is politically motivated.

That’s what we talked about at our table.
Lisa Schiff, Peter Rogers, Liz Smith, and Sherry Westin
Last night I went down to the Pierre where the New York Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children was holding their annual Gala. They were honoring Gerald Storch, the Chairman and CEO of Toys “R” Us, and Liz Smith, the syndicated columnist who is featured in the New York Post.

As I wrote here yesterday, I was asked to give the introductory remarks about Liz who is one of the most amazing people I have ever met and also one of the most productive people in New York. Sometimes I think people like Nazee Moinian and Liz Smith are the kinds of people we need running the world.

Liz is an excellent public speaker whom I’ve heard many times warming up a crowd at a benefit, or handing out an award. She is both informal and serious, pointed in her remarks but often with a light swipe of hilarity. She came to New York in 1949 when she was 26 years old to start a career as a journalist. In the beginning she did whatever she could and had to do to keep the wolves from the door which mean a like of temp typing, etc.

Joy Ingham and David Schiff
In the 1950s she went to work at NBC for Mike Wallace and in the late 50s got a job writing the Cholly Knickerbocker society column for Igor (Ghighi) Cassini (brother of the designer Oleg Cassini) in the now defunct New York afternoon daily, the Journal-American as well as the Hearst papers across the country.

In the 1960s she worked for Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmo writing entertainment features as well as doing the same thing at Sports Illustrated. In the mid-1970s she started her daily column first at the New York Daily News and later (in the 1990s) at the Post. In the late 70s, during an newspaper strike, she took to the airwaves with “Live At Five” from which she won an Emmy in 1985. By the time I met her in 2000 when she was publishing her memoir “Natural Blonde,” she was the doyenne, the Walter Winchell of her era.

What always fascinated me about Liz was not only her ability to navigate the treacherous and gossipy waters of Broadway and Hollywood, but on her off hours was busy supporting charities in New York, especially those which focused on children and children’s issues (or what Liz calls our “little citizens”) such as the Police Athletic League, Literacy Partners, AmFar AIDS Research, the New York Restoration Project, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York (through her creation, the annual Fete de Swifty), the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders to the New York Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The disciple of Winchell – the once very powerful newsman who could terrify with his column – Liz also has become the most important philanthropist in the city. That’s quite an accomplishment.
Gay Gay Gerry, Karl Wellner, Deborah Norville, Dr. Mary Pulido, Betsy Bartlett, Liz, Jerry Storch, Jacquie Storch, David Stack, Tatiana Papanicolaou, and John Farr
Deborah Norville, Joe Missett, and Hilary Geary Ross Dana Schiff and Ashley Schiff
What’s more, she has the most generous nature. What she can’t do with funds (because she’s still a working stiff, so to speak), she does with her influence, raising millions annually for her causes and those who benefit from them, not to mention the many ways she’s helped her friends over the years.

Mary Elizabeth Smith was her birth name in Fort Worth, Texas on February 2, 1923. Generosity is her middle name in New York. Of all the working journalists in New York, despite her “advanced” age (do the math because her activity belies it), I can’t think of one who gets more accomplished, and more accomplished for the benefit of others than Liz. On top of that she has time for her friends, for frequently movies and plays, and is always reading a new book. Her industriousness is something she handles like it as “just one of those things.”

Federico Mennella and David Stack
Also honored last night was Gerald (Jerry) Storch, the Chairman and CEO of Toys “R” Us. Mr. Storch was introduced by his friend and colleague, Neil Friedman, President of Mattel. Mr. Storch made a substantial contribution to the cause and made it clear last night that his interest is ongoing, and not a one-time thing.

Deborah Norville
was last night’s emcee. Deborah has the uncanny ability to encourage the promotion of those causes she espouses. The New York Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC).

Elaine Stritch, also an old friend of Liz’ was supposed to entertain but she ahd a gig on the West Coast, and so Barbara Carroll, the jazz piano virtuoso entertained in her stead. Between songs, Barbara pointed out that she came to New York (from Worcester, Mass.) about the same time Liz came from Texas. Like Liz, Barbara is one of those girls who’s been working steadily ever since. For her second song she recalled the great clubs that existed in those early days where you could hear Billie Holliday, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Mabel Mercer (to name just a few) any night of the week in Manhattan.

It was a great evening in New York. Among the guests were Lisa and David Schiff, Ashley Schiff, Dana Schiff, Joy and Jonathan Ingham, Hilary and Joe Califano, John and Polly Espy, Federico Mennella, Emilia Saint Amand and Fred Krimendahl, Molly and Lincoln Frank, Nancy and Joe Missett, Sarah Stack, Elizabeth and Tim Mayhew, Peter Rogers, Annette and Jorge Rodriguez, Hilary and Wilbur Ross.

They raised more than $400,000 for the cause of helping children living in abusive situations and in need of rescue and restoration of heart. David Stack, president of NYSPCC presided. The organization’s Vice President Betsy Bartlett put together the dinner and speaking arrangements. Executive Director Mary Pulido told the guests about the daily work of NYSDPCC, and Alex Donner and his orchestra entertained for dancing. Gala Chairs were Joan Ganz Cooney and Pete Peterson, Amanda and Neil Friedman, Deborah Norville and Karl Wellner, Sherrie and David Westin, and this writer.

Ashley Schiff, Joy Ingham, and Barbara Carroll Betsy Bartlett, Peter Rogers, and Barbara Carroll Hilary Califano

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