Monday, June 4, 2007

Talking to myself; talking to the media

Singing in the rain. 12:45 PM. Photo: JH.
It rained and rained on Sunday night in New York; veils of moisture undulating in the wind beneath the orange street lamps. And it rained more throughout Monday morning. Washing the air, the streets and the freshly bloomed leaves. There are certain parts of the city that are really beautiful right now – before the scorching summer languish sets in.

Last night was a very busy one on the social calendar. Over at Cipriani 42nd Angela Bassett, Courtney B. Vance, Jerry Herman and Twiggy joined benefit chairs Cece Black, Chappy Morris, Sondra Gilman and Doug Leeds in honoring Carol Channing, James Earl Jones, and Tommy Tune.  Vice-chairs for the evening included Franz and Bettina Burda, Anita Jaffe, Jo Sullivan Loesser, Dorothy Strelsin, Sir Howard Stringer. Co-chairs were Robert Isaacson, Dash Epstein, Pia Lindstrom and Jack Carley, and Drew Hodges.

Theatre evokes memories. I was a kid when I saw Channing on the second night of “Hello Dolly” at the St. James Theater. When she came down those stairs for the big number and promenaded out onto the walk apron beyond the orchestra pit, and sang ... “Well, hello Horace ... you’re looking swell Horace ... ” There was a palpable electricity in the air, the magic ether of pure astonishment and wonder. One of the weirdest characters ever to hit the boards of Broadway, a complete laugh, a genius performer; a pro; a fun time. She was “A Star.” Really. I had that “electric” feeling only once besides Channing in “Dolly,” and that was the second night of Streisand in “Funny Girl.” Beyond. Of course there were lots of others coming close. We’ve all got a memory like that. They were celebrating all that and more last night at Cipriani. 

While over at the Astor Hall of The New York Public Library, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) were handing out their 2007 CFDA Fashion Designers Awards including Ralph Lauren being presented with the first-ever American Fashion Legend Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award renamed in honor Geoffrey Beene.

While over at Lincoln Center the School of American Ballet was holding its annual Workshop Performance Benefit. Chaired by Celeste Boele, Robert Couturier, Betsy Poitts, Laura Zeckendorf; “young patron” chairs Leslie Heaney, Gillian Wynn Early and Elizabeth Meigher. Among the guests: Elaine Wynn, Mai Hallingby Harrison, Lilly Pulitzer, Coco and Arie Kopelman, Duane Hampton, Michelle and Larry Herbert, Charlotte Moss and Barry Freidberg, Peter Martins and Darci Kistler.

The performance included an excerpt from the New York City Ballet’s recent production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Dancing the role of Juliet was Callie Bachman, the advanced student whom Mr. Martins had originally selected to create the part at New York City Ballet.  Ms. Bachman was unable to complete the final month of rehearsals for the New York City Ballet production after sustaining an injury earlier this spring. Russell Janzen, also an advanced student at SAB, danced the part of Romeo.

The program also included George Balanchine’sThe Four Temperaments and Gounod Symphony, Mr. Martins’s Les Gentilhommes, and Twinkliana, choreographed by Sean Lavery.

SAB’s annual Workshop Performances have served as a public introduction to many of the most-talented classical ballet students in the nation since 1965, when faculty member Alexandra Danilova initiated the annual spring productions under the supervision of SAB founder George Balanchine.

Talking to myself; talking to the media.

They call if they have a question about Paris Hilton. Or socialities, a topic which has almost replaced Paris Hilton (who of course paved the way). 

Sunday’s Good Morning America interviewed me for about a half hour on camera about Paris. Mine is an old rap: she’s just a kid who wants to be in Show Business. Like all the ones who don’t want to have their own hedge fund. I don’t have a lot of animosity toward or reproach for the girl. I’ve heard all those “how can her mother let her…..etc.’s” for about ten years now. I always tell the interviewer that the family’s close and that must be part of the girl’s sustenance. Otherwise what do I care? Otherwise it’s a career in the early 21st century. This is what tickles (wrong word, right idea) the fancy of a lotta lotta people, even if it’s just someone they love to hate (besides Hillary).

For Paris it’s a career that earns her millions of dollars a year – something that appeals to almost all of us, or so it seems.  So I give this interview, blabbing on and on, and it’s reduced to a 15-second clip at the end of the segment with me saying something about how there won’t be any red carpet rolled out for Paris now, this girl of privilege, this celebrity of privilege. I actually said those things. I know because I saw myself saying those things. Except on Sunday morning television, in the context of a blink of the eye, it sounded like I’d been coached by Pat Robertson or another one of those faux-Puritans.

There’s nothing wrong with Paris Hilton that a little public ignoring wouldn’t change overnight. But it’s the public that won’t ignore. That’s not Paris’ fault. It was her fault that she was driving without a license and while not in such good shape. This is bad stuff. And bad stuff that quite a few people of all ages that I know have indulged in at one time or another. Not all of us, but a lot of us. Bad. Foolish. And dangerous. At least to others, if not ourselves. 

What might this do to Paris Hilton? Might sober up her public performance a bit. For her sake. She may not be a rocket scientist but she knows how to keep her eye on the main chance. After all, here’s a career made out of Just Standing There.  They’ve been reading about her going to jail in newspapers all over the world. Thank you Andy Warhol.

Meanwhile, after watching the brief episode of myself hectoring a lightweight brimstone- and-fire on GMA, I came to see that there is no story; just the hectoring. The public forum is a circus.

Danielle Ganek
More from the Times. This past Sunday’s New York Times Style section about Danielle Ganek and her new novel “Lulu…etc.” also took a quote of mine and gave it another context. The reporter Ruth LaFerla called me about Mrs. Ganek’s sudden rise to media….not quite fame maybe…. acquaintance. I told Ms. La Ferla that Mrs. Ganek had engineered the publicizing of her book very well. Textbook actually. Part of that engineering was ramping up her social profile. This is very good for business; any business. Even monkey business. Mrs. La Ferla then had Mrs. Ganek countering that she wasn’t trying to raise her social profile.

“Social,” in case you haven’t noticed, is a bad word, especially to those who are social. It seems too lightweight for those of us who have higher opinions (or aspirations) for ourselves. Social, by definition, means simply to socialize. With almost anybody. In New York it usually refers to people who have a lot of time and money on their hands. Or people who want to know those people. It actually isn’t a bad word in either sense of the meaning. But people just aren’t smart about it.

Michael Bloomberg was smart about it. But of course we know Michael Bloomberg is smart. He used the engine some people call “social” to enhance his public image to the point where when he decided to run for mayor all the important people knew him personally. Mrs. Ganek used some parts of that same engine to get the word out about her book. As well she should: when you got a book to hawk, pull out all the stops and then pray.

Mrs. La Ferla did ask me if I thought Mrs. Ganek was a social climber. I think the term itself is virtually meaningless in this day and age. The rest is marketing, all marketing. Paris Hilton, Danielle Ganek, Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg. Bring on the lions, the tigers, and of course, the clowns.

Someone told me yesterday that the Times quote sounded as if I didn’t like Mrs. Ganek.  I hardly know Mrs. Ganek. The night I met her, very briefly, at the Gugg when she was book signing she told me that she’d been writing all her life and this book took her three years. That’s enough to like for me; a real achievement.

Real “social” in the old-fashioned sense is just about gone from the Map. In New York “social” is a business, and often a profitable one. If you are shrewd. Like Paris Hilton. Or Danielle Ganek. Or Hillary Clinton. History will take care of the rest.

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