Thursday, September 25, 2008

Run-ins and Openings

The scene at Michael's lunch yesterday. Table in the upper right is that of First Lady Laura Bush, the tip of whose nose the red arrow is pointed at.
9/25. Thursday. Degrees of Separation. Another beautiful early autumn day in New York yesterday. Amazing day down at Michael’s. A madhouse of social and media in New York. Quintessential and full explanation of why the New York Times review of the restaurant missed the boat.

At table 5 in the front room Laura Bush was with two gentlemen and three women, all of whom looked like personal friends. At the table next to them Ron Perelman was lunching with Vernon Jordan. Next to them Joe Armstrong was lunching with Paul Fribourg, chairman of Contigroup. Mr. Fribourg is from a very distinguished and now old business family in what used to be called the Butter and Egg business back before corporations dominated the American diet. He is one of those American businessmen who has enormous influence in the community. He has a famous girlfriend: Paula Zahn.

As Mrs. Bush passed Joe’s table she called out “Hi Joe!” The ma of one of the Bushes’ top administrative assistants lives right next door to Joe’s ma back in Abilene. The “vase” of flowers on Joe’s table is a cowboy boot, wun’tcha know; and Mrs. Bush stopped to autograph it for her old friend.

I ran into Kelly Killoren and Keira Brings (one of the producers of The Real Housewives of New York City) at the corner of 77th and Lexington where I was getting the subway to go to lunch. I don't know what they were doing there unless they were taping nearby.
In the bay Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kolb were lunching with the Italian heartthrob Eduardo Verastegui, star of Bella, and the film’s producer Sean Wolfington. Next to them, the longtime boys Dr. Gerry Imber, Jerry Della Femina, Jeff Greenfield, Andy Bergman, and Michael Kramer.

Also in the front room, Paige Peterson; Clinton biographer David Maraniss, John Jakobson, Bettina Zilkha, Michael Fuchs, Beverly Camhe with Myrna Blyth; Robert Zimmerman, Emilia Saint Amand, Meredith (Mrs. Tom), Ashley Schiff with Karen Lynn Gorney (who starred opposite John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever; Fern Mallis, Alice Mayhew, Esther Newberg, Meredith Brokaw, Amanda Haynes–Dale. It was a crowd with one to two degrees of separation from the centers and corridors of power and culture in the West. That sounds sufficiently hyperbolic but so’s the crowd I’m talking about. And historic.

Meanwhile in the backroom there was a big Peggy Siegal luncheon for the film “Living Proof” the TV movie that is premiering on Lifetime starring Harry Connick Jr., Amanda Brynes, Bernadette Peters, Trudie Styler. Renee Zellweger was executive producer (her first television project) with Neil Meron and Craig Zadan. The film airs on October 18th.The film is a true story of Dr. Dennis Slamon who helped develop the breast cancer drug Herceptin which he believes will become a treatment for breast cancer. Ron Perelman (sitting in the front room with Vernon Jordan) and Lily Tartikoff of Los Angeles will continue to fund research for the drug when the drug company stops funding.

This luncheon had a beat to it. They were glad to be there. IN the crowd: Bernadette Peters, Harry Connick (who plays the doctor) Rosanna Scotto, Deborah Roberts, Vicky Ward, Lynn Whitfield, Liz Smith, Sherrie Rollins, Irina Alexander, Amanda Foreman, Christiane Amanpour, Roger Friedman, Frederic Fekkai, Beth Dozoretz, John Huey, Carolina Herrera, Melinda and Ron Isana, Anne Keating, Barbara Koppel, Bonnie Fuller, Michael Musto, Trudie Styler, Craig Zadan, Deeda Blair, Bartle Bull, Barbara Bradfield, Catherine Cryer, Mr. and Mrs. John Darnton, Sharon Bush.
Barbara Bradfield and Renee Zellweger Liz Smith and Christiane Amanpour
Sharon Bush is a former sister-in-law of the First Lady. Her marriage ended in a bitter divorce. Sharon made the best of it, came to New York with her daughters and started a new life. It hasn’t been a breeze although she was well-connected because of the family. A couple of days ago in the NY Post it was reported that Sharon is going to write a book about the family. If it were to be a bestseller Kitty Kelley would play Sharon in the movie. However, that kind of casting remains to be seen. And imagined.

Divorce is a recriminatory process that often brings out the worst in people and in families. There are lots of exceptions, I know; but there are a lot of the former. In addition to the wrenching of a once intimate relationship as well as the children’s center, there are the other personalities in the family where truth emerges, scores are settled and friendships end. It’s like finding out what the neighbors really think. But worse.

In Sharon Bush’s case, it involves one of the most powerful and prominent American families in the second half of the 20th century. When her marriage ended, the circumstances were far from copasetic and her husband was not exactly heroic in his approach to ending it all. Etcetera. It’s not a new story for a lot of women, and even some of her story is already well publicized.
Bernadette Peters Lora Drasner with Paige Peterson and Paige's daughter Alexandra
So, with all that in mind, toward the end of the lunch hour, Peggy Siegal brought Sharon Bush from the film luncheon into the front room to say hello to her ex-sister-in-law, the First Lady. I don’t know if all eyes in the room were on that table but I’d guess a good number of them were.

It was all smiles and courtesy. Laura Bush’s countenance has a natural smile in repose. The two women chatted amicably although a stranger would never have imagined that the two had ever been related. But in all families stranger things have happened. Others at the table watched the two while others in the room watched the others at the table. You’ve seen something like this before, maybe even at the school cafeteria, the only difference being ... well, the Cast of Characters. Michael’s menu; this was the chef’s special and although the characters and the faces change, these moments are served up not infrequently. One way or another.
Christiane Amanpour ready to ride away on her bicycle.
Last night at Carnegie Hall was the Opening Night Gala of the 118th Season with the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director and Conductor. The program was Leonard Bernstein, “Bernstein: The Best of All Possible Worlds.” Many if not all the people in the splendid ivory and gold concert hall built by Andrew Carnegie have some memory of Leonard Bernstein as a public personality, composer, conductor, occasional gadfly, charmer, mensch. He is remembered with great affection by friends, acquaintances and strangers. And then there was the work.

The program opened with Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Once again you are reminded of the thrill of hearing beauty and the sensation of Bernstein. Dawn Upshaw, Christine Ebersole, Thomas Hampson and Yo-Yo Ma performed with the orchestra.
Post-concert dinner at the Waldorf after Carnegie Hall's Opening Night Gala of its 118th Season.
Mr. Thomas, who long was a boyish looking symphony conductor, has gotten some grey into his full head of hair, enhancing stature, connoting maturing and wisdom. He spoke to the audience like a wry and witty professor, at ease in his presentation. He gave us a little background on the Man, Bernstein, the composer and how it reflected his personality, his mind, his imagination and his heart.

It was very touching to watch considering that Mr. Thomas comes from a heritage of the performing arts right here in New York (see NYSD/Stella Adler). Sentiment emerges for me when I see these things. Grandfather of the conductor comes to the New World from Russia at the end of the 19th century, creates an influential Yiddish theatre in America that establishes traditions in American culture which extend all the way up into the 21st century in the persona of his grandson, himself a thoroughly American creative personality, performer and symphony conductor. This sort of thing remains in my craw as the ideal of What America Really Is. As is Carnegie Hall. And so there we were last night drinking up all this nectar.
Carnegie Hall. 6:30 PM. Mercedes Bass enters
Henry Kravis and Marie-Josée Kravis with Mercedes Bass Oscare de la Renta, Barbara Walters, and John Richardson
Rosalind P. Walter, Sydney Shuman, and Vartan Gregorian Sir Howard Stringer and Sir Clive Gillinson Robert A.M. Stern
Katherine Farley, Bruce and Suzie Kovner, and Jerry Speyer Stan Shuman
Joe and Nazee Moinian Adrienne and Gianluigi Vittadini Vernon and Ann Jordan
Kimberly duRoss and James Reginato DPC Caroline Kennedy
Gillian Miniter James Wolfensohn Nancy Kissinger and Bill Cunningham
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas
Nina Bernstein Simmons and Alexander Bernstein (Leonard Bernstein's children) Robert and Ina Caro
In another part of town, the leaders and ministers of many governments all over the world including our own were convening. The hot couple are definitely the Sarkozys who have been staying at the Carlisle or thereabouts since they’ve been spotted there.

Not a few girls I know have found reasons to visit the Carlisle, be it lobby, restaurant, concierge. Women all claim that Monsier le President is a very sexy guy, Napoleonic in suggestion but thoroughly a turn on for the girls in Chanel and in Tory Burch, clicking their Roger Viviers and Manolos at the thought of it. I’m wondering if it’s that Mme. La Carla “gives him sex” as Katharine Hepburn used to say about Ginger Rogers vis-a-vis Fred Astaire. Idle thoughts to take your mind off all the rest and remember Bernstein at Carnegie Hall last night.

Photographs by DPC and Ann Watt.
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