The Hamptons Menace? Jason Binn Is Everybody’s New Best Friend

Donald Trump stammered when asked if Jason Binn, the 31-year-old publisher of Hamptons , Ocean Drive and Palm Beach magazines, was the developer’s best friend. In the Jan. 11 edition of The New York Post, Mr. Binn was quoted as saying, “Donald’s my best friend.”

Since they’d been seen together embracing at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago spread in Palm Beach and photo-opping last summer at the Bridgehampton Polo Club, it seemed conceivable that the pair had become soul mates.

“Well, we’re friends,” offered Mr. Trump. “I mean, I don’t like to say I’m best friends with anybody, because then everybody else gets insulted. They’d say, ‘Well, I thought I was your best friend.'”

No matter, Mr. Binn still has lots of best friends. This brash young man, with curly dark hair, chipmunk cheeks and Prada wardrobe has made it his business of having many best friends. And business is good! His résumé may read budding media mogul, but the true calling of Jason Binn, né Binstock, originally of affluent Roslyn Harbour, L.I., and son of multimillionaire Moreton Binn (also né Binstock), has been as a celebrity fixer. Among his “best friends”: actors Sylvester Stallone, Dennis Hopper, Wesley Snipes, Michael Caine, Will Smith, Billy Zane; billionaire Ronald Perelman of Revlon Inc.; rock stars Madonna, Lenny Kravitz, Michael Bolton and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith; MTV Networks chief executive Tom Freston, movie producer Keith Barish, and, somehow inevitably, Bill Clinton.

What Mr. Binn does is make life easier for the well-known. Whenever a celebrity is feeling down, beating himself up, or needing to be surrounded by a battalion of very friendly 6-foot-tall blondes, Mr. Binn, it seems, will be there. In a world of James Deans, someone’s got to play the Sal Mineo part.

“He got me a golf game with [1986 U.S. Open winner] Raymond Floyd,” hooted Dennis Hopper. “That was so incredible! Who can arrange a golf game with Raymond Floyd?” Mr. Hopper added that Mr. Binn regularly sent a limo to meet him at Miami International Airport.

A few years ago, the actor Michael Caine was in Miami and needed a driver’s license immediately. He bumped into Mr. Binn on Ocean Drive. “I was saying, ‘I’ve got to take this test and get a Florida driving license and there’s a two-week wait,'” said Mr. Caine. “While I was talking to him, he was dialing with his thumb. When I finished telling him my story, he’s on the phone, saying ‘Hello, Guido, Carlo …’, whatever his name was. Then he got off and said, ‘You’ve got a driving test at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning.'” Mr. Caine said he was also impressed with Mr. Binn’s skills with a cell phone. “He doesn’t look down to dial. He’s like a great piano player, you know, they never look at the keys!”

Until last summer, the phenomenon of Mr. Binn had been confined to Miami. There, he turned Ocean Drive from a thin, advertiser-friendly glossy into a very thick, advertiser-friendly glossy: The May Ocean Drive clocked in at 282 pages. And last summer, just when it seemed like Hamptons founder-editor-publisher Randy Schindler would sink under the weight of a $300,000 judgment for unpaid printer’s bills after a partnership deal with Jerry Finkelstein fell through, Mr. Binn rode into town in his black Mercedes E320 to save the weekly from extinction. He shared a 6,000-square-foot house in the Hamptons with hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, who called Mr. Binn “a great houseguest,” and added, “You can’t help but like him. He wears you the fuck out.” Mr. Binn carried a Canon Elph camera and a cellular phone wherever he went.

This summer, he’ll be living in a house he bought in Southampton, L.I., and he has added a Jaguar to his motor pool. A launch party for this summer’s first issue of Hamptons was scheduled for May 26 at Barolo restaurant in SoHo.

But it remains to be seen whether Mr. Binn can wire the Hamptons the way he did Miami. The old guard tolerates flash only to a point. “Everybody in the Hamptons thought that Puff Daddy would be President of the United States, until he beat that guy up,” said one longtime resident. “Jason bought Hamptons magazine to buy into Hamptons culture. But I can assure you, you’re not going to see him walking around at the Beach Club any time soon.”

Although Mr. Binn refused to be interviewed for this story, he did have an intermediary provide The Observer with a list of private telephone numbers, including those of Messrs. Stallone, Hopper, Bolton and Kravitz and actor Wesley Snipes. Also included was the pseudonym Will Smith was using at the St. Regis Hotel. (Ask for Treyball.)

Mr. Stallone, who once gave Mr. Binn a Versace couch, granted a 60-second interview from the set of Detox , a film he is shooting in Canada. The actor said he first met Mr. Binn while he was filming The Specialist in Miami and that he was “quite taken with his vitality and ambitiousness [ sic ].” Since then, said Mr. Stallone, “He’s helped me when I’ve had social gatherings and parties, and getting certain political figures and situations like that. He’s also smoothed over a few things, and disagreements with local papers and whatnot. O.K., gotta go.”

“Jason has introduced me to folks I know on an intellectual plane, and what I’d like to think of as a couple of my future ex-girlfriends, if you get my drift,” said rock singer David Lee Roth.

When Aerosmith was recording its latest album in Miami, lead singer Steven Tyler, father of actress Liv Tyler, said he found himself frolicking with naked models on a boat, the whole thing arranged by Mr. Binn. “They were all tens!” Mr. Tyler said of the women. Mr. Tyler was speaking on his cell phone in a doctor’s office in Las Vegas. “We were doing the Monica Lewinsky! We were dipping our cigars! You call Jason up, and before you know it, you’re on the beach with six naked models, smoking a Havana! And looking at Michael Caine!”

Which brings us, however circuitously, to Bill Clinton.

Interior decorator Ron Saleh, who does advance work for President Clinton–gussying up the Presidential suites at various stops–said he gave Mr. Binn a tour of the White House several years ago. “I got a call from the White House saying that a friend of the President was coming by and could I give him a tour,” said Mr. Saleh. “I’m sure they don’t talk about world affairs, but they know each other quite well,” said Mr. Saleh. “The President really likes the magazines.”

According to Mr. Saleh, when the President visited the Hamptons last summer, Mr. Binn was at almost every party. They took pictures together outside the house of Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin. “The only thing Jason didn’t do was sleep in the bed with him at Steven Spielberg’s house,” Mr. Saleh said.

Mr. Saleh said he contacted The Observer after getting a call from Chris Engskov, the President’s personal assistant, asking Mr. Saleh to call on the President’s behalf. Mr. Engskov did not return several calls from The Observer . When The Observer called the White House to ask about Mr. Binn, White House spokesman Julie Goldberg called back with the statement, “We believe he’s attended a few events and so he’s had the opportunity meet the President.”

Mr. Binn was at Mr. Clinton’s Madison Square Garden birthday party in 1996 and a smaller birthday dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria the same year. According to Federal Election Commission records, Mr. Binn has made one donation to the Democratic National Committee, $250 in 1998. His father has donated small amounts to Republicans such as Bob Dole and Senator Alan Simpson.

What does Jason Binn get out of his brushes with fame? “He gets to hang out with Joe Perry,” said Mr. Tyler, speaking of Aerosmith’s chiseled guitarist. “It’s a hang thing.”

A celebrity who asked not to be identified said, “He’s a little starstruck. There’s just a tiny side of him that is just like everybody else. He’ll tell girls that I’m at a hotel, and then instead of him just coming by, it’s he and three beautiful girls. Granted, they’re beautiful girls, but he uses it a little.”

“It’s like how little kids say, Awesome,” said Inna de Silva, a Russian public relations consultant, who has socialized with Mr. Binn in both Miami and the Hamptons. “He just thought it was so awesome that he, Jason Binn, is now sitting with Sylvester Stallone. Their energy and their aura genuinely touched him. It’s sort of in a way like being a male groupie. And it was also good for the business.”

‘Eddie Rex’

Jason Binstock grew up in Roslyn Harbour, the third son of Penny and Moreton Binstock. His father, who goes by Binn, is chairman and chief executive of Atwood Richards Inc., an international barter company that deals in everything from sugar and mayonnaise to clock radios. Lee Iacocca is on Atwood Richards’ advisory board and is a friend of the family. The elder Mr. Binn, who collected racehorses and 19th-century art, now splits his time between the Regency Hotel in Manhattan and a $2.5 million house on Further Lane in East Hampton, L.I. His wife, who died in 1997 after falling and hitting her head at a Broadway theater, was a child psychologist and competitive ballroom dancer. Young Jason took piano lessons and ballroom dance classes, so that he could accompany his mother. The two remained very close. In a long poem he published in Hamptons after her untimely death, Jason wrote, “With selfless energy and a loving heart, my mother gave my spirit wings to rise above all to become what I am today/ … I had an obsession with my mother/ Some say I loved her too much!/ I loved to snuggle with her in bed (believe it or not until my early teens)/ My dad would complain that he had no time to spend alone with my mom./ My family would jokingly call me little Eddie Rex, as in Oedipus.” Jason tells friends he has never taken a dime from his father. Reached by The Observer , Moreton Binn said, “Great kid, great kid,” but did not respond to further calls for comment.

Jason went off to Boston University, where he majored in communications. On some weekends, he would travel to New York and, whenever he encountered a celebrity, he would put his arm around them, hold up a camera and snap a shot. Even in star-starved Boston. “He did the best he could in Boston,” recalled music executive Charlie Walk, who went to college with Mr. Binn. “If they were in town, he was after ‘em. He smelt ‘em like a dog in heat. He had the best nose for finding celebrities.”

After college, Mr. Binn moved to a one-bedroom rental at 38th Street and First Avenue. He answered a want ad in Women’s Wear Daily for a sales and marketing position at the Warren Group. Then, in 1992, at the age of 24, Mr. Binn joined with Jerry Powers, the former business manager for pop artist Peter Max, to start Ocean Drive , modeled on Hamptons magazine. In 1993, the same year of Ocean Drive ‘s launch, Mr. Powers pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to report income tax returns. In exchange for leniency, Mr. Powers is said to have provided the Feds with information on Mr. Max’s own failure to report $1.1 million in income. Despite Mr. Powers’ legal troubles, Ocean Drive took off. Mr. Powers and Mr. Binn sent out thonged models in Rollerblades to distribute the issues.

Not long after the launch of Ocean Drive , Russell. Simmons was in a movie theater in Miami when his cell phone rang–it was Mr. Binn. “Arnold and Marie are waiting for you for dinner,” Mr. Simmons said he was told by Mr. Binn. After the movie, Mr. Simmons said he stopped by the restaurant and greeted Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. Mr. Binn was sitting alone at a table across the dining room, clutching his camera. “He didn’t even know them! He didn’t know Arnold, Maria, none of them!” said Mr. Simmons. “But the next thing you know he’s over at their table, taking pictures.”

“That Schwarzenegger story wouldn’t happen today. He’s a little bit souped up now,” said Mr. Simmons. “He’s a little bit closer to having the attitude of the people he’s writing about. Now he knows Arnold and Maria.”

Lenny Kravitz said that Mr. Binn drove him around to do errands when he first moved to Miami. Michael Bolton said Mr. Binn shooed photographers away from him in clubs when he wasn’t in the mood.

Tara Solomon, celebrity columnist for the Miami Herald , said, “I think what celebrities see in Jason is that he doesn’t gossip, he’s always up for a good time, he’s someone perhaps who does not need a lot of sleep. He’s someone who’s not always saying that he needs to go home. He’s the perennial party guy.”

Some say Mr. Binn was instrumental in making Miami a glam capital of the 90’s. “Look what Marvin Shanken did with Cigar Aficionado ,” said Craig Reiss, the former editor of Adweek . “He took something as old-fashioned as the cigar, and turned it into something hip. I think you could give Ocean Drive credit for having a big role in doing that with South Beach.”

‘Hey, Buddy!’

One day at work at Hamptons , Mr. Binn was wearing a neck brace. (Some old lady in Miami had run a stop sign.) “He made me laugh,” said Mandolyna Theodoracopulos, managing editor of Hamptons last summer and daughter of society writer Taki Theodoracopulos. “It was nothing that he said, it was just his appearance.” Mr. Binn wore the neck brace sporadically. “I think he wore the neck brace when he needed some coddling,” Ms. Theodoracopulos said. “I don’t doubt he had a car accident, but he only chose to wear the neck brace on particular occasions.”

Then there was the Webley issue. A Webley is a kind of computerized secretary favored by rock stars, movie actors and Mr. Binn. A subscriber can let the Webley system know where he is going to be; callers dial one number, and the Webley can ring any number of phones to find the subscriber. As The Observer discovered after making numerous attempts to reach Mr. Binn, the Webley can also cover for those who don’t care to be reached. “I’m sorry,” the Webley’s female voice says, “He wasn’t where he said he would be. Would you like to leave a message?”

“Jason was the first person I knew to have that,” said Ms. de Silva, the public relations consultant. “It’s something from hell! I said, ‘Jason, how can you do that to people?’ You call up somebody and say your name and the person decides if you’re important enough or not to speak to him. It’s a great way to either fuck with people’s egos or boost them up. In New York, nobody does that shit. No one!”

Mr. Binn moved right in at Hamptons. He put a small desk for himself next to Randy Schindler’s big desk. Mr. Schindler attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, kept a statue of Buddha on his desk and spent time in Watermill, L.I., meditating with nuns. Mr. Binn rarely took his hands-free phone off his head, unless somebody like Mr. Trump would call, at which point he would put him on Speakerphone. This summer, Mr. Binn is in the big office with the French doors. Mr. Schindler, who did not return calls seeking comment, is sitting in a smaller office once occupied by the magazine’s bookkeeper.

Mr. Binn likes calling people buddy. Loudly. “It sort of disconcerted me,” said Courtney Callahan, Hamptons ‘ executive editor last summer. “I think if I heard him say ‘Hey, buddy !’ one more time I was going to lose it.” She added that Mr. Binn does not drink, smoke or do anything else that, as she put it, “would make him a loser. He wants to be a winner.”

Mr. Binn also made good use of the intercom system, even though the office was small enough to shout. “Susan. See Jason,” was how Mr. Binn would get the attention of Susan Lacovara, the assistant he shared with Mr. Schindler.

Mr. Binn did a weekly critique of the magazine, during which the staff would gather around and he would point out errors in the previous week’s issue. Photo identifications were sometimes a problem: Harry Evans was identified as John F. Kennedy Jr. David Dinkins became Nelson Mandela.

According to Ms. Theodoracopulos, Mr. Binn had certain priorities for the magazine. “Half the magazine is editorial based solely on his advertisers,” she said. “I don’t think it’s something to resent–you either have one kind of magazine or the other. Randy would try to make advertisers happy, but with Jason, it was raised to a whole new level.”

When Hamptons did a two-page history of the Creeks, Ron Perelman’s East Hampton estate, Mr. Binn instructed a staff member to fax the pages to Mr. Perelman for his approval. “I’m a trained journalist. It kind of went against the grain,” the staff member said. Revlon advertised in every issue of Hamptons last year. Mr. Binn and Mr. Perelman’s son, Steven Perelman–sometimes along with Mr. Perelman Sr.–often dined together at restaurants like 95 School Street. Ron Perelman did not return calls about Mr. Binn.

Benny Shabtai, owner and president of Raymond Weill U.S.A., whose bald pate popped up in many Hamptons magazine party photos last summer, balked at the idea that there is a correlation between advertising and editorial with Mr. Binn’s publications. “If somebody ever said, ‘If you do this, you’ll get that,’ it would offend me,” he said. “I would know the publication was worth nothing.” Mr. Shabtai, who advertises in Ocean Drive and Hamptons , said he could not remember if the first article about his watches appeared before or after he began running ads. “They happened hand in hand, I think,” he said. Mr. Shabtai said he and Mr. Binn ran into each other on St. Barts over Christmas, where Mr. Binn organized a dinner aboard movie producer Keith Barish’s yacht. Mr. Barish and his family were profiled last summer in Hamptons .

MTV chief executive Tom Freston, who said that he was immediately taken with Mr. Binn’s boundless energy after he “seeped in” to his life in the Hamptons, pointed out that nobody ever really accused Mr. Binn of publishing The Wall Street Journal . “I don’t think the stakes are very high,” he said. “If I thought Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was regularly spotted out on the town with Janet Reno, there might be some cause for concern. That’s not the case here. This is a small operation, and obviously, being friends with celebrities is going to grease the wheels of their organizations.”

The wheels seem well greased at Hamptons . Mr. Binn told Media Week that ad pages were up 30 percent over 1997. The magazine’s December 1998 audit by the Audit Bureau of Circulation shows a circulation of about 40,000 unpaid copies. And Mr. Binn has reportedly pitched Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta versions of Ocean Drive to executives at Hachette-Filipacchi Magazines. A spokesman at Hachette declined to comment. Last summer, Mr. Binn told Media Week , “Eventually, we’ll either be bought out by a big conglomerate or create our own regional publishing empire.”

A firmer corporate foothold would seem to be wise, especially since Mr. Binn’s relationship with celebrities seems tenuous at times. Steven Tyler, for one, was not happy that Mr. Binn’s office had passed on his personal cell phone number to The Observer . “He shouldn’t have done that,” said the rock star. “Do me a favor, lose this number right now.” He added that he had called Mr. Binn and told him, “You know, O.K., Jason, you’re going to get in trouble when Sly Stallone and all these people get these calls. Now all your friends are going to hate you.”

Not just yet. “The last time I was in Miami, he gave me a Jaguar,” said Russell Simmons. “Fucking thing was empty of gas, but that was O.K.”