Model Behavior at Wilhelmina? Talent Booker’s Suit Settled

Model Behavior?

Some New Yorkers still have not forgiven Dieter Esch, owner of the Wilhelmina modeling agency, for Pomp, Duck and Circumstance , that 1995-96 show he produced in DeWitt Clinton Park that somehow was meant to combine a culinary experience with buffoonish, slapstick theater. Indeed, Prince Rainier ended up slapping one of the wiseacre waiters in the production after the server launched one too many zingers at his royal family. (“Look at the little piggy prince eating with his fingers!”, the waiter reportedly said of Rainier’s son, Prince Albert, who was also present.)

Now an argument filed in the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Manhattan offers a hint at why Mr. Esch may have thought that this brand of humor was marketable.

The appeal was filed by Raymond Dowd, the attorney for Katia Meterfi Sherman, a talent booker and the former director of Wilhelmina’s women’s division, who quit the modeling agency in February after, according to court papers, her complaints of being “assaulted, sexually harassed, [and] subjected to daily violence” by another Wilhelmina booker, William Gonzalez, were ignored by the agency’s management, including Mr. Esch. Ms. Sherman left Wilhelmina to join Major Model Management, Inc. the New York branch of an Italian modeling agency, but Wilhelmina sued her (and other former employees) in state Supreme Court for breach of contract. That suit also alleged that Ms. Sherman and others tried to lure Wilhelmina’s models to the Major agency.

In an unusual move, the judge presiding over the case invalidated the six-month non-compete clause in Ms. Sherman’s contract with Wilhelmina, but then enjoined her from working for any other modeling agency worldwide until April 1, 2000. The decision was made even more unusual by the fact that the judge had found that another male booker, who had also quit, had been constructively discharged from his employment contract because, allegedly, he too had been subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, courtesy of Mr. Gonzalez.

In his appeal, Mr. Dowd asked whether the court could keep Ms. Sherman from working until April 2000 after she “offered uncontroverted evidence of physical violence, sexual harassment, hostile work environment and stress-related illness while –- simultaneously – granting a male co-worker seated at the same [booking] table in the same room a constructive discharge for the same conditions?”

According to the court papers filed by Mr. Dowd, Mr. Gonzalez repeatedly belittled Ms. Sherman, calling her a “bitch” and telling her she had “no balls.” The brief also includes one booker’s eyewitness description of an incident in the fall of 1998, in which Mr. Gonzalez allegedly raised his hand in an apparent attempt to hit Ms. Sherman. “And if it wasn’t for someone stepping in between the two, he probably would have succeeded,” the booker said.

Mr. Esch does not escape unscathed. The appeal papers allege that the Wilhelmina owner told another booker that “she had gray hairs from too much sex and that he likes ‘big Latin women.'” Mr. Esch also allegedly “told a Wilhelmina model who was on her knees ‘I like that position’ in front of the bookers, which embarrassed the model”.

On July 27, Mr. Dowd told The Transom that the two sides had reached a settlement in which Wilhelmina agreed to let Ms. Sherman work for Major Model Management provided that she drop her appeal and that she not represent any Wilhelmina models or try to persuade them to leave Mr. Esch’s agency for her firm until after April 1, 2000.

“We’re delighted that she’s going back to work,” Mr. Dowd said.

Neither Mr. Esch nor Sandy Frankel, the attorney handling the case for Wilhelmina, returned The Transom’s phone calls. Mr. Gonzalez, who is no longer with Wilhelmina, could not be reached for comment.

Hearst Hullabaloo

“What could be more chic” than dinner for four at Moomba with Jay McInerney, read the promotional placard. The dinner, which was being donated for a minimum bid of $500, was just one of many opportunities offered by silent auction at Cocktails at Sunset at the Castle, the July 24 benefit that Anne Hearst threw for the Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation at the Southampton castle of telecommunications mogul Francesco Galesi. But who could have wanted to hear Mr. McInerney reminisce about ’80s excess at a passé ’90s restaurant when they got a firsthand eyeful of it at Mr. Galesi’s castle?

The Transom spied one castle turret ringed with gargoyles that looked like they’d been purchased at the K-Mart lawn and garden center. There was also a saltwater grotto that featured a shark and other forms of sea life and could be viewed from above or beneath the surface.

By approximately 7:30 p.m., an hour before the cocktail party ended, the minimum bid for the Moomba evening had been marked down to $300, although the Transom hears it was purchased by a Princess Zarina of Malaysia for an undisclosed sum. She also purchased a pool lesson from George (Give Me The Bridge) Plimpton followed by dinner at Elaine’s. A friend of Mr. Plimpton’s assured The Transom that Mr. Plimpton was the “finest pool player east of Minnesota.” Mr. Hirsch purchased a trip to the actual Hearst castle, followed by dinner on the terrace for $8,000. And Village Voice owner Leonard Stern, who arrived at the event in a blue Jaguar with “New York Press” license plates (no doubt for all those fires he covers) dropped $10,000 on a photo session with Patrick DeMarchelier for his wife. Organizers of the event said that Ms. Hearst had raised approximately $45,000 for the foundation.

Book Store Mystery

Within days of Canio Pavio’s announcement that he was retiring and closing the Sag Harbor bookstore that for 20 years bore his name, a consortium of writers, artists and readers calling themselves The Friends of Canio’s Books had launched a campaign to raise the $125,000 needed to take over the book shop. Author Kurt Vonnegut and artist/musician Larry Rivers signed on, and a manifesto was written, detailing the group’s intent to preserve the store, a fixture on Sag Harbor’s Main Street, as a resource for artists and writers. With $20,000 raised, local artist Alex Echo offered to donate 50 percent of the proceeds from a July 24 exhibit opening at his East Hampton studio.

In a twist, however, Mr. Pavio, who had expressed support for the cause, announced he was set to ink a deal with another buyer. Mr. Pavio declined to reveal the buyer’s identity, saying only that she’s a Sag Harbor woman who wants to keep the store as is.

In the meantime, former “Friends of Canio’s” insist they remain on amicable terms with Mr. Pavio, despite the fact that he torpedoed the group’s plan to turn the landmark book shop into a sort of cooperative and writer’s retreat. Mr. Pavio’s insistence on shielding the identity of the potential buyer has angered some of the “Friends.”

“We decided not to talk about names and things because there’s a few more details being ironed out,” Mr. Canio said . “I really can’t say anything until she signs on the dotted line.” Mr. Pavio also said he told the “Friends” he would have to “take seriously” the first offer “I felt comfortable with” and that he had kept them informed. “I put it all on the table,” he said.

While he denies any hard feelings, novelist Frederic Tuten, a founding member of the group, said the attitude around town remains wait-and-see. “We’re obviously happy to hear that she wants to keep it a bookstore, I just don’t understand what all the secrecy is about,” he told The Transom. “We just want to make sure it’s not going to become another boutique.”

-Christopher Tennant

The Transom Also Hears…

…The Wainscott branch of the St. Barth’s eatery Maya’s quietly opened on July 18, and while the cuisine is said to be relatively free of culinary frippery, the wait staff is causing some double takes. Recent diners told The Transom that Jann Wenner’s son, Alexander, and Nick McDonell, son of Men’s Journal editor Terry McDonell, are among those jockeying plates around the restaurant.

…Actors Bill Murray and Alec Baldwin are hard to miss in Scout’s Honor , the short film directed by photographer Neil Leifer (he took the famous shot of Cassius Clay standing over a knocked-out Sonny Liston) and produced by Ken Regan (his shot of John F. Kennedy Jr. recently graced the cover of Time ). The two actors are practically in every scene of the 13 minute short about N.B.A. talent scouts that screened at Newseum/NY on July 26. But blink hard at the film’s beginning and you’ll miss Frank Pellegrino, the co-owner of Rao’s restaurant in East Harlem. Mr. Pellegrino, who’s recently been seen in Woody Allen’s Celebrity and the upcoming Mickey Blue Eyes , plays a coach in the opening scene.