The narcotic bassline of Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid in Full” hooked them as they stood staring at the stage that bore the rapper-turned-talk-show host Queen Latifah. At various places in the crowd, wild-haired Salman Rushdie, former mayoral candidate Andy Stein, and Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, in a dress that showed off her tattoo and her ass, skanked to the rhythm with varying degrees of subtlety and dignity. Socialite writer Lally Weymouth and art dealer Arne Glimcher did not.
Suddenly, Talk magazine publisher Ron Galotti was getting jiggy up on the stage. There, next to Queen Latifah and beneath the oxidized copper robes of the Statue of Liberty, Mr. Galotti attempted some free-style hip-hop moves that looked remarkably like the “Banana Dance” that comedian Chris Elliott used to perform while channeling Marlon Brando on David Letterman’s talk show.
Brilliantined and unbuttoned, Mr. Galotti continued his Bullworth -esque excursion into black culture by swaggering through a rap he had written for the occasion. Talk magazine, a collaboration that involved Miramax, Hearst, Mr. Galotti and editor Tina Brown, had officially debuted earlier in the day. And Mr. Galotti was marking its birth on Aug. 2 along with Ms. Brown, Miramax Films co-chairs Harvey and Bob Weinstein, Disney chief executive Michael Eisner and approximately 1,400 celebrities and members of the media elite.
“We’re here/ We’re there/ We’re everywhere,” went the last lines of Mr. Galotti’s B-boy poem, and he was not exaggerating. For days, the Miramax-fueled Talk marketing machine had been chugging out fodder and reams of press releases for the media to use. And it was working. On Aug. 1, the local tabs picked up and ran big with Talk ‘s cover-story profile of Hillary Clinton, wherein the First Lady attributed her husband’s philandering to psychological abuse from his mother and grandmother which he allegedly endured as a child.
By sunset, when the ferries started leaving Battery Park for Liberty Island, the buzz had reached the kind of levels that Miramax reserves for its brightest Oscar hopefuls. And many of those who had not been invited to the Talk celebration had spent the afternoon desperately searching for someone with an extra ticket.
Later that night, Ms. Brown would describe the guest list as “totally insane eclecticism” and admit: “I know that I’ve left off mighty people who will cut me forever. I’ve left off friends who can’t understand why the slipper didn’t fit. It was such a ramshackle outfit. I mean, I just put together everybody that I’d ever had to dinner, everybody that had ever written for the magazine … It just turned out to be this sort of funny, wild mix.… I’m sure there are people that I will regret that I did not invite, but there came a point when everybody kept asking to bring friends that it got really insane. I kind of washed my hands of it at the end. In the end, I was inviting mothers who I had play dates with.”
Yet, though the party’s organizers had rounded up enough respectable celebrity tonnage (especially for August when most of the meritocracy has left town) to generate ample publicity for the event, one key opportunity was lost. Both Ms. Brown and the Miramax boys have long known how to build a party crowd to make a statement. But any clues that could have been gleaned about the actual point of view of Talk magazine were lost in the darkness and wide open spaces of Liberty Island.
Much more promising were the ferry rides that shuttled the invited between Manhattan and Liberty Island. With celebrities and media all crowding aboard, there was something egalitarian and convivial of these 20 minute trips across the water. “Oh, this is a good boat!” someone was heard to exclaim as a ferry that included CBS News anchor Dan Rather, Republican speechwriter Peggy Noonan, talk-show host Conan O’Brien, his producer Jeff Ross, writers Christopher Buckley and Sally Bedell Smith, actor Peter Berg, designer John Bartlett, Esquire editor David Granger and 95 percent of the city’s gossip and media columnists began motoring toward the statue in the breezy dusk. (On another boat, passengers witnessed magician David Blaine attempt to do one of his card tricks for director Quentin Tarantino; he muffed the trick.)
This boat was followed to the dock by a smaller, faster boat which dislodged a glitzier crew including the singer Madonna, actors Robert De Niro, Demi Moore, Rupert Everett, Paul Newman, holding what appeared to be a bottle of his beloved Budweiser; Gretchen Mol, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, former diplomat Henry Kissinger, Disney chief executive Michael Eisner and media mogul Barry Diller and their respective entourages. These V.I.P.’s had boarded the American Park at the Battery restaurant following a small reception there. A Miramax spokesman said that this gathering was not “a pre-party” but rather a means for some of the more press-shy celebrities to avoid the media-clogged “check-in” lines. The spokesman also said this was a “strictly Miramax” (as opposed to Talk ) gesture.
Once past the greeting line where Ms. Brown, in a white Donna Karan gown, and her husband, Harold Evans, in a blue seersucker suit, stood in the crush, the guests inevitably discovered three things: that Liberty Island was huge, vast, socially unconquerable. (Throughout the night, partygoers could be heard phoning each other on their cell phones.) That it was barely lit (quickly the joke was spread that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who had prevented Ms. Brown from having her party at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, had cut the power). And, for the ladies: that they were wearing the wrong shoes for a picnic dinner that took place largely on grass.
As the crowds walked by a park ranger who explained that the statue’s original title was “Liberty Enlightening the World,” it became apparent that Liberty was not illuminating the party space. “I saw people on the boat that I wanted to talk to and then I never saw them again,” said one magazine writer.
A bar was visible against the base of the statue, only because there were so many journalists crowded around it. Nearby people could be seen clustered around and peering at a series of small tables outfitted with blinding lights and hors d’oeuvres. Few people seemed to know what they were really eating.
Next stop was the picnic area, which was quite a haul away, but which was invitingly decorated with Robert Isabell’s signature colored paper lanterns. Underneath the breeze-blown orbs were quilts strewn with oversize pillows and for the less flexible, conventional tables and chairs. In the center of each was a picnic basket containing real silverware and plates and a series of summer salads.
The day after the party, sources familiar with the situation were putting the Talk party at just south of $500,000, although it was clear that some scrimping had been done. Partygoers noted that there were no flowers, which is rare for an event handled by Mr. Isabell. They also noted that the beverage selection seemed to be focused on advertisers such as Absolut and Evian and Robert Mondavi, which would indicate some sort of discount or trade.
As trays of lamb and chicken were delivered to the picnickers, interesting groups formed. Lolling around on one group of pillows was a group of darkness-loving filmmakers which included director Todd ( Happiness) Solondz, writer-director Bruce ( I’m Losing You ) Wagner and producer Christine Vachon. At one table Arianna Stassinopoulos and Henry Kissinger sat deep in conversation. When asked what they were discussing, Ms. Stassinopoulos said: “We’re in agreement about Kosovo.”
In another moment of odd-yet-appropriate bonding, sex bomb Demi Moore was seen tête-à-tête with sex doctor Dr. Ruth Westheimer. When the two broke, Ms. Moore hugged the diminutive doyenne of dalliance, prompting much speculation. Asked about her conversation, Dr. Westheimer said: “I was delighted that this famous actress knew who I was. Period. If we would have discussed any intimate matters, you would not know about it.”
It’s a wonder anyone actually saw the two hugging. Even with the paper lanterns, it was difficult to see just who was sitting where. So, walking through the picnic area became like a dream sequence. A period of darkness followed by a moment of pure confusion because suddenly in view was the spectacle of a rotund Peter Arnell in shorts bending over at an odd angle to take an artsy picture of the picnickers and the lanterns. Watching Mr. Arnell take the shot was restaurateur Drew Nieporent. What does this mean, The Transom wondered. Then, darkness again.
Followed by a moment of pure anxiety. The Transom almost ran smack into Mr. De Niro’s table. And Mr. De Niro, who was sitting with his TriBeCa Productions partner Jane Rosenthal, did not look like a guy who wanted to have his table bumped while he was eating. Next out of the darkness was Quentin Tarantino, with what looked like a plate of chicken. When we told Mr. Tarantino that we had heard he may be writing a piece for an upcoming issue of Talk , he was vaguely affirmative. He did say of Ms. Brown: “She’s cool.”
Then, suddenly, the disembodied voice of George Plimpton was blaring over the loudspeakers, urging everyone to approach the “balustrade” to watch the fireworks. Mr. Plimpton was not visible in the darkness, but his voice was firing on all cylinders.
Soon, Mr. Plimpton’s voice boomed again. He announced that, before the big Grucci fireworks display began, there would be some demonstration explosions. Then in a very serious voice, Mr. Plimpton began announcing the type of firework that we would see–example: “White magnesium dahlia with white magnesium tail”–followed by a dedication of the particular firework to some member of the Talk or Miramax staff.
Offshore, the boat firing off the fireworks was outfitted with a large incandescent sign that said Talk . As the fireworks went off, Mr. Weinstein stood and watched them with Mr. Galotti and photographer Patrick Demarchelier, who came over to high-five the Miramax co-chairman. He resisted when The Transom tried to interview him. “Leave Harvey alone,” said Mr. Galotti.
Eventually, Mr. Weinstein relented and we ran a theory by him. This night was nothing if not about synergy and synergy is hardly a new concept in American media and entertainment. But we told Mr. Weinstein that we thought he had become one of the first in the entertainment to incorporate politics into the synergistic loop. We recounted that in December 1998, Hillary Clinton–who, along with her husband and her political party, has gotten a lot of monetary and other support from Mr. Weinstein–had accompanied him to the premiere of Shakespeare in Love at the Ziegfeld Theater, and that now things had seemed to come full circle. Here was Mrs. Clinton appearing on the cover of the first issue of Talk, along with another Miramax favorite, Gwyneth Paltrow (who has nothing really to promote right at this moment, thank you very much), and letting loose a whole bunch of provocative quotes. The whole thing seemed so mutually beneficial, but Mr. Weinstein bristled at this notion.
“This is a nonpartisan magazine,” he said, then after giving the piece’s writer, Lucinda Franks, credit, Mr. Weinstein said: “This is Tina’s magazine. This is Tina’s world. We’re just here to help her.”
Queen Latifah conveyed a similar message when she took the stage above the dance floor and urged “all’a youse very important people” to gather before her. Queen Latifah noted that tonight there were “two queens in the house”: Tina Brown and herself. Then, after she mispronounced Harvey Weinstein’s name as “Weinstine,” she said, “I would fuck up their names, I’ll never get a freakin’ movie now.”
By the time Mr. Galotti had started his rap, many of the heavier celebrities, such as Ms. Moore, were already on boats back to Manhattan. Mr. Newman had headed to Elaine’s. But there were still people arriving. Around midnight, as a group of hipsters were waiting to leave the island, an almost empty ferry pulled up and a small group of people helped Bloomingdale’s executive Kal Ruttenstein, who walks with a cane since suffering a stroke in 1997, down the steep gangplank. As Mr. Ruttenstein slowly made his way down, he spied Talk editor-at-large Gabé Doppelt on the dock and shouted: “Catch me, Gabé.”
Before Mr. Galotti introduced Ms. Brown, he called to Mr. Weinstein, “Hey, Harvey, I feel like Roberto Benigni!” Then Ms. Brown told the crowd, “Ron is sometimes known as Mr. Big, but to me he was Mr. Enormous.” In a split-second, she seemed to rethink the term she had used and threw out another one. Now, Mr. Galotti was “Mr. Awesome.”
At one point, Ms. Brown toasted “Madame Liberty” telling the crowd “Now you’re not exactly the tired masses, the huddled masses.” And she acknowledged, “Of course, I’m an immigrant who toiled here on the Concorde, but I just want to say, here’s to Lady Liberty tonight.”
Earlier in her speech, Ms. Brown had thanked her staff, but then added: “And what the hell are we doing for the October issue.”
It was meant as a joke, but really it’s the never-ending question of the media business. What’s next? It was also a familiar question for the crowd that stood around the lip of the stage. The core group that remained was one that like Ms. Brown had come of age and come to power in the 1980’s. There was the actor Willem Dafoe, with his shaved head and his jack-o’-lantern grin; jazz musician John Lurie; hotelier André Balazs and his model agency owner wife Katie Ford. Somewhere in the crowd was book publisher Morgan Entrekin and author Jay McInerney; and model Kate Moss. There beneath Liberty’s golden torch, with Manhattan beckoning in the background. There in the last summer of the millennium, Ms. Brown asked what next for her, and we couldn’t help but wonder, what next for us.
The Transom can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Public relations pitches are not welcome.