It was a sticky 6:30 p.m. in Washington, and Frank Lalli looked as if he was staring at the heavens. Mr. Lalli, who since November has been the editor in chief of George magazine, stood drinkless in the Farragut room in the basement of the Washington Hilton, while around him swanned models Heidi Klum, Gisele Bundchen, and Christie Brinkley.
Then, former New Jersey Senator and presidential candidate Bill Bradley ambled into the room, a perfect graham-cracker-crust for all this cheesecake. Mr. Lalli put on a big smile, thrust out his hand and, once again, looked up. “Hi, how are you Senator?” he cheerfully inquired. Mr. Bradley stared down blankly at George ‘s editor. He didn’t seem to have a clue. “Is John Kliger here?” Mr. Bradley asked, referring to Jack Kliger, the chief executive of George ‘s parent company, Hachette-Filipacchi Magazines. “I want to say hello to him.”
Then Mr. Bradley walked past Mr. Lalli and out onto the Hilton’s patio, missing the flash of disappointment in Mr. Lalli’s eyes.
Before he became the editor in chief of George , Mr. Lalli, in addition to being the managing editor of the plain vanilla Money magazine, was a president of the American Society of Magazine Editors, where he sometimes functioned as a kind of poker-faced Officer Krupke, policing the flashy Sharks and the Jets of Condé Nast, Hearst Corporation and his current employer, Hachette Filipacchi.
But as the editor in chief of George , Mr. Lalli was now going to have to dance with the Sharks and Jets. He was going to have to make himself instantly recognizable to people like Mr. Bradley, and this cocktail party was part of the gambit.
Much to the dismay of serious journalists who covered Washington, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner had long enjoyed a reputation as an event where glamorous power-hungry Hollywood and powerful glamour-deficient Washington met for a mutual contact high.
For years, the gatekeeper of this annual Washington-Hollywood canoodle had been Vanity Fair ‘s editor in chief Graydon Carter. Mr. Carter’s annual Correspondents’ Dinner after-party at the Russian Trade Federation Building had been the place to be seen after each year’s dinner, and was attended last year by George ‘s co-founder and Mr. Lalli’s predecessor, John F. Kennedy Jr.
But this year, Mr. Carter had let go of the velvet rope, and Mr. Lalli and financial news mogul Michael Bloomberg had both made a grab for it (but more on that later).
Around the time that Mr. Lalli was shaking off Mr. Bradley’s diss, the George cocktail party was looking a little iffy. The models were present, as the planted gossip-column items had promised, and George senior editor-celebrity wrangler Jeffrey Podolsky had scared up horn-dog George columnist Alfonse D’Amato, West Wing co-star Rob Lowe, director John Waters and his date, Patty Hearst, and The Cider House Rules co-star Tobey McGuire, who was aimlessly ambling about the party with five days worth of beard growth.
But the evening’s big kahuna, Big Kahuna co-star Kevin Spacey was nowhere to be found. To make matters worse, Bill Clinton’s chief economic adviser, Gene Sperling, was trying to steal away one of George ‘s celebrity guests. Mr. Sperling was staring deeply into the eyes of Anna And The King actress Bai Ling and trying to lure her to the rival People magazine cocktail party with him, with promises of an after-dinner tour of the real west wing of the White House.
But then Mr. Spacey sauntered into that dingy hotel room, and the flashbulbs started popping like the old John Kennedy Jr. days. Mr. Lalli, who was almost as tall as Mr. Spacey, beamed. Mr. Kliger, who had been this close to croaking George when Kennedy was alive, walked up behind him, and put a meaty paw on his shoulder. “Not bad, not bad,” Mr. Kliger said into Mr. Lalli’s ear. Then Mr. Kliger summoned the Transom and told Mr. Lalli a joke for the media industry’s benefit.
“When he asked how long is the magazine going to last, I told him at least two or three more months,” Mr. Kliger said. “That’s reassuring,” said Mr. Lalli, “I thought it was going to be two or three weeks.” Then the two roared with laughter like a couple of old fishing buddies.
Soon after Mr. Spacey arrived, the dinner gong rang and the crowd queued up to go through the metal detectors that had been set up outside the main ballroom of the Hilton.
After dessert, Bill Clinton killed with a Lettermanesque video, produced by Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal, of his waning days in the White House. The only table that seemed to be genuinely unmoved by the image of Mr. Clinton riding his bike through the White House was the table occupied by Judicial Watch’s conservative guard dog Larry Klayman, who hosted cyber columnist Matt Drudge. While the audience howled, Mr. Drudge scowled in the direction of the large video monitors.
When the dinner let out, all the tuxes and gowns trudged up the hill to the white Russian Trade Federation building which was bathed in red light courtesy of Mr. Bloomberg, who had grabbed the venue when Vanity Fair opted out earlier in the spring.
But there was Mr. Lalli greeting guests in the foyer, adding to confusion over just whose party it was. George ‘s invitations had read, “Join the Bloomberg News party with George ,” but Bloomberg’s invitations mentioned nothing of the monthly. And a week before the party, when Mr. Bloomberg told the Washington Post that he’d be glad to team up with Vanity Fair in future years on the party, he didn’t mention that George was a partner.
But as Mr. Lalli welcomed guests, such as Bo Derek, with smooth lines like, “We really want to write something about you,” it was at least clear whose party Mr. Lalli thought it was. “Where are you from?” he asked a man with a camera who was standing next to him. “Bloomberg,” the man replied. “Oh, you’re one of the financial guys,” he said nodding his head knowingly.
The Transom asked Mr. Lalli exactly how George and Bloomberg had divided duties on the party. “I’ll be honest with you,” Mr. Lalli told the Transom, “They had the venue, and we had Hollywood. It’s a partnership.”
The Transom tracked down Michael Bloomberg who was in deep chat with Lisa Edelstein, who made it clear to the Transom that she was not actually a prostitute, but plays one on The West Wing . When the Transom recounted Mr. Lalli’s version of the arrangement, Mr. Bloomberg looked like he’d bitten into a bad almond. “They’ve told some people it’s their party. I have heard that,” Mr. Lalli said.
So, the Transom asked, did they bring all the celebs as Mr. Lalli had said? “There might have been a day when I needed that, that’s not today in all fairness,” Mr. Bloomberg scoffed. He paused and began to turn a little red. “I mean think about that. I mean George is not exactly a magazine that can deliver a lot.”
Outside, on the building’s grand antebellum veranda, Mr. Spacey was posing for pictures with eternally troubled actor Gary Busey. At one point during the evening, Mr. Busey had leaned into actor Oliver Platt and said the words that could strike fear into the heart of any young actor: “You remind me of myself when I was young.” Mr. Platt just nodded and smiled.
But it was Mr. Spacey’s night. He’d had a cameo in Mr. Clinton’s film, in which he had tugged an Oscar statuette from Mr. Clinton’s hands as the President made an acceptance speech to an empty White House audience.
Mr. Spacey was talking to Mr. Busey when White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart walked by. Mr. Lockhart had also done a stiff little acting turn in another video, a West Wing spoof, that had played at the dinner that night.
“Joe!” Mr. Spacey called when he caught sight of Mr. Lockhart. “Joe! You’ve got a fucking job when you’re out of there! You hit your marks! You rolled your eyes!”
Mr. Lockhart grinned sheepishly as though he were actually considering it for a moment. Then New York Times White House correspondent Marc Lacey tugged on Mr. Lockhart’s tux. “Is that Christie Brinkley over there?” he asked.
“Yeah it is,” said Mr. Lockhart. “You want to meet her?”
“I promise you puff pieces for the rest of the term,” said Mr. Lacey.
When a young female reporter approached Mr. Spacey with a note pad, he was still going on about Mr. Lockhart. “Tell [Clinton] if he goes out to Hollywood, Joe Lockhart’s going to give him a run for his money,” he called out, stretching his arms and laughing wolfishly in an old-fashioned Hickey moment. When Mr. Busey failed to laugh at the line the first time, Mr. Spacey whacked him in the lapels, and repeated the line. Mr. Busey looked a tad confused but this time he laughed.
Soon, Mr. Spacey was engaged in a close chat with NYPD Blue ‘s newest actor, Henry Simmons, a tall handsome devil. “Are you here with anyone?” Mr. Spacey asked solicitously. “Do you maybe want to join that group over there?”
Mr. Simmons pulled his mother Aurelia through the crowd and introduced her to Mr. Spacey. She brandished a camera, which Mr. Spacey quickly scooped from her hands. He tried to snap a photo of mother and son. Nothing happened. He examined the camera, he shook it, he put his ear up to it. “Its rewinding,” pronounced Mr. Spacey. “We can put some more film in it. Let’s ask a photographer for a roll of film.”
Mr. Spacey, who is apparently the nicest, most helpful guy in the world, did just that, and reloaded Mr. Simmons’ mother’s camera.
“My girlfriend’s still on the couch with Bo Derek,” Mr. Spacey said, apropos of nothing, to Mr. Simmons. “It’s a great couch as far as I’m concerned.”
The Transom went over to the couch, where sat Ms. Derek, Mr. Spacey’s friend, Diane Dryer, and Mr. Lowe’s wife, Sheryl Berkoff. On the back of the couch perched a spindly man in Michael Kinsley glasses whom the Transom did not recognize. “So how long have you and Kevin been together?” The Transom asked Ms. Dryer.
Before she could answer, the man, looking alarmed, spoke up. “We’re just having a social talk here, so …”, he said, throwing us a buzz-off look. When The Transom asked spindly guy who he was, he refused to answer. “Just please get out of here,” he said.
The Transom went over and asked Mr. Spacey to identify the man who was being so protective of his girlfriend. “I think he’s the entertainment editor of George ,” said Mr. Spacey, still engrossed in conversation with Mr. Simmons. It was Mr. Podolsky, George ‘s celebrity wrangler, who shot dirty looks at us for the rest of the night.
Meanwhile, Mr. Drudge was convinced he was getting the aural version of the cold shoulder. He wandered around the terrace muttering that, after all he’d done, he wasn’t popular. “I’m passing people and they’re talking dirty about me,” he said. He wondered why he was treated coolly when plunked down on a couch next to Jamie Rubin and Christiane Amanpour. “Cold fish!” he said of Ms. Amanpour. Mr. Drudge had perhaps forgotten that, under his tuxedo jacket, he was wearing a T-shirt that bore the famous picture of Elián González getting plucked from his closet and the caption: “Clinton’s Legacy For The Children”
Justice Department antitrust chief Joel Klein seemed considerably less tense when the Transom approached him with a notepad. “Oh no, no,” he said, but he was smiling. Mr. Klein seemed to be having the day of his life: His face was on every newspaper in the country as the man who cleaved Microsoft in two, and he was on the lawn deep in a heavy chat with a foxy actress named Kathleen York, who said she was about to make her debut on The West Wing .
The two seemed to have gotten along so well, that Ms. York was able to finish his sentences when Mr. Klein pulled away from her and tried to get serious for a moment. “This really has nothing to do with me,” he said when we asked him about his newfound celebrity. “It has to do with …”
“… Heart and soul!” chimed in Ms. York. “This man’s about heart and soul. Not about celebrity and politics!” Mr. Klein gave her a kiss on each cheek. It was 2:15 a.m. Bai Ling, Mr. Spacey and the rest of Hollywood had long gone. So had Mr. Lalli. But Mr. Sperling was still there. He stood with a group of stragglers inside the Russian Trade Federation building, taking in the last moments of this starry Clintonian night and looking like he wished it would never end.