Maria Callas’ Abortion Debate
None of the news in Greek Fire , Nicholas Gage’s new book about the love affair between Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas, made as much of a splash as the author’s revelation about the couple’s love child. Mr. Gage, a Greek-born former New York Times correspondent, wrote that contrary to all previous biographies–including Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington’s 1980 biography, Maria: Beyond the Callas Legend –Callas did not abort the droopy-eyed shipping magnate’s child aboard the yacht Christina in 1966, but rather gave birth to it, stillborn, six years earlier in Milan, apparently later inventing the abortion story to get back at Onassis for marrying Jacqueline Kennedy. Mr. Gage includes a photograph of a dead baby that was purported to have been found in Callas’ bedroom after the singer’s death in 1977.
While Mr. Gage’s revision undoubtedly peeved Ms. Huffington, it couldn’t have thrilled playwright Terrence McNally, who received a Tony for his play Master Class , the climax of which portrays Callas pleading with Onassis not to make her abort the child, which “may be my only chance” to give birth. If Mr. Gage is correct, Mr. McNally’s big climax might seem a bit, well, forced.
“I read the excerpt in Vanity Fair ,” Mr. McNally told The Transom. “But I didn’t somehow believe that [abortion] story.… I stick to my version. [ Master Class ] is not a documentary. But I also think [Mr. Gage’s allegation] is hearsay. It’s a very blurry photo. There are no records. So it’s not very convincing.” Mr. McNally said he had no plans to revise his play. “And it said in the book that she had the baby by Cesarean so that she would be slender afterwards,” he continued. “I think it’s seriously deranged. It doesn’t make sense. I cannot imagine any human being doing that. I don’t buy the story. It seems like something to sell his book.”
Mr. Gage, upon hearing how Mr. McNally pooh-poohed his scoop, released some Greek fire of his own. “What research did he do besides reading Arianna Stassinopoulos’ book?” he harrumphed, going on to cite Callas’ own maid and butler as sources for the story and directing The Transom to inspect the purported death certificate reproduced on page 206 of his book. The Cesarean, he said, was “the postulation of friends as to what moved her to get the delivery early.” All of those comments, he pointed out, are cited in the book. “He’s a good playwright,” Mr. Gage said of Mr. McNally. “I like his work, but the dramatic center of his play never happened.”
Karenna Talks Nasty?
It was 12 days before the election, and Karenna Gore Schiff was sitting on a ratty red-velvet sofa in a makeshift holding area at the China Club. It smelled of vomit, The Transom noted. Ms. Schiff took a big whiff and agreed.
Al Gore’s most tireless supporter was there, along with H.U.D. Secretary and possible gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, for a youth-oriented, $75-a-ticket fund-raiser for the Gore-Lieberman campaign and New York Democrats. The Transom was attempting to cajole Ms. Schiff into saying something nasty–really nasty–about her father’s opponent while her chief of staff, Stephen Gaskill, looked on warily. New York magazine deputy editor Maer Roshan, who helped The Transom crash the party, sat nearby.
Subliminable? The Transom ventured.
Ms. Schiff, who–unlike Mr. Bush–has become adept at not being caught saying anything stupid or controversial, stayed right on message. “It’s just not what my dad likes to focus on,” she said earnestly. “Not what I like to focus on, because I think that, you know, people are sick of personal insults and spin. It’s better to focus on what’s really going to make a difference in people’s lives.”
The Transom gave her a frustrated look, maybe an eye roll.
“You’re prickly ,” she said.
Just as The Transom was trying to get Ms. Schiff to say something nasty about President Clinton, Mr. Cuomo strode in and planted a kiss on her cheek.
“Mr. Secretary,” she said playfully and asked if he wanted to join in the interview.
“I want to listen ,” he said and just stood there, unsmiling, sipping a bottle of Evian as Ms. Schiff continued not saying nasty things.
Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show , arrived, eager to get his bit over with so he could catch the fifth game of the World Series. By then, Mr. Cuomo had buttonholed Mr. Roshan and appeared to be grilling him on how former Mayor Ed Koch and former Senator Alfonse D’Amato , whose joint column Mr. Roshan edits for New York , really felt about him.
“I can’t really figure Ed out,” The Transom overheard Mr. Cuomo say coyly, the way a high-school cheerleader might inquire about a quarterback. “I think he likes me, but it’s hard to say.…”
The conversation was cut short by Mr. Gaskill, who was trying to shoo away the press so the event could begin. The celebrity Democrats broke into a huddle to discuss the evening’s game plan, leaving the reporters to pocket their notepads and head for the exit.
Survivor Booed Off Broadway
Perhaps Survivor winner Richard Hatch got swept up in the penis lust surrounding the premiere of The Full Monty and thought that he, the man with the prime-time privates, could break that fourth wall and hop onstage to do a little pee-pee-swinging cancan with the cast. Or perhaps Mr. Hatch, who seems to be well into minute 16 of his fame, just wasn’t thinking at all. Either way, Mr. Hatch–who releases his book, 101 Survival Secrets: How to Make a Million Dollars, Lose One Hundred Pounds, and Just Plain Live Happily , on November 14 (line up, kids!)–decided that a good place to sit during intermission was on the stage of the Eugene O’Neill Theater, as though he were the guest of honor at some high-school Pippin production. From his perch, according to a witness who was close to the front of the house, Mr. Hatch chatted with Regis Philbin, whose Live! show he guest-hosted in September. Then, seconds before the curtain rose for the second act, Mr. Hatch leapt up and jogged across the stage to get to his seat.
A few audience members booed Mr. Hatch’s one-man show, perhaps wishing they had one of those Pulau Tiga coconuts to hurl at him. Others gasped. Mr. Hatch, who dropped by the show’s after-party at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, appeared not to have noticed (or cared).
“It was sort of like one of those moments when it seems like a good idea to invite a hillbilly to dinner,” said a celebrity in attendance, who asked not to be identified. “Then the hillbilly comes and ends up ruining the carpet.”
Charlie’s Angels Hell
“The movie sucked bad,” said a man named Neil who was chewing the fat with The Transom at the after-party for Charlie’s Angels on Oct. 24 at Henri Bendel. “It’s the product of focus groups aimed at 15-year-old girls. The James Bond format doesn’t work with bimbos,” he decided matter-of-factly.
Perhaps the movie format didn’t work with bimbos, but the party format seemed to be working for them just fine.
“Where are they? Where are the dolls?! Where are the drinks?!” an eager guy shouted to his friend upstairs in the V.I.P. pen. They weren’t far. Cameron Diaz was drinking a bottle of water, holding court at a big round table and nodding her head to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” Lucy Liu was lurking about. Claudia Schiffer careened across the crowded floor while a brunette Drew Barrymore waved a lip-gloss wand across her kisser and then gyrated to the music. She cupped her mammaries, one in each palm, and vigorously shook them like million-dollar maracas.
Outside, the searchlights swept across Fifth Avenue. The plebes partied on downstairs, out of sight and out of mind of the Angels. Elena and Monica, tourists from Lubbock, Texas, had gained entree to the soiree through a Bendel security guard they had met on the street earlier that day. It was quite awesome, they agreed, to be there. The girls rattled off the names of the stars they’d seen that night and sighed that they’d been in too much of a dither to get a snapshot of Ms. Diaz. Monica told The Transom, “Sitting back in Lubbock, watching TV and seeing people who are around Cameron Diaz, you’d be like, ‘Oh my God! If I were there, I’d just run up and say “Hi!” Oh my God!’ And then you see her and you’re like totally shocked, and you can’t even push the button to take the picture!”
– Beth Broome
Robin Byrd Goes Digital
It was a brisk autumn evening, the night before Halloween, and the media heavies were on their way to the Four Seasons to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Jim Goodale’s PBS show, The Digital Age . Kofi Annan, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Michael Bloomberg, Steven Brill and Charlie Rose had all come to show their support. Under the balloon-festooned ceiling of the Grill Room, surrounded by air-kissing Connecticut ladies, Robin Byrd–a public-television legend in her own right–was smiling and bopping along to the jazz band’s rendition of “Windy.”
The Transom paused for a moment to chat with Ms. Byrd about nudity–or, rather, nakedness–in the digital age. A number of years back, The Transom had happened upon the host of The Robin Byrd Show on the beach in front of her Fire Island home. “Naked or not?” Ms. Byrd needed to know, her bosom bonking into the tape recorder. “You were naked,” The Transom reminded her. “Naked, of course,” Ms. Byrd echoed wistfully. She had been waving seagull feathers over the fast-eroding sand dunes. “I smudged the dunes. Yeah. I was smudging,” she laughed. “It’s a purification. It’s a prayer to Mother Earth and Grandfather Sky and Neptune, and I do prayers to the gods to sort of save my house.…”
Ms. Byrd had come to show her support for Mr. Goodale, who interviewed her on his program in 1996 to discuss her Supreme Court fight with Time Warner over what was termed indecent programming. “I don’t think that the human body is indecent,” asserted Ms. Byrd, who hosts her show in a G-string. “I don’t think that the human body, naked, is indecent. It’s already been deemed in court that it’s not. I really strongly believe that you, the viewer at home, should not subject yourself to a branding, so to speak–almost like in the Hitler days, where they had to be branded as Jews. You were going to be branded as an indecent viewer. I just want to bring nudity and human, beautiful bodies and entertainment [to viewers] at the end of the evening,” Ms. Byrd concluded defensively.
Adversity and censorship have never gotten the better of Ms. Byrd. They only seem to have served as catalysts for invention in her world: Her signature organ-in-the-eye routine that used to conclude her program, for example. “Well, I don’t do it anymore because it’s not safe,” Ms. Byrd said of the gesture. “I thought it was very ironic that they’d censored so much you can’t put it in your mouth. But you could put it in your ear; you could put it in your eye. I stopped doing that once I learned that pre-cum is just as dangerous as semen is. It’s not safe sex.” “To have in your eye?” The Transom asked. “Right. So now I put it in my cheek and I go like this”–Ms. Byrd pumped her tongue against the inside of cheek, saluting the time-honored international sign language for oral gratification, and then laughed heartily. “I don’t know if that’s the digital age of me ,” Ms. Byrd wondered aloud, “but that is definitely something that’s … it’s almost like, if you can’t do it one way, you can do it a different way. How hypocritical is that? I think the digital age is pretty hypocritical.”
Then a guest, spotting Ms. Byrd and her date in proximity to Mr. and Mrs. Dan Rather, decided to introduce them. Mr. Rather, looking unsure as to who the frisky, middle-aged blonde was, kissed her on the cheek anyway. A photographer, sensing a moment, called out, “How ’bout a picture?!” and rammed the foursome together. Ms. Byrd flashed one of her outrageously huge smiles, while Rather, trying to be accommodating, was clearly befuddled by this strange new age indeed.