About halfway through songwriter Denise Rich’s annual Angel Ball on Nov. 30, a black-tie-clad civilian looked out at the crowd that had gathered in the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Hotel. “I can’t believe Keith Hernandez is in the same room with Queen Noor,” he said.
The night was like that, an assemblage of boldface-able names from the heights, the dregs and the great middle of fame. Some, like the Mets beloved former first baseman, were local celebrities. Others, like the monarch of Jordan, were international in their notoriety. But they were there for Ms. Rich: acting couple Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Lance from ‘NSync, actors Robert De Niro and Gabriel Byrne, talk-show hosts Montel Williams and Larry King, singers Marc Anthony and Michael Jackson, Sex and the City star Kim Catrall and sexologist Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
And there, at the head table–like a rich, salty dollop of caviar on top of the whole affair–was the President of the United States, the most sought-after dinner guest in the world, with his wife, Senator-elect Hillary Clinton.
Before the night was over, Mr. Clinton would give a speech, Mr. Anthony would perform, Mr. King would M.C. and Mr. Jackson and Queen Noor would receive awards. Everyone, including the President, would watch a five-minute infomercial from a pharmaceutical company that helped fund the event.
The whole thing was over the top, but if you consider what led Ms. Rich to start the Angel Ball and the G&P Foundation, which it funds, you can at least understand a large part of her motivation. In 1996, Ms. Rich’s daughter Gabrielle Rich Aouad died, after a long fight with leukemia, at age 27. On her deathbed, Aouad made her mother promise to start a foundation for cancer research. “It sounds like a movie, but it’s true,” said Ms. Rich’s spokesman, Bobby Zarem.
Ms. Rich’s life has often read like a movie. She has made a mint writing songs for such divas as Celine Dion, Diana Ross and Donna Summer. She’s also been embroiled in plenty of controversy. Her ex-husband, Marc Rich, fled to Switzerland in 1983 so he wouldn’t have to face charges of tax evasion (he owes more than $50 million).
How Ms. Rich got Mr. Clinton to attend her Angel Ball–for the second time–has been the object of much speculation. Ms. Rich has given almost $600,000 in soft money to the Democratic cause, as a recent item in the New York Post ‘s Page Six noted, but speaking to The Transom, Ms. Rich denied that that was the reason. She said, rather, that the President’s sense of compassion is “incredible.” She remembered him telling her once that “the worst thing is to lose a child.” And she added: “He had lost his mother to cancer. I think he felt a connection.”
Added Mr. Zarem: “One can’t say that she gave the President x number of dollars and he came to this. I got Denise involved with the President eight and a half years ago. She didn’t know then that her daughter was going to die from leukemia.
Indeed, when noting the cross-section of guests who attended the event, where the cost of a table ranged from $12,500 to $100,000, Ms. Rich said; “Everybody … they all had someone they lost.”
At 7:30 p.m. on the night of the Angel Ball, 2,200 guests converged on the Marriott Marquis’ cavernous sixth-floor main banquet room. The usual event tables were beautified by an ice block festooned with flowers and gold boxes holding truffles. Taking up his M.C. duties, Mr. King announced that one of them contained a certificate for a heart-shaped one-karat diamond.
The hearts motif ran throughout the evening. Each place was set with a 3-D temporary pink tattoo in the shape of a heart.
After dinner, Mr. King took the floor again and made a joke about “President-elect George W. Gore.” Then he introduced a video about the life of Ms. Rich’s daughter, Gabrielle. This was followed by an ‘NSync video that led into a filmed hagiography of Queen Noor, which was followed by a pre-filmed award acceptance speech by a teary-eyed Mikhail Gorbachev, who couldn’t make the event.
Next came a five-minute-long commercial for Novartis, a multibillion-dollar Swiss pharmaceuticals company that has developed an experimental drug which may help fight leukemia. The drug has yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in New York. Ms. Rich said only that Novartis was an “incredible” company that “supported us for the research we’re doing for leukemia.” Ms. Rich’s assistant also told The Transom that Novartis was the largest donor of the evening. He said that the grant exceeded $100,000, but then explained that he could not comment further.
When the lights came up, the speeches began, and most of them mentioned angels in one way or another. Gabriel Byrne read the lyrics to a song by Annie Lennox. Even so, he looked positively depressed; he’d earlier told The Transom he was “stressed.”
When the skeletal and slightly green-looking Mr. Jackson came up to accept his award, he whispered a tribute to the President: “Thank you for your years of service to the American people,” he said. “You’ve been an incredible President.”
Mr. Clinton later reciprocated by calling Mr. Jackson a “genius” at a special podium in the middle of the stage, marked with the seal of the President. He managed to be both cocky and self-deprecating at once. “I am not a very good story,” he said to reporters, as he bragged about lowering the cancer death rate in the United States. “You should be down in Florida doing interviews tonight.” He also goaded Mr. King for trying to “hit me up for an exit interview.” It’s about the only exit interview that Mr. Clinton hasn’t done.
After actress Jane Seymour helped to auction off some big-ticket items like a walk-on part in an Ally McBeal episode, it was finally time for some music. Patti LaBelle sang powerfully in front of a gospel choir, SheDaisy did a country number and Natalie Cole sang a tune she wrote with Ms. Rich.
The evening culminated with Mr. Anthony’s energetic performance of hits like “You Sang to Me” and “I Need To Know.” He looked a little like Sinatra crooning in his tux. When he finished, a wave of partyers rushed the stage. By then, the Clintons, Mr. De Niro, Mr. Jackson, Ms. Hawn and Mr. Russell had left the building. But Dr. Ruth was there. She had felt the love. And more importantly, she had gotten what she’d come for: a picture with the President .
Dumb and Dumber
“Do we look stupid?” Virgin Airlines owner Richard Branson asked the crowd. He didn’t wait for an answer. “Yes!” he replied.
On Nov. 28, Mr. Branson had rolled up to the premiere of Miramax’s remastered re-release of the Beatles’ classic movie, A Hard Day’s Night, on a sort of homecoming float. Mounted on the rolling stage were a bunch of plane seats that Virgin was trying to promote. But no one was paying attention to them. They were all looking at Mr. Branson, who was dressed in a mod wig and Snoopy sunglasses and flanked by crimson-clad stewardesses.
At least Mr. Branson wasn’t kidding himself.
When the film was over, the crowd headed over to Centro-Fly, where The Transom recounted a line from the movie where a style baron tells George Harrison, “The new thing’s to act passionate and be right-wing.”
During the after-party, at Centro-Fly on 21st Street, The Transom asked Mr. Branson if that sentiment was still “the thing.”
“To be passionate or right-wing?” he asked.
No, passionate and right-wing, The Transom responded.
“Well, which one would you prefer?” Mr. Branson said. Then he gave us the old leering Monty Python wink-wink, nudge-nudge stare. “Hmmm,” he said. “Looking at you, I’d say passionate.”
Mr. Branson was beginning to scare us, so we headed over to the part of the club where Saturday Night Live ‘s Jimmy Fallon and rocker/Soprano Steve Van Zandt were having a conversation.
Mr. Fallon was clean-cut and a little generic-looking next to Mr. Van Zandt, who was dressed in his usual gypsy-chic tunic, sunglasses and do-rag. He had an Ohm ring on his pinkie. The two men were roasting ABC’s recent Beatles special. “At least you got to find out what Tim Allen thinks about the Beatles,” a guy next to Mr. Fallon said.
” Tim Allen ?” said Mr. Fallon, as if he were convinced the world had gone to hell. “I mean, who the fuck cares!”
Suddenly Mr. Van Zandt cocked his ear and got a Sopranos look on his face. “How much?” he said. “How much do I have to pay this guy to play only Beatles?” The D.J. was diluting his Beatles playlist with way too many dance tunes for Mr. Van Zandt’s taste, and as this was a party in honor of a Beatles movie, he was determined to do something about it.
He got out of his seat and walked over to the D.J.’s alcove. “Hey, Mr. D.J.! Hey, Mr. D.J.!” he shouted. No answer. So Mr. Van Zandt opened the door to Mr. D.J.’s room and disappeared for a few minutes. When he came out again, Mr. Van Zandt sighed: “He said he’s gonna play half and half.” Why? “I don’t know,” he said with a scowl. “He said he was instructed to go back and forth. I’m going to find Branson.” Indeed, Mr. Van Zandt tracked Mr. Branson down. But before he could put a rocket in the mogul’s pocket, Mr. Branson got dragged off to do a photo op with some people sitting in the new plane seats. “Oh, well,” Mr. Van Zandt said. “I don’t know what their problem is.” And he plopped himself down next to Mr. Fallon once again.
Meanwhile, The Transom spotted a sweet, blond Village Voice reporter hitting on Jared Harris, who played John Lennon in VH1′s original movie, Two of Us . Mr. Harris brusquely dispatched the blonde, but he did make some time for The Transom. What was it like for him to play the greatest rock star ever? “Impossible!” Mr. Harris ejaculated in his cockney patois. “But remember, I wasn’t playing John Lennon. I was playing a writer’s conception of John Lennon. You see, he’d already been interpreted.”
It was time to leave. As The Transom was waiting in line for his coat, the Voice reporter decided to give Mr. Harris another shot–a remastered performance, if you will. Had she more success the second time round? “He blew me off. Again! Then, she said: “What’s with all the Madonna?”
The Transom Also Hears….
… Hollywood’s a young man’s game, and at the Dec. 4 post-premiere party for Miramax’s Chocolat , it was hard to tell who was giving off the most youthful vibes: the film’s 84-year-old producer David Brown, who seemed to be sporting those spikey B-Boy sideburns that look like the racing stripe on Starsky & Hutch’s Torino, or 66-year-old director and actor Sydney Pollack, who we could have sworn finished a conversation with Mr. Brown by calling the producer “dude.” – Frank DiGiacomo
… Further proof that the world has irrevocably changed: On Nov. 30, Mr. Metal Machine Music , Lou Reed, was moping his way through Diane von Furstenberg’s party fo r Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and the magazine’s coffee-table book, Vanity Fair’s Hollywood , when he realized he had passed Mr. Carter without paying homage. Mr. Reed not only backtracked to make sure that Mr. Carter acknowledged him, he even mustered a smile.