Henry the K Loves O
The Literacy Partners cocktail party at Le Cirque 2000 on March 28 was slogging along on a damp mixture of limp handshakes, soggy crabcakes and Dewar’s when a young woman in black exclaimed: “Whoa! Isn’t that, like, um, the evilest man on Earth?”
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had walked into the room, looking like he’d recovered nicely from the heart attack that hospitalized him last October. In March, Mr. Kissinger looked a little stiff when he’d appeared on David Letterman to tick off, in his ominous patois, “The Top 10 Favorite Elementary School Excuse Notes.” (No. 1: “Tommy wasn’t in school yesterday because he thought it was Saturday.”) But in the familiar environs of Le Cirque, he seemed primed for the block-and-jab of New York cocktail banter.
“I begged him on my knees to let me do it,” Mr. Kissinger deadpanned when The Transom asked how he had landed on The Late Show . Then he added that, actually, “They called me .”
So did he feel at any point during his appearance that the joke was on him? (This was the man, after all, who had to explain away our behavior in Vietnam.) To this, Mr. Kissinger replied: “Why would they make fun?”
No one at Le Cirque seemed to be laughing at Mr. Kissinger. Nor was there a whisper of Christopher Hitchens’ 21,297-word indictment, “The Case Against Henry Kissinger,” in the February and March issues of Harper’s . On the contrary, many of the guests–which included Liz Smith, Joan Ganz Cooney and Brooke Astor–seemed happy to be in the same room with him. “I think you’re just fascinating,” a tall, slender lady told him. “I read a biography of Richard Nixon.” The ageless Mike Wallace, who arrived after Mr. Kissinger, spoke soberly to him about the Balkan quagmire. And several young women wanted a photo with him, including nubile Jillian Parry, Miss Teen U.S.A. 2000 (and a big supporter of literacy). “I think he’s amazing. All he’s accomplished–it all has to do with his brain,” Ms. Parry said later. “I think dynamic, controversial figures are great because they took a stand.”
Eventually, Mr. Kissinger made his way to Gayle King, the very close friend of Oprah Winfrey and editor-at-large at O magazine. “I’m a great fan of Oprah, you know,” he told The Transom. (And we had him figured for a Baywatch man.) But that didn’t mean he was an O -bsessive. “Well, I don’t watch her show,” he admitted. “The afternoon’s a bad time for me. But I went to her house for dinner.” Mr. Kissinger even spoke as a guest lecturer for the course that Ms. Winfrey taught at Northwestern University. And when Mr. Kissinger was in the hospital, Ms. Winfrey apparently tried–but failed–to visit him. “Oprah wanted to come see me,” he said. “But they said, ‘Absolutely not.’ Security was too tight.”
Ms. King and Mr. Kissinger talked for a good five minutes. She asked about his health. He said he was fine. Then it was time to move on. Mr. Kissinger grinned at Ms. King. “Give my love to Oprah!” he said.
Women of Substance
It’s no wonder that the tiny, tawny Hilton sisters, Paris and Nicky, were in and out of the Bridget Jones’s Diary premiere party in under five minutes. The April 2 event was a fête for substantial women: grown-ups who know how to celebrate their own weaknesses–food, cigarettes, booze and sex–with gusto.
The broads at the very beige Henri Bendel-sponsored soirée at the Altman building weren’t even intimidated by imposing Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein. When he attempted to give a brief post-premiere speech at a microphone that had been set up in the back of the room, no one shut up. Mr. Weinstein gave it the old college try, but surrendered after just a few words. With a shrug and a laugh, he returned to the boozy throng that had just come from a movie framed by British singleton Bridget Jones’ own public-speaking disasters.
Renée Zellweger, so perfectly imperfect in the film, had shaved off the extra 15 pounds she’d gained for the role and seemed to disappear into her Texas accent and a minuscule fur-trimmed coat. She looked slightly skittish, as if she feared getting crushed by the high-spirited group that surrounded her, and which included the brassy creator of her character, London journalist Helen Fielding.
Ms. Fielding and Ms. Zellweger embraced–which, because of the author’s silver, strappy, mega-spiked heels, required the 30-year-old actress to stand on tip-toes. Ms. Zellweger remained on point while Ms. Fielding spoke into her ear. After the exchange, the actress, looking a little fatigued, slid into a chair next to some friends, while the curvaceous Ms. Fielding took to the dance floor, getting down–with no self-consciousness and minimal balance issues–to Geri Halliwell’s cover of “It’s Raining Men.”
On the other side of the room, Talk editor-in-chief Tina Brown, in a black cocktail dress, steered her leprechaun-esque husband, publisher Harry Evans, around the party with her arm draped over his shoulders. Copies of Talk ‘s May issue, which will feature Bridget Jones’s co-star Hugh Grant on its cover, were strategically strewn throughout the room.
Ms. Brown’s earliest incarnation could well have been the prototype for young, single, British career girl Bridget Jones. She wrote for (and eventually edited) the London tabloid Tatler and penned a book called Life as a Party . On Monday night, Ms. Brown laughed at the vision of her younger self as the ur -Bridget, but conceded that she “identified totally” with the character. “I was what Private Eye described as a ‘hack-ette,'” Ms. Brown said. “And I was always the girl who was completely obsessed with trying to lose 10 pounds and get the boy who was cool. And I so wasn’t cool.” Ms. Brown laughed again and grabbed Mr. Evans by the hand.
Ms. Fielding took a breather from the dance floor and pulled up some couch space. In the light, she looked like a dead ringer for Ms. Brown. “I think quite a lot of her. She’s very good at parties,” Ms. Fielding said of her professional forebear. Would Bridget have existed had there never been a Tina? “Well, it’s funny,” said Ms. Fielding, “I remember reading her in The Sunday Times , and I remember a diary where she referred to herself as ‘Tina, the frizzy-haired fart,’ so maybe that was sort of an omen.”
As for the sticky question of her protagonist’s figure, Ms. Fielding noted that “in the book, I never say how tall she is, so you never know whether or not she’s overweight.” And despite Ms. Zellweger’s loud and frequent discussions of what a cow she became for the role, Ms. Fielding correctly pointed out that in the film, Ms. Zellweger is “the size of a normal woman. In some shots she looks fabulous, and in some she looks ordinary. And you know, that’s actually how life is.”
It was midnight, and Ms. Fielding was about to head out into the night. She stopped to hug and kiss Bridget Jones’s director, Sharon Maguire, who has been a friend since 1989, and on whom Ms. Fielding based the character Shazzer in the book. ” Loosely based,” the director stressed, after Ms. Fielding had shimmied away. “The swearing, drinking feminist was loosely based on me.” Ms. Maguire was dressed in a Dolce & Gabbana backless dress that made Gillian Anderson’s thong-baring Oscar choice look spinsterish. As for how her life has changed since it was originally chronicled in Ms. Fielding’s weekly column, Ms. Maguire threw her head back and laughed. “Well, I’m not single anymore,” she said. “But I’m still overweight, and I still wear big panties.”
Isn’t It Rich?
A little past 8 p.m. on the evening of March 28, a ruckus erupted at the door of the Gracie Mansion Gallery on West 27th Street as Denise Rich and her daughters, Ilona, 33, and Daniella, 25, decided to try their flashbulb-lit entrance to Ilona’s debut fashion-art show a second time. The re-enactment was carried out with equal verve. “She faked an entrance! I can’t believe it!” shrieked an incredulous innocent in the crowd.
“We love you, Denise! We love you!” hollered a man wearing a windbreaker with “Chavez Drywall Inc.” scrawled on the back.
The Rich women made their way through Ilona’s Day-Glo menagerie of striped ducks and poodles, passing the Candyland-on-acid runway where the Hilton sisters would soon strut in Ilona’s clothes, and disappeared into the mouth of one of the childlike “characters” that led backstage. The cocktail party picked up where it had left off.
“I’m the husband. I’ll give you a good quote!” Ilona’s husband, Kenny Schachter, offered The Transom as models with four-foot-high bouffants made from porcelain, plastic and sand and attached with harnesses made their way to the bar. “I think Ilona is a mix between Damien Hirst and Alexander McQueen! There you go!” the self-described “curator, writer, loser” pronounced, sounding quite pleased with the sound bite he proceeded to recycle for other reporters as the evening went on.
“We feel [Denise Rich] is under a lot of pressure by unfriendly forces in the geo-political world,” proclaimed Simon Cerigo, the man in the Chavez Drywall jacket who was standing next to his friend, Mr. Schachter. “We–as artists, as supporters of her son-in-law and daughter–support her. I’m not being presumptuous in assuming the depths of her hardships ….”
“Don’t listen! It’s bullshit!” Mr. Schachter laughed as he clamped his hands over The Transom’s ears. But after the husband had drifted away, Mr. Cerigo went on. “From what I understand, they think it’s wonderful,” he said of Mr. and Mrs. Schachter’s reaction to the blitzkrieg of press the Rich family has experienced lately. “The political implications and other implications might be another issue, but … they’re both New Yorkers, and I’m sure they’re soaking in [the press attention] and they love it. It’s good.”
Ms. Rich wasn’t as candid when speaking of the impact her presence in the press has had on her daughter’s success, but she did concede that there was a silver lining. “I think it’s always a blessing in disguise, because you turn to creativity,” said Ms. Rich, who added that she always encouraged creativity in her children “just by telling them that they could be whatever they wanted to be, and that they should go for it.” Watching the ensuing parade of quilted hoop skirts, calico bonnets and cartoonish Styrofoam wigs and taking in the freaked-out art (a 10-foot-tall green girl on roller-skates drooling soap suds, a six-legged goose), there was no doubt that Ilona was not fighting the feeling. “And she’s gone for it!!!” Ms. Rich screeched over the din.
Ilona herself, despite her happy fuchsia blazer, calico tunic and gold scarf, seemed drained by the festivities. Perhaps it was the pandemonium or the flu she was suffering from, but Ilona seemed less than certain as to how all the recent attention has affected her nascent career as the designer of the label Size 6. “Well, I don’t really know yet,” she told The Transom. “Because, I don’t know … I don’t know ….” she trailed off. With the help of a nearby handler who was shaking her head, Ilona concluded that no, the recent media blitz had probably not had much of an impact.
By 10:20, the models’ hair sculptures lay upside-down and cracked in a corner. Two men were removing the childlike scrawl over the runway entrance that spelled out “Ilona Rich.” Letter by letter, they pulled down the name and put the pieces into a box before disappearing into the mouth of Ilona Rich’s yawning character.
– Beth Broome