With New York a Celebrity Ghost Town, It’s the Season of the B-list

Life During Wartime

The Amazing Kreskin was running loose. On Nov. 5, the 66-year-old

mentalist had broken free from his Howard Rubenstein publicist and was zooming

around Suite 16, a nightclub on Eighth Avenue and 16th Street, greeting people

by either delivering a bone-bruising whack to their backs or shaking their

hands like he was working a rusty well pump.

“I think I need to read these ladies’ minds!” Mr. Kreskin yelled

as he lurched toward a small group of attractive young women who were seated at

the back of the club. He was dressed to impress in a dark sport jacket over a

matching incandescent yellow silk shirt and tie. His graying hair was parted on

the side, and he wore big chunky glasses.

But then he looked over at The Transom, who was sitting at an

adjacent table, waiting to interview him.

“A little later,” the mentalist said to the women as he made a

beeline for the tape recorder.

These are heady times for

entertainers like the Amazing Kreskin. For whatever reason-terrorism, anthrax

or general spinelessness-America’s A-list celebrities just don’t seem

interested in attending New York premieres, store openings and benefits.

But where Jennifer Lopez and Drew Barrymore see risk, hard-bitten

entertainers like Mr. Kreskin, Barry Manilow, Susan Lucci and others-who long

ago dropped off the A-list, or never made it in the first place-see

opportunity.

These show-business lifers

have found themselves in a city where, suddenly, free drinks with a man who

bills himself as “The Original Mastermind” qualified as an eminently coverable

media event in what was once the peak social month of November. And they

were more than willing to pick up the slack.

Their ideas about sleekness may be more at home in Vegas than

Hollywood, but the 24/7 brand of show business they practice requires an iron

constitution that comes in handy when the better-styled are heading for their

safe rooms. And in moments of crisis, their penchant for big, emotive numbers

and old-fashioned parlor tricks works like the entertainment equivalent of

comfort food.

On Nov. 5, Manhattan was like a big bowl of Kraft Macaroni &

Cheese, with Mr. Kreskin plugging his new book, The Amazing Kreskin’s Future with the Stars , at Suite 16 and Mr.

Manilow performing at both the Hammerstein Ballroom and Carnegie Hall with a

cast of characters that included Chevy Chase, Ms. Lucci and former porn star

Jack Wrangler.

Off the Wall

Over at Mr. Kreskin’s party, the mentalist’s publicists had taped

up a sheet of predictions that he had allegedly made on CNN at the beginning of

the year. Among them: “There will be at least two major airline tragedies by

September or early October,” and that the Yankees would not win the World

Series.

For his book, Mr. Kreskin had

gotten some help on the prognostication front. The Amazing Kreskin’s Future with the Stars attempts to ask a

number of celebrities and professionals, including actor Tom Hanks, former

special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, conductor Skitch Henderson and Son of Sam

killer David Berkowitz, to make predictions about the futures of their various

professions.

As a result, it seems destined to become a cult classic, along

the lines of Robert Evans’ audio-book reading of his own memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture.

In Mr. Kreskin’s book, the comedian Roseanne is asked, “In the

next millennium, what will be the main TV-delivery mechanism?” Her reply: “Are

you on drugs?” Mr. Berkowitz predicts that tens of thousands of prison inmates

will “suddenly disappear” when God whisks them to heaven.

And Howard Stern forecasts that Mr. Kreskin “will shake hands so

hard with a biker that he will beat the crap out of you.” That one seems

destined to come true.

The cover of the book proclaims Mr. Kreskin “the Nostradamus of

the 21st Century!” But when The Transom asked the mentalist if that was true,

he replied, “Yeah, but he was flaky.”

Mr. Kreskin fidgeted in his seat.

So what were his predictions about the future of celebrity? we

asked.

“Can I be honest about that?” he replied. “I just toured Canada

last week for two weeks. Nobody pretty much cares about-what was his name?-Gary

Condit. Nobody cares about whether a scoutmaster is gay or not gay.

“Who in God’s name!” the mentalist yelled, startling a group of

people at the bar. “People are going to start having priorities, maybe breaking

down fences around their houses, using porches, which were used in the days of

no air conditioning when people spent time outside and visited.”

What?  

The mentalist seemed to sense that he had gone astray. “The

important thing of the celebrity will be going back to the Second World War and

how important the comedians, the performers that dealt with fantasy, took

people’s minds.”

Mr. Kreskin didn’t seem to think that sentence needed correcting.

“I think the climate has changed,” Mr. Kreskin said rapidly, as

someone put what looked like a caffeinated drink on the table in front of him.

“Celebrity is great, but in the whole scope of things, it has a different

position.

“My uncle was a fireman 18

years. And I have been to more fires on fire trucks as a kid. I know every

part. I could take you on a fire truck and say, ‘Let’s sit here,’ and we’d

have, not a great time, but an exciting time.”

Mr. Kreskin stopped himself. “I’m sorry if I get off the wall,

but that’s my nature!” he said as he started whacking The Transom repeatedly on

the back.

So we asked Mr. Kreskin if he saw this moment, when a lot of

other celebrities were running scared, as a time to shine?

“It’s ironic you bring up

what you said to me, because this has been discussed with me,” Mr. Kreskin

said. He alluded to an “inspiring” but mysterious meeting with Secretary of

State Colin Powell.  I’ve got to do it in

my own way. I just can’t cheapen-I don’t want to take advantage of what’s

happened. I want to make this a positive opportunity for all of us to be

greater than ever.”

Manilow’s Mitzvah

Further uptown, at the Hammerstein Ballroom, comedian Chevy Chase

was trying his best to make “WorldTrAID911″-a benefit for the children who lost

parents in the terrorist attack of Sept. 11-a positive experience for himself.

“That was the worst applause

I’ve ever gotten,” Mr. Chase told the crowd, which was remarkably sparse given

the cause. (The top two levels of the Hammerstein Ballroom were almost

completely empty.) But the show went on, with Mr. Chase introducing the evening’s

“surprise guest,” Barry Manilow.

“I just thought I’d stop by to say hello,” Mr. Manilow said as he

stood at his piano, his spiky, highlighted hair looking darker than usual. He

was late for another benefit at Carnegie Hall that night, but hell-when

newspapers are declaring that the age of irony is over, guys like Mr. Manilow

know they’ve got to make hay while the sun of sincerity shines.

“I’m going to do a song that speaks to me and moves me,” Mr.

Manilow said. “I wrote this song for my very first album that I recorded, back

in 1821.” The crowd tittered, then Mr. Manilow tinkled the ivories and sang “I

Am Your Child,” followed by a rousing, a cappella version of “One Voice.”

The crowd cheered. “I’m getting a mitzvah!” Mr. Manilow said.

Mr. Chase could have used some of Mr. Manilow’s showbiz polish.

He did the same joke twice-“Where is the money going? It’s going to me”-and

more than once mentioned the “stupid” questions that reporters had asked him

before the show.  (“Is it safe to laugh?”

was his favorite.) And on a number of occasions, after leaving his stack of

note cards backstage, he seemed lost.

The stately, plump Colin Quinn fared a little better. Referring

to the Northern Alliance rebels, Mr. Quinn said: “There’s nothing like going

into battle with guys on horseback. We may lose the battle, but we hit the

Triple.” But Mr. Quinn seemed to bog down with a joke that attempted to compare

New York fire chief Thomas von Essen to fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger.  “Whoops,” he said mid-joke to the

firefighters in the audience. “You guys hate him. I’m not going to do that

one.”

Mostly, things were pretty sincere. A children’s choir did “New

York, New York.”  Comedian Denis Leary,

who used to tell a great joke involving Mr. Manilow, a fan and bondage, thanked

the rescue workers in the audience.

But Jamie-Lynn Sigler, co-star of The Sopranos and a budding pop star, reenergized the evening with

her surreal, chest-heaving performance of her single, “Cry Baby.” With one

shoulder and her midriff bare, Ms. Sigler gave a Minnelli-class performance of

the tune, singing: “You can cry cry, baby, all you want / You can try try, but

I’m gonna tell you to stop.” 

The Joy of the Prostate

Long before Mr. Manilow took the stage at Carnegie Hall, New York

Pops conductor and The Amazing Kreskin’s

Future with the Stars contributor Skitch Henderson led the orchestra

through “That Old Black Magic,” with All

My Children diva Susan Lucci on vocals.

Clad in a red reflective sheath that looked like it could survive

reentry into the earth’s atmosphere, Ms. Lucci was giving her all at the Lauri

Strauss Leukemia Foundation Benefit Concert. Organized long before the events

of Sept. 11, the event, titled “Accentuate the Positive,” was billed as a

tribute to the music of Johnny Mercer.

But for her next song, Ms. Lucci attempted something a little

more personal. “I know what you’re wondering,” she told the crowd. “You want to

know, ‘How did it feel to be nominated for an Emmy all those times and never

win?'”

The white-haired crowd, many

of whom didn’t seem well versed in the saga of Ms. Lucci’s 19-year Emmy losing

streak, stared blankly-but, undeterred, the actress slipped into “Winning Isn’t

Everything,” a song written for her by Marvin Hamlisch, about her suffering at

the hands of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

“Me, I’m doing fine,” she sang. “Seated on the aisle / I’ll lose

and then I’ll smile.” And then, like some audio defibrillator, the Carnegie

Hall sound system cut to the actual voice clip of soap actor Shemar Moore

shrieking: “The streak is broken! The Emmy goes to Susan Lucci!”

The stunned crowd applauded politely as Ms. Lucci trundled

offstage-where, according to a witness, the actor John Davidson was running

around like a madman.

Next came Friars Club dean

Freddie Roman, who addressed “the young men in this room who do not yet know

the joy of the prostate.” Most of the crowd seemed well acquainted with the

prostate and loved the joke.

“I pee like a stutterer

talks!” the Vulcanesque Mr. Roman blurted out to whooping laughter.

After Monica Mancini

performed “Moon River,” the song that her father, Henry Mancini, co-wrote with

Mercer, Jack Wrangler, the former gay porn star and monologist, introduced his

77-year-old wife, Margaret Whiting, who sang “Hooray for Hollywood”-a song that

her father, Richard Whiting, co-wrote with Mercer. Ms. Whiting added a verse of

her own: “Hooray for royalties / It seems that money grows on trees.”

When Mr. Manilow finally did take the stage around 10 p.m., the

Carnegie Hall crowd went nuts.

“We love you!” shouted one woman from the balcony as Mr. Manilow

concluded his first number, “Daybreak,” which included the lyric “It’s daybreak

/ Ain’t no time to grieve!” The audience clapped and swayed, and Mr. Manilow

shouted, “Hello, New York!”

Mr. Manilow introduced his

next number as “I Am Your Child.” He’d written it for his very first album, he

said, which he’d recorded “in 1821.”

Again, the crowd cheered. Mr. Manilow beamed at the Carnegie Hall

crowd. “I’m getting a mitzvah!” he said .

-Frank DiGiacomo, Ian Blecher

& Rebecca Traister