On the evening of March 22, Mikhail Gorbachev, his translator and a couple of bodyguards trampled into a rococo press room at the Plaza Hotel. Mr. Gorbachev was there to accept an award from the Bone Marrow Foundation, a cancer charity.
Despite his enthusiasm for curing cancer-which took his wife, Raisa, in 1999-and despite the flashbulbs brightening his pate, Mr. Gorbachev, recently 71, looked sallow and unhappy. The spot on his head seemed dimmer than the burgundy splotch that stood for perestroika in the 1980’s. With his apparatchik tummy and rumpled suit, Mr. Gorbachev looked more like Soviet interior minister Nikolai Shchelokov circa 1983 than the man who made glasnost chic in the Western capitals and in Leningrad.
Still, Mr. Gorbachev is much in demand in this city. When he got to the press room that night, Bob Wright, the chief executive of NBC, gave Mr. Gorbachev a hearty hello and a big SALT II handshake. Mr. Wright was there to accept his own award and memorialize Brandon Tartikoff, the vibrant, television-loving NBC president who died of Hodgkin’s disease at 48 in 1997.
In spite of the somber events that brought them together, Mr. Wright’s network was able to use the opportunity to get Mr. Gorbachev on Ron Insana’s CNBC program that afternoon.
“I thought the interview was very good,” Mr. Gorbachev said, through a translator. “The questions, they were very good.”
“They’re going to edit it and mix up all the words so it comes out poorly,” Mr. Wright deadpanned.
“I know all about it,” Mr. Gorbachev’s interpreter replied.
Actually, Mr. Insana had given Mr. Gorbachev a pretty easy time. Introducing his guest, he said that when Mr. Gorbachev had “assumed the role of General Secretary”-of the Communist Party, in 1985-“he took control of a system wrought with corruption and scandal, and a country plagued by a stagnant economy. But by the time he left power and Yeltsin took control, he’d become one of the greatest reformers in Russian history.” Mr. Insana credited Mr. Gorbachev with allowing “the citizens of the Soviet Union to feel more comfortable voicing their opposition to bureaucracy” as well as with reaching out to the West. He didn’t mention the inglorious end of Mr. Gorbachev’s reign, or how he kind of handed the country to the K.G.B. and the Russian mafia.
On the other hand, Mr. Gorbachev didn’t bring up the Jack-Welch-at-the- Harvard-Business-Review affair.
In spite of the Pravda treatment he’d received, Mr. Gorbachev said he was embarrassed to see himself on TV. “When I looked at myself on the screen,” he said, still through the interpreter, “the interviewer was a very slim young man. Then there was Gorbachev. Every day I look more and more like Churchill in terms of being enormous.”
“No!” said Sue Herera, Mr. Insana’s CNBC co-host, who was standing nearby. “Just an enormous presence.”
Ha-ha-ha. Good one, comrade!
When the photographers were done setting up various tableaux of Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Wright, comedian Richard Belzer and the CNBC gang, Mr. Gorbachev tried to steal away to the cocktail party below. “Just one more photo!” someone barked at him. “Stand there!” Since Mr. Gorbachev didn’t seem to understand, these directions were underscored by flailing and pointing.
“Don’t order me around!” Mr. Gorbachev said gravely, and kept walking. He then said something that was not translated and gave in. “I’ll do it,” said the former president. When he was finally allowed to leave, Mr. Gorbachev settled into a corner table at the cocktail party in the apparent hope of being left alone. When a mob of well-dressed well-wishers besieged him, Mr. Wright anxiously ran over to the event’s organizers. “Gorbachev’s in the corner!” he said. “You have to do something!”
He zoomed back into the party, where he met an NBC reporter.
“Gorbachev’s in the corner!” he said. “He’s being attacked! Someone has to do something!”
But there was nothing anyone could do. If the Soviet Union had still been up and running, perhaps. But as it was, Mr. Gorbachev had to sign autographs and exchange pleasantries for 20 minutes.
– Ian Blecher
Way Far East at Elaine’s
David Spade was itching to get up and move around Elaine’s on Sunday, March 24. He was seated three tables inside the door of the Upper East Side saloon, which was hosting its eighth annual Oscar party in conjunction with Entertainment Weekly . Mr. Spade had been bothered by a large blowup of the Entertainment Weekly Oscar cover, which was hung behind his head and prevented him from leaning back in his chair.
So he got up and entered the maw of the pre-broadcast cocktail party. Wearing a fitted button-down shirt that looked to be made of faux denim, Mr. Spade exuded some inner turmoil-at odds with each other, a macho four-day stubble covered his face while his elvish, flaxen locks hung below his ears.
“David!” shouted Law & Order SVU ‘s Richard Belzer (he’s back! Reader, check out the previous item to see why many believe Mr. Belzer is at the core of a secret worldwide power conspiracy) from a table deeper in the room. Now Mr. Belzer sported sunglasses, and he didn’t bother to stand up to shake Mr. Spade’s hand .
“Yeah, y’know, I don’t have time to talk. I’m in the middle of like 10 things,” Mr. Spade said in his laugh-track drawl, pretending to shoulder off toward the men’s room.
The regal Mr. Belzer, probably still thinking of his afternoon with Mr. Gorbachev, made as if he was cracking up.
“I’ve never been to Elaine’s before,” Mr. Spade shouted, as Sex and the City ‘s Chris Noth was shoved against his back in a crowd swell.
“Well, here it is in all its glory,” said Law & Order SVU ‘s Dann Florek, seated next to Mr. Belzer, waving his hand at the mob. “And the food’s worse!”
As on other Academy Awards evenings in New York, there was something slightly forlorn about the crowd huddled together for warmth at Elaine’s-to extend the Russian motif of this column, almost like Romanoffs in Siberia, watching events in St. Petersburg from afar. Mr. Spade was perhaps the biggest star at Sunday night’s party, but the place was spilling over, much like Uma Thurman’s breasts, though there were more than two partygoers.
As the milling journalists, Time Inc. suits and Law & Order stars got increasingly lubed before dinner, feminist writer Nancy Friday searched for her seat. The very tall blonde jostled her way toward her table, and was so relieved to get there that she didn’t blink when Variety reporter Charles Lyons asked whether she worked for Time Inc., which publishes Entertainment Weekly .
“I sleep with Time,” said Ms. Friday with a grin.
“She does sleep with Time ,” said her dark-haired companion, who had just made his way to her side. If this had been a sitcom, there would have been electronic applause at this line. He extended a hand toward Mr. Lyons.
“My name is Norman Pearlstine,” he said.
Mr. Lyons looked perplexed by this information.
“He’s the editor in chief,” said Ms. Friday quickly.
Mr. Lyons, either in confusion, deafness or a passive-aggressive sense of mission, asked Mr. Pearlstine to spell his name.
“You know what?” Mr. Pearlstine said. “I’ll spell if for you later, O.K.?” He headed off.
Fame and Obscurity author Gay Talese, wearing a red-and-white-striped shirt, yellow tie and blue suit jacket, was at a table with Mr. Pearlstine, Ms. Friday and erotic film star Candida Royale, waving a martini glass empty except for a stub of lemon.
“I’ve drunk 933,000 martinis in this place,” said Mr. Talese. “I am the Cal Ripken of martinis.”
Of Ms. Kaufman-who was circulating and, like Mr. Belzer, wearing sunglasses-he said: “She is the only restaurant owner in this city who has ever read a book!”
At the next table was Law & Order SVU cast member Mariska Hargitay, who corrected everyone who said hello with a smiling but firm “Mari sh ka.” Ms. Hargitay, in a floral strappy sundress, was with her friend Katie Brown, host of Next Door with Katie Brown who, in a white cotton T-shirt, looked like a teeny version of MTV’s ur- V.J. Martha Quinn.
“That’s our girl,” said Ms. Brown, pointing to the screen at actress Marisa Tomei, who was nominated for best supporting actress for In The Bedroom . Ms. Hargitay and Ms. Brown had vacationed in Italy with Ms. Tomei over the summer.
Ms. Brown shushed the table so that she could hear what her “husband” Owen Wilson said when he walked by the cameras.
“He is too much- look at him!” she shrieked.
Ms. Hargitay was still thinking about Ms. Tomei’s competition, Jennifer Connelly, who had just swooshed past Joan Rivers and into the Kodak Theatre.
“Hi, I’m Jennifer Connelly, and I’m so beautiful that I can slick my hair back, not wash it for a week, and I’m still the prettiest girl in the whole room,” Ms. Hargitay said in singsong.
“Meee-ow! Hssss !” came the call from a nearby male diner.
“What?” said an indignant Ms. Hargitay. “Was that not like the nicest thing I could have said about anyone? I think that was the nicest thing I’ve ever said in my life!”
At the front table, Knot’s Landing star Michele Lee had let “nice” fall by the wayside and was busy taking Sissy Spacek’s white outfit apart piece by piece in front of Ms. Kaufman and Alan King.
“What is she thinking ?” Ms. Lee hooted.
Dinner was served, and the crowd took to their seats.
Ms. Hargitay and Ms. Brown were carving into their enormous veal chops as the victorious Ms. Connelly finished her acceptance speech. The broadcast went to a commercial, and Ms. Hargitay swallowed some veal and stopped.
“So hold on, you guys,” she said, “Marisa just lost!”
The trio left the party soon after.
Back at the table with Third Watch star Eddie Cibrian and his wife, Brandi, was the WB 11’s morning anchor, Lynne White. Ms. White, clad in an extremely tight corset top with spaghetti straps, got a special kick out of Nathan Lane’s trip to the stage.
Mr. Lane stepped to the mike and introduced himself as Fox News anchor and recent plastic surgery patient Greta Van Susteren after “a lot more work.” Ms. White found this very funny. She whooped and clapped and threw a fist in the air. Her tablemates looked appalled but did not stop her.
Soon, Mr. and Mrs. Cibrian gathered their coats and stood to leave. When The Transom asked if they were headed to another party, Ms. Cibrian whispered, “We’re going home. Now.”
– Rebecca Traister
To Frances, the Birdie: Home Alone
“I didn’t know if anyone was going to be able to find us out here,” said actor Willem Dafoe, surveying the thumping crowd at 66 Water Street, a new two-story club hidden on an otherwise dilapidated block under the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn. “But it turns out that it really hasn’t been a problem.”
On Monday, March 25, Mr. Dafoe was celebrating the Wooster Group and its badminton-themed production of To You, the Birdie! (Phèdre) , in which he stars as a ripped and limber Theseus. The Wooster Group, founded and run by Mr. Dafoe’s partner Liz LeCompte, staged To You, the Birdie! at St. Ann’s Warehouse near the Brooklyn waterfront, and Monday night’s after-party was just a few doors down.
The crowd included novelist Paul Auster, his poet-novelist wife Siri Hustvedt, actress Holly Hunter and D.J. Paul Sevigny. They had all braved a hail storm to see the show, which became a cult hit soon after its Feb. 17 opening and is sold out for the remaining week of its run.
The play’s other star, Frances McDormand, was at the back of 66 Water Street, downing a drink and dancing happily. The sturdy Fargo actress has recently gone all femme-y and was sporting long blond hair and toned arms.
“I just have big arms,” she said of her musculature. “And the bindings [that she wears for the performance] stretch the skin and make them look tight.”
Ms. McDormand claimed her good mood had to do with having her Upper West Side apartment to herself for the first time in “ages.”
“My boys are gone for the whole weekend on a strictly stag skiing vacation,” Ms. McDormand said of her husband, Joel Coen, the co-writer and director of (most recently) The Man Who Wasn’t There , and their son Pedro, who were both shushing in Colorado.
“Pedro has never been freaked to be separated from his mom,” Ms. McDormand said with an uproarious laugh. “And I hate skiing. You have to learn when you’re short.”
Ms. McDormand said she preferred the athleticism of To You, the Birdie! , which incorporates not only strenuously coached badminton but modern dance. Ms. McDormand said the production has reawakened an interest in movement that she developed when she studied with a Martha Graham–trained movement coach in acting school.
“That was the first time I was in touch with my physical being,” Ms. McDormand said. “And the first time I ever went below the neck, except for some random sex.”
The Transom Also Hears …
… that the embattled National Arts Club will be auctioning a painting from its renowned collection of artwork, valued at almost $3 million, during an upcoming Old Masters sale at Sotheby’s in May. The work, a painting called The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian and attributed to the school of 17th-century French painter Simon Vouet, is being appraised in the Old Masters department of the auction house and is believed to be worth between $40,000 and $60,000.
It’s the first time in recent history that the club will be selling a work from its collection, and some club members voiced concern about the timing of the auction, coming several months after the district attorney’s raid on the club’s offices.
“What we believe is going on is they’re beginning to sell paintings to pay for astronomical legal costs,” one club member said.
Arnold Davis, co-chair of the club’s curatorial committee, denied this. “It’s the first time in my years at the club that we’re selling a painting, and the only reason is because it’s not our collection,” he said. “It’s not a painting that fits our collection. It’s been in the club for I don’t know how long, sitting in our storeroom.”
Mr. Davis said the club’s collection is mostly composed of 19th-century American painters, some of them club members who paid their dues with their paintings, whereas this work is, of course, older. The idea to sell the piece, Mr. Davis said, came from the club’s restorer. “We told him we did not want to pay him to restore it,” Mr. Davis said. “He did suggest we sell the painting and use the money for further restoration of our other artwork.”
Money from the auction of the piece would “absolutely not” go to cover legal costs, he added.
Mr. Davis said it wasn’t clear where the Vouet painting came from or if it was donated. The only trace of it he could find in his files was a 1986 report stating the work was badly in need of restoration. As for Sotheby’s coming in and looking at more pieces, Mr. Davis said, “I don’t think we’re offering them any other works.” Then he added, “We would not sell anything of the club’s-we wouldn’t sell furniture, statuaries or paintings. It’s ridiculous. Why would you have that at a club dedicated to the arts and education? That’s your whole concept.”
And the work itself? “I basically enjoy paintings that are a little older, early 17th-century, 16th-century paintings,” Mr. Davis said. “This is a little too French for me.”
In the March 18 item “Oscar Grouch,” The Transom reported that publicist Bobby Zarem helped create the annual Oscar party that Entertainment Weekly holds at Elaine’s (as reported on above). In fact, Mr. Zarem created the Elaine’s party himself as part of a “New York, It Ain’t Over” campaign. A year later, Mr. Zarem was asked to represent EW and bring his Oscar party to them as part of the package.