In Ravelstein , author Saul Bellow depicts the title character of his latest novel, Abe Ravelstein, as a larger-than-life bon vivant , a man with a “bald powerful head” and “finely made hands.” The publishers of the French edition of Mr. Bellow’s book have envisioned a much different Ravelstein on the cover, however, and at least one person close to the author says the image smacks of anti-Semitism.
The American cover of Ravelstein , which was published by Viking/Penguin, depicts a photograph of an espresso-stained demitasse and a half-full glass of water at the Café de Flore, a haunt of Ravelstein, who was closely modeled on Mr. Bellow’s late friend and colleague, Allan Bloom. Most international editions of the novel reproduced that image.
But when Gallimard, the French equivalent of Simon & Schuster, published the Gallic edition of Ravelstein on March 14, the book’s cover featured a photograph of a decrepit, large-nosed, large-eared, shriveled and slight old man with his hair combed up into two horn-like tufts. The image doesn’t fit the description of Abe Ravelstein, Allan Bloom or even Chick, the character that serves as Mr. Bellow’s surrogate in the novel. Rather, it’s a picture that shares many qualities with traditional French and German caricatures of Jews from the 30′s and 40′s-which, naturally, does not sit well with those close to the dean of American Jewish fiction.
Though Mr. Bellow did not return calls, his biographer, James Atlas, called the Gallimard cover “quite astonishing” after The Transom faxed him a copy of the image. Noting that the image looked nothing like Mr. Bellow’s description of Ravelstein or even the real Allan Bloom, he said: “It’s an anxious, furtive face-the face of a Jew in France.
“On the other hand, it figures,” Mr. Atlas continued. “French intellectuals harbor anti-Semitism in the guise of radical politics. The cover is an example of the subliminal, unconscious anti-Semitism of the French.”
Roger Kaplan, a lifelong friend of Mr. Bellow’s, said he had been hired to “look over [Gallimard's] shoulder” during the translation process, but he had not seen the cover until The Transom showed him a copy of it at his apartment. Mr. Kaplan’s face registered a mixture of shock and bewilderment when he saw the image, and his comment was almost identical to Mr. Atlas’ response. “I find [the cover] astonishing,” Mr. Kaplan said. “The problem … is that it seems to be poorly conceived editorially. In the context of the book, it doesn’t represent Bloom. It must be a caricature.”
Mr. Kaplan, who lived in France for several years, said that the cover seemed to be a typically French attempt at humor. “In France, the use of stereotypes for humor is not as politically incorrect as it is here,” he said. “Comic caricatures have been part of the French theater traditionally.”
And what does Gallimard have to say about the Ravelstein cover? Christine Jordis, who is in charge of selecting English books for translation at the French publishing house and who oversaw the translation and publication of Mr. Bellow’s novel, denied that there was any wicked intent behind the cover choice. “[The cover] represents a man that would represent the general idea of the book,” she said. “This is a face of humor, and this is a humorous book.”
When The Transom asked Ms. Jordis if the cover was chosen to exploit the specifically “Jewish humor” of the book, she replied: “If we had perceived anything of the kind, we would have chosen another cover.”
Told that Ms. Jordis’ found the cover image funny, Mr. Atlas spat back: “Bullshit. Where’s the humor?”
Casa de Ricky
Ricky Martin may be living la vida loca de un pop star, but when it comes to real-estate investments, he’s more conservative than his press would indicate.
Recent articles in Entertainment Weekly and the New York Post have reported that Mr. Martin paid approximately $11 million for two combined condominium apartments totaling 4,400 square feet, and including five bedrooms and seven bathrooms in the still-under-construction AOL Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. But the two Insignia Douglas Elliman brokers who handled the sale, Dennis Mangone and Pablo Alfaro (brother of fashion designer Victor Alfaro), told The Transom that the reality of Mr. Martin’s deal is much different than what has ended up in the media.
The brokers told The Transom that they don’t ordinarily speak to the press about their sales, but felt compelled to set the record straight because, as Mr. Mangone put it, the press accounts were “wrong by everything: price, room count, exposure and how many apartments it is.”
In reality, Mr. Mangone said, Mr. Martin purchased a single four-bedroom, four-bathroom apartment totaling 3,000 square feet. According to the broker, Mr. Martin paid closer to $8 million for the place, several million less than previously reported. Although Mr. Mangone would not reveal which floor the apartment was on, he did say that it’s located in the “upper two-thirds” of the building. He added that Mr. Martin would have Central Park and city views from his floor-to-ceiling windows.
“It’s not small, but it’s not too much of a statement,” Mr. Mangone said of the condo. “It shows good judgment and good taste.”
On the afternoon of Friday, May 31, two days before the first installment of Barbara Kopple’s “reality mini-series” The Hamptons aired on ABC, 28-year-old matrimonial attorney Jacqueline Lipson sat in her office at the law firm of Berkman, Bottger & Rodd, on East 42nd Street. On her desk were files, letters and a jar of Jolly Rancher candies.
“I am getting a lot of flak,” said Ms. Lipson, who wore a dark dress in anticipation of the weekend. She had already seen the documentary in which she has a recurring role as a single girl on the prowl for a husband. She’d also read all the bad press that her cinéma vérité performance had generated, and she admitted to The Transom that “it hurt a little.”
Ms. Lipson reeled off all the mean things that had been said about her. First, ad man and Hamptons Independent newspaper owner Jerry Della Femina had written in his local column that Ms. Lipson “makes your skin crawl.” Then, not only had the New York Post ‘s Page Six column excerpted Mr. Della Femina’s written remarks, a few days later the tabloid’s TV critic, Linda Stasi, had written that Ms. Lipson was a “yuppie lawyer” and “skeevy.” Oh yeah, and Entertainment Weekly deemed her “sadly desperate.”
Ms. Lipson flashed one of her big Ultra Brite smiles when she finished. None of the reviewers had noted that about Ms. Lipson, or that she looked great in a bikini-something Mr. Della Femina couldn’t manage in a million years. Instead, the media had all seized on the same comment Ms. Lipson made early in the film: “Like, I need to be engaged by 29, because I will not be not married at 30,” she’d said. There was also her declaration that “I will have a boyfriend in September. Like, I told my father to start saving, I’m not kidding.”
Ms. Lipson had voiced-too confidently, perhaps-the desires of hundreds, maybe thousands of women in the metropolitan area, and she had been excoriated for her candidness. But she said she didn’t regret her comments.
“The way I looked at it, there’s nothing in it that I would take back,” she said. “I think I was being honest; I think I said a lot of things that people normally think. I talk about a five-year plan-everyone has a five-year plan. They might not say it out loud, but they do. So because I said it out loud, I feel like that’s why I’m getting such flak.”
Ms. Lipson smiled again. “Everyone’s looking for Mr. Right,” she said. “That’s just a fact.”
At that point in the conversation, The Transom’s tape recorder died and, as is usually the case, The Transom was broke. Ms. Lipson cheerfully handed over $10. Five minutes later, the interview resumed.
Ms. Lipson said she thought Ms. Kopple’s documentary “was really well done,” and she was grateful that the filmmaker had been kind in the editing room. “There are things I did in the summer I’m glad aren’t on there,” she said, laughing. She declined to be more specific.
“Barbara’s great; Barbara’s wonderful,” Ms. Lipson said. “She really, really cares about you. When this whole Jerry Della Femina article came out, I called her-hysterical-because it was not something that I expected by any stretch, and she left me this message.” Ms. Lipson said she had saved the message on her answering machine. “She was going on about how ‘you’re wonderful, you’re beautiful,’” the attorney recalled. “It was just, basically she was upset that I was going through any pain. She said, ‘This should be such a wonderful time for you, and it upsets me that anyone is taking that away from you.’”
In terms of the bad press, Ms. Lipson said: “I’ve gotten to a point where I’m laughing.” A friend of hers had related a comment that Julia Roberts once made in an interview, that she ignores bad press. “I said, ‘Who am I to be compared to Julia Roberts?’ Should I call her up and say, ‘Julia, what should I do?’”
Otherwise, Ms. Lipson was taking a philosophical viewpoint. “My reputation’s not going to be destroyed,” she said. “I’m so not a skin-crawly person. There are certain things you may want to say about me; ‘skin-crawling’ is just really not one of them.”
And she was still glad that she participated. “It’s all about life experiences,” she said.
Ms. Lipson is no longer dating Evan, the guy she hooked up with in the Hamptons, but she said they remain friends. For almost three months now, she’s been dating a new guy-a 30-year-old lawyer-though she declined to reveal his name.
The following day, Ms. Lipson and her new beau drove out to Sag Harbor to attend the premiere. She was hoping to meet Billy Joel because, she said, she wants his song “Just the Way You Are” to be sung at her wedding, and it’s her dream for Mr. Joel to sing it himself. Alas, Mr. Joel did not show.
In the theater, she sat next to her fellow media victim, Josh Sagman, whom The Wall Street Journal called both “asinine” and “a jackass” in the same article. The two watched themselves on-screen and laughed with the audience.
Afterward, there was a $250-a-head benefit for the STAR Foundation, Christie Brinkley’s no-nukes charity, and then an after-party at the American Hotel. But Ms. Lipson decided to drive back to Manhattan. She’d be out in the Hamptons the next weekend. She and a girlfriend are running a share house in Bridgehampton.
Ovitz & Out
Former Creative Artists Agency über- agent and founder Mike Ovitz proved he was a true Hollywood escape artist in 1996 when he walked away from a bad run as head of Walt Disney Pictures with a spiffy $100 million parachute. But apparently he was saving his slickest moves for his exit from his ill-fated Artists Management Group.
When Mr. Ovitz announced on May 6 that he was selling the bulk of A.M.G. to punky Los Angeles music representatives the Firm, he gave no indication about what would happen to A.M.G.’s New York office, long considered by its employees to be Mr. Ovitz’s ignored “ugly stepchild.”
But A.M.G.’s New York staffers got their answer on the morning of May 17 when, according to sources close to the situation, the head of the Firm’s information technologies department-a.k.a. “the computer guy”-arrived unannounced from Los Angeles at A.M.G.’s 140 West 57th Street offices. After some puttering, the I.T. head told four staffers and two interns that a locksmith would be arriving later in the day to change the locks, and that they should clear out their desks. One agent was contractually allowed to finish up in the offices for an additional two weeks.
“Can you believe this is a management company?” said one former employee. “These people don’t know the first thing about how to work with human beings.”
The firings unceremoniously confirmed persistent speculation that the Gotham office, which one source said cost Mr. Ovitz “several hundred thousand dollars a year” in overhead, was doomed. Strangely enough, sources said their hopes that their East Coast outpost might survive as part of the Firm were bolstered when, just weeks before they were let go, Mr. Ovitz purchased an estimated $20,000 worth of office furniture for the space. Up until that point, much of the office décor had been rented, and the New York staffers had long regarded Mr. Ovitz’s reluctance to buy them a decent couch as one of the signs that their days were numbered.
An A.M.G. spokesman confirmed that one executive and one assistant had been let go on May 17, and that there may have been an I.T. staffer in the New York office that day. He denied, however, that the computer guy had anything to do with the dismissals, claiming that a “senior person” at the company had informed staffers that they were terminated.
The A.M.G. spokesman confirmed the furniture purchase and said that it demonstrated that it was “business as usual in the New York office before the Firm deal went through.”
A.M.G.’s New York employees were not as shocked by the whiplash turn as they might have been. They have had a tumultuous run under Mr. Ovitz, who founded A.M.G. in 1998 with partners Rick Yorn and Julie Silverman-Yorn, a client list that included Robin Williams, Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, and mammoth plans to generate television, books, films, m;usic and comedy projects.
Then plans soured, a batch of television shows tanked, and clients began jumping ship. One former A.M.G. employee told The Transom that staffers had long joked that A.M.G. stood for “All Money Gone.”
The New York office opened in March 1999 in temporary space at 54th Street and Madison Avenue, in a building owned by Mr. Ovitz’s friend, the real-estate developer Jerry Speyer. In January 2000, the company moved to austere Art Deco space in the old General Electric headquarters at 50th and Lexington. But sources said that A.M.G.’s rap-music division vetoed the space, claiming that it wasn’t an appropriate place to bring their urban clients. In the confusion, it was reported that A.M.G.’s landlords didn’t get paid, and the company was evicted at the end of May 2000.
The three-person staff then set up shop in book scout Drew Reed’s West 15th Street apartment, while sources said that Mr. Ovitz dithered over establishing a new base for them. One source said that during the six weeks that the company operated out of Mr. Reed’s place, the Los Angeles office took messages and insisted that the New York staff was just having “phone trouble.”
The A.M.G. spokesman said that the period during which the office was at Mr. Reed’s apartment was a gap “in between leases.”
In July 2000, theater producer Marty Richards invited A.M.G. to share his West 57th Street office space, which it did until September of that year. That month, A.M.G. finally found digs at 140 West 57th Street-just two buildings down from the Metropolitan Towers, where Mr. Ovitz keeps his New York apartment.
Despite his proximity, Mr. Ovitz was never exactly a looming presence at the office. One former employee claimed that the chief had visited his New York satellite no more than six times during the company’s three-year life span, and another said that he hadn’t made the trek downstairs once in the past year, though he had been spotted on the street outside the office and at a neighboring Starbucks.
Another source speculated that Mr. Ovitz was even in his upstairs apartment on the day that the computer guy was dispatched to clear out the office. A.M.G. partners Rick Yorn and Julie Silverman-Yorn were at the Cannes Film Festival at the time of the firings.
“And you wonder why the guy goes out of business,” said one former employee, who remembered that despite the constant sense of impermanence, A.M.G. bosses in Los Angeles fed their New York brethren constant promises of success just around the corner.
“A.M.G. was like the Soviet Union,” said the source. “They’d be telling you it was the best harvest ever, and then you look in the grain silo and nothing’s there. It was like our leaders were the Politburo. They were all busy covering their own asses. Like Communism, on paper the idea sounds great, but in practice it’s a disaster.”
In response to the accusations that Mr. Ovitz ignored his New York arm, the A.M.G. spokesman said, “Many executives and senior personnel visited with the New York office. Additionally, there were twice-weekly staff conference calls with the New York office where there was shared communication and information, and other acceptable management methods were in place to run the office.”
The Transom Also Hears …
Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he’d consider former AOL Time Warner chief executive Gerald Levin as a candidate for New York City schools chancellor, but what does Mr. Levin think? Claiming that he was now a “private citizen,” Mr. Levin wasn’t exactly eager to discuss the subject as joined the masses dining al fresco at the Citymeals-on-Wheels benefit at Rockefeller Center on June 3. Asked if there was truth to the reports that he was being considered for the schools gig, Mr. Levin, who was sporting a quality tan, replied: “Sounds like rumor to me.”