The Middle East has seen plenty of tall, pale men since the American infidels set their sights on Saddam Hussein, but perhaps no one as tall or as pale as Conan O’Brien. Sources at Late Night with Conan O’Brien and the U.S.O. told The Transom that Mr. O’Brien, along with the executive producer of his NBC talk show, Jeff Ross, and the program’s head writer, Mike Sweeney, quietly ventured to Kuwait on May 14 for what U.S.O. spokeswoman Sharon Fletcher called a “handshake tour” of American bases that was jointly arranged by the U.S.O. and the Department of Defense’s Office of Armed Forces Entertainment (A.F.E.).
After arriving in Kuwait on the evening of May 15, the trio spent most of the following day visiting U.S. Army, Air Force and Marine encampments just outside the Iraqi border via Blackhawk helicopter. One source said that, at each stop, Mr. O’Brien told a few jokes and then spent the rest of his ground time meeting and taking photos with the troops, many of whom had just come from Baghdad. A Late Night source added that a majority of the soldiers-”a lot of them women”-were between the ages of 19 and 24 years old, which pretty much constitutes the core demographic of Mr. O’Brien’s TV audience.
On May 18, Mr. O’Brien and his posse flew to a naval air base in Bahrain, where they donned flight helmets and survival vests and strapped themselves into what the Late Night source described as a “twin-engine turbo-prop” transport plane that made a wire landing on the deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz . Mr. O’Brien’s cohort was documenting the trip-footage is slated to run on Late Night on May 22-and let’s hope there’s a shot of Mr. O’Brien in his military gear in case he decides to run for President one of these days.
At the end of the day, Mr. O’Brien, Mr. Ross and Mr. Sweeney were then catapulted off the carrier and back into their civilian lives. They returned to New York on the afternoon of May 19.
U.S.O. spokesman John Hanson told The Transom that Mr. O’Brien met U.S.O. president Ned Powell earlier this year, at a party for NBC chairman and chief executive Bob Wright, and was asked by Mr. Powell: “All the other late-night guys have gone overseas”-David Letterman and Jay Leno have already done their patriotic bit-”when are you going?” Mr. Hanson continued, “And Mr. O’Brien said: ‘Just tell me when and I’m there.’ And sure enough, he went.”
At press time, Late Night officials were taping and could not be reached for comment.
Triumph Poops On Everyone
While Conan O’Brien was recovering from his Kuwaiti jet lag, one of his show’s regulars, Robert Smigel, a.k.a. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, was participating in another bit of morale-boosting entertainment for the troops on May 19. Mr. Smigel, along with Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried, Freddie Roman, Sandra Bernhard, Colin Quinn, Joy Behar, Kevin Meaney and other comics, took part in the ComedY Tonight! benefit for the 92nd Street Y, which was being taped and edited for broadcast on what a 92nd Street Y spokeswoman described as the U.S. Department of Defense’s A.F.E. Spectrum Channel, which reaches American troops in 177 countries.
Given the American military’s newfound sensitivity to foreign cultures-save for France-it will certainly be interesting to see what ends up on the finished tape, given that a number of the comics, on their way to punchlines about Al Qaeda and Iraq, had some fun with Allah and turbaned New York taxi drivers burning up their cell phones. (“You’re plotting! You’re plotting!” screamed Mario Cantone during his act.)
Then again, being that the live audience in the Y’s Lexington Avenue and 92nd Street auditorium was largely Jewish-92nd Street Y president Matthew Bronfman was in the house, as was William Lauder, the Estée Lauder Company’s chief operating officer, and Sally Klingenstein, executive director of the Klingenstein Third Generation Foundation-many of the comics played to the house, even when it elicited some groans.
“It’s for the troops-let’s go right to the Jew material,” said Gilbert Gottfried, who wore an untucked radioactive-pink button-down shirt, blue jeans and, for most of his act, held his head as if he was suffering from a blinding migraine. “‘Cause you know, the troops really just love it. The troops are going, ‘Oooh, read something from the Talmud! … Do that Menashe Skulnik imitation!’” (Skulnik was a Yiddish actor and comedian as well as the singer of “Cardova, the Bronx Casanova.”)
After some jokes about O.J. Simpson -”I’m glad that O.J. Simpson has custody of the kids …. When O.J. tells you to do your homework, you do it”-and Charles Manson, Mr. Gottfried spent some quality time on Calista Flockhart.
“Sometimes I like to go clothes shopping with Calista Flockhart,” he said. “Whenever she puts on a new outfit, she always goes, ‘Does this dress make my spinal cord look big?’”
Mr. Gottfried said that Ms. Flockhart’s weight worried him so much that “I took her to a doctor for a checkup. They don’t actually X-ray her. A nurse stands behind her with a flashlight.” The crowd loved that one. “I don’t know what it’s like to have sex with her,” Mr. Gottfried continued. “I think it’s like threading a needle.”
And then he went for the finale.
“Just the other day, I went into a restaurant, I saw Calista Flockhart, and she was trying to get something out of her teeth,” Mr. Gottfried said. “So I walked over to her. I said: ‘Toothpick?’ She said: ‘Jew!’”
Ms. Silverman pushed the envelope even farther. “Nazis are a-holes-I’ll say it right now,” she said. “They’re cute when they’re little, but other than that …. Why can’t they stay small?” And she provoked some real sounds of discomfort from the crowd when she told them: “If black people were in Germany during World War II, I believe the Holocaust would have never happened.” She waited a beat, then said: “Or not to Jews.”
Mr. Smigel-as-Triumph fashioned his segment as a kind of roast of the evening’s performers. “There aren’t enough inside-out baggies to pick up all the poop we heard tonight,” he said from behind the little puppet theater that had been wheeled out on the stage.
Those comics who hadn’t already left-and were brave enough to face their lumps-were called out to stand next to the mini-theater while Triumph dished out his shtick.
When Mr. Quinn ambled out, Triumph told the audience: “The last charity event that Colin took part in was when Sarah Silverman gave him a hand job-he complimented her Holocaust material.”
To Mr. Gottfried: “Gilbert, I had a dream about you the other night. I was kissing you in my dream. I’ve got to remember not to sleep with my face so close to my ass.”
To Mr. Roman: “The last time you said something funny, mankind had just domesticated dogs.”
To SNL player Dean Edwards: There’s a big buzz around Dean Edwards. Yes. The same kind of buzz flies make around my ass.”
Ms. Behar wasn’t around when Triumph got to her, but that didn’t stop him from twitting her co-anchor on The View , Star Jones, who also wasn’t there. “I tried to hump Star Jones’ leg and I couldn’t get around it,” Triumph said. “They should fix her up with Al Roker. We could learn how dinosaurs made it.”
Then, Mr. Smigel-as-Triumph said, he had some jokes “for the troops.” One of them was from the U.S.O. show that he did on Late Night a while back, but it was still funny. “And how about that Army chow, huh, boys? Everyone complains about the Army chow,” Triumph said. “Well, I ate the Army chow …. I ate the chow, and now she won’t stop calling me!”
The Seagram Building’s fourth-floor art gallery is closed, and the artwork that made the building as famous as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s design did will soon be replaced by Vivendi movie posters. The collection of photographs-by Walker Evans, Helen Levitt and Louis Faurer, among them-has been sold. So has Rothko’s Brown and Blacks in Reds . The fate of Picasso’s stage curtain, which hangs in the Four Seasons restaurant, is uncertain, but one thing is not: Phyllis Lambert, the daughter of former Seagram president Samuel Bronfman, is still seething.
“It’s not the spoils of war, it’s the disasters of war,” said Ms. Lambert of the art collection she painstakingly compiled over the course of 50 years only to see it broken up and sold off as the latest chapter in Vivendi’s star-crossed acquisition of the Seagram company.
Ms. Lambert’s prized collection of photographs were sold by Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg on April 25 and 26, bringing in $2.87 million. And the Lichtensteins, Mirós and Rothkos that, along with the photos, once lined the halls and offices of the Seagram Building at 52nd Street and Park Avenue have, so far, brought in $9.9 million at Christie’s. But Ms. Lambert called the proceeds-Vivendi reportedly expects to raise $15 million from the sale of the art-”peanuts” compared to more than $12 billion in debt that Vivendi Universal needs to pay off.
Now she has to look forward to the sale of the Seagram collections of antique drinking vessels, drawings by sculptors, which she successfully campaigned to be sold intact, and-that most striking of oddities-the 22-foot-high stage curtain painted by Pablo Picasso in 1919 for Sergei Diaghilev’s ballet Le Tricorne , which has hung in the hallway between the Four Seasons Grill Room and Pool Room since the building was finished. All are slated to be sold privately by Christie’s.
Though Ms. Lambert’s passion was the photograph collection, she said she was most worried about the fate of the Picasso curtain. She would like to see it stay in the Four Seasons. “I think Christie’s is trying to honor that, but their responsibility is trying to make as much money as possible,” Ms. Lambert said by phone from the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, where she is president.
Besides, she said, the Picasso is “not a prize piece for any museum. Where would it have an effect? Who would want it other than somebody in a great huge mansion somewhere? They could say I have a Picasso, but it’s really not one of the great works of art,” she continued. “But the scale of it and the colors of it and the boldness of it are incredible.”
Picasso historian John Richardson said that the curtain was “of considerable importance as one of the few Picasso theater curtains to have survived,” but added that, because the curtain probably underwent heavy use in its original incarnation, it might have been repainted and refurbished by hands that did not belong to the artist. “I don’t know that anybody has made an attempt to see how much is original,” he said. Still, he said, “I think it’s very regrettable it’s being sold because it had become a major New York sight to be seen.”
Manhattan art dealer Richard Feigen told The Transom that the reason the curtain was being sold privately as opposed to at auction was because it would be difficult to sell. “By no means would it be considered a significant work by Picasso,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to sell it.”
Indeed, Four Seasons co-owner Julian Niccolini said he thought his restaurant was the best location for the work. Removing it, he said, would be “like taking the Statue of Liberty out of New York Harbor.
“We are very sad to get rid of it because it was part of the restaurant,” he said. “I don’t think there was any other place in America to have a piece like that.”
Ms. Lambert said she had hoped that Vivendi Universal would donate it to a museum and even tried to explore the possibility of one of the Four Seasons regulars buying the curtain with the provision that it remain in place. (Christie’s officials declined to place a price on it.) “I tried every avenue,” she said. “I said I hoped maybe some individuals might be interested, maybe people who went to the restaurant a lot.”
When asked whether the Bronfmans would consider buying the curtain, Ms. Lambert said, “I certainly couldn’t afford it.” And of her family, she replied: “I was told they couldn’t afford it.”
Ms. Lambert likened Vivendi’s sale of the Seagram’s collection to an “act of vandalism.
“Something’s built up by an entity, by that society, and it’s almost like having the vandals come in and destroy everything,” Ms. Lambert said. She added that deposed Vivendi C.E.O. “Jean-Marie Messier was the person who put everybody into huge trouble because they were spending madly,” she said. “I met him once-very rude man.”
A Vivendi spokesperson said the art was put on the block because they were deemed to be assets that “were no longer of strategic value to the shareholders of the company.”
But Christie’s saw the other side of that coin. “Phyllis Lambert had an excellent eye,” said a spokeswoman for the auction house. So far, the spokeswoman added, the collection’s proceeds have already exceeded Christie’s low estimate by almost $1 million. And another major painting, a Roberto Matta piece, is scheduled to go on the block at the May 28 Latin American sale.
While Ms. Lambert offered input to the auction houses, she said she didn’t come to New York to witness the sales. “I was very unhappy about knowing they are going to do it even though I knew it for some time,” she said.
But she did purchase one memento of the collection she’d spent half her life to assemble. It’s a Walker Evans photograph of a man lying on his back with his legs in the air-as if he’d been upended.
Kudlow & Siegal
During the question-and-answer portion of the May 15 luncheon for CNBC talk-show hosts Lawrence Kudlow and James Cramer, Nation editor and Kudlow & Cramer contributor Katrina vanden Heuvel raised a couple of questions. One had to do with a recent appearance on the show by Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell. The other, which Ms. vanden Heuvel characterized as the “investigative question of the day,” was:
What was Vanna White doing at the lunch?
The Wheel of Fortune letter-turner wasn’t in the house (which happened to be the upstairs room at Le Cirque) when Ms. vanden Heuvel asked the question, but Ms. White-pert in a black sweater and rust pants-had circulated during the cocktail portion of the luncheon with her good friend Kathy Hilton, mother of Paris and Nikki.
Ms. White told The Transom that she was in town for the daytime Emmys and Ms. Hilton had brought her round, but word circulating through the party-via those close to Ms. Hilton-was that the recently divorced Ms. White was on the hunt for single men.
After 20 years on Wheel of Fortune , Ms. White can’t be hurting for money. Still, she picked the right place to find a trophy husband. Among those in attendance were investment banker bachelor Ted Forstmann, single-but-attached Jets owner Woody Johnson and Optima Fund Management executive Chris Kennan. Indeed, at the end of luncheon, Mr. Kennan could be seen getting Ms. White’s phone number off one of the event’s junior publicists. Also in the crowd: Time Inc. editorial director John Huey, Blackstone Group chairman Pete Peterson, Cartier president Stanislaus de Quercize, Avenue Society editor Pamela Gross and her husband, Jimmy Finkelstein, and CNBC president Pamela Thomas-Graham.
After lunch, Mr. Cramer and Mr. Kudlow-who once worked in the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan-did a little stand-up. Mr. Cramer told the crowd that the autographed picture he was getting of him and Ms. White would mean much more to his daughters CeCe, 10, and Emma, 8, than the signed photo of President Bush he’d recently brought home. He then urged the journalists in the room “to return our producers’” calls. “We won’t sandbag you,” Mr. Cramer said.
It was around that time that Ms. vanden Heuvel asked the duo her questions. They didn’t sandbag her, but they did duck her on the Vanna White issue.
Mr. Kudlow was a little more forthcoming on his prep-school prom experience with publicist Peggy Siegal, who just happened to have orchestrated the Le Cirque luncheon. “In those days, it was called the Englewood School,” Mr. Kudlow said. “Now it’s called the Dwight-Englewood School. Yeah, I had a puppy-love crush on Peggy Siegal. And I still have a puppy-love crush on Peggy Siegal. How’s that?” Mr. Kudlow concluded, before turning to say goodbye to another lunch guest.
Well, it wasn’t quite enough, but Ms. Siegal was happy to fill in the details. By her recollection, she was 17 and she wore a “strapless pink-and-white couture gown by Hannah Troy that my grandfather had gotten for me as a present. I was the only 17-year-old with a couture gown on,” she said, adding that the prom dance took place at the Edgewood Country Club in Rivervale, N.J. Of Mr. Kudlow, Ms. Siegal remembered: “He looked like Gene Kelly. He was a very good dancer. So handsome. Very smooth.” Come to think of it, Mr. Kudlow does kind of look like Jim Backus after a good sandblast.
Anyway, Ms. Siegal said that she and Mr. Kudlow have known each other “since we were kids. I used to ride my bike over to his school, which, at the time, was boys-only.” Ms. Siegal said that she attended public school, Fort Lee High, “with the children of the real Sopranos.” Ms. Siegal’s public education continues to be a sore spot with her, in part because, she said, her mother sent her brother to private school. “Fifty years later, I’m still angry,” she said.
That’s not all the baggage she’s retained from her high-school days. Ms. Siegal said that she was a Fort Lee High majorette. “And I can still fit into the uniform,” she added with a smile.
Love a La Lane
“It was reported in The New York Times so it might be bullshit,” cracked an extremely brunette Nathan Lane from the stage at the Hudson Theater, in reference to The Times ‘ recent scandale de Jayson Blair. Mr. Lane was hosting the Dramatist Guild’s Annual Awards Gala on Monday, May 19, only a few blocks away from the Times building on West 44th Street, and he was within moments of introducing Times food writer Jonathan Reynolds, who is also a playwright and was receiving the Guild’s Flora Roberts Award.
But apparently Mr. Lane felt no compunction about taking the Gray Lady’s name in vain in his joke about a story they’d published about monkeys trying to write on computers. Mr. Lane had even less compunction about scolding his audience-which included composer Stephen Sondheim, playwrights Wendy Wasserstein, Alfred Uhry, Edward Albee, Richard Greenberg and Terrence McNally, composers and lyricists Alan Mencken, John Kander and Jerry Herman, and actors Marsha Mason, Tony Roberts and Mark Feuerstein-for their lack of enthusiasm.
“Fuck you,” he said grumpily after one of his jokes provoked a tepid laugh. But a few awards later, Mr. Lane returned and explained “When I said ‘Fuck you’ earlier, that was my theatrically dysfunctional way of saying ‘I love you.’”
The Transom Also Hears ….
Art dealer Tony Shafrazi kept light on his feet at the dinner that art collector Alberto Mugrabi threw for Art Review magazine’s new publisher, Michelle Clark, at Mr. Chow on May 13. Revelers at the claustrophobically overcrowded soirée said that Mr. Shafrazi arrived with big-time art collectors Lawrence Graff and Benedict Taschen, but found that because many more people showed up than had been invited, he couldn’t be seated with them. As a result, said one source, Mr. Shafrazi spent much of the evening shuttling between Mr. Taschen’s and Mr. Graff’s tables, so as not to let them fall prey to the legion of other dealers, whom included Larry Gagosian, Nick Aquavella, Stellan Holm and Jean-Pierre Lehmann. Mr. Mugrabi’s girlfriend, socialite Rena Sindi, told The Transom that the party was a confluence of “his crowd and mine,” which meant a mix of art and society types that included Aby Rosen and Samantha Boardman, Tory and Chris Burch, dealer Jeffrey Deitch, sugar-cane magnate Pepe Fanjul and his wife Lourdes, Art Review ‘s Emma Gray, Marc Glimcher and auction-house owner Simon de Pury, who according to one witness was doing a jig atop one of the tables.