Beneath the striking W.P.A. murals of the New York State Supreme Courthouse, real-estate scion Billy Rudin reached across the dinner table on May 1 to shake the hand of News Corp. heir Lachlan Murdoch. “If I can help you …” Mr. Rudin said, and let his offer hang unfinished in the dull roar of the crowd.
The baby-faced Mr. Murdoch nodded his goodbye, took the arm of his blonde trophy wife, Sarah, and headed toward the exit. It was almost 11 p.m. and one more connection had been made between two members of the city’s elite. Sure, dozens of such offers are made and reneged upon every day in this city, but what made this one stick out-what made the entire evening stick out-were the circumstances of that encounter and the ones that were occurring throughout the room.
It had taken awhile, but finally, a new power structure had begun to show itself. Young Mr. Murdoch and young Mr. Rudin were among the 212 dinner guests invited to kick off the Tribeca Film Festival’s sophomore year. The evening’s hosts were comparative dowagers: actor and festival co-founder Robert De Niro and Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter, whose magazine is a sponsor of the movie klatsch. Given Mr. De Niro’s garden-trowel goatee-grown for a movie about the Inquisition-and Mr. Carter’s bell-curve hairstyle, the two men looked like they’d stepped out of a Dutch Masters cigar ad from the 60′s, but the crowd their operatives had invited felt a lot fresher.
The freshman and sophomore classes of power brokers were on the rise, and it really felt that after a long and tough winter of anxiety and tension, it was springtime among the New York oligarchs, and the generational flip had finally convincingly taken place, so that the young power scions didn’t look like Junior League debutantes at the Armory, but looked like what they were: the prematurely middle-aged, finally, somewhat belatedly taking the reigns of power for which they had long practiced. It was May 1, and they were finally being given a chance to take the social Vista Cruiser out for a drive on their own. And here they were at a convergence party, at which culture, society, media and money all merged, and they were behind the wheel.
Indeed, it was the second blow-out that Condé Nast-the media company that seems to be singlehandedly preserving glamour in this city-had co-produced that week, and it was by far the more sap-risen and breezier one. On Monday, April 28, the Newhouses had underwritten, with Gucci, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Benefit. But the two events were quite different. One guest at the Costume Institute noted that the event is haunted by too many ghosts of the past-the ghost of Diana Vreeland, the wraiths of Old Society-and so the party often feels like trying to perform CPR on one of the Met’s mummies. But the Tribeca Film Festival-only two years old-is unfettered by history and such old-world notions.
And perhaps that is why TV gossip Claudia Cohen-whose reigns at Page Six and the Daily News covered the ebb and flow of this city’s power grid-gushed that the Tribeca Festival opening night party was “becoming the quintessential New York party.”
Perhaps it also had something to do with the intoxicating breeze blowing through Foley Square that evening. Certainly it had something to do with the “end” of the war in Iraq, but on May 1-the same day that President Bush had clambered out of a fighter jet looking like Bill Pullman in Independence Day -it felt as if the last crusty vestiges of New York’s elite epidermis were giving way to pink new skin, and the city seemed to be coming to life again. You could almost sniff the scent of ambition coming back after a very long nap. Ten years ago, the Rudin-Murdoch encounter would have involved Lew-or Jack-Rudin and Rupert Murdoch, but inside the courthouse the next generation of the city’s power structure seemed to be soloing: New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.; public relations scion Steven Rubenstein, who bears more than a passing resemblance to his father, Howard Rubenstein; public-education czarina Caroline Kennedy; and Steven Newhouse, of those Newhouses, mingled with those who, while not backed by a dynasty, had emerged, through Mayoral appointment and/or a combination of skillful navigation, hard work and-always-a dash of hype, as the city’s new social stalwarts: Tribeca Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal and her banker husband, Craig Hatkoff; New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly; Mr. Carter; comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his wife, Jessica; girl crooner Norah Jones; Her Effulgency, Angelina Jolie; Lady Lynn de Rothschild; MTV Networks chairman Tom Freston; Clear Channel radio chief John Sykes; and, of course, Miramax’s press-mocking co-chairman Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob. Sony USA chairman Sir Howard Stringer-whom Jay Kriegel, the Ghost of CBS Past and lobbyist of the Olympics future, addressed as “Your Lordship”-was also in attendance. As was Mr. De Niro, who only seems capable of expressing his love for the city in terms of crinkle-eyed grunts and civically stirring actions, not words.
They weren’t so much new to the social scene as newly vested-dedicated to righting a city roiled by terrorism, economic woes and a complicated war.
The wise men and women were there too, the Gallant Geezeocracy-former CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt, author Dominick Dunne, art critic Robert Hughes, movie producer David Brown, his wife Helen Gurley Brown, Howard Rubenstein, and-to remind us that the world had changed big time-Mrs. Tommy Franks, in pink.
But on this night, the elders did not cast long shadows. Nor did the events of the world. And so it was possible to walk up those magnificent staggered steps of Guy Lowell’s courthouse, stand in the fresh breeze and think that, this year, spring might mean something in New York.
There was the handsome Mrs. Franks being introduced to Mr. Dunne and telling him, “I know who you are”- an indication that the general’s wife no longer spit shines the general’s shoes. There was Elvis Costello and Diana Krall talking shop with David Bowie. There was MTV’s Mr. Freston relishing the thought that his newly single Cuban-escapade comrade, CBS Network chief Les Moonves was in town for a spell.
And there was actress Chloë Sevigny, in a short black dress and black heels, matter-of-factly discussing her adventurous upcoming role in Vincent Gallo’s new film, The Brown Bunny.
At the Vanity Fair Oscar party, Mr. Gallo-who has long identified himself as a Republican-had told us that his film, which he directed and stars in, was going to be the most sexually explicit American film ever made. Mr. Gallo didn’t explain why, but a recent item in Page Six reported that the film, which will screen at Cannes, features an explicit oral sex scene.
And so when we spotted Ms. Sevigny talking to restaurateur Brian McNally, we asked her if Mr. Gallo’s claim was true.
“Probably,” she said with a smile. “I haven’t seen the movie yet. But, she added: “The sex is not gratuitous.”
Was the sex simulated or actual, we asked her.
“Ea-sy,” Mr. McNally told me.
But Ms. Sevigny didn’t even flinch. “I did the deed,” she said. “We dated a long time ago,” she explained, referring to her and Mr. Gallo. “So been there, done that.”
That’s the kind of the change the world could use more of.
And that kind of relaxed, high-spirited frankness seemed to dominate the evening. One Vanity Fair source said that hip-hop impresario, Roc-A-Fella Records founder Damon Dash, who dressed down for the evening, approached Mrs. Franks and asked her about a pin she was wearing that was a jewel-encrusted-the source said diamonds-replica of one of her husband’s military medals. Seems Mr. Dash wanted to know where he could get one. (When we attempted to inquire about the veracity of the story, Mr. Dash’s assistant hung up on us.)
After the chilled zucchini and avocado bisque and oven baked halibut with fennel and fresh tomato marmalade and the plates of homemade marshmallows were consumed-Town chef Jeffrey Zakarian cooked-Mr. De Niro got up and made a speech that very few people could hear because of the lousy acoustics. The speech lasted about 30 seconds and ended with Mr. De Niro, who was sitting next to Whoopi Goldberg, saying something like, “And that’s it.”
Then Mr. Carter got up and likened Mr. De Niro’s appearance to Mitch Miller. Pumping his arms up and down like some kind of German oom-pa-pa singer, Mr. Carter suggested that Mr. De Niro lead the crowd in a singalong. Mr. De Niro stood up. There seemed to be a little bit of Bickle in his eyes-repent, Graydon Carter, or the rack for you!-but he sounded like Meet the Parents ‘ Jack Byrnes when he spoke. “Not likely!” Mr. De Niro said.
Not long after that, Mr. De Niro crept out some side entrance giving attorney Allen Grubman a playful whack in the arm as he passed by. In the middle of the room, Mr. Stringer stood looking up at a stern-looking man in a powdered wig who looked down sternly from the rotunda mural. “Blackstone” read the painted label nearest his head. “Look, Pete Peterson is looking down over us,” Mr. Stringer said, referring to the chairman of the private investment banking firm, The Blackstone Group, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
As the clock passed 11, the crowd began to follow Mr. Murdoch’s lead and head for the exits. It was Thursday, after all, a work night. On the sidewalk, MTV’s Mr. Freston stood looking up at the red-lit court house, its stairs lined in perfect rows of votive candles. “This building didn’t look this good when I came here to get divorced,” Mr. Freston said as he took in the sight. “I guess I finally had a good time here.”
Follow Frank DiGiacomo via RSS.