The Mondel Chocolates shop, on the corner of 114th Street and Broadway, runs roughly the length of its one long, dual-bulbed fluorescent light fixture, which casts a glare over countless handwritten signs listing the infrequently changed prices for Mondel chocolates, and on a sepia-toned list on the wall in the back corner of the cramped shop. The list bears the title “Ms. Hepburn.”
Even as she entered her 90’s, Ms. Hepburn never lost her youthful sweet tooth. The paper documents Ms. Hepburn’s standing order, which looks as if it were hastily torn from a notepad however many years ago:
Dark Orange Peel
Dark Almond Bark
Every month, beginning in 1981, Ms. Hepburn would be brought to the store by her driver, and she would order a two-pound assortment of her now-documented favorites.
“She preferred dark chocolate rather than milk,” said an employee who asked to be identified by his first name, Jack. A Polish immigrant in his early 50’s with a smile that revealed a web of wrinkles around his eyes, Jack has been at Mondel’s for 12 years and helped Ms. Hepburn with her monthly candy order until she stopped visiting the store in 1995. He is an advocate of Ms. Hepburn’s chocolate preferences.
“I assume that’s why she lived that long,” he said.
One time, Jack had to help Ms. Hepburn with the door; she couldn’t figure out “whether to pull or push,” he said. “She was a very nice old lady.
“I thought she would be much taller. Maybe with age she shrunk a little,” he said.
Although Ms. Hepburn stopped coming herself in 1995, she didn’t stop satisfying her monthly longing for pecan turtles. Until three months ago, Ms. Hepburn’s niece, Katharine Houghton, was ordering the chocolate and having it delivered to her house in Connecticut.
Jack has no intention of taking down Ms. Hepburn’s list of favorites.
“I’m very saddened,” Jack said. “Not because she was a customer, but because she was a great, great star that just passed away. It’s sad.”
Ms. Hepburn’s preference for Mondel’s was well known among her tight coterie of friends, including Lauren Bacall-who, three years ago, showed up at the shop and “bought a little present for Ms. Hepburn,” Jack said.
The shop contains one other nugget of Hepburn memorabilia, Scotch-taped to the glass next to the shop’s register. Written on the stationery of “Katharine Houghton Hepburn,” it arrived six years ago, when the store sent a special package of turtles, truffles and bark to her Connecticut home to commemorate her 90th birthday. The note reads:
“Dear Mondel Chocolates,
Thank-you for the delicious chocolates-how very thoughtful-Ms. Hepburn was pleased.”
Buddy Hackett, 1924-2003
Here’s one of the last jokes Buddy Hackett told:
“I met this beautiful young girl, and my doctor said to me, ‘You better be careful. If you have sex with her for 30 days in a row, it could be fatal.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve been going with her for almost 30 days. Little does she know, she dies tomorrow.'”
Mr. Hackett left it on the answering machine of comedian Jeffrey Ross on June 29, the day before his death.
“He just told me this fucking dirty joke and the punchline is ‘She dies tomorrow,’ and then he died the next day,” Mr. Ross said from Los Angeles. “It was pretty weird. That was not his usual type of message. His messages usually sound like this …. “
Mr. Ross played The Transom a message from his answering machine, in Mr. Hackett’s distinctive voice.
“It’s the Big Kahuna! Are you in town or did you go away or whaa-aat? See, tonight I’m sitting here, I’m thinking I would take you some place nice to eat. Boy, I’m getting kind of hungry. All right, bye-bye.”
“That was my wake-up call every day,” Mr. Ross said. “He’d read me eye-doctor jokes two days in a row, and then he’d switch over to a hooker joke. Then one day he wouldn’t say anything funny-he’d just say, ‘I’m at the beach house, call me there.'”
The two comedians met at the New York Friars Club in 1995.
“I’ll never forget it,” Mr. Ross said. “I was in an elevator going up to play poker, and there he was! ‘How ya doin’?’ I said, ‘Mr. Hackett, it’s an honor to meet you-I’m a really big fan’. He shook my hand and he said, ‘You know who hates farts the most? Midgets. They live at ass height.’ And he walked off the elevator. I mean, you knew he was a little crazy.”
How smart was Buddy Hackett?
“The smartest guy I knew. If I was ever gonna get him to sit down and write a book, it wouldn’t have been about comedy. Because that was about the fourth or fifth thing he was an expert on.”
“Being a man. He knew what it was. He had stage fright, but he had no life fright. He’d get a flat tire or somebody would pull a gun on him or somebody would break his heart-he could survive all that, and he could teach other people how to do it. He was a real tough guy. He knew everything about women … girls loved him. He’s been married 40-some-odd years, but he still sort of had that mojo.”
Mr. Ross had a good, raunchy Buddy Hackett joke: “One of the ones that I’ll always love is, he said: ‘I’ve been with blondes, brunettes, redheads, short, fat, skinny, young, old-except it’s all been the same cunt.’ He’s been married 48 years. It’s just his delivery and the fact that you knew he loved her and that he didn’t mean it as a mean thing. He was just trying to get a rise out of me.”
Recently, Mr. Hackett was appearing on the Craig Kilborn show.
“He’d call me all week: ‘I’m gonna say this, I’m gonna say that.’ He’d try out 20 jokes, he’d really get them honed, and then he’d go on the show and he wouldn’t say one word of any of it. He would just completely improvise. It was this sort of planned chaos that was his life and his act. He always knew what he could do, but he never knew what he would do, if that makes any sense. I learned that from him.”
On June 28, Mr. Ross spoke with his friend for the last time. He ran some jokes by Mr. Hackett that he planned to use for the following day’s roast of MTV personality Carson Daly.
“You know I can’t do a roast without trying them out on Hack. And he doesn’t know who the fuck I’m talking about … you’re trying out Nelly jokes!
“I just loved that. Even though he cared more than anybody I ever met about the audience, the illusion was that he just didn’t give a shit,” Mr. Ross said. “And that incredible aloofness, that cool that he had: He taught me about dignity in comedy, which you don’t hear a lot about. Even if he being blue, or even if he was being silly, he did it with dignity. He didn’t like pranks and things that embarrassed people. He was really not into all these pranks and reality shows and stuff that sort of exposed people in a way that they didn’t want to be. He would never do anything like that. He taught me that concept of being dignified and still being funny.”
“How many blond role models are there?” asked novelist Amanda Brown. The author of the book that inspired the film Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde was at the June 30 premiere at Christie’s.
“Thank God there’s Hillary!” she exclaimed.
Ms. Brown, herself a strawberry-blonde who attended Stanford Law School and now lives in San Francisco, feels greatly inspired by her two dogs-one a Wheaten terrier named Gomez, the other a Bijon named Underdog. “Underdog was really my only friend in law school,” she said.
In Legally Blonde 2, the dog character gets more screen time than Ms. Witherspoon’s co-star, Luke Wilson. The movie follows the further adventures of ebullient Bel Air native Elle Woods, now a young lawyer who goes to Washington to lobby against cosmetics testing on animals.
In addition to her fight on Capitol Hill, her makeover of several Congresswomen and her struggle to plan a wedding while away from home, the movie traces-perhaps most poignantly -her acceptance that her Chihuahua, Bruiser (played by film veteran Moondoggie), is gay.
“I didn’t know it was going to be all about dogs, but that was the main thing that kept me so interested, because I have a little dog,” said Tommy Tune at the Christie’s after-party. Other attendees included LeAnn Rimes, David Copperfield and Frédéric Fekkai.
The display windows lining the outside of the auction house featured Reese look-alikes wildly waving at passers-by. The usually pristine white auction house had been revamped in all things pink, from the seating to the petit fours. Lounging on a white sofa, Mr. Tune sat next to Animal Fair founder Wendy Diamond, who nuzzled her Maltese, Lucky. Lucky wore a boa produced by a pet-products company called High Maintenance Bitch to the screening.
“She was barkless,” said Ms. Diamond, a believer in gay-animal rights. “Lucky is a lesbian! She has a girlfriend named Minuta.”
“Ophie, my former dog, was homosexual, and he had a lover named Tiger,” offered Mr. Tune. “They’re both in heaven now. Maybe they’re making mad, passionate love there! Tiger was a Maltese and Ophie was a Yorkie, and Ophie would force Tiger to give him head, and I’d watch and say, ‘O.K., whatever.’ But little Shubert [Mr. Tune's current dog] isn’t gay, so that shows that being gay doesn’t necessarily mean your dog will be gay, too.”
A lesson to us all. Nearby, Yana Syrkin of the canine label Fifi and Romeo stroked her Chihuahua, Yoda. Ms. Syrkin, formerly in charge of wardrobe for Ally McBeal, designed all the dog clothing in the film, and developed a special bond with Ms. Witherspoon’s four-legged sidekick.
“I think Moondoggie really played himself,” she said. “Except I’m not sure if he’s gay or not. I think he’s neutered.”
To The Transom’s disappointment, Moondoggie was not present at the fête, although Ms. Witherspoon-wearing a black shawl-was there with her entourage, which included pal Breckin Meyer and hubby Ryan Phillippe.
“I don’t have to say anything to anybody anytime!” Mr. Phillippe barked when asked whether he was supposed to say he liked the film. Next to him, his wife signed autographs for her adoring teeny-bopper fans (many of whom were dressed as her character in the movie, and had been manicured and blow-dried in a candy-filled, pink-curtained room at Christie’s).
Also present was Jennifer Coolidge, who played Paulette Bonafonté, Elle’s large-lipped, busty best friend. She wore all black and had her yellow hair blow-dried straight.
“I seem to be in every dog movie ever made,” she sighed. (Ms. Coolidge also appeared as a lesbian poodle owner in Best in Show, although she’s probably best-known for her performance as Stifler’s Mom in American Pie.)
Standing near a table of cherries, strawberries and mousse was another blonde, one whom Amanda Brown might also cite as a role model of sorts -Tina Brown. She attended the screening and party with her 17-year-old son, George Evans, and a nephew.
“My daughter is at camp, and she’s a Reese Witherspoon fanatic. I feel like a traitor having come to see it without her. I’m going home to e-mail her all about it,” said Ms. Brown.
The Transom asked her about her blondeness.
“I think it’s easier for blondes to be winning, you know?” she said. “I think they can play the blonde whenever they want to, and it works better than for a brunette.”
The young Mr. Evans, devastatingly handsome with his reddish-brown hair, suddenly lit up.
“I love blondes, and that’s why I think I’d like to be a blonde!” he said. “I think I’d have more fun.”
Would Ms. Brown be taking her son to her colorist, The Transom asked?
“He’s out of control,” she said.
-Anna Jane Grossman & Alexandra Wolfe
The Man From V.E.R.S.A.C.E.
Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde also has its fair share of product placement. For example, Elle Woods carries a “Pan Am” Hogan bag and does her work on a custom pink Gateway computer. (Even Frédéric Fekkai makes a cameo.)
But the strangest bit comes from Versace, the House of Donatella currently outfitting Christina Aguilera, which gets a rib-tickling every so often from Saturday Night Live.
At an early point in the movie, Elle discovers that her Chihuahua Bruiser’s family is being used for animal testing at Viable Entropy Retraction Systems and Corporate Enterprises Inc., which can be abbreviated as V.E.R.S.A.C.E. Elle wants the dogs to come to her wedding, so she vows to get them out. But when she arrives at the animal-testing headquarters, she mistakenly identifies it-and who wouldn’t?-as the clothing company, and shows the security guard her customer-appreciation card, which only those who have shopped at more than six Versace boutiques can get. When that doesn’t do any good, Elle suggests that the security guard call Billy Daley, the Versace “customer-service representative.”
For fashion insiders, this is the biggest joke in the movie. Mr. Daley is, in fact, the senior publicist on the Versace account at KCD, a public-relations firm with offices in New York and Paris that is known as the gatekeeper for the most glamorous fashion shows in New York, with clients like Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui, Zac Posen and Helmut Lang.
Reached in Paris, Mr. Daley said that he had indeed heard that his name was featured in the movie. “I just thought no one would catch it,” he told The Transom.
“The whole thing happened really innocently.” KCD and Versace worked closely with the Legally Blonde 2 production, sending products and clothing to MGM and to the set. Several scenes involving the brand-including a few with Elle shopping at a Versace store, and another where she finds Bruiser in front of a Versace boutique-didn’t make it into the movie.
Just the animal-testing scene.
“We know that corporation is not Versace,” Mr. Daley said, speaking for every American moviegoer out there. “There’s no issue with our cosmetics and skin care. It’s a stylistic fashion film, and it’s almost better than her wearing the clothes, because they say ‘Versace’ two times in the first 10 or 15 minutes.”
But back to how he got in the movie: “Someone said to the writer [Kate Kondell], ‘This guy Billy Daley’s been great,'” Mr. Daley said. “And the writer said, ‘That’s a great name-why don’t we use it?’ People always say my name is very American. They shot the scene, and they asked me to sign a release. I thought it would be reshot and the name would be changed to Vladimir Something.
“I’m sure my mom’s all abuzz about it up in Boston. Regular people never think they’re going to make it into a movie.”
Lapps of Luxury
As summer heat finally begins to grip the city, many New Yorkers’ daydreams turn to waves lapping against the southern shore of their Long Island getaways. But on Wednesday, June 18, chef Alain Ducasse and his girlfriend, Gwenaelle Gueguen, were dreaming of a different vacation destination: scenic Lapland.
Dressed in a pink suit, Ms. Gueguen emerged with the quiet Mr. Ducasse to speak to guests, including publicist Susan Magrino and Vogue food writer Jeffrey Steingarten. Mr. Steingarten had just cheerfully stowed a special menu, designed in honor of the third anniversary of Mr. Ducasse’s first New York restaurant, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House.
The six-course meal included a breast of squab with foie gras and glazed turnips; pasta with lobster and rock octopus; and some deceptively thin French fries that popped with tomato pesto when you bit into them.
But Ms. Gueguen was thinking of climates where the victuals weren’t quite so tasty.
“The food was awful!” she said of their stay, now eight years past, in Lapland. “And it was so cold! You could not walk more than 40 steps before your face …. ” Here she stopped and pulled her skin back across her cheekbones, miming cold, frostbite or possibly a high wind. “It was the most wonderful vacation: We stayed in bed the whole time and slept. I actually want go back.”
But the couple won’t be returning to deepest, darkest Lapland for some time. Rather, they will split their summer between Mr. Ducasse’s other restaurants, which are everywhere from Paris and London to St. Tropez and Mauritius, before returning to New York in mid-September to open Mix, a 90-seat eatery on West 58th Street.
On Wednesday, June 25, supermodel Tyra Banks, the Victoria’s Secret angel and current producer-cum-host of UPN’s America’s Next Top Model, was out on 71st and Madison with her mother and another woman, bearing up under the heat in heavy blue jeans and a newsie cap.
Among the fans gazing after her was Baruch. The 17-year-old Ramaz student, dressed in a blue pinstripe suit, asked for her autograph and snapped a photo.
“You’re very articulate. I like the way you speak,” she said to him, according to Baruch.
Baruch slipped the paper into his briefcase and proudly told The Transom that this was his second autograph on his walk home from 85th Street: Jack Nicholson was filming the as-yet-untitled Nancy Meyers project just a few blocks away and had given him one as well.
The Transom waved goodbye to the young gentleman and continued along behind Ms. Banks into the teen-trendy boutique Intermix, between 77th and 78th streets on Madison Avenue, where she tried on a short, fitted leopard-print skirt by Moschino.
Her companion ooh’d and ahh’d while her mother sat outside the fitting rooms, chatting on the cell phone and resting on a bench in the shoe section. But the store was missing a crucial wardrobe element:
“Do you have wife-beaters?” Ms. Banks’ companion asked a salesgirl.
Indeed they did, and once she tried it on she was pleased, saying that it made the outfit look a bit more casual and was “good because it’s not too sexy.”
She joked that her hair was fried (it looked it) and complained about her extensions.
“I’ll probably have to wear a hat with this,” Ms. Banks said, referring to her television show. “I’m so sick of these frickin’ wigs.”
-Lucy Teitler & Alexandra Atiya
Rich or Richie?
Denise Rich may be trying to become the next Lionel Richie. Ms. Rich has co-written-along with Cedric Samson, the South African answer to Michael Jackson-two new songs to be released on July 22 on the compilation album Songs for Life, a charity effort whose proceeds will go to fight H.I.V./AIDS in Southern Africa.
The album, spearheaded by well-known entertainment lawyer Paul Marshall and King Mswati III of Swaziland-the founder of the Royal Initiative to Combat AIDS-was launched last Wednesday night in the Delegates Dining Room at the United Nations Building.
Swaziland, described to The Transom by a couple who had recently traveled there as “a land-locked nugget” between South Africa and Mozambique, has been decimated by H.I.V. and AIDS in recent years, thus prompting King Mswati III to take action and begin RICA.
His Majesty, who arrived around 6:30 p.m. flanked by a large, intimidating entourage, provided the element of intrigue as he was joined at brief intervals by Mr. Marshall, producer Phil Ramone, R&B singers Gerald Levert and Freddie Jackson, singer Becky Bealing, as well as Whoopi Goldberg and Miss Universe Amelia Vega.
When The Transom first spotted Ms. Rich (clad in a tight Dolce & Gabbana floral-patterned dress), she was undulating on a pair of glossy white Manolo Blahnik stilettos and clapping her hands to the soulful stylings of Mr. Levert as he sang his contribution to the album, “It’s Gonna Be O.K.”
After taking advantage of photo-ops with the prepubescent country-singing sensation Billy Gilman-“He is going to be huge,” she later prophesied-Ms. Rich found a moment to speak with The Transom.
“I think it was a few years ago that Paul Marshall called me up and he said: ‘Listen, do you want to write for this project, for Africa, for AIDS?’ And I’m like, ‘Sure,'” Ms. Rich explained, purring the “sure.”
She later joined up with Mr. Samson in Los Angeles, and they quickly wrote “Children of All Nations,” a little ditty reminiscent of the ’85 anthem “We Are the World.”
The Transom asked where the inspiration for the song came from.
“Just, you know, from life,” Ms. Rich said. “I have a song coming out on Jessica Simpson. I have a Spanish song on Marc Anthony. I have a song coming out on Geri Halliwell’s new album. I’m very excited.”
She’s also excited to be working with Mr. Ramone, who was brought onto the project by Mr. Marshall.
“The king got with Marshall and they started [Songs for Life],” Mr. Ramone said. A native of Fort Worth, Tex., Mr. Ramone-shod in a pair of aged cowboy boots and wearing a leather jacket of presumably the same vintage-spoke in a lyrical drawl that emerged from behind an orange-and-gray beard. “And I thought that’s a great way to spend your life-part of it.”
Songs for Life will include tracks from Britney Spears, Patti LaBelle, Judy Collins (who sings Ms. Rich’s anthem “Children of All Nations”) and the ever-popular Joan Osborne and Simply Red.
A Live Aid-esque concert is in the preliminary stages, and although Ken Kragen has been replaced, in this case, by a king from Swaziland, some things will never change.
“I mean, you know, really-the world needs so much hope and light and love at this time,” said Ms. Rich.