Liza Minnelli, who once modeled Blackglama mink, then for years was a fervent anti-fur advocate, was spotted at Nov. 13’s opening-night party for famed furrier Dennis Basso’s new Madison Avenue store. But The Transom-we were the First Postmodern Gossip Column!-were kind of puzzled. We are just good-natured kids, but we remember that in 1995, The Boston Globe reported that Ms. Minnelli -along with Kim Basinger, Barbra Streisand, Melissa Etheridge and some others-had “renounced fur.”
Or was it fir? The hell with it! So was this appearance at the ritziest fur shop in the city merely a favor for a good friend-the gravel-voiced Mr. Basso outfitted Ms. Minnelli for her last wedding-or a renunciation of her 1995 renouncing of fur?
In February, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals assembled a “worst-dressed” list-and Liza was on it! The organization even noted, somewhat cryptically, “If her hubby fakes it, surely she can.” That seemed a little cruel to Beau Gest, but so be it. PETA also stuck Star Jones on the list, and she was at Basso’s party, too.
“We had written to Liza several years ago,” a PETA spokesman told us, “and she said she would no longer wear fur. We hope last night was a momentary indiscretion.” Liza may have meant she would no longer wear fir. Christmas is coming. She may no longer wear the Fraser fir, the Douglas fir or the Norway spruce. “Postmodern” means you think you can make rotten single-entendre jokes with a straight face, like that guy on Jon Stewart who also makes Mr. Goodwrench ads.
Ms. Minnelli did not return phone calls.
-Elon R. Green
Roman à Cooper
First two ex-nannies ratted out their Park Avenue bosses, then an ex-reporter revealed the innards of Vanity Fair. Next an ex-assistant lifted Anna Wintour’s skirt-not literally!-and now an ex-editor will soon expose another Condé Nast mainstay, this time GQ. Former GQ literary editor Thomas Mallon’s new book, Bandbox, due for publication on Jan. 6, is the story of a successful monthly men’s magazine, Bandbox, whose star editor leaves for a rival paper and competition ensues. Sounds like a TV Guide description, doesn’t it? But Mr. Mallon’s book is not a typical tell-all in the “rat lit” sense.
“It’s a loving portrait of the magazine,” said Pantheon Books’ director of publicity, Suzanne Williams. Also, the satire is set in the 1920’s, when Si Newhouse wasn’t yet a Newhousian glimmer. But “it’s definitely based on GQ,” Ms. Williams said. “The plot is really fictional, really out of Tom’s imagination, but the setting is based on his own experiences and certainly on the current magazine world.”
Mr. Mallon introduces the magazine’s entire masthead and describes how the newsroom works. He also portrays a Hollywood star, a sex-crazed actress named Rosemary LaRoche, who is supposed to be the subject of a cover story. While Mr. Mallon mentions Prohibition, President Coolidge and crime boss Arnold Rothstein, the magazine’s staff still has a contemporary feel. The fictional editor in chief is a thinly disguised portrayal of the late Art Cooper, who edited GQ from 1983 to 2003. While Cooper’s character may be flattering, Mr. Mallon’s other characters based on various GQ editors and writers may not be as complimentary. “The parallels sort of explain themselves,” said Ms. Williams. “I think people will be playing a guessing game when it comes out. How could you not?”
That all depends, Ms. Williams. But if one of the editors suddenly quits to go edit Esquire, we’ll know we’re on the right track.
Lost in Agitation
After over 1,000 news articles and 19,100 hits on Google, director Sofia Coppola says she is immune to publicity for her movie, Lost in Translation. Ms. Coppola, the daughter of her father, and the wife of film director Sp’ike J’onze, had just walked out of the fourth-floor screening room at Soho House, where she was hosting a viewing of John Schlesinger’s Darling, starring Julie Christie, for The Week’s “Grand Classics” series.
Wearing a somber black, long-sleeved sheath dress, the slight Ms. Coppola edged toward the elevator hoping to go up to the sixth floor for a mid-screening escape, but a crowd soon formed around her, trapping her in the hallway between the elevators and the animal-skin-covered “White Room.” Scary, huh? Five photographers who had waited two hours for her to emerge lunged into place in front of her, and when she was asked how her life had changed after Lost in Translation came out, Ms. Coppola just looked dreamily around her. “I don’t know,” she said. “I can’t tell. No drastic changes.”
She said that before the movie’s opening, “nobody really knew about it at all.” Perhaps unaware of the 418 articles that came out before the film’s Sept. 12 release date, she said, “We only did publicity for the opening. We just went to Japan and made it. It was very private.”
Then, in an I’m-tired-of-life drawl that bordered on Napa Valley ennui, Ms. Coppola said she hadn’t even thought about the Oscars. “I didn’t even think about them when I was making the movie, and now people are talking about it, about how that’s coming up and that we’ll be a part of it, but I really don’t know,” she said of the Academy Awards. Despite countless pre-release screenings in Los Angeles and numerous actor and director profiles, including one cover of The New York Times Magazine, Ms. Coppola followed the nonchalant Oscar attitude and said, “I don’t think about them.”
What’s It All About, Gray-dohhhhh?
Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, Nick Nolte and Kevin Kline, stand aside. Susan Sarandon’s next onscreen beau is Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. Over the weekend of Nov. 15 and 16, Mr. Carter was filming Alfie, director Charles Shyer’s 2005 remake of Lewis Gilbert’s 1966 film that made a star of Michael Caine. The new version stars Jude Law, but Graydon Carter “plays a wealthy New Yorker who is a businessman,” said Vanity Fair spokeswoman Beth Kseniak. Mr. Carter was on set for a total of three days in at least one scene at Chanel on 64th and Madison. During the filming, Chanel was decked in Christmas lights and the sidewalks were covered in fake snow. Ms. Kseniak said, “Susan Sarandon plays his girlfriend,” but did not know whether Mr. Carter had any scenes with Alfie himself (Mr. Law), or with any of the other women in the film, namely Marisa Tomei, Sienna Miller and Jane Krakowski. While Mr. Carter has played himself on film in Thin Ice, The Paper and Guilty Pleasure: The Dominick Dunne Story, this will be the editor’s first time acting in a new role.
Billy’s Mitzvah Bar
The venerable Friars Club has been naming more rooms than the New Jersey Turnpike lately. Within the last year, the dining room became the Frank Sinatra Room; the Billiards Room, once Sinatra’s, became the William B. Williams Room-commemorating the Sinatra-loving D.J. who named Frank “Chairman of the Board.” And now the first-floor bar has become the Billy Crystal Room. The Friars Club is putting its youngest punim first.
“It’s a turn of a corner for the club,” Friars Club abbot Alan King explained at the Nov. 11 dedication, when over 200 Friars and guests showed up to celebrate the 56-year-old Mr. Crystal’s still-vibrant career. “We believe in our ghosts and our icons and our legends. But when a member comes in and doesn’t know who George Burns was …. ”
A red ribbon was strung at the entranceway to the bar, and Mr. King said a few words of praise for Mr. Crystal, while That “You Look Mah-velous” Man held the abnormally big golden scissors by Mr. King’s crotch, muttering Hebrew. This drew laughter, but did not impede Mr. King’s short speech. When the ribbon was cut, Mr. King yelled, “Now everyone, get the hell out of here!”
The late, great George Burns, who passed away in 2001 at the age of 100, also has a room at the club, along with the late, great Milton Berle-who was the first person to appear on television, in 1928-and the late, great Joe E. Lewis, whose throat was slashed in the 1920’s for not renewing his contract with a mob-owned club. But Mr. Crystal is only great, not late, and according to those in attendance-including Mr. Crystal’s Analyze This co-star, Robert De Niro, New York Yankees manager Joe Torre and Law and Order stalwart Jerry Orbach-Mr. Crystal is the link between Henny Youngman, Buddy Hackett, Uncle Miltie and today’s comedians.
“Billy is the bridge between the Friars Club sensibility and the modern comedy world,” said his silky fellow pre-geezer, Bob Costas. “Billy’s one of the few guys who can appeal to my 17-year-old son, but Alan King’s generation is totally locked into him, too.”
Mr. Crystal will be hosting another Academy Awards this February. And yet, if you ever wondered where Mr. Crystal found the inspiration for the ornery, geriatric Buddy Young Jr. in his film Mr. Saturday Night, you only had to take a brief look around the Friars’ entrance hallway: Silver-haired entertainers in Technicolor sports coats had packed the marble foyer.
“Like me, he’s loyal to the traditions of show business and the Friars Club,” said Paul Shaffer of David Letterman’s The Late Show band. Mr. Shaffer was wearing all brown leather. The Billy Crystal Room, he said, “means a lot to him.” Mr. Shaffer said he remembered Mr. Crystal from the early days-the very early days. “I saw him in Hollywood when he was on Soap,” Mr. Shaffer said. “We wrote a song together, ‘You Look Mahvelous,’ when he was doing Fernando on Saturday Night Live. We were nominated for a Grammy. Whoever we lost to wasn’t as funny as our record.”
Mr. King said he remembered Mr. Crystal when he was just a burgeoning comedian looking for a steady gig. “Well, he came over to me-I was already Alan King and he wasn’t Billy Crystal-and said hello and told me he was an aspiring young comedian,” Mr. King said. “And then I watched him over the years when he went to Saturday Night Live. He’s been more than just a friend; we’ve been very close. I played his father in a movie.”
Mr. Crystal’s ceremony was more like a bar mitzvah than a dedication. An easel sat with his headshot so guests could sign messages of congratulation; Dominic Chianese and Abe Vigoda sang a rendition of “O Sole Mio” like two bubbies blotto on Manischewitz, while Richard Belzer, Mike Wallace and Mr. Torre surrounded Mr. Crystal like lost uncles. “I’m the last of the old, and he’s the last of the young,” said Mr. King. “‘Cause he’s not young anymore, which I am very pleased about.”
Engaging the Barbarians
“What I think is that, whether you want it or not-whether you accept it or not-you are an empire,” said the French-Canadian director Denys Arcand after the Nov. 17 screening of his newest film, The Barbarian Invasions. He, of course, is using “you” to mean Americans and not just The Transom, however much we would like to think that we are an empire (as well as the First Postmodern Gossip Column).
“You have to wage war, incessantly, every 10 years. So now it is the second Iraq war, and before, Afghanistan,” he said, sitting in between Michael Mailer and Frank Langella in Plaza Athénée’s Arabelle. “What’s next-Pakistan, North Korea? You have to wage war incessantly, because if you are the dominating empire, people are going to attack you incessantly.”
This is how Mr. Arcand explains the title of the film that won him the Best Screenplay award at this year’s Cannes. And with this, Mr. Arcand appears to be the French-Canadian excuse for a modern-day Tocqueville. The Barbarian Invasions, set in Montreal, is very much a film about America’s relationship to Canada, a country that Mr. Arcand said “nobody cares about or even thinks about. It’s to the north and it’s covered with ice, and that’s all you see.”
Mr. Arcand will surely gain some notoriety here for being one of the first directors to address the Sept. 11 attacks head-on, employing a startling image of the second plane hitting the Twin Towers halfway through the film. The Transom asked why he decided to put the footage in.
“Well, I couldn’t avoid it, unfortunately,” Mr. Arcand said somberly. “I’m dealing with historians, so it became part of their lives. It happened; it’s part of history. They would want to comment on it.”
The film, which follows a professor dying of cancer reuniting with old friends and reconciling with his estranged son, resurrects the characters from Mr. Arcand’s 1986 comedy, The Decline of the American Empire, and therefore is not as dour as one might think. “I was trying to write a script about a man facing his own death,” he said. “And I didn’t want to do a bleak, depressing film, which I hate. I couldn’t come up with a solution until three years ago, when I was reminded of these people”-the kind of old characters, Mr. Arcand said, “who would smoke a joint before they’re dead.”
Six Degrees of Paul Newman
During the full-cast bow following the Nov. 13 performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway, there was a lot of whispering and nudging going on between Ashley Judd and Jason Patric, who play spicy Southern belle Maggie the Cat and her angry, possibly sexually confused husband, Brick Pollitt, in the revival of the Tennessee Williams classic. All their attention was focused on the fourth row, where Paul Newman was standing up and applauding.
The show clearly held a lot of importance for the 78-year old movie star and actor, who played the crippled, confused Brick in the de-gayed but memorable 1958 film version with Elizabeth Taylor and Burl Ives. Mr. Newman also made his Broadway debut at the Music Box Theatre-the theater where Cat is being performed-in William Inge’s Picnic, in 1953. That production was also the first time that he performed with his future wife Joanne Woodward, who was an understudy. According to his publicist, Warren Cowan, they’d first met shortly before that in the office of their then agent, John Foreman, but it was backstage that their romance took root. They married five years later.
Mr. Newman went backstage to talk to the cast following the performance, but they hadn’t been forewarned that he was coming and some cast members, including Ned Beatty-with whom Mr. Newman performed in John Huston’s 1972 movie The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean-had already left the theater, as had Margo Martindale, who plays Big Mama Pollitt, who had acted with him in Nobody’s Fool in 1994 and Twilight in 1998. However, Mr. Newman did get to speak with Ms. Judd and Mr. Patric backstage, and we’re sure there were many wires to cross: Mr. Patric is the grandson of the late Great One, Jackie Gleason, who played Minnesota Fats in the 1961 film The Hustler, opposite … Mr. Newman.
-Anna Jane Grossman
The Transom Also Hears…
At the opening-night performance of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All at the Longacre Theatre on the evening of Nov. 17, Allan Gurganus, the author of the 1989 book of the same name on which the play was based, seemed poised to start a standing ovation before the show’s sole performer, Ellen Burstyn-playing his character Lucy Marsden, a storyteller in an old-age home-even took the stage.
The bearded, smoking-jacket-clad Mr. Gurganus shouted the first of several truly guttural “Bravas!” not five minutes into the show, when Ms. Burstyn, still in character, told an audience member to turn off his cell phone. However, the imbroglio didn’t jar actor Alec Baldwin’s willowy date, Nicole Seidel, who-curled cozily around his arm-slept soundly through the entire first act.