This is the city of strange bedfellows, but every so often the combinations are so unfathomable that attention must be paid. That was certainly the case on the evening of Nov. 17, when CLAL (the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership) staged a benefit performance of selections from Stargazer: The Rock Opera-about the cosmological clash between Galileo, astronomer and inventor of the telescope, and the Catholic Church-at the Asia Society on Park Avenue and 70th Street.
The primary author of Stargazer is Craig Hatkoff, the real-estate entrepreneur and co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival-which is only to be expected given Mr. Hatkoff’s marriage to Jane Rosenthal, the head of Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Films company and co-founder of the festival as well.
What was unexpected was seeing the roles of Galileo, Pope Urban VIII and the Dominican Friar Thomas Caccini sung by Joe Lynn Turner, who is best known as the lead singer for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and a version of the heavy-metal band Deep Purple that toured in the early 90′s. Mr. Turner co-wrote the lyrics to Stargazer with Mr. Hatkoff, and was backed on Nov. 17 by a seven-piece band that included guitarist and musical director Alan Schwartz, who co-wrote the music with Mr. Hatkoff, and New York session singer Kati Mac, who sang the part of Marina Gamba, Galileo’s mistress and the mother of his three children.
Mr. Hatkoff told The Transom that his idea for Stargazer began about eight years ago, after the scientist Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, gave him a book about Galileo and asked him, “Why can’t we treat our scientists like rock stars?” That and Mr. Hatkoff’s chronic insomnia fueled what he said became an “obsession” with the astronomer.
Another of Mr. Hatkoff’s obsessions-albeit a much more private one-is guitar-playing, and, he explained, after reading dozens of books on Galileo, he began to compose what would amount to a 24-song cycle about the 17th-century scandal involving the astronomer. The short version is that Galileo’s celestial research led him to conclude that the theory of the 16th-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was correct: The earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around, as scientists and the church had been saying for the previous 2,000 years. Galileo’s attempts to sway the church got him in hot water, however. Although Pope Urban, a friend of the astronomer, urged him to write a treatise on the pros and cons of Copernican theory-providing he limit his arguments to mathematical theory-the resulting research, Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, ended in Galileo being called before the Inquisition in 1633. He recanted his Copernican beliefs and was given a life sentence under house arrest.
But in telling the tale through music, Mr. Hatkoff has put his own spin on the story. As the program distributed that evening read, “Our story begins to reveal a Church that is far more supportive of Galileo than history often portrays and exposes a darker and more complex side of Galileo”-who, in another part of the program, is billed as the world’s first “‘rock star’ scientist”-”whose own actions and very bad behavior contributed significantly to his own demise.” He also has Galileo telling the story in flashback to the poet and political essayist John Milton, who, according to many scholars, met Galileo in his final years. At the end of his life, according to the program, the blind and ailing astronomer “reflects on how freedom and restraint must operate in a delicate pendulum-like balance for society to progress.”
“I’m not trying to say this is exactly what happened,” Mr. Hatkoff said. “I’m saying this is an interesting way to have a dialogue about what may have happened.”
According to Mr. Hatkoff, he didn’t initially intend for that dialogue to be heard in a public setting. The entrepreneur explained that he originally wrote the rock opera as a kind of enjoyable, educational experience for his daughters Juliana, 9, and Isabella, 5. Mr. Hatkoff said he was introduced to Mr. Turner by Mr. Schwartz and began working with the singer after Mr. Turner “recorded some lullabies” for my daughters. Indeed, until the Nov. 17 performance, he said that, excluding family, “maybe a dozen people had heard the music.”
But approximately a year ago, when Mr. Hatkoff and his wife were looking for religious training for their daughters, their friend Perri Peltz Ruttenberg-who chaired the Nov. 17 performance with her husband, Eric Ruttenberg-introduced them to CLAL’s president, Rabbi Irwin Kula, whom Mr. Hatkoff called “the rock ‘n’ roll rabbi.” The two men struck up a relationship. When Mr. Hatkoff mentioned his rock opera to the rabbi, Mr. Kula suggested that it might be a good fit for CLAL’s benefit. “I guess in a moment of weakness, we agreed to do it,” Mr. Hatkoff said.
“How did this come to be?” Mr. Kula asked the crowd at the performance, which included Ms. Rosenthal, public-relations executive Steven Rubenstein and investment banker Alan Patricof. How did a Jewish think tank come to stage a rock opera about Galileo and the Catholic Church, let alone the first rock opera of any kind to be heard at the Asia Society? Rabbi Kula’s answer: “Crossing borders may be the key to wisdom now.”
Shortly after that, Mr. Turner-wearing shaggy hair and what looked like a wine-colored crushed-velvet dress shirt-raised his goblet of rock and performed seven guitar-driven songs that would have sounded at home on the School of Rock soundtrack. Mr. Turner did not change costumes or voices to differentiate the three characters he was interpreting, but the program noted that “Natural Order of Things,” which had the lyrics “Copernicus learned / While others were burned,” would be sung by Friar Caccini, while “Rules by Fools,” Galileo’s dismissal of those scientists who were less capable than him, would be sung by the astronomer. And Mr. Turner–as–Pope Urban sang “Save the World,” about the burden of holding Christendom together in a time of war and plague.
Then it was back to being Galileo for the evening’s most challenging song, “Areopagitica,” which is harder to pronounce correctly than “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” and refers to Milton’s 1644 essay of the same name, which argued against restricting freedom of the press. (It’s also the essay in which Milton writes of meeting the blind Galileo.)
Mr. Hatkoff, who didn’t play in the band but participated in a question-and-answer session afterward, said that the CLAL benefit was the first time he’d heard Stargazer live. “It was truly terrifying,” he said. But the crowd gave him a big hand afterward, and now Mr. Hatkoff has begun thinking in terms of staging an actual opera. He has begun working with a science foundation, which he declined to identify, and said that he’s written a 40-page treatment for the opera.
“I think it would be great if it ended up on Broadway or London or as a rock show,” Mr. Hatkoff continued. “But as Jane says: ‘It’s taken eight years-what’s the rush?’”
Hef’s Black Books
On Dec. 17, Christie’s will auction off more than 300 lots of Playboy Enterprises memorabilia, including manuscripts, a bunny costume, a limousine and-perfect 10!-Bo Derek’s March 1980 Playboy cover, upon which she’s wearing little more than rags and a pinched smile. But perhaps the most mythic items that will be up for grabs are Hugh Hefner’s “Little Black Books,” documents that actually altered the vernacular. Little black books were once places to store an enemies list; Mr. Hefner made them a little sexier.
And yet, the books are not the trim directories one might expect them to be, as The Transom discovered when Christie’s let us examine them in a room overlooking the auction space.
The two books which are up for auction measure roughly two by three inches, and the majority of their entries are meticulously written in pencil. The one from 1957 doesn’t have a lot of meat to it-except for the “Joyce Simpson” entry:
met at Harold’s-blonde-appeared near-nude in Monsieur
The entries from 1958 are culturally more interesting: Peter Arno and Richard Avedon’s addresses and phone numbers kick things off, and arouse suspicions that Hef was poaching from The New Yorker.
But the most sociologically fascinating entry:
Hef’s N.Y. apt.
418 E. 71st St.
Hugh M. Hefner called himself “Hef”!
There’s the occasional lady, of course (“Judy Gammon,” who was apparently a “playmate in black feather boa”), but also Dr. Wardell Pomeroy (“Office AG 9-2466″) and “Paul’s Limousine Service.” (Dr. Pomeroy, by the way, was a Kinsey sex researcher who is going to be the subject of a biopic. Chris O’Donnell plays the goatish doctor.)
“I think everybody figured it would be a bunch of famous names and girlfriends and rotations, and all that ‘black book’ implies,” Mr. Hefner said by phone from the Mansion in Holmby Hills. In fact, there is one such book, he confided, but it would never see the light of day.
One entry in particular caught our eye:
There are two obvious questions: a) What’s a chess playmate? And b) Why does Hef have Gloria’s parents’ number?
“Well,” said Mr. Hefner, “maybe I was dating young girls. I think maybe back in the 50′s and 60′s, teenage girls lived at home.”
“Sounds like somebody that I was dating-whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa … oh, oh, no!” Mr. Hefner sounded like he was trying to stop a runaway horse. “I know who it is now! She did her centerfold posed with a chess set. If she actually played chess, I have no idea. But I know she looked very good in the picture, nude, moving those pieces.”
Mr. Hefner seemed more at ease discussing the future than the past, even though, at 77, that involves dealing with his mortality.
“Westwood cemetery, which is located not too far from where I live, is where Marilyn Monroe is buried, and where I will be buried, in a vault right next to her,” he said.
What would be his epitaph? we asked.
“[He] had some positive impact on changing the sexual and social values of his time-and had a lot of fun in the process,” Mr. Hefner said.
He’d be remembered in other ways. “A biography of my life is going to be done by Brian Grazer,” he said.
Will Ron Howard direct?
The appeal of his life story is obvious, and Mr. Hefner readily admits that he’s lived a disgustingly full life-and seen naked just about every woman he desired. But he still has a wish list: “I would like [to see] exactly the ones that the readers would like to see: Zeta-Jones, Britney Spears ….” He adds, mischievously, “We have our celebrity-wranglers out there.”
In the end-one gets the feeling that the auction is some kind of ending; Playboy’s profits have dipped sharply since its heyday-Mr. Hefner has kept an admirable view of himself and his accomplishments. He takes nothing for granted, and there are still wispy traces of the man of whom Gay Talese wrote: “He was a sex junkie with an insatiable habit.”
“One of the reasons that Playboy has prevailed,” said Mr. Hefner, “and that I have continued to be popular, and that my lifestyle continues to fuel fantasies, is because, you know, there really is a serious, redeeming social value going on here. In other words, I really have lived a wonderful adventure of a life, but done it with a pure heart. I’m still very much-and I’m 77 years old-the boy who dreamed the dream. I wake up every day marveling at what it’s all about, pinching myself. There’s a certain kind of innocence about it.”
-Elon R. Green
Kaus + Coulter = ?
On the evening of Dec. 4, The New Yorker’s Malcolm (The Tipping Point) Gladwell, Sarah Lyall (a New York Times reporter based in London) and House and Garden editor at large Deborah Needleman had a joint birthday party celebrating the fact that they have each just turned 40. Among the several dozen party guests at Vine on Broad Street was Slate blogger Mickey Kaus, who brought right-wing pundit Ann Coulter as his date. Mr. Kaus is an acquaintance of Mr. Gladwell’s from the days when they were both working in Washington, D.C., in the mid-90′s (Mr. Kaus at The New Republic, Mr. Gladwell at The Washington Post), as well as a longtime friend of Ms. Needleman’s husband, Jacob Weisberg, also formerly of The New Republic and now Slate’s editor in chief.
“It didn’t seem like a lefty crowd, but then Anne Coulter walked in,” Ms. Needleman said.
“She was in a jaunty mood-perfectly fine and nice. Not necessarily evil,” said one guest, who added that people seemed more excited to be in a room with Mr. Kaus, who’s a good deal shorter than the lanky Ms. Coulter. “She and [Mr. Kaus] definitely seemed more than friends. The jocular repartee they had going made it seem like they had a little James Carville–Mary Matalin thing going.”
But Mr. Kaus says that, alas, there is no budding love affair. “We’re just friends,” he told The Transom, adding that they’ve known each other since she lived in Washington in the mid-90′s. Ms. Coulter has spoke kindly of the liberal Mr. Kaus in the past, telling the Right Wing News last summer that she makes a point of checking his blog frequently because she likes the way he sums up long-winded New York Times stories.
And Mr. Kaus has a nice little nod to Ms. Coulter on his site. Intermittently, a banner on Kausfiles.com displays an ad for an Ann Coulter doll. Available for $29.95 at NewsMaxStore.com, the Barbie-doll-like figure says 14 phrases, including: “Liberals hate America, they hate flag-wavers, they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam, post-9/11. Even Islamic terrorists don’t hate America like liberals do. They don’t have the energy. If they had that much energy, they’d have indoor plumbing by now.”
Mr. Kaus said that although he bought one of the dolls to give to a liberal friend as a joke, he has no control over its being advertised on his page. “It’s done robotically. It’s on other [Slate] pages too,” he said.
Apparently, Ms. Coulter spouted none of her 14 disparaging phrases at the party and just had an old-fashioned good time. “She met a lot of liberals who she liked-I think,” he said.
In response to an e-mail from The Transom, Ms. Coulter wrote, “The paid advertisement on Kausfiles.com at this precise moment shows a picture of Mel Gibson. Do you think THAT’S a coincidence? Mickey and I are great friends but for all his wonderful qualities, I could never compete with his true love, which is, of course … welfare reform.”
-Anna Jane Grossman
Buttering Up Bonnie
At breakfast time at media hot spot Michael’s restaurant, patrons awaiting their guests can sit in the alcove near the entrance and pick up any number of newspapers and magazines. Regulars such as Michael Wolff, Dominick Dunne and Mort Zuckerman can pore through The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and now, the supermarket-checkout mag The Star. “We’ve just started carrying The Star in the past few months,” said Michael’s general manager, Steven Millington. “Some of the editors and publishers we cater to wanted us to carry it.”
Anyone in particular? The Transom asked.
“Someone who comes here a lot asked us to carry it, and we said sure,” said Mr. Millington. Bonnie Fuller, perhaps, who just started editing The Star in the past few months?
“It could possibly be,” replied Mr. Millington, though he wouldn’t confirm that Ms. Fuller was indeed the person.
Well, is she at least a regular there? we pressed.
“She sure is,” he said.