A banner with Bill Clinton’s book-jacket head shot-defiant, mischievous, self-satisfied-hung between the Ionic columns in the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum on June 21 as 1,000-odd guests circulated below.
Never had the stately Met felt more like a campaign stop. The crowd was racially diverse, star-studded and overwhelmingly political. Local politicians, operatives, lobbyists and former Clinton administration officials mingled with-or didn’t recognize-writers, literary agents, newspaper editors and Random House employees. Every so often, you could hear a glass shatter on the marble floor.
Who are these people? The Transom asked Paul Bogaards, the nattily dressed executive director of publicity at Alfred A. Knopf, Mr. Clinton’s publisher.
“Friends of Bill, baby!” he said.
This was a book party without books: Copies of My Life were not slated to go on sale until midnight (though The New York Times had broken Knopf’s embargo over the weekend). Friends of Bill were looking forward to getting one.
“I’m gonna read every page. I miss him,” the Reverend Al Sharpton said, angling his way through the packed crowd. In hindsight, he said, the Clinton years were “a lot better than I thought.” Mr. Sharpton said he’d take the book on the road and read it, “While working out. On the treadmill, on the Stairmaster.”
Indefatigable partygoer and former Public Advocate Mark Green was showing around Peggy Kerry, one of the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee’s two sisters. Ms. Kerry said she might use “a long vacation” to plow through My Life. “I still haven’t read Madeleine Albright’s book, or your book,” she said, turning to Mr. Green.
Media critic and Columbia University sociology professor Todd Gitlin said he didn’t think Michiko Kakutani’s front-page Times review panning the book would affect its sales. “But it’ll have an impact on the reputation of The New York Times, particularly its front-page choices,” said Mr. Gitlin, wine glass in hand.
Former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum amicably declined to discuss the Clinton book, though he was happy to discuss the fact that his daughter, Emily Nussbaum, had recently become the culture editor of New York magazine.
Fran Lebowitz, a Knopf author, was leaning up against the Met’s information desk, which was serving as a bar. Would she read the book? “Not until I finish writing my own,” she said. Her book is about progress-a concept, she reckoned, that The Transom was “too young” to remember.
Not far away, super-agent Binky Urban chatted with Talk-editor-turned-agent David Kuhn. Barbara Walters, elegant in a lemon yellow pantsuit, was making conversation with Chelsea Clinton’s frequent escort, the curly-haired, dark-suited Ian Klaus. Author Toni Morrison, D.C. power broker Vernon Jordan and sunny media couple George Stephanopolous and Ali Wentworth were also spotted. Senator Hillary Clinton was wearing one of her smart white pantsuits.
The crowd mobbed Mr. Clinton as he slowly made his way from the entrance to the podium. Some F.O.B.’s jockeyed to get close enough to snap a photo of the former President with their cell phones. “They all seem to be people who know him,” one woman said with some surprise.
Mr. Clinton stopped to greet Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, then the writer Walter Mosley. He told Mr. Mosley he was “almost done” reading the writer’s latest book. Mr. Mosley told The Transom that Mr. Clinton had been reading Little Scarlet, his latest Easy Rawlings novel, which will be out from Little, Brown in July.
How long before Mr. Clinton makes any money from the book? “There have to be a lot of books sold before I make anything,” the former President told The Transom, before the Secret Service finally nudged him away from his public and up to the podium. “They paid me a lot.”
On April 5, freshly appointed Warner Brothers creative executive Alissa Shipp, 30, moved into her new office at 381 Park Avenue South, shadowed under the Met Life building.
Her arrival is one of several harbingers that Hollywood studios, after shuttering their offices here during the budget cutbacks of the mid- to late 1990′s, are amping up their presence in New York City. Last year, DreamWorks S.K.G. created a Manhattan-based development office, hiring book scout Lisa Hamilton. Around the same time, Fox hired its own local book scout, Drew Reed, an alumnus of the talent agency Artists Management Group.
But Ms. Shipp’s appointment is unique in that it refutes a long-held notion that all New York has to offer Hollywood is its close proximity to the book business. Her responsibilities include discovering and building relationships with new talent in theater, journalism, filmmaking and music-video direction, in London as well as New York. “I’ve really been able to follow my nose,” Ms. Shipp said in a phone interview.
A graduate of Amherst, where she double-majored in English and fine arts, the young executive began her career in the film industry as an intern for producer Nancy Tanenbaum (Sex, Lies, and Videotape), which she parlayed into a gig assisting David O. Russell on the script for Three Kings. Since then, she has been a story editor for Polygram Filmed Entertainment, a literary development manager at indie production company Madstone Films and an assistant editor at Tin House magazine, the literary magazine co-edited by Vanity Fair “Hot Type” columnist Elissa Schappell and her husband, Rob Spillman.
Last year, Ms. Shipp began splitting her time between literary agent Nicole Aragi (who discovered Jonathan Safran Foer) and the offices of veteran international book scout Maria Campbell, who has an exclusive deal with Warner Brothers as their literary representative. It was Ms. Campbell who recommended Ms. Shipp to Warner’s vice president of production, Kevin McCormick, who, along with the president of production, Jeff Robinov, had recently been giving some thought to creating a New York–based creative-executive position. “We have extensive relationships in LA, both directly and through agents and other representatives,” Mr. Robinov said in a written statement, “but we felt that we needed a physical presence in New York as well, to provide greater access to the creative pool on the East Coast and even in the U.K.”
Ms. Shipp now joins Ms. Campbell as one of Warner’s East Coast cultural attachés. “I think this is a very articulated, double-barreled approach to the New York community and a very creative and interesting idea,” said Ms. Campbell, who’s been working with the company for over four years while maintaining her own significant international client base.
The New York creative offices of Warner Brothers were shut down in 1998, putting 20-year-veteran development executive Judy Tobey out of a job. At the time, Variety reported that this was at the whim of former president of production Lorenzo DiBonaventura, who supposedly wanted to have more control over book projects.
Mr. Robinov took over this position in September of 2002, and in his short reign has appeared to take a more collaborative, less micromanaging approach to production. “Alissa’s background has put her in touch with exactly the kind of voices we want to attract, and she has good practical understanding of how to bring them to our attention,” he said in his statement.
There is no dearth of jobs for newcomers and new voices at Warner Brothers. Since Mr. Robinov took over for Mr. DiBonaventura, he has taken several tent-pole pictures-many of them resurrected Warner franchises-and put them in the hands of young, experimental directors. Christopher Nolan, the director behind Memento, is currently shooting Batman Begins, and McG is slated to have a whack at the troubled Superman. Y Tu Mamá También director Alfonso Cuarón recently proved that the Harry Potter series still had life in it. The July release of the big-budget spectacle Catwoman, starring Halle Berry, will mark the U.S. directorial debut of young special-effects whiz Pitof. And Constantine, the first science-fiction move to star a post-Matrix Keanu Reeves, is being directed by neophyte Francis Lawrence.
Moreover, the West Coast–based Warner Independent is revving up its engines with Mark Gill at the helm, and this subsidiary will need plenty of fuel from the center of the independent-filmmaking world.
“I think they’re willing to take risks on filmmakers they identify as people they want to work with,” said Ms. Shipp, citing the recent signing of Sean Ku, a U.S.C. film student who was signed by Warner to develop a musical-with the intent to direct it-just days before he graduated. And so, as Ms. Shipp hunts for the next Christopher Nolan, she follows this mandate: Find people with a unique voice that are willing to do something with a commercial sensibility. “You want something that’s-and I don’t use this word pejoratively at all-accessible, that people will be able to respond to. And ‘accessible’ doesn’t mean ‘lowest common denominator,’” she said.
“Even in these times of globalized media, I still think there’s such a thing as a regional voice that has broad appeal,” Mr. Robinov said in his statement. “There has been so much interesting material coming out of New York’s theatrical and literary community lately, and we felt that the moment was right for us to establish a full-time presence in New York that would give us an insider’s access to the best of what’s out there.”
Ms. Shipp, a native New Yorker, said she loves that this isn’t a one-industry town. “You can really pull from everything,” she said. “You can pull from the magazine world, from the literary world, from the theater world, from the film world here. It’s a much more collaborative environment.”
De-Kline and Fall?
There was love to go around at Monday’s De-Lovely premiere-for the most part, that is.
The movie’s star, Ashley Judd, had a huge hug for newly engaged pal Alanis Morissette.
“You look beautiful!” Ms. Judd cried, embracing Ms. Morissette, who wore a daring black dress that crisscrossed perilously in the front.
Ms. Morissette did a cameo in the film, singing a Cole Porter tune along with crooners like Sheryl Crow, Natalie Cole and Elvis Costello. The song she sings in the film, “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love),” is “about everything,” Ms. Morissette said, “love, sex-everything …. “
Fiancé Ryan Reynolds was at her side, holding Ms. Morissette’s arm and chatting eagerly about their betrothal.
Actor Kevin Kline, however, had fewer hugs to share. As Cole Porter, Mr. Kline plays a musician whose boundless passion makes him fall in love with both men and women. On the red carpet, however, he showed little affection toward The Observer, which had published his address in its “Manhattan Transfers” quite a long time ago.
“What? You’re from The Observer?” he said to a cowering female intern poised to ask about the nuances of Cole Porter’s personality. “Don’t be cunts. Be nice.”
Perhaps Mr. Kline’s pointy mustache, worn for the filming of The Pink Panther, has had a transformative effect on his personality. The intern rephrased her question: Did Cole Porter have any lessons to offer her errant publication?
“Yeah,” Mr. Kline shot back, “get a life.”
Luscious wife Phoebe Cates was left to pick up the pieces. “I’m sorry,” she mouthed over the flash of cameras, “but it’s true.”
Betsey, Bachelorette, Basabe
Designer Betsey Johnson decided to swing by Crobar last Wednesday night “for the heck of it,” she said.
She does a few “artsy-craftsy” things every summer, and the Designers Ball, which helped out charities and promoted young designers, seemed innocuous enough.
There was only one problem: Jed Weinstein, the ball’s organizer, had asked Ms. Johnson to do a retrospective of her work. “It was another opportunity to feel like a grandmother,” she said.
The 62-year-old punk maven capitulated, however, picking out 10 looks from her 1960′s and 70′s lines, Paraphernalia and Alley Cat-”nothing interesting after 1985,” she said-and sending an underling to outfit the mannequins sprinkled through Crobar’s downstairs “V.I.P.” area.
Ms. Johnson arrived at 7:30 p.m., fresh from the dentist’s chair. She took the press on a whirlwind tour of her outlandish outfits-including a 1975 quilted green “clown jacket” and a silver fishnet tunic worn by Karen Black in the 1969 film Easy Rider-and was gone by 9.
“I’m not an all-nighter anymore,” she told The Transom by phone from the Hamptons last Friday. “A little press, a little la-di-da, and I’m gone.”
For all the promotion, Ms. Johnson’s spiky-haired presence provoked barely a ripple in the cavernous club. Instead, the concept of fashion was but a distant backdrop to the hordes of B-listers, models and young designers who were busy with, well, themselves. The night was neither fashion nor trade show, neither club party nor benefit. It was a mix of all these.
ABC’s Bachelorette 2 stars “Meredith and Ian” were billed as the hosts of the evening. But when the gangly pair popped out of a taxi at the club’s entrance, wandering unceremoniously into the press line, a small debate broke out among the thin mob of P.R. people and photographers as to who, exactly, had just appeared.
Inside, above the throb of dance-hall music, Meredith mused on how her life had changed since going on national television. “Well,” she shrugged, looking at Ian, “we’re together.”
Somebody yelled catcalls at models on the runway, and the same models later emerged from a makeshift changing area to order drinks at the bar. Little clumps of partygoers pushed past stalls on the balcony, where the young designers displayed their wares.
Soap star Eva LaRue (All My Children) raved about the delicate, diamond-encrusted earrings in a nearby stall, and Jamie Gleicher, 19, of Rich Girls fame, wandered down to the dance floor on the arm of designer Anand Jon.
“We love fashion,” she said.
Socialite Fabian Basabe, 25, was part of the committee that selected the new designers. He was recovering from his role in yet another reality-TV innovation.
Mr. Basabe’s From Simple Life to Social Life (TCL) is the reverse of the Simple Life idea, plucking a farm girl from in rural Iowa and plunging her into the wilds of New York society, with Mr. Basabe as her host.
“I spent a lot of time overexplaining everything,” he said as blue lights flashed above the stage and a new wave of partygoers flooded the faux-bamboo bar area. “The downside was that I didn’t want her to go away thinking her life was any worse than-well-this.”