The Transom, in its former civilian life, once had the pleasure of accompanying a local magazine’s former party reporter, Elizabeth Spiers, to what they call a “red-carpet event.”
By now, that evening has been rendered by the haze of time into Mad Libs.
The occasion was to announce an amount of money- a largish figure-being designated for something- name of a fashionable lethal disease-by a company that could well afford to give that much and more away. Hmm. Name of a fancy merchandising conglomerate?
The evening was horrific. Poor Ms. Spiers spent hours trying to infiltrate the gelatinous human cluster around Demi Moore, the only A-list star present, who squatted in a dark corner like a tick so glutted on blood she couldn’t even twitch her legs. As we recall, the weary Ms. Spiers came away with a quotation from someone who was then lucky or savvy enough to be temporarily famous-Scott Speedman, perhaps?
We were reminded of that tragicomic evening for two reasons. The first was this Monday’s world premiere for Bewitched, at which the red carpet stretched into the hot, white night outside the Ziegfeld Theater.
The NY1 society reporter (and advocate of enormous, unruly eyebrows) George Whipple wandered the red carpet and chatted on his cell. An English reporter said hello to him from behind our media-barricade lineup. ( In Touch was next to VH1. WB11 was next to Lowdown. MTV alongside Star, which was next to Boldface Names.) Mr. Whipple greeted the English fellow warmly. After: “He doesn’t know who I am,” the guy said. “I’ve been standing next to him for three, four years, he doesn’t know who I am.”
Actually important people-Barry Diller, for one-passed relatively unmolested. But when an actor-type celebrity arrived-which was marked by the screaming of the photographers from down the other end of our bullpen, the sound of which is something like a gang war in an emergency room-four or five journalists from independent publications simultaneously extended their tape recorders, a pool practice which, in a more ideal world, might be opposed by some journalistic cousin of antitrust legislation.
Red-carpet lineups aren’t reporting, they’re pressers, and Stephen Colbert might as well be Scott McClellan.
And truly: In service of his upcoming television show, The Colbert Report, as well as his role in Bewitched, Mr. Colbert turned on the charm for Inside Edition and Fox News alike.
Fox News told David Alan Grier, the one black man on that side of the barricade, that Michael Jackson had been acquitted just an hour or two previously. Mr. Colbert: “I’m just so thrilled his career is back on top! King of Pop! King of Pop!”
“I’m so happy for him,” Mr. Colbert said to New York Times Boldface Names columnist Paula Schwartz, the hot, reigning red-carpet queen, on whom The Transom has a huge crush. She either questioned him-“Seriously?”-or gave him a quizzical look.
“Absolutely,” Mr. Colbert told Ms. Schwartz, in deadly earnest.
VH1 asked him to write a news headline for the Michael Jackson story:
“The King of Pop … still … has his … crown?” he tried. (Well, it’s still better than “Boy, Oh Boy.”)
A German TV guy interrupted our eavesdropping to say that he’d like to interview The Transom, so that we might enlighten the lovely German folk on Nicole Kidman’s career.
“You’ll be famous in Germany,” he said. Smoke from his cigarette curled around him. Brimstone! Devil! The Transom hopped the barricade and fled for home.
The second reason The Transom recalled that long-ago evening with young Ms. Spiers is this: Last week, in her current role as editor of Mediabistro.com, she penned an essay announcing her retirement from the odious, stillborn work of party reporting.
In a luscious piece of irony, Ms. Spiers tardily delivered some excellent party reporting indeed-at a long-ago party, she recounted, Alec Baldwin-who had apparently just weeks before announced his intention to expatriate to Canada in his disgust at the Bush administration- was hugging Henry Kissinger. And instead of documenting that, and instead of transcribing her lengthy and fascinating conversation with Paris Review editor George Plimpton, who would die soon after, and instead of running with light-hearted party chit-chat from Tom Brokaw, who would soon (and quite dramatically) retire, the magazine for which she was employed decided to document that party with some silly, frothy, metrosexual innuendo by Mr. Baldwin.
Who has neither died, nor retired, nor done much else, God bless him, since.
Don’t get us wrong: We like pretty outfits. We like sexy rich people. The trivial and the ephemeral and the ridiculous moments that mark our New York days and nights are not without their meanings.
Still, all this might perhaps accrue to suggest that it isn’t party reporting-or even party reporters-that are broken. Instead, it’s the magazines and their editors, and all those who go with complicity into the publicists’ bullpens and red-carpet lineups-“Nicole! What are you wearing?!”-that are.
Shopping and Clucking
Dana Foley matched her dizzying décor. The walls of her boutique are hand-painted murals of Japanese prints, and she’d sewn her wispy kimono-esque top that very day! Imagine! Ms. Foley, the very model of a hasty seamstress, has come a long way from selling prints in a flea-market stall on Sixth Avenue a decade ago. Swimming through waves of Lucky magazine supporters, she and Anna Corinna, her business partner in Foley & Corrina, welcomed a slew of spendy ladies to the opening of their newest, ever more Lower East Side–y location last week. As of just a few months ago, their outpost had been … on the other corner.
“I can’t believe that people are actually buying,” beamed Ms. Corinna, who was wearing a turquoise top admittedly not from their collection, her wardrobe temporarily in flux due to her slight second-trimester inflation.
“See this black ball gown? You can dress it up or down!” Ms. Corinna continued, showing off a sophisticated garment from their collection that a friend of hers wore under- under!-a tattered black tee. “You can wear it out at night, or with flip-flops and a funky shirt shopping on Broadway on Saturday,” she said.
Between the pomegranate martini bar and the fun race of outfits to the dressing room, one guest found it difficult to remain vertical on her high heels. Taking a spill in the crowd, she suddenly stumbled-a silk tank and snakeskin bag in hand-before grabbing the arm of a sunglass-clad stranger to keep herself afloat in the party.
“We attract a mix of uptown and downtown girls, wives of football players from Atlanta, regulars who live in the South of France, and the bartenders from down the street,” Ms. Corinna added, without mentioning such names as Jessica Simpson, who had recently purchased a gold bag with a peacock inlay.
Sweltering from the summer heat, party hosts Eleanor Ylvisaker-who is the Earnest Sewn jeans P.R. queen-and Christian Dior rep Ali Wise sought refreshment in a cigarette. They laughed about Ms. Ylvisaker’s wedding video, the newlywed having tied the knot with hedge-funder and surfer Jon Ylvisaker in April. The fun couple has just returned from a secluded honeymoon in Sumba, off Bali, where Mr. Ylvisaker took advantage of the waves. When asked if she surfed, Ms. Ylvisaker laughed and admitted that she’s horrified by the big waves. “Sometimes I can barely get my toe in,” she said.
And speaking of waves! The night eventually cooled when a cranky upstairs neighbor threw buckets of cold water onto the smokers and cell-phone chit-chatters below. See? The Lower East Side, celebrity-friendly boutiques and all, still reeks of anarchic authenticity.
Amis, Austen Ankled
Last week, the New York Public Library’s Conservator’s Circle hosted a reading of Martin Amis’ eternally unfilmed screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. The critic, novelist and son-of’s precocious career is only trumped by Ms. Austen just a little. Both got their start early, she as a teenage historian, he as a barely 20-year-old book critic. A wisp of a man, Mr. Amis talked mostly into his chest and then summoned two young actors-Catherine Kellner and Matt McGrath-onstage to read from his script in characteristically hopeless approximations of a British accent:
CATHERINE: So if a man is poor ….
JAMES: … then he must marry a rich lady.
CATHERINE: And if a man is rich ….
JAMES: … then he must marry a rich lady, too.
CATHERINE: Then who is to marry the poor ladies?
(James frowns; he hasn’t thought of this.)
Oh those poor, poor girls.
So true! According to Mr. Amis, the adaptation was commissioned in 2001 by Miramax, with whom he had entered into a vertically integrated deal-writing novels for the Miramax Books imprint, articles for Talk magazine and screenplays for Miramax Films. In this “multilevel atmosphere,” Northanger Abbey was conjured, first as a rewrite, then for TV, then perhaps a movie-and, after more rewrites, it met purgatory.
In early 2004, Mr. Amis’ mega-agent, Andrew Wylie, sent the script to The Paris Review, where it fell into the hands of Lea Carpenter, who was then the magazine’s deputy publisher. Unfortunately, the staff held widely differing opinions as to its reproduction in the quarterly’s pages, so when Granta published a few extracts in its 25th-anniversary edition that fall, the matter was put to rest. And it was Ms. Carpenter who finally brought the screenplay off the page into a live forum. “He could make even the least sexy book provocative,” Ms. Carpenter said, going on to lament the fact that Mr. Amis isn’t as institutionalized as his idols, Austen and Saul Bellow.
When Mr. Amis spoke to The Transom from his home in Uruguay, he himself wasn’t quite sure what the screenplay’s status was at the moment. Buried under the rubble of a disintegrating Miramax, things don’t look good. “It is the only Jane Austen novel that hasn’t been filmed yet, and not because of any shortcoming. In some ways, it’s the most appealing for any director, what with its Gothic elements. I mean, they keep making Pride and Prejudice every few years …. ”
The Whitney Contemporaries, the philanthropist-in-training arm of the Whitney Museum, charges $400 for its 25-to-40-year-old members. MoMA’s Junior Associates clique comes in at a minimum charge of $500, including mandatory museum membership (sneaky!). But instead of joining “the one where the pictures are,” as Holden Caulfield put it, some opt for “the one where the Indians are.” Indeed, the thriftiest mate-hungry youngsters hop to Central Park West for the bargain of the group, the American Museum of Natural History’s Junior Council-in which membership comes at the low, low price of just $275.
Last Thursday’s end-of-year celebration for the Junior Council and assorted hangers-on was capped off by a speech from the museum’s commanding president, Ellen V. Futter. Naturally-hey, we’re all animals, right, fellow evolutionists?-the evening quickly evolved from sober scientific-progress report to skirt-chasing and chest-thumping beside the Rose Center for Earth and Space and its Hayden Planetarium. At the end of her optimistic account of the museum’s technological and financial growth, Ms. Futter surveyed the audience. “I know many people here have questions,” she said. “But I also know that I’m the only thing standing between you and the terrace,” she added. They laughed, but the 300 guests made no secret of their preference, shouting “Terrace!” on their rush outside toward cocktails.
The terrace in question overlooks Central Park West and Jerry Seinfeld’s quarters in the Beresford, and on it, the 22-to-39-year-old men and women finally mingled: Most had arrived in gender-segregated clusters. Trios of uptown bankers and real-estate developers hungrily eyed manicured young women in skin-tight summer dresses. “Look, it’s a way to meet other single people,” said one guest. “It’s a lot better than online dating. I would never do that.”
The Junior Council’s online mission statement is more demure; its Web site extols these events as exclusive chances to learn about the museum: “A stimulating mix of science, education, and revelry, these occasions present young professionals with the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes at one of the world’s greatest museums …. ” Stimulating! Revelry! Behind! Aha!
“I would say 30 percent care” about the science, said one attendee, a real-estate developer from across the park. “Seventy percent are here to socialize.” Added his friend, “I mean, look at these women. Look at what they’re wearing. Do you think they’re here to learn about science?”
Now, now: Science-minded women like to look sexy, too, our chauvinist friends. As the noises of mating rituals filled up the hot night, two girls emerged from the powder room, one adjusting the other’s cleavage-baring top. “We figured we’d come to this, have some drinks,” said one, all tee-hee. “I mean, it’s for a good cause, right?”
When former New York Times managing editor Arthur Gelb first started as a cub reporter at the paper, his editor on the city desk told him of an old New York newspaper aphorism, which he relates in his book, City Room: “Drink is the curse of the Herald-Tribune. Sex is the bane of the Times.” Alas, neither vice was in evidence last Saturday at a party for today’s young Times men to welcome the paper’s summer interns. About 70 journalists gathered at the East Side bar Dip for an evening of fondue and quiet conversation. Now, The Transom knows deep down that the Gray Lady isn’t a teetotaler, but by the end of the night (and yes, we stayed for the whole thing), this crowd was still sober and composed. As the group dispersed early, one waitress-in quiet deference to the Gelb years-began passing out the drinks for free.
“My dog doesn’t like disco,” said Mickey Rourke. Loki, his Chihuahua terrier, lay trembling in his arms. “She likes country, rock ‘n’ roll-and some classical.” Loki, he said around a mouthful of cocktail, also loves art.
Does anyone-or even any dog?-actually hate art? Model Karolina Kurkova arrived at Phillips, de Pury & Company at 7 sharp, blond hair snuggling her shoulders over her dress’ drooping, cleavage-baring neckline. She leaned in close to say that her most recent purchase was a painting from Berlin. “I love everything,” she explained, nodding slowly at her own words. “It just has to get my eye. It can be Picasso, but doesn’t have to be. I have to get that feeling. I like a lot of black and whites, but art is everywhere.”
We hope she got that feeling-and wasn’t put off by the D.J. and her love of dog-irking disco-inside the Sixth Annual Art Auction Benefit for Free NYC. (Free NYC is a nonprofit which offers mentor programs and family events for the sort of youngsters who are always described as “underprivileged.”)
But tonight, even the overprivileged went a little hungry. Awww. Slivers of salmon topped with caviar on pig-shaped pumpernickel bread-the surrealist cuisine of mixed metaphor!-and bite-size grilled cheese circulated; but only sugar cookies followed the hors d’oeuvres, a sign of this swimsuit season’s revolt against the main course. “We ate in the 80’s-why does it matter?” said distinctly non-fat John Findysz, a visual director at Jeffrey New York. “We’ll eat again when we’re 40.” Um, excuse me? Who’s going to admit to 40?
Honorary chair Naomi Watts, dressed simply in an off-the-shoulder navy shirt that gathered at the elbows and a knee-length, flared blue skirt, strode gracefully from one piece of art and its attendant socialite cluster to the next, politely stopping at each like a bride at her wedding reception. Before a Gary Hume: “It’s a beautiful photo. There is a lot going on,” she said thoughtfully. “The colors stand out, and I like the juxtaposition.” Ms. Watts placed bids only in the silent auction-including on a mysterious Tanyth Berkeley portrait of a nude, shadow-faced woman-but sat front-row for the live action, cheering with the rest of the audience as the bids jumped by thousands.
Auctioneer Simon de Pury-chairman of Phillips, de Pury, who led his forces to collect sales of $23.6 million at last month’s contemporary auctions and even cleaned up at the prints and multiples auction last week to the tune of $1.6 million-broke from his usual serious tactics and made like Tom Cruise in love with love. When a Christopher Wool photograph temporarily stalled at $17,000, Mr. de Pury came down into the audience, practically jumping as he clenched his fists and yelled, “$17,000? No more?! Come on now! Only $17,000?!” At $20,000, Mr. de Pury was down on his knees, face red. The crowd responded with an encouraging wave of hoots and wows, prompting one man, eyes averted, to slowly raise his paddle in the air. “Very good taste, sir,” Mr. de Pury snapped calmly, returning to his podium.
During the sale for the Chuck Close picture-a self-portrait of the artist which eventually topped out at $70,000-Mr. de Pury took to isolating bidders like an auctioneer scorned. He peered down into the face of one gentleman, surely too close for comfort, speaking loudly about the piece. The bidder blushed and turned to his wife, who was laughing hysterically, exalted by her husband’s shame. “It’s embarrassing,” said an onlooking bidder. “He doesn’t need a speech. The few thousand dollars up doesn’t make a difference.”