He’s O.K., Everyone!
Man of the Year stars Robin Williams as a comedian who accidentally becomes President. Mr. Williams wasn’t doing press.
“Al Franken’s running for office in Minnesota,” said Mr. Williams. This was his film’s post-premiere dinner, which was hosted by its director, Barry Levinson, at the Upper East Side eatery Amaranth. “But they already had a wrestler, so what the hell? At least Al is a comedian who I think gets the big picture.”
“Comedians already play a huge role in politics today,” said co-star Laura Linney. “I mean, look at Jon Stewart!”
Mr. Williams said that—when taking into account intentionality—Lyndon B. Johnson was surely the funniest President in recent times. He told that story about when old Landslide Lyndon took some of his aides around a barn to point out a little bird bathing in a little pond. “He pointed at the bird and said”—cue Mork’s best Johnson voice—“‘Boys, that’s the best piece of ass we’re gonna see in Texas.’
“So I think he clearly had a sense of humor,” Mr. Williams said.
“I think Tony Blair is inspiring,” said Mr. Williams. “When he speaks I’m like, ‘Oh, why can’t we have that?!’ But he’s not here. He’s what you’d call ‘Across the Atlantic.’”
“I think we’ve already had a couple comedians in office,” said Richard Belzer. “Ronald Reagan pretty much wrote all my material for about eight years.”
“People are ready for anything right now, they’re just so disillusioned and exhausted,” he said. “I don’t know, maybe a funny, gay black woman would do the trick.”
Mr. Belzer clarified that he was by no means referring to Condoleezza Rice.
“It never gets wild at these parties,” said Zadie Smith. “It’s just a bunch of writers, you know.”
Yes, the New Yorker Festival opening party at Supper Club was chock-a-block with writers—but there were also editors! Oh, and a bunch of actors—including Steve Martin, Mary-Louise Parker and Patricia Clarkson.
Ms. Smith herself appeared more like a movie star than a writer. She is tall and graceful. Her hair was pulled back in a bun and she wore a navy wrap dress with a sparking clasp and tiger-print pumps. She said she wasn’t working on anything much at the moment. The only news she had to share was that she and poet-hubby Nick Laird are planning to move to Rome this fall for a year.
“I’ve come to this party every year for the last six years,” she said. “It’s always pretty much the same, but I always look forward to it because I get to see my friends and fellow writers, like Donald.”
The Transom had stealthily sidled up between Ms. Smith and New Yorker writer Donald Antrim.
“Stick around,” advised Mr. Antrim. “These things sometimes break down a little.”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” said T. C. Boyle. “Look, there’s my friend Toby Wolff, the greatest master of the short story working today.”
“This is the only time of year I ever get to see my friend Tom McGuane. He lives out in Montana now,” said Tobias Wolff. “It used to be writers all lived in New York. Now they live all over.”
(The party was also a reunion of sorts for the writers’ children: The daughters of Mr. Wolff, Mr. Boyle, acclaimed short-story writer George Saunders and novelist Andrea Lee created a formidable foursome.)
Mr. Wolff said there used to be many more magazines that trafficked in short fiction, and, therefore, many more parties. “Now you can hardly make a living on short stories.”
“It’s true,” said short-story writer Charles D’Ambrosio, sitting nearby. “That’s partly why I started on a novel.”
The bar closed at 2 a.m., but it took announcements from the bouncers to help put an end to the reminiscing.
Mr. D’Ambrosio, along with some of the staffers, headed over to the nightclub T, where D.J. Michael Mayer and the New Yorker pop-music writer Sasha Frere-Jones were hosting “a night of minimal techno and house music.”
The dance floor resembled a high-school prom more than a club, remarked one observer, who was twirling cigarettes in lieu of glow sticks.
Mr. Frere-Jones said he’d recruited Mr. Mayer because “I knew he would rock it out.”
Was the dance-party dance floor rockin’ out? Were people shaking that ….
“No comment,” said Mr. Frere-Jones.
Tony, Tony, Tony
On Friday night, moviegoers at the Film Forum were treated to the subject of the documentary Wrestling with Angels, playwright Tony Kushner.
They had some questions, and the first one was a toughie: Did Mr. Kushner believe in the existence of God?
“Whether or not God exists is not a Jewish question, it’s a goyish question,” he said, quoting a rabbi. “No, but basically I’m a secular—small “d” and capital “d”—Democrat.”
He went on to express himself on such issues as the end of the world and his battles with weight. Mr. Kushner, it seemed, was a big, lanky, friendly open book. Only don’t ask him to a watch the replay.
“There was no shaping. I still haven’t really seen a frame of the film,” said Mr. Kushner when asked about his part in making the film. “The only thing I said at the beginning was that I may never see the movie and you have to be O.K. with that.”
Mr. Kushner trusted Freida Lee Mock and her camera to follow him around for three years—including on a trip to his hometown, and during his wedding to Mark Harris.
“I have no problem talking about myself, I just hate watching myself. I’ve always hated watching myself,” he said as he made his way toward the exit through a throng of adoring fans armed with books and DVD’s for him to sign.
“But I’ve been very pleased with how the film has been received,” said Mr. Kushner. The film received mostly positive reviews, all of which have noted how Mr. Kushner, now 50, comes off as a real mensch. “I’ll probably see it soon, I’ve just been busy.”
Mr. Kushner’s partner Mark Harris tells a different story. “He’s protecting himself from insecurity. He wants to protect his creative process. I think that’s understandable.”
Mr. Harris said that at one point he and Mr. Kushner’s niece were watching the film on DVD at their home when Mr. Kushner walked in the door. “We quickly turned it off and he sort of ran off into the next room,” said Mr. Harris. He is an entertainment writer and makes several appearances in the film.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Kushner was not sticking around for the cast and crew screening, which was to take place after the Q&A. “I probably would, but I have another engagement.”
Uh huh, sure. “I told him he absolutely can’t see the movie at this point—or for a little while, at least,” said Ms. Mock. A certain burgeoning press intrigue has begun to circulate around Mr. Kushner’s shyness. “It’s like, ‘Is Franco dead?’, you know.”
The Transom is pro on celebrities—and totally con on torture! But it likes hearing about celebrities, and totally doesn’t like hearing about torture!
Fortunately, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo has resolved this long-standing conflict.
To promote Speak Truth to Power: Voices from Beyond the Dark, a play by Ariel Dorfman based on Ms. Cuomo’s book—it’s about Good Works!—they paired do-gooders and famous people. Ta-da!
Ms. Cuomo was with—eek!—Lorraine Bracco, and understood The Transom’s pain. That’s why she had the idea for the play, obvs. “’Cause they think, ‘Uh God, I don’t want to hear about torture, and I don’t want to hear about death squads and everything else.’ And I’d get this feeling like there was a terrible disconnect, because I just draw so much inspiration and energy from the tremendous courage and heroism of these human beings.”
Friends were made! “ Mucho gusto,” said Matthew Modine, reaching across the table to pump the hand of Lucas Benítez. Mr. Benítez is a farm worker and co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has helped lead the fight against abuse of immigrant workers in southwest Florida.
“Oh, si, si, mucho gusto,” replied Mr. Benítez.
Bobby Muller—Nobel Prize winner, hates landmines!—was partnered with Martin Sheen. “It’s become a very necessary part of any advocacy effort to basically get celebrity endorsements,” Mr. Muller said. We can’t hear you—there’s Martin Sheen!
Mr. Sheen was seated close to a half-open door, sneaking a cigarette. Lately, he’s been trying to quit again. Mr. Sheen said that the Democrats were “a bunch of sissies.”
Mr. Sheen recently started college. In Ireland! Studying “computers and oceanography” and stuff!
“I lived in Ireland for the last six weeks, so I’m seeing from a totally different perspective what’s happening to the United States,” he said. “They love us over there, but they can’t bear what’s happened to us.”
Mr. Sheen said the Irish are particularly fond of the Kennedys, which is why he got time off to come over.
Yoo-hoo, Christian Slater! This was like a celebrity version of the Home Shopping Network! “We’re a great country and it feels like something’s being taken away,” Mr. Slater said, running his hand through his hair and flexing his eyebrows. “There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of fear, a lot of choices that have been made that quite possibly might not have been the highest choice.” He took a breath. “That might not have served everyone in the best possible way. We may be experiencing things, choices being made on what seemingly is a greed level.”
Sitting next to him was his “partner,” Ka Hsaw Wa, who in 1988 led peaceful student demonstrations in Rangoon, Burma, calling for human rights, democracy and an end to military rule. He was captured and tortured. Upon his release, he fled the country—only to return clandestinely and interview witnesses and victims in order to document the atrocities. “We’re grateful to these actors for bringing to international attention, to American attention, what’s happening in the world.”
But was he in Heathers? Nope!
Mr. Slater says that now is the time for action. “I haven’t really been sleeping well at night knowing the choices that have been being made and the direction we’re going in. I don’t want to go to war any more. I don’t want to go to war with Iran and fight another. You know it’s a frickin’ mess and if we don’t do something about it soon it’ll be too late.”
The Transom Also Hears ….
It was high drama as usual at Los Angeles celebrity ant farm Hyde when Lindsay Lohan arrived at around 1 a.m. Friday. According to a clubgoer, Ms. Lohan looked “stunning, like she was in Oscar mode or something. Her hair was perfect and had obviously been done recently. She was wearing a really cute shift dress and heels.”
The source reports the starlet sashayed straight to the back of the room—not slowing even a teense to acknowledge her very recent ex, Harry Morton, who was in full canoodle with a mystery brunette.
“She obviously knew he was there making out with this other girl,” said the witness. “She didn’t make eye contact with him the whole night.”
On a more positive note from the West Coast, a very attentive member of the Malibu “neighborhood watch” has noticed a marked improvement in the appearance of Natasha Lyonne. The embattled actress has apparently been spending a lot of time in the area. “I saw her in Malibu like two months ago, and she looked like she was about to die,” reports the local. “She was all puffy and had scabs on her face. She looked like a bag lady and was bent over and talking to herself and generally making a spectacle of herself.” But on Saturday the source crossed paths with Ms. Lyonne, who was clothes-shopping at Madison, a high-end area boutique. “She looked sober. Maybe a little medicated, but sober. She looked much healthier. And she had on pretty normal clothes, too—you know, like, jeans and boots and a jacket. I was like, ‘Go Natasha.’”