The Transom

Bringing Duchess Back

From time to time, particularly when running a few clicks behind schedule, The Transom likes to roll boldly onto a scene and not get caught up with the fine print of a press release. There is a certain “let the freedom bell ring!” sensation that comes with firing off questions willy-nilly based on a few words at the top of the invite.

Such was the case at the Viennese Opera Ball, where The Transom materialized on Friday night—why, look, a red carpet at the Waldorf-Astoria!

Hey, so, Anne! Anne Curry! What do you like about the opera?

“The opera?” the broadcastress asked in return. “Well, the costumes, theme, the passion—of course, more than anything, the passion.”

(The passion, excellent. The Transom knows a ripe thread when it sees one.) And what opera are you most passionate about?

“Hmmm,” she mulled, gripping the sides of a frilly Vera Wang gown. The event was black tie. At it happened, The Transom was wearing a pea-soup-green suit and suede boots. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t think I know enough about opera to have a favorite. You keep asking about opera. Why opera?”

Silence. Eyeballs.

The armor was unraveling at a rapid pace. Good journalist that she is, she was certain to twist the knife. “Are you with the Opera News or something?” Ms. Curry asked.

It turns out the 52nd Viennese Opera Ball has very little to do with opera and everything to do with fund-raising for orphanages around the world. There is also a bit about waltzing and a real live horse-drawn carriage being paraded into the main ballroom.

“I’m here because it’s a fund-raiser for children who are orphaned, including children who were in the tsunami and many other tragedies in the world,” said Ms. Curry. “I covered the tsunami and I care about children.”

She conceded that as a co-host of the event, she would be doing a little waltzing later on.

Yoo-hoo! Fergie’s back, y’all! The party had moved to a reception room, and the Duchess of York had walked in looking divine in a Luca Luca gown with a train. (Oh no, she didn’t—but oh yes, she did.)

“It’s about providing children a place to have a family unit. These villages provide a place where they can be together and grow up together, which is so right,” said the duchess.

It was her first time attending the ball. “I’m not really a person who goes to balls; I am much more a person that goes in the field. I go to see the villages and I talk to the children, and I learn that way,” she said. “But of course, like all charities, you have to do a few balls in order to raise the money and to raise the awareness. In order to keep the children sustained, you have to do evenings like tonight.”

The duchess said she started her own company earlier this year that, among other things, connects women.

And always one to follow proper decorum, the duchess had rung up beforehand to inquire about the proper color gown to wear.

She gave The Transom a good once-over. “Are those desert boots you’re wearing? Hmmm, yes—much better suited for the desert.”

—Spencer Morgan

Andy Hearts Edie

George Hickenlooper, director of the stylish Sienna Miller vehicle Factory Girl, finally squeezed his way into the limousine waiting for him outside the Gramercy Hotel at around 5:40 p.m. on Monday.

Mr. Hickenlooper’s super-elongated car was already packed with around 10 friends, and he had been waiting for another tardy pal. He seemed to be doing his darnedest to avoid the Zeigfeld. One made due with her backside wedged up against the Scotch bar.

“Last time I went to a premiere, the limo caught on fire,” he said as the car peeled away from the curb. That was the West Hollywood opening of Mayor of the Sunset Strip, the documentary he wrote and helmed about the beloved L.A.-based radio jockey Rodney Bingenheimer. “We were outside the Chateau Marmont, and it was a brand-new Lincoln limo. It started smoking on Sunset and Crescent Heights, and literally just burst into flames,” he said in a monotone. “It was great; it was a bonfire.”

On the ride over, the director allowed a few glimpses into his movie’s private highlight track. There was Sienna Miller being an hour late for her Edie audition. Meanwhile, Mr. Hickenlooper was considering Natalie Portman, Kate Hudson and particularly Brittany Murphy for the part, and was about to write off Ms. Miller for tardiness. The director further vouched that it was in fact Ms. Miller’s headshot—not her style-icon status or Jude Law fame—that initially caught his eye, specifically her “insouciant, sardonic smile.” And when she did finally show up to the audition, Ms. Miller “channeled from above” Ms. Sedgwick, and Mr. Hickenlooper was moved to cast her almost immediately.

And there was also the fact that Mr. Hinkenlooper wasn’t a huge fan of postmodern art. “It started with Duchamp and pretty much reached its height with Warhol,” he said. And since then, he said, it’s continued to “seep in so much it’s kind of created this sort of infantilization of our culture, this real decadence. That’s why our culture’s so sexualized now, and people throw elephant shit on the Virgin Mary and they say, ‘Well, it’s art.’”

Through making the film, Mr. Hinkenlooper said, he’d grown to respect Warhol, “because of what he did in opening art to popular culture. He made art sort of less elitist.”

“I’m nervous,” said actress Meredith Ostrom as the car pulled up to the red carpet. She plays Nico in the film, one of Mr. Warhol’s post-Edie muses.

The director himself expressed some slight butterflies. “Wow, look at the crowd,” he said. “This is fun.”

The Zeigfeld was massively oversold.

“It’s a universal topic,” said Jimmy Fallon, who also stars in the film. “Fame, and what would you do for fame, and how long will it last—these are question we’re obsessed with.” Hi, Jimmy Fallon’s hair!

The limo ride to the after-party at the Chelsea Hotel was a little less giddy. “I wanted the film to resonate and get people to sit with their feelings for a second,” said Mr. Hickenlooper. “I wanted people to at least feel some of the sadness.”

At the party, there was some debate as to who was to blame for Ms. Sedgwick’s demise, which ended in a drug overdose.

“I tried to save her many times,” said her brother, Jonathan Sedgwick. “It was a tragedy that is a lesson to every young girl that wants to aspire to be an actress or be famous. You can get so excited by fame that you can forget yourself and do drugs to get there.”

He put a fair amount of the blame on Mr. Warhol—as did the movie. “He sucked blood from people. He did. He was a voyeur. He encouraged Edie to take drugs, and at times he’d stick needles into people,” he said.

“The film captured what an evil prick Warhol was in the 60’s, before he was shot by Valerie Solanas,” said Aaron Richard Golub, one of the film’s producers. He knew Warhol intimately—the artist did a portrait of his wife as a wedding present. “After that, he fuckin’ calmed down …. Inside, there was a fuckin’ weird evil person lurking.”

“It was a good movie,” said gallerist Tony Shafrazi, who also knew Mr. Warhol. “But in terms of truth, that’s a different thing. It wasn’t a correct portrait of Andy at all. He was a very kind, tremendously generous human being, but also highly productive.”

Bee Shaffer was keen to focus on a different element of the film, “I thought the fashion was great,” she said. “I thought Sienna looked amazing in the film, and I thought she was really, really fantastic.”

“She was a fascinating and amazing woman who had the ability to affect, you know, my generation, and this is 40, 50 years on now,” said Sienna Miller, the star of the show. “I think you have an icon every now and then who comes along and manages to be timeless—and taps into something that is a mood of a nation. Edie had that ability; Marilyn Monroe had that ability; Audrey Hepburn had that ability. But there are very few people who had that ability to really touch a generation. And she existed and it was such a short window, and I don’t really know what it was. But it was an incredible achievement she made.”

—S.M.

Damon Dash, Movie Mogul

Harvey Weinstein made a move to reclaim his throne atop the indie-film empire after this year’s performance at Sundance—the man was grabbing up movies like Edie Sedgwick in the pantyhose department of Bergdorf’s.

But a big, hungry aspiring movie mogul was also born this year at the ’Dance. And Damon Dash has big plans, y’all.

“That was me just showing you a sample of how I’m gonna get down,” said Mr. Dash of the “innovative” marketing techniques he employed in Sundance this year while hyping his gritty, youth-angst flick, Weapons. (The Transom witnessed firsthand the sleekness of the Weapons bomber jackets he gave out to members of his crew, but hasn’t yet listened to his CD. Yet!)

“It’s a grassroots kind of a movie, so it has to have grassroots marketing, but the movie business doesn’t really understand that,” said Mr. Dash. (This was at the Factory Girl premiere, by the way.) “So I’m gonna show them. I want people to pay attention to what I do. The reason why I don’t mind showing you is ’cause no one else could do it. No one else knows where to go. I know exactly where to go. And once I do it, I want you to watch everyone copy my style of selling movies. It’s the same way I did the music business.”

How was that?

“You know what I mean—like, I’m good with identifying talent, but people don’t really realize how good I am with marketing. I’m like, you know, ambidextrous in that way. Put it like this: You’re going to be able to understand, and you might be able to look at the movie as a brand by the time I’m done with it. I’m gonna turn a movie into a brand by the time I’m done with it. You understand what I’m saying? … You saw I gave out the product that you could touch and wear, and I gave out the music so that you can actually be in that person’s world, and you listening to what they listening to.”

“What he knows, people don’t know in Hollywood, said Russell Simmons. “He’s connected to a mainstream culture. He’s not living in a foreign place. Beverly Hills is a little bit foreign. A lot of these guys are good storytellers, but culturally they’re missing something. The story is critical, but even melody needs the right beat. Damon’s got the right beat.”

So it’s like get ready for Damon Dash in the movie business?

“Yeah, basically,” said Mr. Dash. “Put it like this: Better bring your A-game. Once I get there, ain’t never gonna be done again.”

—S.M.

Who’s the Nicest Girl in Town?

Alessandra Ford-Balazs, the 17-year-old daughter of hotel magnate Andre Balazs and model-agency exec Katie Ford, had just posed for the cameras at Friday’s Viennese Opera Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria. She has a big smile, almond eyes and long ginger-brown hair. She was wearing a burgundy-and-mocha-patterned Catherine Malandrino.

She has just hired a stylist. She’s been making do on her own, so far. “But I mean my father and my mom both have pretty good fashion, so both of them kind of guided me and I found my own—for better or worse—sense of style,” she said.

Ms. Ford-Balazs is currently a junior at Riverdale High School.

“I’m a fruit girl,” said Ms. Ford-Balazs, reaching a willowy arm toward a slice of star fruit. Earlier this year, she acquired representation with the Gersh Agency for her acting as well.

“I really love old architecture and interior design,” she said, admiring some typical Waldorf molding, “because you really get a sense of the history and what may lie in the future. I don’t know. It’s a really nice feeling of atmosphere.”

What about all these old farts doddering around? Suppose they add to that sense history too, right?

“I don’t see any old people here,” said Ms. Ford-Balazs, without a hint of sarcasm. “It’s people with a lot more years of experience than me.”

—S.M.

Mentors!

“It’s the most powerful thing on the planet,” said music impresario Quincy Jones at the National Mentoring Partnership gala at Guastavino’s last Thursday night. “It’s like I said: You remember 10 percent of what you see, 30 percent of what you hear and 80 percent of what you do. And if you walk in the shoes of giants along with the giant, you gonna learn a lot.”

The event was billed as “Mentoring’s Big Night to Gab, Graze & Groove.” There was a rack where men could check their ties. And then a piano man, too, doing impressions of everyone from Elton John to Alicia Keys.

For his part, Mr. Jones—the 76-time Grammy-nominated producer—was grooving and gabbing at the same damn time. “All I can say is, if you can see it, you can be it, and as the man said, go, go, go, go, go, go for it.”

He said mentoring was part of his DNA because he’d come up on the shoulders of so many “beautiful people,” from “Ray Charles to Bumps Blackwell, to Bobby Tucker, to Clark Terry, to, as I said, Ray Charles.

“Ray and I—we came through the whole career together, and we had to define who we were as young African-Americans in the American Northwest. And we had one thing: We said, ‘Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me.’ You have to know who you are,” Mr. Jones said. “Go down and find out now, and if you can see it, you can be it. Go for it.”

Hey, that’s just the stuff that got music legend Phil Ramone on his way!

“Quincy’s one of the most positive people I know,” said Mr. Ramone, who cites Mr. Jones as Mentor No. 1. “In a business like the musical world, it’s not always positive—you have to find something about it that you really want. And it’s not about just connections—it’s about a lot of encouragement at the right time.” Mr. Ramone, who has produced everyone from Barbra Streisand to Ricky Martin and was one of the mentors being honored that night, said that helping young people realize their goals is “what I live for now.”

Across dining the room, Bear Stearns chief operating officer Alan D. Schwartz was sitting next to his mentee, Ethan Miller. “It’s great having him as a mentor,” said Mr. Miller. He’s 17 and a student at the Fordham Leadership Academy for Business & Technology. “Knowing how much of an important and busy guy he is, he actually took the time off to, you know, be there for me. Anytime I call him, he replies and, you know, gets back to, takes the time to see what I want.”

What do you guys talk about?

“He always ask me how’s school, how I’m doing in school, do I have any recent tests, how I do on it, you know—how am I doing, how’s my family,” recalled Mr. Miller. “And I ask him these questions like, how is you doing and how is his family and how’s business and everything.”

Mr. Schwartz had once been a mentee, too. “My college baseball coach Tom Butters,” he recalled. “He taught me a lot about life.”

—S.M.