At the Wildlife Conservation Society benefit at the Central Park Zoo last Wednesday, June 10, the main attraction was the Alison Maher Stern snow leopard exhibit, located between the koala bears and the otters. As the black tie event got under way Ms. Stern, who provided the three leopards with their new habitats, was on display by the seal pool, along with her billionaire husband, Leonard, the former owner of The Village Voice.
What animal did he have the most in common with?
“A lion,” Mr. Stern said without hesitation. “Because my Hebrew name is ‘lion’. My name is Leonard, the lion-hearted, from medieval times? So I kind of fell into it for lack of a better association when I was a kid.”
Mr. Stern admitted to talking to his cat all the time.
“I tell him to stop bothering me and scratching up the furniture,” he said. “But I have a good relationship with animals. I used to have a pet supply company. Hartz Mountain, right.” (We knew that because for one thing, we used to help mow his vast, endless lawn in the Hamptons and almost got fired for going into his pool house bar for some ice.)
Does he think of animals as his equals?
“My wife would be very upset with me but I believe we’re superior to every other living species in the world,” Mr. Stern said. “We’re the top of the food chain. Animals aren’t as aggressive as human beings. They only kill when they have to eat. I mean, you wouldn’t have any of this genocide or Holocaust or wars in the animal kingdom—they don’t kill for the sake of rage, only when they have to eat. I mean, the most ferocious lion will only kill if it has to eat and the most ferocious human being is a mass murderer.”
We showed him a list of billionaires—what kind of animals were they like?
“I’m not going there. I know lots of these guys and there’s one thing you don’t want: a bunch of billionaires really angry at you. Some are real predators. There’s very few pussycats among them.”
James Gardiner, a tall, WASP-y white-hunter-looking guy, was standing by a pet-able alligator. The anthropolgist and novelist (The Lion Killer) panned the crowd, and “chimpanzees” came to mind. “They share about 98 percent of our DNA,” he said. “I’ve seen them in Uganda and they’re exactly like us. They’re very vicious. This guide was telling me, every single chimpanzee here, all these males have killed other males, they’re really like us. They’re tough but not as tough as New Yorkers.”
By a strokeable Arctic fox, we spotted exotic bird Georgette Mosbacher, who was wearing a pink Donna Karan dress, pearls and carrying a diamond-encrusted solid gold purse with a gold lion on top. She was talking to Cornelia Bregman, wife of Serpico and Scarface producer Marshall Bregman. Both women love their dogs.
“Guinevere, she’s my baby girl,” Ms. Mosbacher said of her King Charles spaniel.
Ms. Bregman went on about her Shih Tzu she rescued from the ASPCA but Ms. Mosbacher pounced and took over.
“My little girl has a total vocabulary, no, she really does,” she said.
“They understand like one or two words, like come, sit, stay, let’s go, toy—
“—Guinevere knows a lot more than that. My friends tease me because I can be on the phone with them and then she comes into the room and gets into something, and I start talking to her like a human being and they’re like, ‘Georgette, who are you talking to?’ I go, ‘My dog.’ And I know they think I’m a little wacky but I do, I talk to her.”
“Me, too,” Ms. Bregman added.
“I say, ‘Do not chew on Mama’s shoes!’ and ‘Stay out of the closet!’ And she understands, she’ll stop and she’ll whine and she’ll let me know—and when I put cream on on, she likes to lick the cream off my legs.”
“Oh, that’s cute.”
Just off the legs right? we asked.
“Oh, no, she’ll lick the cream off anywhere it is! It’s just easier to get your legs.”
Ms. Bregman said her dog is never alone because he suffers from separation anxiety.
“We take him out every night, he’s in our car and then our driver takes him back to the house and feeds him and walks him,” she said. “He’s purple, by the way, and has manicures and pedicures. I take him to this place in Los Angeles called Olympic Dog Grooming and they dye his tail and his ears purple! And he’s called ‘the Prince’ in our building. And when we get in at night, I take off my shoes and say, ‘Car-ry the shoe!’ And the little prince goes prancing about and he carries the shoe and he loves to carry the shoe. And when he goes for ‘walkies’ outside during the day, he takes a toy with him while he does his business. He carries the toy for his walk! He’s so proud of it. He’s so grateful. He’s been given a second chance.”
“You know what they say in Washington, if you want a friend, get a dog,” said Ms. Mosbacher. “It’s still an absolute truism. My dog loves me and is smiling no matter what. I can yell at my dog and she still smiles back at me. She’s a higher being than I am by far. I really want to come back as my dog. I think she’s got it all figured, what life is all about and true happiness.”
After Ms. Bregman said Sarah Palin looked most like a little pug (“with her doggie hair”), the women went their separate ways.
Ms. Mosbacher said she thought the former VP candidate was more like a focused and graceful gazelle. “If I had to pick an animal, probably an eagle,” she said. “Well, because an eagle soars above.”
On her way to see the snow leopard, the Republican fund-raiser and operative recalled the time she was bitten by a cottonmouth.
“I am basically fearless, but I was in my backyard in Houston, it was January, and all of a sudden I felt something just prick my ankle and I looked down and saw the fang mark and then it hit me a second time,” she said. “I’ve been robbed at gunpoint and wasn’t as traumatized. I could not move to help myself, I was frozen in fear.”
Fortunately, the snake had been hibernating, its venom was all viscous, couldn’t really flow, so all that was required was a tetanus shot.
Ms. Mosbacher squealed at the sight of her friend Carl Bernstein and after they caught up, we asked the legendary investigative journalist what animal he most resembled.
“Cats!” he said. “I have a cat and I talk to her all day. She gets up on my keyboard and types. I’m independent like a cat.”
Had he ever had a bad experience with an animal?
“Yes, with my own cat! My son Jacob brought his beautiful dog Miles to visit, and I decided to introduce Miles to the cat. I was holding her and she proceeded to hiss, went at me with her claws in the face, there was blood all over the place and the next day my hand started to swell up and I had to go to Southampton Hospital because I had cat-scratch fever, from my own cat!”
Mr. Bernstein said Punkin is the greatest cat and superior to him.
“She runs the joint,” he said, before checking out our list.
“Obama’s definitely a cat. Bloomberg is a troubled animal right now. Gates is a bear but kind of between a big bear and a koala bear. Soros and Geffen, they’re Jewish bears. … They’re all meat eaters, serious carnivores.”
It was dinner time now. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia looked lost in between two rows of tables.
“I think I’m most like a horse, always running, nervous, sensitive,” he said, then took a quick look at our list. “Blomberg’s an elephant—they have a long tail. Bill Gates, kangaroo. Looks like he hops a lot. David Koch, a goat. Listen to his laugh. I always say Wilbur Ross is a cat, a cheshire cat. George Soros, a monkey. Warren Buffett, a porcupine. David Geffen, an iguana. Ron Perelman, a porpoise. Steven Rattner, T. Boone Pickens, crows. Carl Icahn, giraffe. Henry Kravis, a penguin. I think there are a lot fewer billionaires here. Ersatz billionaires. This is definitely a jungle. I gotta figure out where the fuck I’m sitting.”