Cussi Fans, Tutti
When the Metropolitan Museum of Art throws its annual Costume Institute gala on Dec. 7, its only anchors in the past will be the theme, Cubism and fashion, and the event’s glamorous history–this will be the 50th anniversary of what was once dubbed the party of the year. Save for some of the venerable partygoers, there will be no remnants of the Old Social Guard who long dominated the direction of the event.
Each year, the troika chosen to chair the event is interpreted as some indication of Manhattan’s social climate. When, in 1995, socialite Patricia Buckley handed over the reins of the costume gala to Vogue editor Anna Wintour and socialites Annette de la Renta, the wife of the fashion designer, and Clarissa Alcock Bronfman, the wife of Edgar Bronfman Jr., chief executive of Seagram Company Ltd., the perception was that the city’s meritocracy had succeeded its aristocracy.
But this year’s trio of fashion designer Miuccia Prada, socialite Pia Getty (the oldest daughter of duty-free magnate Robert Miller) and art collector Paula Cussi, sends another message entirely: that power in the city increasingly has little to do with Manhattan at all.
New York is a metropolis of outsiders, to be sure, but outsiders who’ve chosen the city as their home. Ms. Wintour and also her rival, Harper’s Bazaar editor Liz Tilberis, who co-chaired the event in 1996, are both British expatriates who at least maintain permanent addresses in Manhattan. Of this year’s triumvirate, it can be said that only Ms. Getty makes her home in New York. Ms. Prada lives in Milan, and Ms. Cussi lives primarily in Mexico City, according to an associate.
Harold Holzer, vice president for communications at the Met, told The Transom that too much should not be read into the far-flung home bases of the chairmen. “This is an international event. It’s not bound by any geographical constraints,” said Mr. Holzer. “This may be yet another recognition of its global stature.”
Ms. Prada and Ms. Getty are not unusual choices. For better or worse, they represent the current faces of fashion and society, respectively. (Ms. Prada’s eponymous company will sponsor both the Costume Institute exhibit and the opening-night event.) Ms. Cussi is much more of a wild card. Like the appointments of such previous chairs as Mrs. Bronfman and, last year, Julia Koch, the wife of billionaire David Koch, Ms. Cussi’s inclusion in this year’s troika seems almost designed to accelerate her standing in New York social circles.
The Met’s press office identified Ms. Cussi as a collector of contemporary art and a founder of Mexico City’s Centro Cultural/Arte Contemporaneo, a museum. But in Latin America, she is still primarily known as the wife of Mexican media mogul Emilio Azcarraga Milmo, who was also known as “El Tigre” (that’s “The Tiger,” you gringos!). Azcarraga, who died in April 1997, is credited with building Televisa International S.A., the media conglomerate founded by his father, into the largest producer and broadcaster of Spanish-language programming in the world. Azcarraga was also the man who in 1988 threw $37 million into that 17-month black hole disguised as a sports newspaper, The National .
Azcarraga reportedly met and fell for the blonde (his third or fourth wife, depending on the source) while she was working as a weather reporter for Televisa–a bit of information that should deflate a bouffant or two among New York’s patrician ranks. Although his marriage to Ms. Cussi ended in divorce, he reportedly was generous to her in his settlement and in his will. Ms. Cussi also made a big score when she sold her 16.9 percent stake in Televisa to Azcarraga’s son, Emilio Azcarraga Jean. (A report in The Financial Times of London said that $400 million had been raised to buy out Ms. Cussi and another shareholder.
Since her ex-husband’s death, Ms. Cussi has departed her post as vice president of the museum in Mexico City. She also made some headlines in London last year when the British Government tried to stop her from exporting from England an early, important Lucien Freud painting that she had bought at auction in 1994. Locally, however, Ms. Cussi is not much of a known quantity. Several observers of the social scene said they knew little about her. One Met source indicated that Ms. Wintour may have suggested Ms. Cussi as a potential chairman. But a spokesman for the Vogue editor said that Ms. Wintour was traveling and could not be reached for comment. Maria Kocherga, who cares for Ms. Cussi’s art collection at the Mexico City museum, told The Transom that Ms. Cussi was also traveling and could not be reached for comment. No doubt New Yorkers will learn more about her between now and the time of Ms. Cussi’s orchestrated invasion of the Metropolitan, which takes place, appropriately, on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
Dancing With Lucianne
Recent developments prevent Elizabeth Saloman from forgetting about Lucianne Goldberg. The literary agent-author’s owlish stare and nicotine rasp seem to be riding every other airwave and cablecast devoted to the President’s troubles. With each new interview, Ms. Saloman finds herself wondering, once more, whether Ms. Goldberg had any connection to her own tough luck six years ago.
Naturally, sex is involved. In 1990, Ms. Saloman shopped around a fiction manuscript titled Heroines , about a group of expensive hookers working for the top madam in Paris. The novel was never published.
Two years later, she picked up a copy of a novel by Ms. Goldberg, called Madame Cleo’s Girls . The book, which also happened to be about expensive hookers working for the top madam in Paris, raised Ms. Saloman’s suspicions, but she said that what really stunned her was that Ms. Goldberg had dedicated her novel to Bill Grose, then editor in chief of Pocket Books. “For William R. Grose, who took me to the dance,” wrote Ms. Goldberg. “Thank you, Bill.”
For Ms. Saloman, this cryptic dedication was a tip-off: Back when she was trying to sell Heroines , a friend gave Mr. Grose a copy to read. He just so happened to be the editor of Ms. Saloman’s friend, a well-known reporter and author. The friend declined to be identified but confirmed to The Transom that he gave the book to Mr. Grose. “I did not speak directly to Bill,” Ms. Saloman said. “He returned it to my friend and said, ‘I love this book. It’s so much fun but it is just too racy, you know, too graphic.’ And that was the end of that.”
After reading Madame Cleo’s Girls , Ms. Saloman ferreted out what she claimed are other similarities between her book and Ms. Goldberg’s. In each novel, one call girl is blond, the other brunette; one girl is from a New York-area family and one is from a small town in the middle of nowhere. Both main characters are studious and wounded by a first love that ended tragically. Both retire from the business when they marry men met indirectly through their work.
The Transom plowed through both works (Ms. Goldberg’s novel is out of print but available at the New York Public Library), and while these little similarities do add up, the differences are greater. Madame Cleo, in a tax crisis, signs a book deal and gives a New York writer access to her life. Heroines is told through one girl’s life. Heroines also deals with AIDS and homosexuality. Its abundant lesbian sex scenes, which apparently gave Mr. Grose the heebie-jeebies (not to mention the AIDS stuff), are nowhere to be found in Madame Cleo’s Girls .
Ms. Saloman said that Ms. Goldberg’s dedication “lead me to believe that Bill Grose, who I know had read my manuscript, gave [Ms. Goldberg] the idea. That dance thing implies that.… When Madame Cleo’s Girls came out, I sent Bill Grose a letter saying … couldn’t we have danced instead? And he never responded to my letter.”
Mr. Grose said he did indeed give Ms. Goldberg the idea for the book. “But if there is an Elizabeth Saloman, I don’t remember. The character is based on Madame Claude, a well-known Parisian. That is where I got the idea, probably from a magazine or something. But it was a long time ago.”
Reached by phone for comment, Ms. Goldberg said, “Oh please! Bill Grose never gave me an idea in his life! He just gave me checks and lots of them.” Ms. Goldberg said that she dedicated the book to him because “he gave me a great deal of money” for the book and has been close friend for 25 years.
“Well,” she added, “this is what you get when you get a little bit famous–people out of the woodwork.”
The Transom Also Hears
… With the focus on bookkeeping these days at troubled theater production company Livent Inc., theater fans are wondering what will become of one project that had caught the eye of the company’s since-suspended founder Garth Drabinsky. Before Mr. Drabinsky’s departure amid allegations of financial irregularities, Livent was negotiating an option to possibly bring the Terrence McNally-Jon Robin Baitz collaboration House to Broadway. (Mr. McNally had written the theatrical dramatization for the musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime , which Livent produced.) The two-act production, about a couple that must sell their house and the couple that buys it, is currently running through Sept. 6 at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, N.Y., starring Richard Dreyfus, Marsha Mason, Rue McClanahan, Daniel Stern and Deborah Monk. Mr. Drabinsky had even pledged $20,000 toward the Sag Harbor production. When Mr. Drabinsky was suspended from the company amid charges of financial irregularities regarding Livent’s books, Mr. Hamilton said, “Livent picked up that responsibility and made good on it.” While an agreement for the option had not been reached prior to Mr. Drabinsky’s departure, Mr. Hamilton also said, “It is my understanding that Livent is still interested.” A Livent spokesman, Ian Rand, sounded a more noncommittal note. “I think Livent’s interested in a lot of projects,” he said, “but we don’t talk about any projects before a deal’s done.” Mr. McNally’s and Mr. Baitz’s respective agents, Gilbert Parker and George Lane, did not return calls.
… There is life after Pamela Harriman. Janet Howard, the longtime, long-suffering executive assistant to the late U.S. Ambassador to Paris, recently got her vice president’s stripes at Coca-Cola Company. Ms. Howard joined Coke in 1997. She currently serves as director of international diplomatic affairs in Coke’s Washington office.