A Word to Ellen: Watch It, Girl! Life With Perelman Is Film Noir

If there was any question that things had gotten serious between billionaire Ronald Perelman and the actress Ellen Barkin, the answer lies in the hairstyle that Mr. Perelman has been showing off, along with his date, at a series of public events in the city, including the 40th anniversary of the Four Seasons restaurant.

Mr. Perelman, who has always kept his male-pattern bald head remarkably well-coifed, has gotten the billionaire’s equivalent of a buzz cut. While certainly not in the stubbled league of, say, the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine, it is safe to say that Mr. Perelman has done the one thing (short of growing a goatee) that a 56-year-old bald man can do to make himself look hipper to a 45-year-old Hollywood sex bomb such as Ms. Barkin. And that says one thing: That Mr. Perelman–a man known to be a relentless seducer both in his professional and personal life–has begun his full court press for the exclusive enjoyment of Ms. Barkin’s irresistible crooked smile.

While Mr. Perelman and Ms. Barkin spent the Fourth of July in Capri, those stranded in less exotic locales traded tidbits of Perelmania: that Mr. Perelman is in the process of getting Ms. Barkin’s son and daughter into New York private schools. That, according to the Daily News , the couple ducked into Harry Winston together. That Mr. Perelman has rented a two-bedroom condominium for Ms. Barkin on East 63rd Street, just two doors down from his residence (See Manhattan Transfers on page 23.) That the Perelman-Barkin nuptials are already planned, for Dec. 1, which will probably come as a disappointment to Lilly Tartikoff, the widow of former NBC network chief Brandon Tartikoff. Sources familiar with the situation told The Transom that Ms. Tartikoff, who recently chaired the Revlon-sponsored Fire & Ice Ball was putting on “a very aggressive campaign” to land Mr. Perelman. Ms. Tartikoff did not return a phone call.

As usual, Mr. Perelman’s publicist, Howard Rubenstein, declined to comment about these various developments in Mr. Perelman’s life, and Ms. Barkin’s publicist, Ellen Ryder, did not get back to us by press time.

But even as the New York media gears up to milk this latest union of the city’s highest-profile billionaire and his latest trophy, there is the sense that a familiar cycle may be starting up again. Even as Ms. Barkin seems to be enjoying some of the desserts that Mr. Perelman’s courtship inevitably brings, the dark side of Mr. Perelman’s last such romantic quest has emerged in the August issue of Vanity Fair . There, a well-researched profile by Marjorie Williams of Mr. Perelman’s third wife, the Democratic Party supporter Patricia Duff, details the development and then deterioration of Ms. Duff’s marriage to Mr. Perelman.

Ms. Duff does not come off looking so hot in the piece. One of her former divorce attorneys accuses her of keeping the case, which now revolves around custody and support issues, alive. “She always found an excuse not to resolve it,” the lawyer is quoted as saying. And one woman who knows Ms. Duff told Ms. Williams: “She wants the money.…When the separation first started, I said, ‘God, Patricia, why don’t you just get a divorce and get a job and get on with your life?’ She looked at me as if I was talking a foreign language and said but then her daughter wouldn’t live in the same way as his other children. And I said, ‘So what?’ Her daughter would still be fine. And she looked as if I was talking a different foreign language.”

Those close to Ms. Duff said she is quite angry about the piece. Those in Ms. Duff’s corner dismiss the story as another attempt by Mr. Perelman to undermine Ms. Duff while they are still in court. (The couple’s court dates are scheduled to resume in late summer or early fall.) They point out that Mr. Perelman’s Revlon cosmetics company is one of the largest advertisers in Vanity Fair ‘s parent company, Condé Nast. (According to Competitive Media Reporting, a New York-based media research firm that tracks advertising activity and expenditures, Revlon brands bought 126 pages, totaling $15.6 million, in 1998, a little under half of the $36 million that Revlon spent on all magazines that year. None of those ads, however, appeared in Vanity Fair .) Ms. Duff’s supporters also point out that Mr. Perelman is a regular at the exclusive dinner that Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter holds before the magazine’s annual Oscar-night party.

Vanity Fair spokesman Beth Kseniak responded that the August piece “is a story about Patricia Duff, not Ronald Perelman, and Patricia was a friend of Graydon’s as well. I don’t know if we can say is .” Ms. Kseniak added, “In terms of advertising, we took on one of Condé Nast’s single largest advertisers when Maureen Orth wrote the piece about Mohammad al-Fayed, and he pulled all of his advertising for at least two years.”

Although Mr. Perelman has yet to pull any advertising from Condé Nast, ironically, in 1994 he reportedly pulled advertising from Hearst magazines when a profile of Ms. Duff appeared in Esquire that was not to the then-together couple’s liking.

Still, Mr. Perelman takes some hits in the Vanity Fair piece. Describing a face-to-face interview with Mr. Perelman, Ms. Williams wrote: “Around the edges, though, you can make out the annoyance of a man who, when he buys a thing, expects it to stay bought.”

Another person who observed the Perelman-Duff marriage says “Domineering is too small a word to describe Perelman as a husband … He thinks if you’re nice 80 percent of the time, and you’re only berserk 20 percent of the time, it’s O.K.” That is bolstered by one of Ms. Duff’s attorneys, who recalled that during a phone conversation with Mr. Perelman, the billionaire was screaming at his wife. “Like ‘Shut up, you bitch,'” said the attorney. (In the Vanity Fair article, Mr. Perelman denied this.)

Then there are examples of Mr. Perelman’s tendency to be a “control freak,” as one interviewee put it. The prenuptial agreement, obtained by Ms. Williams, contained a provision that “neither party would ‘make disparaging remarks about the personal, private or family life’ of the other party, ‘including without limitation the other’s family, companions, dates, acquaintances or future spouses.'”

One can’t help wondering what Ms. Barkin’s reaction will be, when and if she reads the Vanity Fair piece, particularly the section that describes Mr. Perelman’s courtship of Ms. Duff. Realizing that Ms. Duff really wanted a child, Ms. Williams writes that Mr. Perelman said “she could have two. To enhance his bid, he packed her off immediately to a fertility doctor in New York, and paid for her treatment.” She then quotes someone who observed the couple’s relationship, saying, “It was kind of like a takeover.”

Yet, when people who know the players are asked whether the piece would shake Ms. Barkin’s resolve, their response is essentially negative, or, “Duh!”

“Listen, everybody thinks that no matter what you hear happened, it’s always different this time,” said one person familiar with the couple.

Others point out that Ms. Barkin was born in the Bronx, sans silver spoon (her father was a salesman; her mother a hospital worker). She once worked as a waitress (“I trained at the Mickey Ruskin School of Surly Waitressing,” she once told The New York Times .) And while Ms. Barkin does not lack for work–she’s slated to be seen next in the beauty-pageant black comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous –leading roles are hard to come by in a film business where leading men are increasingly paired with women young enough to be their daughters.

If history is repeating itself, it sounds like it will be up to Ms. Barkin to determine whether it repeats as, the saying goes, farce, or something better. Proponents of the Perelman-Barkin relationship point out that Ms. Barkin is Jewish, which is extremely important to Mr. Perelman, who keeps a kosher home. Ms. Duff converted to Judaism, although she was accused of holding an Easter egg hunt during Passover. Ms. Barkin, who has often described herself as a hippie, also does not move in the same social circles as Mr. Perelman’s second ex-wife, Claudia Cohen. For the most part, Ms. Duff did, which caused some friction, said those familiar with the situation. Indeed, Ms. Cohen, and even Mr. Perelman’s ex-girlfriend, Vanity Fair fashion director Elizabeth Saltzman, seemed to be getting along just fine with Ms. Barkin at the Four Seasons restaurant’s 40th-anniversary celebration, which was hosted by Vanity Fair ‘s Mr. Carter.

There are other signs that Ms. Barkin can hold her own against Mr. Perelman just fine, thank you. Remember, this a woman who used David Letterman as a guinea pig to show off the bullwhip skills she had learned on the set of Wild Bill (she played Calamity Jane). “You bull-whipped Letterman, didn’t you,” an seemingly awed Larry King asked her on his show. “I did, yeah,” replied Ms. Barkin.

This is also a woman who once said of herself, “Well, I’m not, like a retiring flower of a girl.” A woman who once played a man in a woman’s body in Blake Edwards’ Switch and of whom, Mr. Edwards said: “She can be somewhat of an emotional bully. She’s very suspicious of people. She’s a street fighter, very complex, very sexy. And there’s also a frightened little girl in there; that’s where the mistrust comes from. You know that line, ‘She’s an interesting cat, but don’t put your hand in the cage.'”

Maybe that’s why Mr. Perelman cut his hair so short.

Shades of Shaye?

Who was that Yank in shades at Sotheby’s Impressionist sale in London on June 28?

Art-world denizens have been wondering for a week now about the identity of the man with the American accent who cast the eye-popping $11.3 million bid–more than twice the $4.8 million high estimate–for Matisse’s Yellow Dress and Multicolored Dress (Nezy and Lydia) at the auction. Now art-world buzz is that it just may have been one of the film executives who helped bring Austin Powers to the screen.

In the July 5 edition of The New York Times , art reporter Carol Vogel described the winning bidder as “a gray-haired man who wore dark glasses and whose accent was unmistakably American.” Nicknamed “Shades” by people in the auction audience, Ms. Vogel reported that, trailed by reporters, he slipped out a side door of the auction house right after he bought the painting. Later, she wrote that “many people there said the buyer was a Hollywood producer, but nobody knew exactly who he was.”

The description certainly seems to fit New Line Cinema chairman Robert Shaye, who was captured entering the Sotheby’s auction–in his shades–by Transom photographer Marina Garnier (see accompanying picture).

Although New Line officials acknowledged that Mr. Shaye had been in London, they could offer no confirmation of his purchase of the Matisse, which Ms. Vogel wrote, “while decorative, … is hardly considered one of the artist’s best.” Nonetheless, one source within New Line said of the price paid for the Matisse: “Bob could certainly afford it.” Mr. Shaye did not return phone calls, and his spokesman, Robert Elzer, said that he was unable to reach the chairman by our deadline.

Vincent Gallo’s Gun

You say the tortured gaze that director-actor Vincent Gallo wore in the movie poster for his film, Buffalo ’66 , would be right at home among the rogues on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted list? Well, Mr. Gallo has yet to land his mug on the corkboard marquee at the local post office, but the F.B.I. and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms may soon be pushing paper bearing his name.

In June, Mr. Gallo required a copy of the gun that was used in Buffalo ’66 –a .25-caliber Titan semiautomatic–for some film work he was doing in relation to the 1998 movie. Mr. Gallo was working in California, and, he explained to The Transom, when he couldn’t find a Titan .25 on the Left Coast, he went to the dealer, Rick Washburn, who owns a company called Weapons Specialists in SoHo, who had rented him the original for Buffalo ’66 . In order to do this legally, Mr. Washburn had to ship the gun–which had been modified to shoot only blanks–to a licensed dealer in Los Angeles, who then provided it to Mr. Gallo.

Shortly after Mr. Gallo got the weapon, Mr. Washburn said that he received a call from the director. “He said he wanted to destroy the gun,” Mr. Washburn said, adding that he told Mr. Gallo that he couldn’t “until he paid a fee and filed certain paperwork.” Mr. Washburn further explained to The Transom that “guns just can’t disappear once they’re in the system. They either have to be listed as stolen or destroyed. And you have to have proof of destruction.”

According to Mr. Gallo, while he was waiting to hear what it would cost for him to destroy the gun, the Titan .25 “was either stolen or misplaced” when an entire bag of props, in which he said the gun had been placed, went missing.

When The Transom first heard about the mishap and contacted Mr. Washburn on June 21, he sounded pretty steamed, but said he had given Mr. Gallo “a couple of days” to see if the gun could be located. After that, he said, he was legally obligated to contact the Los Angeles Police Department, the B.A.T.F. and the F.B.I. “Once those wheels are started, they’re hell to stop,” said Mr. Washburn.

As of July 6, Mr. Washburn seemed to have calmed down a bit while Mr. Gallo was sounding a little perturbed. “I hope never to direct another movie in the state of New York,” Mr. Gallo said. “Everything’s a shakedown there. Everyone’s got a scam. In Los Angeles, people are a bit more professional.”

Mr. Gallo had gotten Mr. Washburn’s bill for $110 for two weeks’ rental, even though the director said he had notified Mr. Washburn of the gun’s disappearance within one week of him obtaining it. Mr. Washburn also wants $600 to replace the gun, a gun that, Mr. Gallo groused, “used to sell on the streets of New York in the 80’s for $50 illegally. In the store, they were $49.95.” But, Mr. Gallo stressed, “There was no dodginess anywhere,” and “I wasn’t downplaying the seriousness of it.” He added, however, “Things are stolen and misplaced [from movie productions] all the time.” Mr. Gallo did say, however, “I was just a little taken aback by [Mr. Washburn’s] business manner. He probably thought on some level I was not being straight with him.”

Mr. Washburn explained that modifying even a cheap handgun such as a Titan, so that it will fire only blanks, and properly registering the firearm, effectively “triples its worth.” He also explained the two-week rental fee includes the extra time he gave Mr. Gallo to look for the gun before he sicced the authorities on him. “You don’t go to Hertz and wreck their car, and then say, it’s only worth $1,000, that’s all I’m giving you,” Mr. Washburn said.

Mr. Gallo may still face a hassle ahead. Mr. Washburn said that the L.A. gun dealer must take Mr. Gallo’s police report and submit it to the B.A.T.F. Then Mr. Washburn must do the same. The B.A.T.F., he said, will then decide whether to report it to the F.B.I.

The Transom Also Hears

… Restaurateur Elaine Kaufman doesn’t just preside over a melting pot of creative types, she employs them, too. On July 21, The Trilogy Theater will premiere Relationships and Other Nightmares , a collection of six one-act plays written by Elaine’s maître d’ Michael Racanelli. Mr. Racanelli told The Transom that a lot of his play was “inspired” by some of the scenes and people he encounters at Ms. Kaufman’s saloon. “I go from table to table and get snippets of dialogue and put them together into a one-act,” he said. Mr. Racanelli is also currently collaborating on an Off-Broadway musical called Rock Star , with three musicians–twin brothers Steven and Robert Morris and Joey Shane–whom he met when they played Elaine’s on New Year’s Eve. “They’re sort of like a cross between the Beatles and the Marx Brothers,” he said. Ms. Kaufman recently also hosted a book party for her former bartender, Brian McDonald, whose memoir, My Father’s Gun : One Family, Three Badges, 100 Years in the N.Y.P.D . was published recently by E.P. Dutton.

… Speaking of Ms. Kaufman, she delivered the line that dared not be spoken when Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, appeared on June 16 at a luncheon in her honor. (Ms. Ferguson’s charity, Chances for Children, had been enlisted by the United Nations to send 10,000 tents to Kosovo for the Albanian refugees.) Impressed by Ms. Ferguson’s handling of herself at the event, Ms. Kaufman told her: “You’re fast on your feet.” Ms. Ferguson responded with a smile. “She liked it,” said Ms. Kaufman.

… She put the jewel in the Fourth of July, baby! Even in the starlit darkness of Wainscott Beach, L.I., it was hard to miss actress Heather Graham huddling with her boyfriend, actor-director Ed Burns, and a bunch of Baldwin-esque friends around a beach fire on July 4. A Word to Ellen: Watch It, Girl! Life With Perelman Is Film Noir