How to Lure Celebrities to the Not-So-Hip Hamptons? Loan ’em a Mercedes

Come to The Hamptons, Get A Free Car!

The Hamptons haven’t exactly been a celebrity magnet this summer, but the folks at Mercedes-Benz managed to find a way to get the famous and the marginally famous to turn out for its pre-U.S. Grand Prix party at the Bridgehampton home of real estate developer Rodney Propp on Aug. 12.

The car manufacturer loaned eight celebrities, including actors Hugh Jackman, Peta Wilson and Taye Diggs, and models Bridget Hall and Christy Turlington, free wheels–half got four-door S-class sedans, the other half got two-door SL convertibles–for the weekend, provided they showed up to the party.

Certainly, some of these celebrities would have shown up if they’d been given a bag of airline peanuts, let alone a $90,000 automobile. Ms. Wilson and Ms. Hall aren’t known for their discerning tastes when it comes to attending large public rat humps. But Mr. Jackman, fresh off his star-making turn in X-Men , and his actress-wife Deborra-Lee Furness were a catch. In fact, this was his first trip to the Hamptons, and Mr. Jackman was dressed more like the Music Man than an X-Man in a gray-and-white striped blazer, a white dress shirt and gray pants. On the other hand, he was wearing sandals, which made his outfit look like it came from the Galilee Repertory production of Meredith Wilson’s musical.

Anyway, forgive Mr. Jackman for his fashion faux pas, for he still seemed to be reeling from his newfound hotness. “One weekend back in July, I remember waking up the morning after X-Men opened,” he told The Transom. “At 7 a.m., I got a call, at 7:02 I got a call, at 7:05 I got a call–from the studio, the executive producer … they hadn’t been to bed yet. My agent called me and said, ‘You’re saving us so much money now,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and he said, ‘We’re getting a lot more incoming calls than [we’re making] outgoing calls.”

A few minutes later, Mr. and Mrs. Jackman were joined by a fellow Aussie thespian, Ms. Wilson, who, perhaps still in character from her lesbian scene with Ellen Barkin in the film Mercy , gave Ms. Furness a big kiss on the lips.

Good thing MTV V.J. Brian McFayden didn’t see that interaction. He was already freaking over the fact that someone had loaned him an SL. “I drove it and I was like, ‘No way ! You got to be kidding me! You’re actually giving this to me? You’re giving me a car to go to a party?'” In case you hadn’t guessed, Mr. McFayden hails from Omaha, Nebraska.

Not every celebrity who arrived at the party got a loaner. Vanity Fair “It Girl” Kidada Jones, who arrived with rapper Damon Dash and his son Boogie, didn’t–and, according to her, she’s not ready for one. Ms. Jones, who wore a lot more to the Hamptons party than she did in the Vanity Fair picture, seemed to equate the automobile make with a time of life that gets most people thinking about another vehicle manufactured by Mercedes’ parent company: a Chrysler minivan. “I drive a BMW, but I want a Mercedes,” said Ms. Jones. “Mercedes is the final destination; when I have my husband and my kids, I’ll get a Mercedes and have one for the rest of my life,” she said.

Former Fugee Wyclef Jean didn’t get a Mercedes either, but not for lack of trying. Stripped down to just a pair of black workout pants (over the top of which was visible the waistband of his Fruit of the Loom briefs), Mr. Jean told the very white crowd in an extended, improvised rap: “I used to work at Burger King, I used to be flipping Whoppers to rich people who would come up in Mercedes.” Then, about a half-hour later, at the end of the show, he invited Keith May, a vice president at Mercedes-Benz U.S.A., to come up onstage. With Mr. May on the spot, Mr. Jean hit him up for a free car. “I don’t have no money,” Mr. Jean told Mr. May. “Puffy got all the money.”

– Deborah Schoeneman

Jeff Greenfield’s L.A. Guy

The following are excerpts from an interview with CNN correspondent Jeff Greenfield’s driver in Los Angeles, Bela Becsey:

“I was assigned to drive Jeff Greenfield, yes, that’s correct. I am on call for him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I drive for nobody else. I’m Jeff’s all the way. I’m Jeff’s guy.

“It is an honor and it is a pleasure to be Jeff Greenfield’s driver, it really is. Let me tell you, I have driven them all: Lucille Ball, Tommy Lee Jones, Martin Sheen. You name it, and I have done it. This man is the best. Outclasses them all.

“He’s up early, I would say he gets up at about eight o’clock. He maybe works out a little. You know, he stays in shape, because if you’re not in shape, you’re not going to be able to do a job like this.

“What’s it like driving him? He’s a delightful man. He’s a good man. Today was the first time I met him, but I could tell that he is a good man. He’s got a good heart, he’s got good morals, he’s extremely intelligent. He’s very good at what he does.

“I’ve never seen him on TV, actually, because I don’t really watch TV. I watch motion pictures. Only features. But my brother, who’s one of the biggest agents in Hollywood, a very big agent, is a big fan of Jeff’s.

“Jeff is extremely intelligent. He’s extremely passionate. Jeff is the greatest guy in the world. If you do your job, and you’re on time, and you don’t get lost, you’re great. He is the most delightful man I have ever met. He really is. He really is a good guy. I’m not just saying that because you’re tape-recording me.

“You know what? He’s a strict professional, and he demands 100 percent out of his people, and if that wasn’t his working philosophy, he wouldn’t be as good as he is today. I mean, the guy is a true professional, he’s right on the money.

“Jeff is a religious man. He has good morals. He’s the type of guy who will call his mother every day, and that is very good. Do you call your mother every day?

“He’s concerned about the people who work for him. He asked me, ‘Have you had anything to eat?’ And I said no. He said, ‘Well, go get something to eat while I’m at this Trans-American thing.’ So he was concerned that I would eat. So I went and I got something to eat and I came back. And Jeff said, ‘Did you eat?’ And I said, ‘Yes, Jeff, I ate.’ He goes, ‘Don’t be lying to me, because if you didn’t eat, I swear to God I’m going to run up and get you something.’ And I said, ‘No, Jeff, I ate.’ And he goes, ‘Well, okay, because I’m Jewish and I got to make sure you eat.’ And I said, ‘No, Jeff, I have eaten!’ So, you know, he’s really concerned about that. He takes good care of people.

“By the way, the catering at CNN is the best I’ve tasted in 30 years. Have you seen the porta-johns? Have you been in there? It’s like the Ritz-Carlton! I swear to God, I’ve never seen anything like it. I want to take pictures!”

– Jason Gay

Schrager Doesn’t Do Flowery Bedspreads

Ian Schrager’s opening a new hotel in New York, and according to ads that recently ran in Time Out and The New York Times , he’s looking to hire “well-groomed, confident, high energy, vibrant men and women.” The Hudson hotel, at West 58th Street, is scheduled to open on Oct. 3, and on Aug. 10 and 11, would-be Schrager staffers turned out in droves for its recruiting fair.

Mr. Schrager is famous for making the concept of the hotel as hip hangout famous, and currently maintains an international portfolio that includes the Paramount, Morgans and the Royalton in New York, the Mondrian in Los Angeles, the Delano in Miami and the Sanderson in London. (Mr. Schrager’s stable of hotels should come in handy now that, according to the New York Post , he has separated from his wife of six years, Rita Norona.)

Ian Schrager Hotel Group staffers are typically black-clad and redolent with attitude. According to a recent lawsuit, however, they do not tend to be dark-skinned. Last week, Mr. Schrager’s Mondrian hotel agreed to pay $1.08 million dollars to a group of nine mostly minority bellmen who were fired and replaced with white people in 1996.

According to The Times , Mr. Schrager had circulated a memo saying that some of the Mondrian’s employees were “too ethnic.” Mr. Schrager later claimed that he meant they had too many tattoos.

Media coverage of the lawsuit did not seem to affect the turnout at the Hudson hiring fairs, which were swamped by hopefuls of all colors.

Two men with German accents greeted job seekers at the entrance to the City Center Studios building on West 56th Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues. One of the Teutonic types, who wore a tight T-shirt and spiked blond hair, greeted, smiled and handed out applications. The other, who sported a shaved head and the hulking chest of a superhero, didn’t smile at all: He pointed his clipboard at job seekers, asked if their applications were filled out, and ordered them to get in line on the sidewalk in front of the building until someone came to fetch them.

After a group of about eight or 10 applicants formed, they were escorted up three flights to a big, bare, fluorescent-lit room filled with rows of chairs overflowing with mostly non-English-speaking job seekers. Dozens of faces turned to stare at the arrival of every new group of candidates.

Two young ladies took the job applications, gave each applicant a stick-on name tag, and dispatched them according to the jobs they were seeking: Front-of-the-house candidates to the first row; housekeeping and back-of-the-house staff to any of the 10 other rows. Periodically, another guide would enter and call out a row number. Most rows waited for at least half an hour before being asked to stand and follow a guide up a few more flights of stairs.

The front row seemed to have more English speakers and a more frequent turnover. As soon as the row filled up, the applicants were escorted to a gymnasium-sized space divided by curtains. This is where group interviews of the front-row candidates took place. At each of three long tables sat three Ian Schrager Hotels representatives who all smiled encouragingly, laughed a lot and took notes on Post-Its.

One of the tables was led by a Schrager employee who introduced himself as John. John was tall and lanky, had a sunburned button nose and bleached-blond hair, and wore a button-down shirt and khakis. He shook hands with each candidate as they filed into the eight seats lined up opposite him, and introduced himself and his fellow interviewers. John gestured a lot, patted his clipboard frequently and laughed sporadically.

“But I don’t really work for Ian Schrager Hotels. I work for a whole different world. A different universe,” John said to the applicants, who all seemed to be in their 20’s. “You know … we’re not a Marriott. We’re not a Hilton. We’re not a Sheraton.” He paused and put his hand up as though to stop traffic. “They do what they do really well. We just don’t do what they do. We don’t do, you know”–John looked up and down the row of smiling candidates before him–”flowery bedspreads and pink carpets. We do something else. We know a lot of you are actors, singers, models, students. And we’ve all done that. You do other things, and we really like that. We encourage that! We think it brings out personality!”

John leaned over the table and squinted at the name tag of the woman on one end of the row of candidates. She leaned forward to try to help him, smiling so that her eyes squinted, too.

“Hea … Heather! Tell us about yourself!”

Heather could barely wait. “I’m an actor!” she exclaimed, beaming as though she’d just given the right answer on a game show. She talked slowly through her big smile, occasionally looking down with a demure blink or tucking her long brown hair behind her ears. Heather explained that she’d just graduated and moved to New York. “I just signed a lease today!” she said, as though she’d given another right answer.

John beamed avuncularly at Heather and asked why she was interested in the Hudson hotel. Heather replied that she had heard from a few actor friends that Mr. Schrager’s hotels were “sort of glamorous.” She was interested in being a hostess or cocktail waitress. Heather had come with a friend who sat next to her. He was dressed all in black, and John seemed intrigued by his application. After perusing it, he looked up with arched eyebrows.

“It says you’re a performer ,” John said with a coy smile. “What’s that ?”

“Actor, singer, dancer. Whatever pays the rent,” Heather’s friend said, staring back at John and running a hand through his dark spikes of hair. He had just returned from touring with Grease .

Next came a Tyson Beckford look-alike who said he’d been a doorman at another Schrager hotel, the St. Moritz. But when that closed, the doorman became an actor and started doing voice-overs. He wasn’t a union actor, so the commercial actors’ strike meant he’d been working a lot recently. But he missed being a doorman. He was a great doorman, he said, and wanted to start doing it part time again. John gave his application a pat, as though to welcome him back to the Schrager family.

Lilian, a petite woman with a freckled face and a ponytail, spoke next. She had a light Spanish accent and said she was a dancer who mostly performed in videos. “Mostly for, like, Bad Boy,” she explained, referring to Sean (Puffy) Combs’ record label. “You know, Jay-Z and stuff, and, like, other hip-hop artists,” she said, making a back-and-forth motion with her hands as though she were spinning records.

John seemed pleased and made the same gesture.

Lilian said she had experience in customer service and was interested in working at the front desk, but that she had to go because she had a performance in a few hours.

Michelle, who just moved to New York from California, where she’d worked, like, at a tennis club but didn’t really like it, was in the middle of explaining why she was interested in the Hudson hotel when she was interrupted by someone singing.

One of the candidates at the next table over had stood up, and with his legs squeezed together like a dancer’s and his arms spread wide, delivered an echoing, baritone rendition of a song from The King and I .

John looked over rapturously and held up his finger to shush Michelle. He kept it there during the whole song. When the aspiring Bryn Terfel finished and sat down, John beamed with delight–hadn’t he said they encouraged this?

“I have the best job,” he whispered to everyone.

– Renée Kaplan How to Lure Celebrities to the Not-So-Hip Hamptons? Loan ’em a Mercedes