The Slightly Loony Andy Rooney

On the evening of Nov. 27, a small, stately crowd that included the entire 60 Minutes gang assembled at the Museum of Television & Radio to celebrate “An Evening with Andy Rooney.” The soirée kicked off with a subdued cocktail hour up in the Edward and Patricia McLaughlin Library, where the party-goers’ venerable visages were oddly mirrored in the Al Hirschfeld caricatures gracing the walls. Afterward, the group proceeded down to the theater to take in a screening of Andy Rooney clips. During the following Q. and A. session, one question was on everyone’s minds.

“Are you a curmudgeon?” a brave fellow wanted to know.

Mr. Rooney, leaning back pensively in his chair, responded by pointing out that “curmudgeon” was a word that had often been used to describe his highness, H.L. Mencken. “I am so far behind H.L. Mencken in intellect,” said Mr. Rooney, “I’m embarrassed to have the same word applied to me.”

But the fellow wouldn’t give up. “Are you curmudgeon- like ?” he pressed. His question went unanswered, drowned out by roars of laughter.

Perhaps the word “curmudgeon” (or any variation thereof) and its highfalutin’ associations were too much for Mr. Rooney to apply to himself. But, as The Transom had found out during a brief chat up in the library, Mr. Rooney seemed quite at peace with being grumpy.

The essayist had been gracious enough to explain his schtick and its effects on the human condition: “I think what I do is tell people things they already knew and didn’t know they knew until I mentioned it. And it produces a warm sense of fellow feeling, recognizing that we’re not alone in the world,” he said.

Warm sense of fellow feeling ? Strange words for a man who has been called “cantankerous” and even “a prickly pear.” The Transom ventured, “Some people say they think you’re grumpy ….”

“Well, I am grumpy,” Mr. Rooney asserted, his wiry brows blowing slightly in the draft. “There’s a great deal to be grumpy about in the world.”

Such as? Mr. Rooney cleared his throat. “Well, I … you want me to make a list?” he grumbled, “I’ll have to sit down. There’s … there’s … there’s too much to be grumpy about. Uh … reporters who come up to you when you’re having a good time at a party-that would qualify as something to be grumpy about,” he said, chuckling to himself without cracking a smile.

“I can’t understand people who accept things that are wrong without at least observing that they are wrong and mentioning it to someone,” he continued. “I’m lucky because I can mention it to a lot of people. I’ve surprised myself that my demeanor has not turned people off more than it has,” Mr. Rooney went on to note. Strangely, although the man had taken a dig or two at The Transom in the short span of their conversation, The Transom-supporting the theory-was not turned off.

Later on at dinner, Mr. Rooney’s 60 Minutes cronies-Morley Safer, Mike Wallace, Don Hewitt, Ed Bradley and Steve Kroft-took the podium to rain words of praise down onto their colleague. Finally, Walter Cronkite, as the pièce de résistance, sang the ultimate paean to his pal: “He’s a su-preme cur-mud-geon!” he bellowed.

As the guests sipped their decaf and scooped up the last bits of their frothy lemon trifles, Mr. Rooney took the floor for one last time. For a moment, he almost seemed overwhelmed by the outpouring of emotion. “I think I’ll just go home and cry now,” he said, managing to whine and laugh simultaneously-the mark of a supreme curmudgeon.

– Beth Broome

Jennings Goes Pop

On the morning of Nov. 18, while Al Gore’s lawyers were filing briefs with the Florida Supreme Court and the Bush camp was carping about it, ABC News anchor Peter Jennings was enjoying his first day off since election night.

Wearing a dark-green suit and an olive-colored shirt, looking tan and fresh despite his week of nonstop news, Mr. Jennings sat sandwiched between Andy Warhol biographer Victor Bockris and Velvet Underground bassist and keyboardist John Cale, deep in a discussion that also included Warholites Glenn O’Brien, Bob Colacello and Baby Jane Holzer.

The occasion was a panel devoted to Warhol, the honoree of this year’s ArtWalk, a daylong benefit event that also comprised studio visits and silent and live auctions at Pier 59 on 18th Street and the West Side Highway. The pope of pop was being honored for his “commitment for the homeless,” a reference, perhaps, to the countless shit-faced out-of-towners who had once crashed on the Factory couch.

Mr. Jennings was moderating and getting the panelists to cough up worthy anecdotes. The socialite Ms. Holzer recalled her first meeting with Warhol in front of Bloomingdale’s. He had asked if she wanted to be in movies. She remembered thinking, “Omigod, I was just shopping at Bloomingdale’s!”

Mr. Colacello, who edited Warhol’s Interview magazine and now writes for Vanity Fair , recounted getting a phone call from a frantic Brigid Berlin during the “essentially boring” O.J. Simpson Bronco chase of 1994 and hearing her scream on the other line, “Turn on your TV! It’s an Andy movie!”

Once the last questions had been asked, the panelists and Mr. Jennings streamed out of the room. When the news anchor congratulated the participants, Mr. Bockris noted that “there must be hundreds of us walking around for whom Andy’s still a central part of their lives. It’s like being in a war.” He thought about his comment for a minute, then said: “What do people from the Second World War talk about when they get together? The war. We talk about Andy. Being with Andy was like being in a war.”

“Andy’s still a mystery to people,” Mr. Colacello said. “He’d go to the White House and come back and say, ‘I think Betty Ford is on drugs.’ And sure enough, six months later….” He shot the news anchor a knowing look. Mr. Jennings, who knew something about war and the White House, didn’t say a word.

-Elisabeth Franck

360 Degrees of Fashion

On the evening of Nov. 15, deep in the belly of Chelsea Piers, supermodel Eva Herzigova (of Wonderbra fame) was having her face spackled in preparation for the Smirnoff International Fashion Awards, which she was emceeing that night.

As her svelte makeup artist troweled away, Ms. Herzigova spoke with The Transom about the injustice of having one’s name pilfered by those annoying Internet squatters who register everything they can get their keyboards on. The Transom was eager to know about the dirt Ms. Herzigova had seen about herself on the Web. “Oh, there’s just, you know, there’s just everything. Everything,” she said, rather mysteriously. “Such as?” The Transom prodded. “Oh, everything. Where I’m from, how old I am, my parents, how many brothers and sisters … Just everything is wrong. My colors-that I have green eyes, which I don’t, I have blue eyes. Then they put these naked pictures on, which I have never done naked pictures. And they put like these black things over and it’s like, if you, um, if you pay with your credit card, it’s going to, you know, go off. And actually, they just put my face over somebody else’s body.”

“Is it a decent body, at least?” The Transom was curious. “Yeah … well, yeah, I guess so. I didn’t really pay for it, so I didn’t check it out,” she admitted.

Later, elsewhere under Pier 59’s vast roof and on another wavelength altogether, two other kooky grandes dames of the fashion world, Betsey Johnson and Patricia Field, were swirling their drinks. The catwalk had been walked and the awards presented. With the stress of the production behind them, the two gals hammed it up from their judges’ chairs at the end of the runway.

The Transom remarked on their complementary get-ups. It so happened that on this particular evening, Ms. Field’s fuchsia hair-including her bangs, which were smacked on her forehead like a shingle-matched Ms. Johnson’s sparkly top, and Ms. Field’s fabulous turquoise dress reverberated quite nicely off Ms. Johnson’s gold lamé bag. “Yeah! We match,” affirmed Ms. Johnson. “We’re, like, soul sisters from way back. We’ve just known each other for years, and we’ve been on the same wavelength.” And not just any wavelength, apparently. “Oh, a very colorful, rock ‘n’ roll kind of sexy, out-there wavelength,” clarified Ms. Johnson.

“We started out together. In the 60’s, right?” Ms. Field asked later, looking over at her friend.

“Pat’s younger than I am. I’m her grandmom. I brought her up,” sputtered Ms. Johnson.

“You started out on Madison Avenue and I started out in the Village,” Ms. Field plowed ahead earnestly.

“Right!” Ms. Johnson laughed. “Haw haw haw! Madison Avenue! That’s me! I was an advertising agency mogul-is that what it is? Mogul?” She looked over at Ms. Field, who was crunching an ice cube.

“Yep,” confirmed Ms. Field.

“Mogul, logul …” Ms. Johnson tittered giddily, perhaps lost in the memory.

And what did the gals think of the show? “I thought Pat and I were the best!” Ms. Johnson cackled. “No, no, not really, but I just, uhhh, I miss the … uh, well, what was the question?” She laughed, perhaps running out of gas at the end of a long and arguably tedious affair-yet another fashion- awards show plunked down just when the latest month of international fashion shows had mercifully ended.

It was pretty clear that the subdued hues of the evening-the beige and winter-white architectural constructions of the winning designer, Canadian Pao Lim, for example-were not exactly the cartwheeling, minidress-wearing designer’s scene. “Um,” she said pensively, “it’s not my kind of thing, I’m sorry to say. It’s too masculine, unsexy and artsy-fartsy.”

Ms. Field spoke in more diplomatic terms. “Well, I agreed with some of it,” she said of the fashion, “but not all of it. Everyone has their own perspective. It’s a circle and there are 360 degrees around there. And it just depends on what side of the circle you see it from. So I respect it. I can’t say it was a complete circle of expression, though.”

Perhaps the rest of the circle was communing on the other side of Pier 59, where the after-party was raging on. An unamused-looking young woman in a T-shirt that said “Will Fuck for Coke” made her way through the crowd, passing a go-go boy who was doing gymnastics on an elasticized hammock and a live mermaid perched high up on a rock. A young man named Maribou Dandymaster, who was ballroom-dancing with one of the pom-pom-clad Smirnoff girls, stopped for a moment to illuminate his location on the circle. “The fashion was beyond imagination,” Mr. Dandymaster exclaimed breathily. “It was beyond haute couture ! Happiness is what we discovered-paraphrase it that way.”

– B. Broome

The Transom Also Hears…

That wasn’t Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell at the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn,on Nov. 20, that was United States Attorney General Janet Reno! Ms. Reno was visiting the site as part of a national tour of community centers that she’s been making in the waning months of her tenure. While she was there, Ms. Reno attended a court session where a man was arraigned for allegedly stealing a cup of coffee. As he departed the courthouse, The Transom asked if he’d known who was sitting behind him in court. “Yeah,” he snarled, “Janet Reno.” How did he feel about that? “Got me out of there quicker, thank God,” said the defendant, who has to return for a hearing at a later date. “I’ve been in there too long as it is!”

-Petra Bartosiewicz The Slightly Loony Andy Rooney