Columbia U. Gives The Sopranos a Pass for Using Its Name All Season

Ivy League This

Add one more question to the number of loose ends left by the season finale of The Sopranos : Is the HBO series using the name of Columbia University with or without the institution’s permission?

Although representatives from both sides were reluctant to discuss the subject, the answer appears to be that The Sopranos have pretty much ignored the Ivy League university’s refusal to willingly cooperate with the show.

Last fall, Columbia initially agreed to allow its Morningside Heights campus to be used as a backdrop for Meadow Soprano’s freshman year at college in the series’ third season, but then reportedly recanted when concerns were raised about the portrayal of the university. “Our mission is teaching and research, not being the backdrop for a TV show,” Columbia spokesman Virgil Renzulli told The New York Times at the time. “When things really border on reality, and things happen that we do not condone, then we do not do it.”

As a result, exterior shots were filmed on the Upper East Side campus of Baruch College, but when The Sopranos’ third season premiered in March, Meadow’s alma mater was repeatedly identified as Columbia–andinone episode, one of the university’s deans even hit up Mrs. Soprano for a $50,000 donation, causing her husband to refer to the institution’s officials as “Morningside Heights gangsters.”

So what’s the deal? According to Columbia’s Mr. Renzulli, “We have worked nothing out with The Sopranos . We did not reach an agreement giving them permission to shoot on our campus; they have not asked for our permission to use our name in the scripts; we have not given it to them; and they’re using it without permission.”

But although the university is clearly unhappy about the matter, officials there don’t seem to be pursuing a resolution. When The Transom asked Mr. Renzulli to elaborate upon his original comments, he said that Columbia was “not seeking an agreement” with the HBO series and that the university had “no control” over the fact that The Sopranos had continued to use its name.

HBO spokesman Diego Aldana offered a similar explanation. “We didn’t agree to what they wanted, so there is no real standing relationship with them,” he said. “Yes, she’s going to Columbia and we’re using the name.” He paused and added, “And I guess that’s legal. In some way.”

–Elisabeth Franck

Being Ellen Benjamin Wong

Husband-and-wife authors Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt do not respond well to criticism. Sources close to Wayne Wang’s digital sex drama, The Center of the World , said that Mr. Auster and Ms. Hustvedt were moved to publicly distance themselves from the film after a spate of poor reviews, specifically A.O. Scott’s thrashing in The New York Time s.

A month after its April 18 release, the film’s distributor, Artisan Entertainment, released an odd statement advising members of the press that, in production notes that had been distributed for The Center of the World , Brooklyn novelist Paul Auster and his wife, novelist Siri Hustvedt, had been incorrectly credited as contributing screenwriters for the film. The statement clarified that “their work was solely limited to general story ideas at an early stage of the project.”

Although a copy of those notes could not be obtained by press time, sources who have seen the film said that Mr. Auster and Ms. Hustvedt are given “story by” credits along with Mr. Wang and the performance artist Miranda July.

But those same credits indicate that the screenplay was written by “Ellen Benjamin Wong,” which was previously reported to be a collective pseudonym for Mr. Auster, Ms. Hustvedt and Mr. Wang composed of the three writers’ middle names. The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Mr. Wang as saying that they used a pseudonym rather than their real names “because some of the dialogue had changed.”

Mr. Auster and Mr. Wang had collaborated on 1995’s Smoke, which Mr. Auster wrote and Mr. Wang directed, and Smoke ‘s spontaneous follow-up, Blue in the Face , which they co-wrote and co-directed. When the deal to produce Center of the World was announced in January 2000, Daily Variety reported it as a reunion of Smoke ‘s writer, director and producers, noting that “the film will be written by Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt. Peter Newman and Wang will produce, with Ira Deutchman and Greg Johnson exec producing.”

But sources close to the situation said that Mr. Scott’s April 18 review in The Times may have caused the literary couple to have second thoughts about their contributions. The critique named Mr. Auster and Ms. Hustvedt as screenwriters in the second paragraph and went on to note that “Mr. Wang and Mr. Auster do for desire what they did for Brooklyn in Smoke … they turn it into an intellectual construct as bleached of emotion as the new film’s flashback sequences are drained of color, and then paint on the washed-out hues of their world-weary sentimentality.”

One source familiar with the situation said that Mr. Auster “was concerned that the assumption was being made that [ The Center of the World ] was the same [collaborative] situation as Smoke .”

Mr. Auster’s agent denied that the clarification had anything to do with negative reviews. “It was a response to being called the screenwriters on a movie that they did not write. This correction was supposed to have been made months if not a year ago.” Mr. Auster’s agent Carol Mann reiterated that though Mr. Auster and Ms. Hustvedt were not screenwriters, “there were a number of people who contributed ideas to the story and they are two of them.” She denied that Ellen Benjamin Wong was a pseudonym for Mr. Auster, Ms. Hustvedt and Mr. Wang. Spokespeople for Artisan said that the Ellen Benjamin Wong credit would remain on the film.

– Rebecca Traister

Fowler Play

The big news at the National Audubon Society’s second annual gala at Chelsea Piers on May 21 wasn’t that another year has gone by without the elusive–and quite possibly extinct–ivory-billed woodpecker being spotted. No, the big news was that Jim Fowler is a New Yorker.

Yes, that Jim Fowler–Marlin Perkins’ tanned Mutual of Omaha alligator-wrestling sidekick, and the evening’s entertainment. “We live at 69th and Lex,” said the animal wrangler, who was dressed for the occasion in a tux rather than his customary bush jacket.

Mr. Fowler and several of his animal buddies had been invited as a digestive, as it were, after the Audubon Society honored Jack Greenberg, the chief executive of McDonald’s, venture capitalist Dan Lufkin, and Anne and Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff for their commitment to conservation.

Among the guests were the Sidamon-Eristoff’s son, former City Councilman, current Giuliani administration Commissioner of Finance and inveterate city boy Andrew Eristoff. Mr. Eristoff didn’t seem entirely comfortable when a reporter quizzed him on the difference between a blue jay and a bluebird. “Again, I’m here to support my father,” he explained.

Far more at ease on the subject of animal field markings was Mr. Fowler’s lovely, 6-foot, pre-Raphaelite 25-year-old daughter Carrie, who works with her dad on his syndicated TV program, Jim Fowler’s Life in the Wild . Ms. Fowler remembered an idyllic childhood heading up to the family’s country home in New Canaan on weekends in the family station wagon: “There were two kids, a dog, a cat, a python and a hawk,” she said.

For the Chelsea Piers affair, Mr. Fowler had brought along a golden eagle, a different python, a bear cub, an alligator and a snapping turtle. The evening’s high point undoubtedly came as the black-tie crowd picked at their ice-cream parfaits and Mr. Fowler–who peppered his patter with references to his wraparound Mutual of Omaha insurance policy and his mentor, Johnny Carson–fed celery stalks into the reptile’s salivating maw, which was being depicted in close-up on a number of closed-circuit TV screens scattered around the hall.

The naturalist confessed in a roundabout way that he doesn’t hold Larry King, on whose program both he and the turtle recently appeared together, in as high esteem as he does Mr. Carson–at least when it comes to knowing how to act around animals. “He had his hand within five inches of this guy’s mouth,” Mr. Fowler told his audience. “I thought, ‘How dumb can somebody be?'”

–Ralph Gardner Jr.

Wake Up, Glen Jones!

WFMU-FM D.J. Glen Jones has done some scary things to attract listeners. “I was lowered from the top of the Howard Johnson’s in Asbury Park on a rope,” he said. “I lit myself on fire. I suffered some pretty severe burns from that. And one time I invited listeners to hit me over the head with metal chairs.” All were endured in the interest of attracting attention to the one-of-a-kind free-form radio station that’s based in Jersey City, N.J.

On Memorial Day weekend, Mr. Jones will attempt what you might call a more mature, but no less frightening, publicity stunt. He will attempt to get himself and his beloved radio station into the Guinness Book of World Records by broadcasting for 73 hours and 33 minutes straight.

There are all sorts of questions about what “straight” means and what “broadcasting” means, so the first thing Mr. Jones did, he hired a lawyer. “They have some very strict rules,” he said. Every song has to be between two and six minutes long, and guests on the show can’t talk for more than one minute without Mr. Jones saying something. His lawyer advised him to have two witnesses on hand at all times, and to collect two letters of recommendation from prominent people attesting to the fact that Mr. Jones actually is the kind of honest person who really would stay up for 74 straight hours.

Mr. Jones isn’t doing too much to prepare himself. He’s been “working on focusing,” he said, and cutting down on coffee. “I tend to drink a lot,” he said, “but I’ve stopped drinking.” He’s not too worried about what’s going to happen to him after 74 straight hours awake. “I’m told I’ll start hallucinating and stuff. But that’ll be the interesting part of the program,” sort of like watching Jerry Lewis lose it on Labor Day.

And if he drifts off and doesn’t break the record? “I’m not going to let that happen,” Mr. Jones said. “If it ever did, I would slip into a major-league depression.”

The important question, of course, is when will Mr. Jones use the bathroom? “I have a 15-minute break every eight hours,” he said (thank his lawyer for that). “Otherwise, I’m just going to have to hold it.” And if nature calls during the show? “We might use the trucker’s technique if necessary,” he said, which involves utilizing the nearest empty receptacle. “But that’s a little degrading.”

–Ian Blecher

The Transom Also Hears …

… The line-up for the June 24 “Cooking for Jean-Louis” dinner to benefit Jean-Louis Palladin is shaping up to be the all-star event of New York’s culinary world. The dinner, which will take place at Daniel on East 65th Street, will feature the work of the restaurant’s Daniel Boulud, Park Avenue Cafe’s David Burke, Craft’s Tom Colicchio, Ariane Daguin, Lespinasse’s Christian Delouvrier, Rocco DiSpirito, Alain Ducasse, Olive’s Todd English, Hudson Valley Foie Gras’ Michael Ginor, Balthazar’s Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, Montrachet’s Harold Moore, Payard’s François Payard, Tribeca Grill’s Don Pintabona, Le Bernardin’s Eric Ripert, Jacques Torres Chocolates’ Jacques Torres and Jean George’s Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The event, which is being held to raise money for the medical care of Mr. Palladin, who was diagnosed with lung cancer, will begin with a cocktail reception and tasting buffet prepared by the eight American chefs. Then the nine participating French chefs will serve a six-course dinner. Tickets are $500 per person or $4,500 for a table of 10; reservations can be made by calling Mr. Boulud’s restaurant.

– Frank DiGiacomo Columbia U. Gives The Sopranos a Pass for Using Its Name All Season