AOL-Time Warner’s New Chief, Richard Parsons, Makes His Social Debut

You’ve Got Warmth!

The AOL Time Warner-sponsored “Helping Hands II: Handmade in America” charity auction on Dec. 12 marked the social debut of the media conglomerate’s new chief executive, Richard Parsons. And if the event was an indicator of the things to come, the chilly corporate culture at the media conglomerate could be in for a thawing.

The Dec. 12 event at the new Museum of Folk Art on 53rd Street was the first since the company’s previous top dog, Gerald Levin, announced his retirement on Dec. 5–and maybe it was just a severe case of holiday cheer, but Mr. Parsons seemed to be generating a warmth that the often remote Mr. Levin could never quite muster.

As a crowd of boldface names–actors Ed Burns, Marcia Gay Harden and Angie Harmon; Ms. Harmon’s husband, New York Giant Jason Seahorn; and AOL Moviefone creative-services director Mark Golin–swarmed around the newly minted chief executive, Mr. Parsons talked with rapper and actor L.L. Cool J.

“Have you met my nephew?” Mr. Parsons asked when The Transom approached the two men.

Mr. Cool J is not actually related to Mr. Parsons, but he sure wasn’t about to protest, especially when the head of AOL Time Warner said that it was depressing to have a young nephew who made “15 times more than me.”

The Transom took the opportunity to talk to Mr. Parsons about the company’s two big-ticket fantasy films, Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and New Line’s Lord of the Rings . Weren’t these films competing for the same audience? we asked.

Mr. Parsons cracked a grin.

“Do you know what the No. 1 movie at the box office was last weekend?” he said. “It was Ocean’s 11 , a Warner Brothers movie. Harry Potter was No. 2. I predict that next weekend it will be the same.” (Tom Cruise would prove Mr. Parsons wrong.)

“The next weekend will be Fellowship of the Ring . We will own that No. 1 slot and all the top slots,” Mr. Parsons said. “Harry Potter had a good four- to five-week run before Lord of the Rings , and we do think they appeal to different demographics. Harry Potter is a kids movie, and Lord of the Rings is for teenage boys”–Mr. Parsons raised one owlish eyebrow–” and teenage girls, and hey–if we can get everyone in America to see both, we’ll be happy.”

Mr. Parsons stopped and regarded Mr. Cool J, who was talking animatedly with reporters. “You know what’s sad?” he said quizzically. “It’s when your little nephew steals all your thunder.”

He chuckled, then began to make his way to the podium as the revelers surged around him.

Behind The Transom, a voice hissed: “You just interviewed God.”

When Mr. Parsons finally made it to the stage, the room fell silent. “We wanted to have a little fun,” he told them, “because this is the season for joy.” Then nothing.

His microphone had gone dead.

“This is not good,” Mr. Parsons said, once the glitch was remedied. “For America’s leading communications and technology company not to be able to work a mike.”

Next, he introduced Warner Records artist Jewel by calling her “the poet laureate of our time, as Bob Dylan was to his time.” He also promised the crowd that one day they’d be telling their “grandchildren about hearing her live.”

Mr. Parsons retreated a few feet to the bar, where he stood and listened attentively as the elfin singer performed her hit “You Were Meant for Me.” And he threw a supportive fist in the air when Jewel flashed him a gamine smile and suggested that her new song “The New Wild West” might work as a single.

Later in her set, the singer gave a big shout-out to “Jerry [Levin] and Dick [Parsons] … executives who want to reach out and help the world.” Mr. Parsons nodded sagely at the bar.

After the musical interlude, Mr. Parsons sipped from a glass of wine as he hung with Court TV chair and chief executive Henry Schlieff. At one point, Mr. Schlieff reached up to Mr. Parsons’ head and stroked his new boss’ short, soft curls.

“When I look at him, I feel like Sancho Panza and he’s Don Quixote,” Mr. Schlieff said of Mr. Parsons.

Soon after, the explorers headed out into the night. Ten minutes later, they were still in front of the museum waiting for Mr. Parsons’ car to arrive. Via his cell phone, AOL Time Warner’s new chief executive patiently explained to his driver the location of the museum. Still on his phone, he shook his head and smiled. “Life seems to get more complicated,” he said as he headed toward Fifth Avenue.

–Rebecca Traister

Paint & Suffering

It takes a tough man to make tender chicken and, apparently, a hardened celebrity to create touchy-feely art.

A cast of characters known for their unsentimental work in such vehicles as Good Fellas , The Sopranos and The Rosie O’Donnell Show channeled their inner empaths for AOL Time Warner and In Style magazine’s Helping Hands II: Handmade in America charity auction on Dec. 12 at the new Folk Art Museum.

The notion of Tony and A.J. Soprano bonding over tempera paints and glitter is pretty inconceivable for viewers of the HBO series The Sopranos , but James Gandolfini, the actor who plays the Jersey mob patriarch, doesn’t seem to have any hang-ups about his creative tendencies. Mr. Gandolfini collaborated with his toddler son to contribute a painting of a red, white and blue apple that bore the slogan: “The Spirit of NYC” in red glitter, and was signed “James Gandolfini and Michael Gandolfini, age 2.”

Martin Scorsese is best known for his unflinching cinematic depictions of warring mobsters and Raging Bull boxer Jake LaMotta, but turn him loose in the arts and crafts room and he becomes a regular peacenik. Mr. Scorsese seemed to be channeling his Kundun period when he cooked up a Big Bird-yellow dove with green glitter eyes and wings cut from checked gingham cloth for the event.

Candy-coated ball-bearing Rosie O’Donnell signed a couple of translucent Christmas ornaments; Michael Douglas, the actor who portrayed Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko in the film Wall Street , drew yellow happy faces on a trio of golf balls; and actor Mark Wahlberg, who slew a bunch of apes in his last major film role, painted a pair of hands joined in prayer. “Jesus Christ Loves All!” read the inscription. Meanwhile, actor John Travolta’s painting of an ornament inspired one observer to comment that “Scientologists apparently celebrate Christmas.”

Actor David Arquette doesn’t play tough guys, but he probably could play an artist. He donated an oddly evocative portrait of his wife, Friends co-star Courtney Cox-Arquette. Ms. Cox-Arquette looked bluish, but was distinctly recognizable, and when Sopranos co-star Edie Falco, who attended the event, spied the canvas, she said: “If she’d looked like that they never would have cast her on Friends .”

Ms. Falco, who plays the tough-and-tender Carmela Soprano, also submitted an artwork, an architectural collage of clippings that she made with her friend, Judy Berlin director Eric Mendelsohn. “It was an evening with friends and glue and scissors,” Ms. Falco said.

The piece that seemed to draw the most attention at the event was a painting contributed by boxer Muhammad Ali, which depicted a U.S. warplane dropping yellow bombs in a mountainous region. The auction program said that Mr. Ali’s work had been inspired by “our war in Afghanistan.”

Mr. Ali’s painting and a number of the other artworks will be up for bidding on an AOL-eBay auction site until Dec. 21, and proceeds will go to charities that were formed in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

At press time, bidding for Mr. Ali’s painting had reached $2,950, but pop singer Britney Spears seemed to be the leader. Ms. Spears’ art consisted of signing her name to a limited edition BCBG Max Azria muscle shirt that featured the Manhattan skyline and an American flag, but bidding had reached $3,150 at press time.


Apparel of Pauline

“I’m exhausted and I don’t know anyone,” the designer Pauline Trigère said in her thick Parisian accent as she surveyed the champagne-quaffing crowd before her on Dec. 13.

It was one of those things that fashion people say right before they show a collection or plunge into some other nerve-wracking venture. But in reality, Ms. Trigère did not appear tired or clueless. She was zooming around the second floor of the Fifth Avenue mansion that housed the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York, greeting friends and looking like a French firecracker in one of her own vintage red jump suits–15 years old by her estimate. A matching red shawl and pumps completed the outfit.

Around her buzzed gossip columnist Liz Smith, Leslie Fay chairman John Pomerantz, designer Stan Herman, writer Gael Greene and chanteuse Liliane Montevecchi, who had come in her own eye-popping red number: a dress suit trimmed in brass medallions that made her look like she had been upholstered on her way to the party. A red marabou hat crowned her head.

“I find it today in one of my suitcases hanging in my closet,” Ms. Montevecchi said of the outfit. “I haven’t worn it for 20 years,” she added in her perfumey French accent, but she had put the outfit on “just to show you that I have the same body.”

Alas, the ensemble wasn’t a Trigère. “I wish it was. But I knew she liked red, so I wear red. So we are fighting together.”

Ms. Trigère would not be fighting on this humid December evening. Although Ms. Trigère had stopped designing clothes 13 years ago (she continues to sell her namesake perfume, Liquid Chic), at 93 years of age she was being inducted into the French Legion of Honor, rank of chevalier , for decades of achievement in fashion.

Before the ceremony started, Mr. Herman did a little reminiscing. He had only become good friends with Ms. Trigère in the last dozen years or so, but, he said: “The truth is that I did sketches for Pauline Trigère in 1954.” As payment, the designer had given him one “flat-chested, size 8 mannequin” which came to mean a great deal to him. “[Designer] Arnold Scaasi, who’s a very good friend of mine, opened his Buick convertible and stuck Pauline’s mannequin in it, and I traveled around New York with that goddamned mannequin for years,” Mr. Herman said. (“I don’t remember that story at all,” Ms. Trigère told The Transom. “I must be getting old.”)

The crowd moved into an adjoining room, where a number of chairs had been set up for the occasion. “You have become an outstanding symbol of both French and Americans,” the Consul General of France, Richard Duqué, said. “Your family, your friends, your professional accomplishments are here in America. But your accent is and will remain most definitely French–as is the silent ‘e’ that your parents added to the end of your family name, to avoid the American way of pronouncing your name ‘Trigger.'”

“They did it anyway!” someone yelled from the audience.

“We know that as a young girl … you wanted to be a surgeon,” Mr. Duqué said. “However, this did not seem feasible for a young lady in the 30’s. But later on, the Trigère touch was to include cutting garments directly on your models. You did no sketching,” he said. The fashion experts would say this linked Ms. Trigère to “the tradition of … Lanvin and Chanel,” Mr. Duqué said. “May I dare suggest that you were simply following … the latent surgeon within.”

The crowd laughed, and Mr. Duqué continued: “I love the way you said, ‘When you feel blue, wear red.’ Red happily happens to be the color of the Legion of Honor,” he said.

After Mr. Duqué pinned the medal on Ms. Trigère’s chest, the designer thanked her friends, who had come from all over the country, “even from Brooklyn,” to take part in the ceremony. Then she finished her speech by saying: “Can we have a drink now?” And as the crowd gave her a standing ovation, it was possible to see that the new chevalier ‘s outfit matched the ribbon of her medal. Perfectly.

–Frank DiGiacomo

Les Fables de la Karan

A black-and-white angel dangled inside the entrance to the Donna Karan store on Madison Avenue and 67th Street on Dec. 12 as a group of fashion workers with earnest expressions mingled inside. British model Erin O’Connor and rock daughter Elizabeth Jagger were among those who gathered to kick off Project Cicero, a partnership of private organizations that provides books for children to the city’s public schools.

Said books, which had been donated by many of the guests, sat in an artful pile, looking more like store props than reading material destined for the Bronx. There were numerous editions of Harry Potter–especially the fourth installment–and a few fairy tales.

Ms. Karan played the evening’s Mother Goose. She flitted around her store in a revealing black dress, greeting guests and confessing that she looked like a grandmother.

When The Transom asked Ms. Karan to name her favorite childhood book, she seemed stumped. “Oh my God! I can’t remember,” she said. But after another long pause, she declared that it must have been a Nancy Drew mystery, although she didn’t get specific. Ms. Karan said that, presently, she was looking forward to reading “Deepak’s new book, that he just sent me, about soulmates.” Ms. Karan was referring to her New Agey buddy Deepak Chopra. For the donation pile, Ms. Karan had contributed the kids equivalent of Mr. Chopra: a number of Harry Potter volumes.

Model Marcus Schenkenberg, whose teeth give off a preternaturally white gleam, said he wasn’t sure which books he had donated because “I had somebody do the shopping for me.” But Mr. Schenkenberg suspected that he was also responsible for improving J.K. Rowling’s royalties statement.

The party had its high-spirited lamp-shade moments, such as when model Stephanie Seymour, dressed in a long red skirt, ventured to the bathroom with her male Ford agent, Neal Hamil. “Stephanie, thank you so much for doing this,” the agent could be heard saying. He co-occupied the room with Ms. Seymour for only a good 30 seconds before returning to the party, making sure that the door closed behind him.

As the room reached its capacity, Ford Agency creator Eileen Ford arrived with her husband Jerry. She wore a holiday-red sweater, a strand of pearls and black trousers. She came bearing both a standard children’s book and a copy of the new Edna St. Millay biography, Savage Beauty .

“When I was little, I read Les Fables de la Fontaine et tout a ” the tiny Ms. Ford reminisced with perfectly accented French. She then proceeded to recite, again in French, the beginning of the tale about an ant and a cicada.

Mrs. Ford was about to name some of her favorite current titles, when Ms. Seymour’s agent charged over to her. “Eileen! Don’t faint !” he screamed. “This is Marcus SCHENKENBERG !” And as the tanned, leather-clad male model approached, the multilingual Ms. Ford switched to Swedish, and modeling .

–Elisabeth Franck

The Transom Also Hears …

…. That an enterprising party-goer has been cashing in on his God’s Love We Deliver party favors. After an auction was held by Swatch at Sotheby’s to benefit the charity last Dec. 3, guests were showered with goodies that included the chair they had sat on (which they could disassemble to take home), a messenger bag, their own custom-made auction paddle and a limited edition Swatch watch. Venanzio Ciampa, who organized the evening for Swatch, said that a total of $800,000 was raised for the charity, but now it seems one of evening’s guests is attempting to raise a little more dough for him or herself.

The guest has put up all of the aforementioned tchotchkes for sale on e-Bay, and at press time, bidding was still active at $224, up from an opening bid of $75. And although the auction paddle, number 391, is included in the sale, Mr. Ciampa said it was impossible for Swatch to trace it back to a guest.

“I think it’s thrilling ,” said God’s Love We Deliver vice chair Blaine Trump when informed of the deed. “I hope they send us the check. I know they must be thinking they’re going to do that. Let’s hope this is the beginning of creative fund-raising.”

–E.F. AOL-Time Warner’s New Chief, Richard Parsons, Makes His Social Debut