When I used to think about–as everyone does–who should play me in a movie, I’d think of a young Liz Taylor, or perhaps Sophia Loren. On my bad days, I thought: Walter Matthau. But I never dreamed that a shiksa sexpot like Gwyneth Paltrow–I know she’s half-Jewish, yeah, yeah –would wind up playing a part named after a dark-haired Southern Jew like me.
Let me back up. My name is Margot Tenenbaum. And in Wes Anderson’s new movie, The Royal Tenenbaums , Ms. Paltrow is playing me. Or at least she’s playing a character named Margot Tenenbaum, the only daughter of an eccentric New York family of geniuses.
This is not a coincidence. Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, who co-wrote The Royal Tenenbaums as well as Rushmore and Bottle Rocket , are good friends of my brother Brian. Wes has acknowledged that he named his Tenenbaums after our family. He’s also said that Brian–a soft-spoken ex-jock whom they called “the Baumer”–is partly the inspiration for Richie (Baumer) Tenenbaum, the soft-spoken former tennis champion played in the film by Owen’s brother, Luke Wilson. And me? Wes said he used my name for Gwyneth’s character because, well … he liked my name.
And that’s the extent of it. I wish I could tell you that I am a blonde, like Gwyneth’s Margot, or a prodigious playwright who grew up in a family of geniuses. But I’m not. Likewise, I didn’t get my thumb chopped off in a wood-chopping accident, I don’t swan around in polo dresses, and I haven’t maintained a semi-incestuous romantic tension with a half-brother. I don’t have a closet cigarette-smoking habit. (Well, actually, I do have that.)
But because of this movie, I’m going to lose ownership of my name. Before The Royal Tenenbaums came out, I’d never heard of another person named Margot Tenenbaum. Now people do a double take when they hear it. The other night, I called to make a reservation at a restaurant and the woman on the other end of the line said, ” Oh , like the movie. Is that your family?” I used my credit card to buy a movie ticket, and the counter guy asked if I knew Gwyneth Paltrow was going to be playing me. And at Barnes & Noble, a man behind the desk said, “I won’t make a joke about the movie because I’m sure you get that all the time.”
Such incidents have already taken a toll. My therapist says I’m suffering from “acquired situational narcissism,” a disorder that accompanies the successes of people who have the same name as you. According to the shrink, when my brain hears “Are you Margot Tenenbaum?”, I hear “Are you Gwyneth?”
And yes, I have met her a few times. The first time was on the set of The Royal Tenenbaums, when Wes had “MARGOT TENENBAUM” up in lights at the Belasco Theatre. Ben Stiller, who plays another Tenenbaum sibling, Chas, wandered over and asked, in all seriousness, if I was a playwright. (For the record, I’m a social worker.) The second time I met Gwyneth was at my sister Ann’s birthday party, where she hugged me and said, “I don’t know you–but I feel like I love you.” The last time was at a party at the Metropolitan Club after The Royal Tenenbaums’ premiere. “Did I do a good job playing you?” she asked. She was just being nice, of course. But I remember thinking: She could be a real Tenenbaum.
And that’s a whole other matter: the Tenenbaums’ vérité . The fact that Wes Anderson’s Tenenbaums aren’t technically based upon us hasn’t prevented my own family from adopting the movie brood as their own. And truth be told, we do have our own crazy, unique history. My father, a barrel-chested businessman named Arnold, was born and raised in Savannah, Ga.–that alone will do a number on you, especially if you happen to be Jewish–and ran the family steel business. Still, he shops like a dainty girl, is considered the true family matriarch and has been known, on occasion, to sup late at night in the family kitchen on Häagan-Dazs–in the nude. Our mother, Lorlee, grew up in Bismarck, N.D.–again, some odd geography–wears enormous Elton John-issue glasses, smokes a pack a day and, when I used to come in from grade school and cry about the torments of my classmates, would puff out a cloud and say, “Who gives a shit that Ashley was mean to you today? Why do you care what those girls think?”
The real Tenenbaum kids are four siblings–three girls, one boy. Brian, the only one of us who doesn’t live in Manhattan, is a former football stud who didn’t speak very much until he was 19. He lives in L.A. with his family, and he also won’t let different foods touch each other on his plate when he eats. My sister Ann married an L.B.O. guy and went from being a programming manager at Comedy Central to decorating his-and-her Gulfstream jets. She and her husband also have two kids. Our kid sister Alison, now 31, is married to a guy nicknamed Gunter, sucked her thumb until she was 13, rearranges people’s closets for money and doesn’t eat condiments. Period.
My family, naturally, is pretty thrilled about the movie. I guess it’s only me who’s wrestling with what it all means, and that’s simply because of the name thing. Depending upon how The Royal Tenenbaums performs, my old clumsy moniker might get a knowing laugh every time I use it for the rest of my life. At least my fiancé, an up-and-coming novelist who shares his name with a famous person, understands what I’m up against. His name? Michael Eisner.
Mr. Out Is Mr. In
Bill O’Reilly, the long-legged Fox News Channel loudmouth, has built career and wealth from positioning himself as an outsider. But there he was the other night, reveling in the media elite’s ultimate indoctrination ceremony–a Q&A at the 92nd Street Y.
Mr. O’Reilly ambled onstage shortly past 7:30 p.m. to a Buttenweiser Hall crowd that was about half-full, half-retired. He was dressed in a blue blazer, a light blue shirt, khakis and brown loafers, and his thinning brown hair was slightly mussed. Over the course of an hour and half, guided by host Leonard Lopate of WNYC’s New York & Co. , Mr. O’Reilly reiterated his positions on subjects like Hillary Clinton ( bad) , Jesse Jackson ( ver-ry bad), marijuana decriminalization ( O.K., but toke at home) and gay rights (fine, but shhhh ).
But Mr. O’Reilly also revealed that he was invited to the White House on Wednesday, Dec. 19, for a holiday party hosted by President and Laura Bush. Here–sensing, perhaps, that he might sound like someone who goes to soirées of this ilk often–he said was going as an “observer.”
But then, The O’Reilly Factor host also dropped word of his attendance at a recent party thrown by editor Tina Brown in honor of the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres. Mr. O’Reilly said he was only standing in for his boss, Fox News Channel chairman Roger Ailes, but he did note it wasn’t a wasted evening. Mr. O’Reilly said that when he walked in, he rounded a corner and “bang–there’s Bill Clinton.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, I’m Bill O’Reilly, it’s nice to finally meet you,'” Mr. O’Reilly recalled. “And I mean, the guy was as smooth as silk. Silk ! ‘ Bill, Bill’ –he starts quoting from The Factor ! I couldn’t believe it! I was going to say, ‘You must not be watching when Hillary’s in the house!'”
Mr. O’Reilly said he asked Mr. Clinton about the war in Afghanistan, and the 42nd President pulled him into a corner, where the two men chatted privately for a few minutes. Mr. O’Reilly wouldn’t divulge the details of that conversation, but called it an “amazing occurrence.”
“The last thing I said to him was, ‘Look, Mr. President, I’ll send you a book,'” Mr. O’Reilly said, referring to his best-seller, The No Spin Zone: Confrontations with the Powerful and Famous in America . “He said, ‘I already have it.’ I said, ‘Well, don’t read Chapter 18.'”