Her Own Funeral

Near the end of Haywire , Brooke Hayward’s 1977 memoir of her charmed and troubled life as the daughter of theatrical agent Leland Hayward and actress Margaret Sullavan, the author confesses: “I had begun to have the disquieting concept of myself as a spectator, not a participant, in my own life. I saw myself as the audience, leaning back to watch my future unfold like Greek tragedy. I already had presentiments of the ending.”

Ms. Hayward was referring to a youth in which her parents divorced, and both her mother and her sister died of probable suicides. But it’s an interesting passage in light of Ms. Hayward’s holiday plans.

On Dec. 28, Ms. Hayward and her husband, society bandleader Peter Duchin, along with a group of friends, will gather at San Francisco socialite Dodie Rosekrans’ home in the Palazzo Brandolini on Venice’s Grand Canal, where they will partake in what Ms. Hayward is billing as the “dress rehearsal” for her funeral: an hour-long concert of Vivaldi, Monteverdi and even Handel, as performed by the Venice Baroque Orchestra and an opera singer or two.

Then Ms. Hayward, who said she is 65 and perfectly healthy, will depart her funeral and go to dinner.

“I’m calling this a dress rehearsal because it’s not really a funeral. And it’s not really a dress rehearsal, either, but I don’t know what else to call it,” Ms. Hayward told The Transom. “It’s a kind of fake dress rehearsal, because I’ve never had the slightest interest in being buried.”

Indeed, the Dec. 28 funeral won’t be repeated in earnest somewhere down the line. “When I actually cool, you won’t hear a word,” she said. “My intention, as clearly stated in my will, is that I am cremated and my ashes thrown to the four winds. I don’t want any service and I never did.” Added the actress and former model: “I want it while I’m alive so it will be fun.”

Mr. Duchin, who’ll be footing the considerable bill for his wife’s dress rehearsal, called it “a) a funny idea. And b) a gift, from me to her, of a celebration, really.”

Predictably, Mr. Duchin said that their friends’ reactions to the event have also fallen into two categories: “1) ‘God, how morbid,’ or 2) ‘How wonderful, how great.'”

Those who think that this is some sort of ingenious vanity project, in which Ms. Hayward will get the opportunity to hear her friends eulogize her, should think again. “The thing I’ve never liked about funerals is listening to all that stuff,” she said. “I like the music.” And she explained that while she or her husband will probably say a few words at the top of the funeral, after that the ceremony will consist entirely of said music.

Oh, and one more thing: Contrary to some rumors that have been floating around the city, Ms. Hayward denied that she will experience her dress-rehearsal funeral from a coffin.

“Of course not,” she said.

Ms. Hayward got the idea for the service when designer Oscar de la Renta had Verdi’s Requiem performed at St. Ignatius Loyola church for the funeral of his first wife, Françoise La Renta, who died in 1983.

“I thought, ‘How fabulous!'” Ms. Hayward said. And so she asked Mr. Duchin if he would do the same when her time came. “And he said, to my shock and rage: ‘No way, José. It’s too expensive.’

“So, for 15 years, I have raged and stewed,” she continued. “And finally I decided I had to take control of this. I decided to have a funeral that I could actually be present at, because it would be the only way to get what I wanted.”

For the last decade and a half, Ms. Hayward-with, for the last two years, the help of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra founder Julian Fifer-plotted and planned, entertaining and discarding a number of Requiem s-Mozart! Brahms! -and a number of locations. She settled on Venice while standing on Igor Stravinsky’s grave there, but then couldn’t decide on where or when: summer at the cathedral on the island of Torcello, with its mosaic of the gates of Heaven and Hell, or Christmastime at the Romanesque (but unheated) Santa Maria dei Miracoli church in Venice proper. The second venue was tentatively chosen for last year, but the event was canceled after Sept. 11. But more recently, she began to worry that holding the event in a church would be “sacrilegious.”

“Because I’m not really dead, I had to slowly disengage myself from that concept,” Ms. Hayward said.

Enter Ms. Rosekrans, who earlier this fall offered her Tony Duquette– decorated home. She even padded the guest list, sending out invitations, according to Ms. Hayward, that heralded “the dress rehearsal of the (eventual) funeral of Brooke Hayward Duchin.”

Ms. Hayward said that most of the attendees will be “very close friends, or people who are crazy enough to go Venice when there’s four feet of water to wade through.” Among the expected nuts: the writer John Berendt, the socialite Count Giovanni Volpi, the philanthropists Annaliese Soros and Larry Lovett, as well as the New York City Opera’s general and artistic director, Paul Kellogg.

Ms. Hayward said that many of her friends “don’t really believe this is going to happen. But it is.” And, she figures, the timing is just about right. “I waited until I was 65, and I really didn’t want to get too much older, because then it would look a little drastic, which it isn’t.”

If the dress rehearsal is more than just a kick for Ms. Hayward, she’s not letting on. When The Transom asked her if, given her family history, she had analyzed her desire to throw herself a funeral, she replied: “It’s just facetious. It’s totally facetious.” But she also said: “Don’t think I don’t think about death, but I certainly don’t have any great fear of it.”

-Frank DiGiacomo

Fiedler Through The Roof

Academics love to blather on about The Sopranos , but in the fourth season’s penultimate episode, the HBO series gave unlikely props to the academy.

In the Dec. 1 episode, the Soprano family visited daughter Meadow’s Columbia University apartment for a dinner party and began talking about her brother A.J.’s high-school term paper on Herman Melville’s Billy Budd .

But when Meadow and her Ivy League friends begin to discuss current literary theory about the gay themes in Melville, Carmela scoffs, claiming it’s “ridiculous how everything is sold as homosexual these days.”

But Meadow condescendingly rebuffs her mother by citing the work of renowned American literary critic Leslie Fiedler.

“I was watching it!” the 85-year-old Mr. Fiedler said excitedly from his home in Buffalo, N.Y. “As a matter of fact, I always watch it. It’s my very favorite program.” Mr. Fiedler explained, “I come from the part of the world that it’s about-I grew up in Newark, in a world where our heroes were local gangsters. So when I watch The Sopranos , those are real places to me.”

Mr. Fiedler said that he was curious about how the Sopranos writing team had come up with his name, and wondered whether he might have a former student on HBO’s payroll. But Terence Winter, who wrote the episode, told The Transom that he had simply been looking for a text about which Carmela, Meadow and A.J. could fight. He decided on Billy Budd , and then series creator David Chase brought up the work of Mr. Fiedler.

“It’s very important for me to keep connections with popular literature, so it couldn’t have come in a better place,” said Mr. Fiedler, who added that “it made me feel unreal, because here was a piece of fiction. But suddenly I was in it!”

As for the painful moment when Carmela is teased and condescended to by Meadow and friends for assuming that Leslie Fiedler is a woman, Mr. Fiedler said, “That’s always been a problem for me. I’m always getting mail addressed to me that begins, ‘Dear Ms. FiedlerÊ…. ‘ I always wrote back and say that I prefer to be called Mrs.”

And when a cornered, snarling Carmela snaps that “Maybe [Leslie Fiedler]’s gay, did you ever think of that?”, Mr. Fiedler-married with eight children, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren-didn’t blink.

“When I began my work on gay themes in American literature with an essay in 1948, some gay people thought I was being hostile to gays, and other people thought I was a crypto-queer.”

Mr. Fiedler said that his work has been embraced by other unexpected pop-culture figures, including Penn State Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno. “He sent me a copy of his first edition of [ Love and Death in the American Novel ] and asked me to sign it. He said that he and his wife met at one of my lectures. They liked talking to each other and have been married ever since.”

Mr. Fiedler also said that, in 1975, he attended a Bob Dylan concert with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and football player O.J. Simpson.

Besides The Sopranos, Mr. Fiedler said his other “great interest at the moment is Bruce Springsteen. I have a couple of his books [of lyrics].” Well, we always had our suspicions about “Mary (Queen of Arkansas).”

-Rebecca Traister

That’s Dr. Schamus to You

As the recently appointed co-president of Vivendi-Universal’s Focus Features, James Schamus may be overseeing the production and marketing of tens of millions of dollars worth of films, such as Ang Lee’s take on The Incredible Hulk and Roman Polanski’s upcoming The Pianist . But that doesn’t mean he can’t find the time to finish his doctoral dissertation.

Mr. Schamus, who attended a Dec. 9 dinner party that designer Diane von Furstenberg hosted at Osteria del Circo following a screening of Mr. Polanski’s film, told The Transom that he’ll be skipping the first few days of the Cannes Film Festival to return to the University of California at Berkeley to submit his written film-theory dissertation on “the relations between word and image in Western aesthetics.”

“I’ve already pretty much done it,” he said. “It was just sitting in the drawer. I was not proud of it. And I realized I needed to swallow my pride and just finish it.” So Mr. Schamus said that he has been polishing his prose in anticipation “of turning it in and letting them ruthlessly criticize me.” He added that he has already passed the oral-argument component of his doctoral quest.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Mr. Schamus, who will be joined by his mother and father and other family members for the auspicious occasion. “It’s a chapter that will close.”

-F.D.

Elvish Lives II

Upstairs at Middle Earth-the one created within the New York Public Library’s Astor Hall for the Dec. 5 premiere party for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers -AOL Time Warner chief executive Dick Parsons was exhibiting the manners of a Hobbit.

“Can I get anyone any food?” Mr. Parsons asked his dinner companions before he put his arm around The Transom’s shoulder and headed down the worn marble staircase to the buffet. Elsewhere in the crowd were actors Jack Black and Jon Favreau, Sean Lennon, Monica Lewinsky and Chloë Sevigny.

“All comparisons are invidious,” said Mr. Parsons, when asked how The Two Towers stacked up to last year’s installment, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring . “This is a terrific movie, this is a four-by-four movie. It’s for young and old, men and women. It’s going to do great business. And I think a lot of people think that it might just win the Academy Award for Best Picture.”

Mr. Parsons maintained a straight face as he said this, and he did not smell like he’d enjoyed some pipe-weed on the way over to the party. So we decided to test the depths of his indefatigable spirit.

Did Mr. Parsons find it funny that this year, just as last, AOL Time Warner’s most positive indicators were not tech stocks, but Hobbits and the second Harry Potter installment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets , the children’s movie released by AOL Time Warner’s other film company, Warner Brothers.

“I laugh till I cry,” said Mr. Parsons, shaking his head and heading for the grub.

-R.T. and Alexandra Wolfe

Accept This, Mate

Leonardo DiCaprio came to the opening night of Baz Luhrmann’s La Bohème . So did Cameron Diaz, Rita Wilson, a Vogue cheering section led by editor Anna Wintour and her beau Shelby Bryan, Hugh Grant, Sandra Bullock, Harvey Keitel and even bearded Sopranos star James Gandolfini, who confessed to one theatergoer that he had never attended an opera before. And after it was all over and the crowd headed to the Hudson hotel for the party, The Transom asked the Australian Mr. Luhrmann if he felt as if New York had accepted him and his wife and partner-in-creativity, Catherine Martin. Replied Mr. Luhrmann: “It’s not about being accepted but about accepting New York.”

– F.D.

Upside Downey Jr.

There’s something sort of heart-warming about a renowned drug addict coming out to support his ex-wife’s singing career.

“I’ve been following this artist around for years,” a laconic Robert Downey Jr. said by way of introducing his former spouse, singer/model Deborah Falconer, to a frenzied crowd sipping champagne through straws on the evening of Dec. 9 at the W Hotel on Union Square. Ms. Falconer is mother to Mr. Downey’s 9-year-old son, Indio.

Mr. Downey, looking leathery and fatigued and wielding a clear drink which we’ll kindly assume was Perrier on the rocks, didn’t miss the opportunity to do a little press bashing as he stood behind the microphone. “It’s so great because all the cameras are up front so basically I can’t see all the people who are actually here to watch the show …. ” he said.

Then Mr. Downey made the publicists happy by announcing that the evening was also a celebration for Flaunt magazine’s fourth birthday-“I don’t know how they made it this far, but I’m sure they’ll make it another four years,” the actor said-and for “the launch of a new CD that W magazine has out.” Not! The CD, Rhythm and Muse II , is being launched by the W hotel chain because, well, shouldn’t every hotel have a CD?

As the brunette, sinewy and hunched-over Ms. Falconer sang some unremarkable moody tunes, Mr. Downey bobbed his head to the beat in a corner and fielded calls on his shiny Motorola cell. “I’m choosing not to speak with the press,” he whispered to The Transom when we approached him.

Good heavens, why? Could it be because of the drugs? The prison time? Or because you were once found curled up in a strange kid’s bed?

Nearby, Saturday Night Live cast member Chris Kattan-who met the similarly androgynous Mr. Downey earlier this year at a Bruce Springsteen concert in Las Vegas-stood with his girlfriend, the black-haired and lovely Jane Herman. Ms. Herman, a recent N.Y.U. graduate, writes for Flaunt .

“Chris is even funnier off screen” she said, with a wide grin.

“Yeah,” said Mr. Kattan, who is currently working with next weekend’s SNL guest stars Al Gore and Phish. “Off screen, I do a lot of farting jokes,” he said.

-Anna Jane Grossman

Suzy’s Cue

Analyze this: How does Alice Mason Ltd. real-estate broker Susie Gilder Hayes end up making a cameo in the Robert De Niro–Billy Crystal vehicle Analyze That ? “I knew Bob from my days at the Actors Studio,” said Ms. Hayes, who’s also known as the wife of lawyer and Bonfire of the Vanities inspiration Ed Hayes. “I was there for the last three years of Lee Strasberg’s life-so I’m old!”

Ms. Hayes appears in the scene in which Mr. De Niro’s character, during a brief stint as a car salesman, shows off the trunk of a car to her, boasting, “Look at the size of that trunk. You could put three people in there … I mean, suitcases.” The scene took a day to shoot.

Ms. Hayes and her husband have been longtime friends of Mr. De Niro-Mr. Hayes represented the Taxi Driver star in a case involving a blackmail attempt several years ago-and, she said, that after running into him a while back, he convinced her to audition for the part.

Although Ms. Hayes’ scene is getting a lot of TV play in commercials for the film, she said she won’t be leaving her day job “unless the market goes south.”

Nevertheless, her performance has left her husband sounding like a junior-league Joel Siegel. “She’s a credit to grown-up women everywhere!” he told The Transom by phone. “No plastic surgery, hits the gym three times a week, two kids …. I’m the luckiest guy in the world!” Mr. Hayes added that the Mrs. also “makes the best meatballs in the world outside of a few social clubs in Bensonhurst.”

-Noelle Hancock

Her Own Funeral