Libeskindling

Daniel Libeskind may have sold city and state officials on his design for Ground Zero, but the clubby world of New York architects has not exactly welcomed him into the fold.

Witness the recent hoo-hah over Columbia University’s search for a new dean of architecture, a spot for which Mr. Libeskind is widely rumored to be a front-runner.

The T-square tempest started on Feb. 28 at the launch party for New York architect Steven Holl’s magazine, 32 . The Tuesday after the event, the Manhattan Web log Gawker.com posted an account from a partygoer who claimed to have witnessed a conversation about the Columbia selection process between Mr. Holl and Peter Eisenman, a fellow member of the “New York Dream Team” of architects that developed the much-maligned “tic-tac-toe” board design for the World Trade Center site.

According to the Gawker.com post, Mr. Eisenman reportedly said of Mr. Libeskind’s much-rumored candidacy: “You’ve got to promise me, if he is up for the spot, you’ll step in. That would be a fucking travesty.”

“There’s no way,” Mr. Holl is said to have responded. “There are a lot of people who’ll step in. It’s O.K. It’ll never happen.”

That’s tough talk from Mr. Holl, who teaches in the Columbia program-and who sits on the school’s search committee for the dean to replace New York architect Bernard Tschumi, who completes his term at the end of this academic year.

An earlier part of the reported conversation-in which Mr. Eisenman criticized Mr. Libeskind’s wife, Nina Libeskind, for playing “dirty pool” in the final phases of the Ground Zero competition-was reported in the Daily News’ Rush and Molloy column on March 7.

Mr. Eisenman confirmed the substance of that part of the conversation for the News , but when The Transom contacted him to discuss the latter comments attributed to him and Mr. Holl, Mr. Eisenman said he didn’t “remember” what he said. He also pointed out that an architecture class he teaches at Princeton University on the 10 best buildings built around the world in the last 50 years highlights Mr. Libeskind’s design for the Jewish Museum, Berlin.

Staffers at Mr. Holl’s New York offices were less cooperative when asked to confirm whether the conversation took place.

“It’s so inflammatory, and it’s really not in line with our business or what we’re trying to promote,” said a woman who answered the phone at Mr. Holl’s office, adding, “That conversation didn’t take place,” before hanging up the telephone.

Spokespersons for Columbia University and for Daniel and Nina Libeskind declined to comment on the affair .

-Tom McGeveran

Bungalow Bush

George W. Bush may be single-minded about attacking Iraq, but his daughter Barbara has other things on her mind.

Just a few hours after the President’s March 6 “press conference” about the situation with Saddam Hussein, Ms. Bush, who recently turned 21, rolled into the Chelsea nightclub Bungalow 8 for a nightcap.

According to one eyewitness, the Yale junior arrived with a group of eight to 10 friends who seemed considerably more high-spirited than her. She stayed until nearly 2 a.m., but kept mostly to herself.

Ms. Bush’s biggest advertisement was the Zac Posen dress she was wearing. The garment was black and “kind of sexed-up,” said one woman who met Ms. Bush at the nightclub. “It was strapless and had buckles in the center, so it was kind of … exposed. It was a very Liz Hurley kind of thing-really short. It was the kind of dress that maybe when I was 21, or even now, my mother wouldn’t have let me wear out of the house. It was a New York look.” According to one of the local tabs, Ms. Bush wore another sexy, midriff-baring New York outfit to Le Bilboquet the following evening.

“Apparently, she really likes fashion,” said the woman. Last month, Miss Bush was spotted during Fashion Week in the front row at Mr. Posen’s show and also at his after-party at the Four Seasons Grill Room.

“She was like, ‘He’s majorly talented,'” reported the woman, who added that she and Ms. Bush sat around a table filled with bottles of champagne and vodka and mixers. But she said that while some of the First Daughter’s entourage were “pretty raucous”, “really crazy” and “hell-raisers,” Miss Bush struck her as “well brought-up.

“She did not seem like a party girl at all,” said the woman. “She really seemed quite lovely, very nice. And we talked maybe 10 minutes. She just talked about being in college. She said, ‘I’m in school … a school in Connecticut. One year to go!’ She said she’s glad she’s almost out of school, and it’s so much more fun to be able to go out and be 21 and enjoy yourself.

The woman observed, however, that while members of Ms. Bush’s crew “were extremely boisterous and probably shit-faced,” the First Daughter “did not seem drunk at all.

“I’m sure she was drinking-I just didn’t see,” said the woman. “Bottles kept being delivered to the table, [but] you literally wouldn’t have noticed her. She was sitting. She wasn’t really commanding a crowd.”

White House spokeswoman Noelia Rodriquez told The Transom that the Bush twins are private citizens and so the White House doesn’t comment on them.

-George Gurley

Seducing Oscar’s Elders

This year’s Oscar campaigning may not be as hard-bitten as previous years, but it’s no less creative. And Hollywood insiders contend that one of the more ingenious wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing is an upcoming benefit aimed at the elderly Academy voters ensconced in the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif. Several Hollywood sources involved in this year’s Oscar races raised eyebrows. “People have been criticized for campaigning at the old-folks’ home in past years, so it’s more subtle now. But this party is ridiculous,” said one producer with a stake in the Oscars.

The hallowed tradition of lavishing visits, screenings and thanks upon the aging members of the MPTVF during Academy voting season gained momentum three years ago, when Kevin Spacey frequented the home while campaigning for a Best Actor statuette for his role in DreamWorks’ American Beauty . Mr. Spacey came in for some criticism when he went so far as to dedicate the Screen Actors Guild award he got that year to the folks at the home, noting that he just “wanted them to know that tonight, they are not forgotten.” But guess what? He won the Oscar!

This year, the MPTVF’s chairman and DreamWorks co-founder, Jeffrey Katzenberg, is hosting the first annual “Night Before” party, which will benefit the fund, on Oscar Saturday, March 22, at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Mr. Katzenberg’s studio doesn’t have any major Oscar horses in the race this year, but a couple of ladies on the host committee do.

And though the event takes place well after the March 18 deadline for ballots, publicity for it hit smack in the middle of campaigning season. A dramatic two-page ad for the event ran in the Feb. 26 issue of Daily Variety and included a stellar list of participants. Among them: Nicole Kidman, who was nominated as Best Actress for her role in The Hours . And Catherine Zeta-Jones, a Best Supporting Actress nominee for Chicago , got even more prominent placement at the bottom, where she and husband Michael Douglas were set off by an “and.”

Questions about Ms. Zeta-Jones’ prominent role in planning the MPTVF event were backed up by a strange news item about her charitable contributions that came just a week after the ad was published. The Welsh-born actress is in the throes of a well-covered lawsuit against Hello! magazine for running photos of her lavish 2000 Plaza wedding to Mr. Douglas after the couple was paid $1.6 million by OK! magazine for exclusive shots.

When a March 4 New York Post item published comments from Mr. Douglas’ ex-wife, Diandra Douglas, about the tackiness of accepting money for photographs and not giving it to charity, a spokesman for Mr. Douglas and Ms. Zeta-Jones responded that they had indeed given an undisclosed “part” of their $1.6 million to charity-the Motion Picture and Television Fund.

When contacted by The Transom about whether or not the well-timed admission of charitable giving was actually part of Ms. Zeta-Jones’ Oscar campaign, MPTVF spokeswoman Carla White said that she “took exception to the word ‘campaigning.'”

“We get screenings here all year long,” Ms. White said. “In the past, there may have been a few more at Oscar time, but I don’t even know how many voters actually live here.”

Ms. White said that Ms. Zeta-Jones’ support of the MPTVF was a family tradition. Her husband’s father, actor Kirk Douglas, partially funded the hospital’s Alzheimer’s unit, which is named “Harry’s Haven” after [Kirk] Douglas’ father.

Ms. White also noted that just last week, Michael Douglas held a news conference announcing that for the fifth straight year, he would sponsor the Michael Douglas and Friends Celebrity Golf Event to benefit the fund.

When asked whether or not Ms. Kidman was also a long-time supporter of the MPTVF, Ms. White said she didn’t know. “What I do know is that when Moulin Rouge [for which Ms. Kidman was also nominated] was out, several times during the year she came and screened the movie for residents, so, yes-I know that may seem [like it was visiting for votes], but I can assure you that it had nothing to do with that.”

Ms. White explained: “What happens is that these people come, and they really get a charge out of talking to retirees about the changes in filmmaking over the years.” To call it crude Oscar glad-handing, she said, “kind of belittles the support the industry shows for [the MPTVF] just out of true generous spirit.”

Ms. Zeta-Jones’ and Mr. Douglas’ spokesman, Allen Burry, said: “Michael has been involved with the fund for many, many years-well before Catherine, and Kirk well before Michael.

Mr. Burry added: “They take their movies to the home and screen them all the time. This is nothing new-and it doesn’t have anything to do with Oscars.”

As for the wedding-photos contribution, Mr. Burry claimed that neither the donation nor the disclosure of the donation had anything to do with the Academy. “It only came up in the Post because of the derogatory remarks Diandra made,” he said.

Ms. Kidman’s spokeswoman, Catherine Olim, scoffed at the idea that her client was campaigning by lending her name to the “Night Before” committee. “I’ve got a copy of the ad. It’s 10 or 15 names-a whole list. They may not all be Oscar nominees; it never occurred to me to look for that. I do not say that disingenuously. This has nothing to do with Oscar campaigning.”

-Rebecca Traister

The Gay Divorcee

First comes love, then comes marriage, then the kid in the baby carriage, then the multimillion-dollar divorce settlement, the tabloid-TV news circuit and the tell-all book.

At least that’s how things worked out for 68-year-old Vira Hladun-Goldmann, who threw herself a book party on the evening of March 6 at her five-story Sutton Square townhouse.

Her self-published book, Separate Ways: Relationships, Divorce & Independence of Mind , is mostly a memoir in the guise of being a self-help book for wealthy women pondering divorce.

In 1998, she received the largest court-settled equitable divorce in American history, walking away with 50 percent of the $86 million fortune she and her former husband, Robert I. Goldman, chief executive of the Congress Financial Corporation, had shared.

Two months after the divorce, Mr. Goldman died at 65.

“Ideally, this is a book for women entering a phase of doubt, for women who are getting a bit of in-flight nausea at the idea of ‘wedded bliss,'” said Eli Gottlieb, who co-wrote the book and is also the author of the 1997 novel The Boy Who Went Away . “Vira changed the legal definition of ‘housewife.'”

In another room, Ms. Hladun-Goldmann-who, in a puzzling effort to separate her identity from her ex-husband’s, hyphenated her name and added an extra N to “Goldman” after the divorce-thanked her guests, after requesting that the music (a rendition of “Love and Marriage”) be turned off.

Her most effusive thanks went to her divorce lawyers, Norman Sheresky and Allan Mayefsky-though, as she wrote in her book, even they initially had trouble accepting their client’s plea for 50 percent of the booty.

“In their eyes, I was asking for something that was almost impossible, even if I’m a brunette with brown eyes and a not bad body (great legs),” she writes in the book’s fourth chapter. “I said sweetly to [Allan Mayefsky], ‘I know you’re having a hard time with this, so I want to make it as easy as I can for you. This is what I want you to do. Each night, when you get into bed and put your head on your soft down pillow, I want you to repeat, Vira is getting fifty percent, Vira is getting fifty percent.”

“Nobody ever heard of getting half in a situation like this,” jolly Mr. Sheresky told The Transom on a landing of the townhouse’s winding staircase.

“But she said she’d be first,” Mr. Mayefsky added.

Later, seated in her oak-paneled library, her head of gray curls complimenting a stunning black velvet and georgette suit, Ms. Hladun-Goldmann proudly spoke to The Transom about her only child, Olexa, who recently went through her first divorce.

“Divorce is a stage of life, if you need it to be. It gives you an opportunity to start new and clean and get rid of the old!” she said. “Wherever Robert is, he’s looking down on me and he’s glad I’m happy.” She added that her next book will be “about the life of a wealthy woman’s encounters post-divorce-with a love story thrown in.”

Currently, Ms. Hladun-Goldmann is dating George Carey, a British documentarian.

Would there be a pre-nup if she tied the knot again?

“Definitely!” she shrieked.

And if a man tried to marry her for money?

“He better not try, sweetie,” Ms. Hladun-Goldmann said.

-Anna Jane Grossman

Weinstein Wear

Wandering through the Scarlet Ginger boutique on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn on Sunday, March 9, The Transom spotted a T-shirt bearing the image of a tuxedo-clad torso holding an award above the words ” … and I want to thank Harvey Weinstein …. “

The T-shirt referred to perhaps the most oft-repeated phrase at this award season’s podiums. Mr. Weinstein is the co-chairman of Miramax Films, which produced the Oscar-nominated films Chicago , Gangs of New York , Frida and The Quiet American. He was also a producer on Paramount’s The Hours and New Line’s Lord of the Rings . Miramax’s Oscar campaigns are legendary and frequently get results, leading many a happy actress, director, screenwriter and composer to enthusiastically thank the big man.

Deborah Goldstein, a 31-year-old graduate student in social work, created the shirts, which sell for $25. Despite her current academic path, Ms. Goldstein is no film-industry naïf; she used to work for Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente’s Open City Films. But, she said, the shirts were born of a whim.

“I was literally just watching the Golden Globes with some friends, and everybody kept thanking Harvey Weinstein,” said Ms. Goldstein. “Not to mention at the SAG Awards!” Ms. Goldstein was talking about the hefty number of Miramax performers who thanked Mr. Weinstein at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which were held on March 9.

The T-shirts are homemade and sold only at Scarlet Ginger, which just happened to open on the same day. “So far, there are only about 10 of the shirts in existence,” said Ms. Goldstein, who added that she’s given a few away to friends, including Three Seasons director Tony Bui.

“I thought he’d be afraid to wear it, but he said he liked it,” said Ms. Goldstein, who has just created a Web site, http://www.misswit.net, which suggests that if you wear “The Weinstein Shirt” to your Oscars party, “You will be the life of the party-without a doubt!”

A spokesman for Miramax could not be reached by press time.

-R.T.

The Transom Also Hears …

… The art world was watching on March 6 to see if dealer Larry Gagosian would make an appearance at the debut of the 2003 Armory Show so soon after garnering some unwelcome attention. In the days before the show opened, Mr. Gagosian found himself under scrutiny by the federal government after fallen ImClone chief executive Sam Waksal told investigators that an art dealer who reportedly is Mr. Gagosian had helped him avoid paying $1.2 million in taxes by creating false invoices that said his artwork would be shipped to New Jersey, when it actually ended up in Mr. Waksal’s Manhattan apartment. Well, Mr. Gagosian showed, but he arrived early-for the 5 p.m. preview and cocktail party-and didn’t stay late. By 7:30, he was gone.

– Alexandra Wolfe

… The Writers Guild of America East awards, at the Pierre Hotel on March 8, were one long, strange trip that began when we saw former comedy team Al Franken and Tom Davis sitting together (with comedian Richard Belzer) for the first time in ages during the cocktail hour. Long before Mr. Franken went solo and became a rabid Democrat masquerading as a comedian, he and Mr. Franken provided the early Saturday Night Live with some of its more inspired sketches, such as the Final Days sketch that had Dan Aykroyd as Nixon telling a portrait of Abraham Lincoln: “Well, Abe, you were lucky. They shot you.”

Did this signal a reunion of the team? No, Mr. Davis told The Transom. “But I may get misty.”

-Frank DiGiacomo

… Former Gong Show creator and host (and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind author) Chuck Barris and Court TV chairman Henry Schleiff were huddled over lunch at the Friars Club on March 3. Professional eavesdroppers told The Transom that the two men were talking about a show called Court Jester.

-F.D.

Libeskindling