Early in October, thousands of frat boys e-mailed what looked like a CNN.com Web page to thousands more of their brothers, buddies and buddies’ girlfriends. It was an article about a new study that “Fellatio may significantly decrease the risk of breast cancer in women.” The story, which carried an Associated Press byline, claimed that the Journal of Medicine had published the study and, in its online form, included supposed links to other CNN.com stories as well as the news organization’s copyright. But those who read the story realized it was a goof when they saw that among those quoted were Dr. B.J. Sooner, Dr. Len Lictepeen and Dr. Inserta Shafteer, who says in the piece: “Since the emergence of the research, I try to fellate at least once every other night to reduce my chances.”
CNN didn’t think it was so funny, however, and neither did the A.P. And now the cable news network has sicced its real-life lawyers on the college student who created the virtual mess.
The spoof-or hoax, depending on how you look at it-originated on North Carolina State University’s Web space, the Wolf Web, where students can post links, sites and announcements. And not long after it posted, enraged A.P. and CNN representatives called the university’s legal-affairs office, charging intellectual-copyright infringement and threatening to sue the writer of the story and, should the circumstances merit it, the university itself.
CNN spokeswoman Edna Johnson said it was company policy not to comment on legal action or the consideration of legal action, but when The Transom called the network’s public-information line, a public-information representative named Kim stated flatly: “The page is fake, and they are pursuing legal action against the creators.” When asked whether CNN planned to sue the school or the student, Kim said, “It depends on who actually created the site.”
The author of the piece, N.C. State junior Brandon Williamson, said the idea came to him while sitting with friends in the school’s honors lounge. “It just popped into my head,” he said. “I had no idea that the whole thing would blow up. I just thought it was a joke I was sending to my friends.”
Mr. Williamson was mistaken. His false article was picked up as a real news story -credited to CNN-by a Chilean and a Croatian newspaper, and it’s still making the e-mail rounds here in the States. “I heard that in Korea, they had reported it on TV,” said Mr. Williamson. “I was just surprised. I can understand people joking about it in an office, and I guess I think of that as an honor, that people find it funny. I mean, it’s nice-I guess they thought I was a good writer,” he added.
University spokesman Tim Lucas told The Transom that after CNN and the Associated Press contacted N.C. State’s office of legal affairs, the school’s associate general counsel, David Drooz, contacted Mr. Williamson and told him, “It’s not a freedom-of-expression issue; it’s a copyright-infringement issue.”
“What he did is, he attributed the research to N.C. State, when, in fact, obviously nothing like that has ever happened here,” said Mr. Lucas, who added that Mr. Drooz also explained to Mr. Williamson that “you can’t use an A.P. and a CNN copyright, which the student unwittingly did.”
Although Mr. Lucas said the article has since been modified and the logos and copyright changed, a simple Google search of “fellatio and breast cancer” will pull up numerous pages of links to the article with the CNN logo and A.P. copyright still intact. “I kind of wonder how long it’s going to take them to find out,” Mr. Williamson said. He said that when he was first asked to take down the site, he was “a little angry and a little hurt, ’cause I felt like I was being pushed into taking it down.” He added that Mr. Drooz always thought he was innocent. “From the beginning, [Mr. Drooz] thought that if I did take it to court, a parody defense was a really good defense. He thought that what I was doing was legal, but he also recognized that I’m a student and I really don’t have the resources to take it to court.”
After all the legal threats, Mr. Williamson did admit to the school paper, the Technician: “I have no proof whatsoever that the two [fellatio and breast cancer] have anything to do with each other.”
Harvey’s Sari Movie
Watch out, Merchant and Ivory! In the last 10 years, Harvey Weinstein has become the equivalent of Big Brother, all-seeing, all-hearing and omnipresent, but the last place anyone would expect to see Mr. Weinstein is India. Just the other day, however, one of The Transom’s well-traveled sources spotted Mr. Weinstein- twice!-in Udaipur, West India.
The source first spied Mr. Weinstein, looking moist in a blue polo shirt, near the walls of the city palace. He was traveling with an entourage that included two assistants. An hour later, Mr. Weinstein and his group were spotted having drinks at a place called the Sunset View.
According to Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik, Mr. Weinstein wasn’t there to celebrate the Hindu holiday of Diwali or to track down a good vindaloo; he was there with a number of production executives to check out the set of Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood picture helmed by the director of Bend It Like Beckham, Gurinder Chadha. The film, which Mr. Weinstein boasted in a press release will “be a spectacular musical and visual production,” is based on the Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice. Miramax bought the film’s North American and Latin American distribution rights back in May. Plus, said Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik, “Harvey’s always had a fascination with Bollywood films, and he was there visiting the set of this production.”
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, which opens on Broadway on Oct. 29, is about a gay dance instructor, played by Mark (Luke Skywalker) Hamill, who teaches a dying septuagenarian, played by Polly Bergen, how to dance in her Florida retirement condo. On the evening of Oct. 27, the theatergoers seemed to be really identifying with the show. When the Andrews Sisters’ “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen” was played, the audience-unprompted-sang along, and then, just as Ms. Bergen’s character was announcing that she has lymphoma in the second act, a man in the front row collapsed. The two actors spent a minute finishing out the scene, and then the lights came on and people rushed toward the gentleman. “I have some nitroglycerin!” someone in the audience yelled. E.M.S. came and the elderly man was wheeled out, wearing an oxygen mask. A press representative said that the theatergoer had choked on something, but later recovered.
Outside after the performance, Mr. Hamill said that he’d heard the commotion from the stage and at first thought someone had pulled a gun. “But then I felt stupid-doing a play while life is going on right in front of you.”
Then Ms. Bergen came out. She seemed unfazed, and even suggested that such occurrences are perhaps commonplace these days on Broadway.
“It’s the third or fourth time that sort of thing has happened during this show [this month],” she said. “And when I was in Cabaret? Five times.”
-Anna Jane Grossman
Sitting beneath the gold vaulted ceiling of the Plaza Athénée’s restaurant on Oct. 23, Robert Benton, the bespectacled, gray-bearded writer and director of Kramer vs. Kramer, Nobody’s Fool and Places in the Heart, was talking about the message of Philip Roth’s trilogy, American Pastoral, I Married A Communist and The Human Stain, the last of which he has adapted to the movie screen with Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins.
That message was about “the promise that this country makes to everyone that they have the right to choose-each person has the right to choose his or her own destiny-versus our responsibility to our community and to our past. And that conflict, that tension is what has shaped the last half of the 20th century,” Mr. Benton said. “We’ve gained freedom and we’ve lost our history. We think we can reinvent ourselves with every generation.”
Mr. Benton then cited one of his own attempts at reinvention-one that paled in comparison to the path taken by The Human Stain’s race-defying protagonist, Coleman Silk, but one that would nonetheless resonate with New Yorkers.
“I grew up in a little town in Texas.” (That would be Waxahachie.) “I came to New York and, ask Liz”-Mr. Benton was referring to his fellow Texan, gossip columnist Liz Smith, who that evening had played host to a screening and dinner in the director’s honor-“you’ve talked to Liz, you know Liz’s accent,” Mr. Benton continued. “Liz is a person of great moral fiber. I’m not. I lost my Texas accent within two weeks. I came to New York with very little money. I spent $50 I could not afford on a sport coat at a little shop on Lexington Avenue because I wanted to look like every other guy in New York. I didn’t want to look like some guy from Texas.”
Mr. Benton grasped the arms of the chair he was sitting in. Just a few feet behind him, hidden by the double doors that led into the hotel’s restaurant, Arabelle, was evidence that his reinvention had been successful: a crowd that included director Arthur Penn, ICM agent Amanda (Binky) Urban, her husband Ken Auletta, editor Nan Talese and her writer husband Gay Talese. Actually, Mr. Talese had make a hasty departure when he found out that the Yankees were getting trounced by the Marlins and decided he had to get to a TV. In addition to Mr. Hopkins, the film’s co-stars, Wentworth Miller and Phyllis Newman, were also on hand.
Mr. Roth was not, but as Mr. Benton explained, he had visited the set. Though Nicholas Meyer wrote the script, Mr. Benton said that Mr. Roth’s voice had been a guiding force in the filming of The Human Stain. “We kept the book in front of us the whole time we were doing rewrites, the whole time we were working stuff out in performance,” he said. “And, of course, [Mr. Roth] came to the set on a day when we were shooting a scene that was not in the book.” Mr. Benton was actually referring to a scene that takes place at Tanglewood, the outdoor concert hall, in the book, but is set in a church in the movie. “And he was terrific about it,” Mr. Benton assured The Transom.
The director said that Mr. Roth had seen the movie in its entirety. “He seemed pleased with it. He said he loved the dance sequence. But that was his only note,” Mr. Benton said, before he got up, parted the big double doors and returned to the party.
Kreskin Tells the Truth
On the morning of Oct. 27, the Amazing Kreskin sat at a table at Lindy’s in Times Square swinging a pendulum and eating toast. No one around him seemed to care.
“Hey, folks! How are you? Kreskin!” he said to some older New Jerseyites at a four-top to his right.
The group looked mystified; only a guy with a comb-over seemed to have a clue. “Uh, from Atlantic City, right?” he said.
“You thought you recognized me, didn’t you?” Mr. Kreskin said.
But there was no time to sign autographs, or even to ask anyone if they wanted one. The 68-year-old mentalist-whose credit card reads “T.A. Kreskin,” as in “The Amazing”-had a lot of news to impart to The Transom. For one, on Oct. 31 he’ll be riding in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. In a pedicab! He’s also scheduled to be the sole judge of the pumpkin-carving competition, which will take place before the parade at the Here Theater Arts Center on Sixth Avenue. Last year’s judge was Elvira.
“I’ll either go as Dracula, Marmaduke or … as Kreskin!” he said.
But there’s more! Mr. Kreskin wanted to discuss the new truth-inducing pendulum that he is selling on his Web site. It’s made of amethyst and comes with a booklet and an audio cassette and costs a mere $39.95, plus $4.95 for shipping and handling. The pendulum hangs from a chain, the end of which is grasped by the subject who is about to tell the truth. The subject holds the pendulum like a plumbline over the center of a target-like diagram. When he is asked a question that requires either a yes or no answer, the pendulum begins to swing. A vertical sweep means the answer is yes. Horizontal: no.
Strangely, the thing seems to work. Holding it, The Transom was unable to conceal the fact that she has three siblings.
Mr. Kreskin likened his pendulum to an Ouija board and said that the juju behind it has been around for “2,000 years.” Sort of like Mr. Kreskin. Then we insisted that he hold the pendulum so that we could ask him some questions. We learned that a) he likes sleight-of-hand artist Ricky Jay and b) he voted for George W. Bush.
“Oh, my. I’ve never said that publicly before. You’re bad!” he said, taking the toy away from us. “O.K. That’s enough of that.”
It was time for some predictions. Mr. Kreskin predicted that Regis Philbin and Bill O’Reilly will “both be in movies soon.” (He later mentioned that he’s a big O’Reilly fan and has been on TV with Regis 109 times.) He also predicted that Arnold Schwarzenegger will eventually run for Senator and win. “And that won’t be strange, because years ago George Murphy, a song-and-dance man in the movies, ran for state office and won,” he said.
Then he said that, earlier this year, he’d predicted there would be a terrible natural crisis in the Midwest later in the year. “But I don’t want to take credit for the fires right now that are out of control,” he said, humbly. “It’s horrible. I know people in L.A.” Even if it’s not in the Midwest.
Predictions always somehow lead to death. So we asked whether or not Mr. Kreskin had any inkling about when his own time would come.
Mr. Kreskin vehemently declined to predict in what year this sad event would occur. Being a show-business veteran, however, he knew he had to throw us a bone. “But my tombstone has already been built!” he said. “Want to see a picture? I know it’s macabre, but you might as well enjoy the damn thing. Most people never get to see their own tombstone. And you know what I have written on mine? ‘Even now I know what you’re thinking!’
“It’s somewhere in New Jersey, but I can’t tell you where exactly. Even the cemetery people told me, ‘For God’s sake, don’t announce it!'” he said. “There’d be a mob!”
Will someone tell Gael Greene that she’s no longer competing with Ruth Reichl? On Oct. 25, Ms. Greene, the former restaurant reviewer for New York magazine, and Ms. Reichl, the former restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times turned editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, appeared together on the “Reviewing Restaurants” panel organized for the Gourmet Institute weekend. The panel was billed as the first time that Ms. Reichl and Ms. Greene had ever appeared together in public, and by the time it was over, Ms. Greene left the impression that she’d been waiting for this moment for quite some time.
“I was a passionate foodie before there were foodies,” announced Ms. Greene, who was attired in a purple velour top. A large bejeweled lizard perched on her shoulder, and a shocking-red-and-gold-brocade Captain Steubing–style hat hung low over her face. “I was a passionate, juicy woman … and I was single!” But in case anyone assumed that her voluptuary ways could have gotten in the way of her reviewing, Ms. Greene added the caveat: “I’ve only had affairs with three chefs!” She did not name them.
Meanwhile, Ms. Reichl depicted her West Coast beginnings as somewhat less steamy: “I was 27,” she told the audience. “I was sort of scruffy.” And, she added, she always made it a point of not fraternizing with the food crowd.
It is also well known that the two women, back in the day, had distinctly different modes of disguise. Ms. Greene adopted the aforementioned hat, which, curiously, she appears to be hesitant to shed, while Ms. Reichl experimented with wigs and alter egos.
The forum provided Ms. Greene with the opportunity to offer her thoughts on the subject.
“I want to say, first of all, I once wore a wig, and it was very hot and very uncomfortable, and I never wore that wig again,” she told the gathering. “I felt it wasn’t really a particularly good disguise, and I didn’t want to ruin my evenings. My reviewing dinners is really about having a fabulous time in a restaurant with friends. I didn’t necessarily want to talk about food at all. I hated those foodie people who were foodier than me.”
And then, in measured words that sounded as if they’d been saved up for a very long time, Ms. Greene turned to Ms. Reichl. “In the beginning, Ruth, people did not know what you looked like. And in the middle, they knew what you looked like in your wigs. According to Sirio [Maccioni, the owner of Le Cirque], the re-review that you did of Le Cirque-they knew you the first two or three times you came, and the fourth time when you came pregnant.” At that, Ms. Reichl let out a belly laugh. “They insist that they knew you,” Ms. Greene snapped.
“I never went pregnant,” Ms. Reichl said plainly. “Well, then,” said Ms. Greene with doubt in her voice, “that pregnant woman got such fabulous service.”
At the 40th-anniversary party for The New York Review of Books, Calvin Trillin was telling New York Times correspondent John Kifner about his latest idea for a book.
“I’m gonna to do a book of poems about the Bush administration-the sort of poems I’ve done for The Nation, probably with some prose in ’em-which is tentatively called Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme,” said Mr. Trillin, who was wearing a rococo cravat dotted with red parakeets and contentedly downing white wine. “It’s from a poem I wrote when his Yale transcript was revealed, which was”-here Mr. Trillin’s voice got an octave lower-“Obliviously on he sails / With marks not quite as good as Quayle’s.”
As with all great works, one wonders about influences, especially considering the luminaries floating about. This was a crowd, after all, that sported Elizabeth Hardwick, Louis Menand, the snappy Wallace Shawn and the snippy Anthony Lane, all milling about the New-York Historical Society’s library.
Asked who his own influences were, Mr. Trillin quickly rattled them off: “George Bush, John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney …. Oh!”-Mr. Trillin’s eyes widened at the sudden realization-“I can recite one of the footnotes! It shows that my poetry is scholarly, ’cause it has footnotes-when I used a French word in one of the poems. The poem was actually about Richard Perle, the captain of the Sissyhawk Brigade, when he was caught with his talon in the cookie jar, looking for a small pourboire. And the footnote was:
‘To use old Europe’s language, / French must seem to hawks contrarian, / Pardon, we’ve changed our friends too fast / For me to learn Bulgarian.’
“That’s the most scholarly thing you’ve heard all night,” Mr. Trillin told us.
-Elon R. Green
Lord of the Wingdings
Elijah Wood recently gave keen-eared riders on the No. 2 train a preview of his most recent artistic collaboration with fellow actor Viggo Mortensen. We’re not talking about plot points to the last installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but rather his participation in a musical jam session with his Rings co-star and the exotic rock ‘n’ roll creature known as Buckethead, which took place during the recording of Mr. Mortensen’s upcoming album of experimental rock.
“The guy is a genius, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is my chance,'” Mr. Wood was overheard saying of his opportunity to play piano, percussion and even sing alongside Buckethead, the enigmatic performer who wears the equivalent of a K.F.C. bucket on his head while playing. Buckethead was last seen by a mass audience when he appeared as a member of the new lineup of Guns N’ Roses on the 2002 MTV Music Awards.
“I got to jam for about four hours!” Mr. Wood could be heard saying on the No. 2 train. “It was really fantastic to be able to contribute, and I’m actually going to be on the album!”
According to a rep for Mr. Mortensen, a few weeks ago Mr. Wood and a few cast members from the Rings trilogy paid a visit to Mr. Mortensen, who was in his studio recording with Buckethead. “They ended up jamming,” said the rep, “and they used some of that on the album, which is what Elijah was talking about [on the subway].” Mr. Mortensen, who has also expressed himself via painting and photography, has already produced three albums with Buckethead.
Mr. Wood-who was looking very un-Frodo-like on the train with a crew cut, designer jeans, Diesel shoes and a mid-length tan jacket-told his subway companions that Mr. Mortenson’s albums are “very atmospheric. Some of it isn’t really music, but with each progressive album, they’ve become more musical.” Mr. Mortensen’s new album, Pandemoniumfromamerica, comes out in November.
What the L
“If you watch any TV, it might appear that nobody in the world is straight anymore,” Showtime network chairman and C.E.O. Matt Blank told a group of hungry reporters at Blue Fin on the afternoon of Oct. 23.
Mr. Blank’s “funny gay joke” was a reference to the lunch’s purpose: a peak at The L Word, the cable channel’s upcoming series that hopes to mimic the success of its gay drama Queer as Folk. But where Folk had no qualms about using the word queer in its title, The L Word, which will debut on the pay-cable network in January, seems to be playing safe. According to the silver-and-pink luncheon invitation, L stood for a bevy of words including “Lithe,” “Liberty,” “Latent,” “Lattes”, “Lickable” and “Los Angeles,” where the show is set.
It was left to one of the show’s stars, Jennifer (Flashdance) Beals to dig beneath the cutesy subtext.
“I play a lesbian in the show. It’s my first lesbian part,” said Ms. Beals, for whom the L word is obviously not an issue. “There’s a huge lesbian stereotype, but what’s great about this is that it represents a multiplicity of gay women rather than one lesbian stereotype,” said the toned, tawny actress.
In the show, Ms. Beals plays an art curator who’s trying to have a child with her lover, played by actress Laurel Holloman. Blaxploitation icon and Tarantino muse Pam Grier plays Ms. Beals’ alcoholic half-sister.
Showtime’s 10-minute preview of the series revealed some hot and heavy scenes, and Ms. Holloman confirmed there was more girl-on-girl action in store. “Oh yeah. The scene I shot with Jennifer, It’s beautiful,” she said. However, Ms. Holloman and Ms. Beals both told The Transom that they were definitely not lesbians.
“I’m married,” said Ms. Beals, whose husband is a Canadian film technician with two children from a previous marriage. “Their mom is part of the Dutch Reform church, and sometimes the pastor tells them that God doesn’t love homosexuals. But they know that’s absurd,” Ms. Beals said. “We’ve talked about it …. The bottom line is it’s about love.”
Another word brought to us by the letter L.
-Shazia Ahmad and A.J.G.