Sorry, folks. Our fair Diane Clehane is off for the day, but Lunch will be back next week. (Hmm, wonder who got her usual perch at Michael’s?) In the meantime, check out some of her recent celebrity spottings and interviews:
While it was a bit more subdued than usual at Michael’s today with some of the glitterati off to Cannes and a few others up in Greenwich watching Prince Harry play polo (our invite must have gotten lost in the mail), the usual mix of editors (Anne Fulenwider, Lucy Danziger) and media moguls (David Zinczenko) were in full power lunch mode celebrating each other’s successes and hatching their next big deals.
I was joined today by Kimberly Cherebin and Alaska Gedeon, stars of the new docu-series Newlyweds: The First Year, which premiered May 6 on Bravo. Also in attendance were the network’s PR marvels, Jennifer Geisser and Julia Nietsch, as well as the happy couple’s manager, Camille White Stern. The show is a hit, having snagged over 1 million viewers for the first episode. With Kimberly stuck in traffic en route from the studio where she was styling Justine Skye‘s new video, I got a chance to chat with Alaska first. I asked him what in the world would possess anyone to allow cameras to follow them during their entire first year of marriage. He told me he’d been absolutely opposed to doing the show at first, and Kimberly asked him “about six or seven times” before he finally agreed. Looking back on the experience (shooting wrapped earlier this year), Alaska said having the details of your daily life play out for all the world to see “forces you to raise the standard of who you are: how you treat others and especially how you treat your wife.” He then added brightly, “It’s like a mirror and like therapy.” So did he like everything he saw reflected back at him? “I just don’t think I’m that big of a jerk,” he said with a laugh. (After meeting him, I’m inclined to agree). “My sarcasm doesn’t always read well on camera.” He also told me that it wasn’t until after he viewed the scene where he and Kimberly discussed their bi-coastal marriage that he realized just how “heartbroken” Kimberly was at the prospect of their separation.
When Kimberly arrived, I asked her why she was so enthusiastic about doing the show, and she admitted that she didn’t exactly know what she was getting into. “At first, I thought it was one of those David Tutera>-type ‘planning your wedding’ shows, and I thought that would be fun, but it was nothing like that,” she explained. Once she did understand that she and Alaska would be agreeing to 10-hour shooting days over the course of year and be required to use their ‘Couples’ Cam’ on each other to capture intimate moments (not that kind, silly), she remained undaunted. “It seems like when you see marriages on TV you either see these fairy tales or something pretty terrible. We have really ‘extreme’ careers, and this was a chance to show how you balance it all.”
I’ve been looking forward to today’s Michael’s lunch for quite a while. David Zinczenko, who I met in this very dining room many years ago, was joining me with his business partner Stephen Perrine and Patrick Connors, the new publisher of Men’s Fitness. As most faithful readers of this column know, Dave, arguably one of the highest profile editors in history during his tenure as EIC of Men’s Health, and Stephen, head of Rodale Books, were unceremoniously fired from their positions at Rodale last November. The news shocked industry insiders and made headlines all over the media landscape, most notably in a piece penned by Keith Kelly for The New York Post where Maria Rodale cattily commented that David could now go on living his “high-profile life.” When asked if his departure would hurt the brand, she sniped, “It’s not Dave’s Health – it’s Men’s Health.” Jealous much?
I was thrilled to score the exclusive first sit-down with Dave and Stephen to get the real story behind their firings, an overview of their new venture, Galvanized Brands, and the first look (which Patrick brought along hot off the presses today) of the June issue of Men’s Fitness, the result of their collaboration with their first client, AMI. Dave and Stephen are co-founders and CEO/president and chief creative officer, respectively, of their new firm. Stephen describes Galvanized Brands as a “broad-based brand building and media company that helps other companies unlock their hidden value specializing in health and wellness,” and the duo is positively euphoric about the company’s prospects.
Not surprisingly, it turns out Dave’s living a “high-profile life” that made millions for his former employer has its advantages. (The highly successful Eat This, Not That series he wrote while at Rodale sold 7 million copies in North America.) Last month, it was announced Random House gave Dave distribution and a multi-million dollar deal for his own imprint, Zinc Ink, through its Ballantine Bantam Dell division. As part of the deal, Dave will pen three health/fitness books, the first of which will be published in 2014. Zinc Ink will publish six to 12 non-fiction and lifestyle books annually — and Dave will share in the profits. He explained that, in addition to Zinc Ink, Random House is prepared to create a series of imprints, like say, AMI/Galvanized, tied to media brands which Random House will publish and distribute. There are currently “half a dozen” AMI/Galvanized book idea percolating, and Stephen told me the first book will be published some time this summer.
There are lunches at Michael’s and then there are lunches at Michael’s. Today I joined Isabella Rossellini at Table One and had a fascinating conversation with her about aging, celebrity, fashion and gay geese. Stay with me … these seemingly disparate topics are all connected. Ostensibly there to talk about Mammas, her new series for Sundance Channel which looks at the ways different creatures use their maternal instincts in nature, Isabella did get around to the topic eventually. Yet, there was no feeling of the usual PR spin to the lunch which was attended by a handful of journalists who sat enthralled by her stories of her days as an actress and model and her charming tales of growing up in Rome as the daughter of iconic actress Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini.
“The image I have of myself doesn’t correspond to the image people have of me,” she said. “I live on Long Island and I don’t go to fancy parties and premieres. I don’t like that aspect of celebrity. I never said, ‘When I grow up I want to be a celebrity.’” She didn’t have to. Between her famous parents, ex-husbands (Martin Scorsese and model Jon Wiedemann), her celebrated career as a model and 14-year run as the face of Lancome before the brand dismissed her in 1996 for being ‘too old,’ and her unforgettable turn as tortured nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, she secured a permanent spot in our collective consciousness without employing any of the usual contrivances associated with modern celebrity.
When she showed up to join the small group of journos gathered to meet her (I was lucky enough to score the best seat in the house right next to the guest of honor!) the conversation first turned to fashion as Frazier Moore asked her who designed her understated ensemble of a wool tweed cocoon coat, navy mandarin collared silk jacket, foulard blouse and simple slacks. She gamely removed her coat to reveal the impeccably tailored pieces designed for her by Christina Bomba in Italy. “It’s less expensive than Donna Karan or Dolce & Gabbana, and I like that I can pick the fabric and have it made just for me,” she said. Isabella told us she can’t relate to the fashion-celebrity complex which has turned the red carpet into big business. “When Mama got dressed for the Oscars, she wasn’t solicited by designers. She didn’t have a committee of business people telling her what to wear. She was loyal to one or two Italian designers, and, when they could no longer make dresses for her, the costume designers from her films created something unique.”
Where to begin? This week at 55th and Fifth, the scene in the dining room provided whiplash-inducing people watching with a tasty mix of moguls on the menu (Harvey Weinstein, Jimmy Finkelstein) with a side of social swans (Sharon Bush, Patricia Kluge, Terry Allen Kramer).
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Wednesday at Michael’s without the random celebrity sighting. I was thrilled to hear that I would be sitting next to none other than Ali MacGraw today. The ageless actress, who catapulted into the pop culture hall of fame with her iconic performance (and preppy wardrobe) in the 1970 tearjerker Love Story, turned every head in the place when she arrived — which is quite a feat among this crowd. She was beyond gracious as diners (including yours truly) lined up for pictures. Several years ago, I worked with her on The Fashion Group International’s Night of Stars where she was honored with FGI’s entertainment award for her contributions to film and fashion. When I re-introduced myself, she immediately said, “Oh, I remember that night. It was so much fun!” and then proceeded to tell me this delicious bit of gossip from the evening: “I was standing next to Bill Blass when he saw Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones come in. And Bill turned to the person next to him and said, “Finally, some real movie stars!” She giggled, clearly delighted by the memory of the snarky diss from the designer.
Speaking of the power of celebrity, I was joined today by Charitybuzz CEO and founder Coppy Holzman who dazzled me with tales of his work with the famous and philanthropic. His company, which he founded in 2005, is currently the world’s largest online charity auction site and is the go-to partner for every famous person with a charity looking to raise serious money for their pet causes.
It all started at a backyard fundraising party for The Clinton Library in Westport, Connecticut that Coppy attended where he met President Bill Clinton and Chevy Chase. “Isn’t there a way for you to use your experience on the Internet to raise for the library?” the host of the party asked Coppy. On the spot, he came up with the idea of auctioning off a lunch with the former president. One year later, The Chevy Chase Earth Day Auction brought in $250,000 for the library, including $80,000 paid by one bidder to lunch with Clinton and Chase. Since then, Coppy has worked with Clinton on many different initiatives. “There is no bigger celebrity in the world,” he says. The top dollar paid to spend the day with Hillary’s husband: $255,000 in an auction last year.
In keeping with the usual head-spinning weekly scene that is Wednesdays at Michael’s, the joint was jumping today. It was SRO in the front dining room and at the bar where producer Beverly Camhe was holding court with fellow producer Marc Altshuler and writer/directors Derek Anderson and Victor Kubicek in celebration of their upcoming documentary In God We Trust Who Pays for His Crime on the Bernie Madoff scandal. The film will debut in the highly coveted Friday night slot at the Tribeca Film Festival next week.
Bev tells me the tickets for the highly anticipated film sold out in ten minutes when they went on sale at with American Express last night, and they are currently looking for a theater to handle the overflow. For those of you who missed the boat entirely, there’s always pay per view. Bev says anyone who sees the film should prepare to be shocked. “Don’t believe what you’ve heard. You’ll be surprised to know who knew what and when they knew it.” For the record, Bev believes that both Madoff sons, the late Mark Madoff and Andrew Madoff, didn’t know anything. I would have loved to have explored that very topic myself when I spotted Mark at Michael’s last spring, but he bolted before I could ask him anything about their father’s massive Ponzi scheme. “Bernie was a bi-polar sociopath, so it’s entirely possible he was able to keep it from them,” says Bev. I asked Marc if they’d heard from any of the Madoffs or insiders since they began production, and he told me, “They’ve been oddly quiet. I’m surprised they even stayed in New York.” Some people have no shame.
Not all the action was in the main dining room. I was invited to the swanky lunch held in the Garden Room for Angela Cummings today celebrating the launch of her new collection with Assael. Mickey Ateyeh, Angela’s long time BFF and business partner gathered 24 New York power gals – the ladies who never eat lunch who actually lunched today – for an intimate gathering. The first to arrive was Liz Smith followed by a veritable who’s who in New York social and business circles, including Paula Zahn, Linda Fairstein, Jackie Leo, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Christy Ferer, who is in hot pursuit for her company’s next CEO (Anyone?), Fern Mallis, DuJour‘s Cindy Lewis and Judy Licht.
Last week, it was all about authors and agents, and today it was television titans’ turn in the rotating cast of characters that is Wednesdays at Michael’s. Tonight when Liz Smith hosts her annual kick-off for her Literacy Partners’ initiative, the joint will be jumping with social types like Diane von Furstenberg (who, we hear, recently broke her shoulder skiing and is, no doubt, sporting a fashionable sling) and her Vespa loving hubby Barry Diller, Cynthia McFadden, Cornelia Guest, Calvin Trillin, Nan Talese and Gay Talese. We won’t be there to trade air kisses with the glitterati, because we’ll be chatting up our favorite Bravolebrities at their upfront party across town (Giggy, that means you!).
Today I was joined by Evan Shapiro, president of pivot (yes, with a lower case ‘p’) the new cable network targeting the all-important millennial audience launched by Participant Media, the production company responsible for an impressive slate of projects, including An Inconvenient Truth, The Help and Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln. Participant chairman and founder Jeff Skoll and CEO Jim Berk tapped Evan to spearhead the company’s expansion into television in May of last year. Prior to that, he had served as president of IFC and Sundance Channel where we was responsible for award-winning program, like the buzzed about Portlandia.
I could barely keep up with Evan, whose passion for his latest gig was evident from the moment he sat down. The incredibly youthful 45-year-old father of two teenage girls told me running pivot is his “dream job,” because he’s doing more than creating what he considers groundbreaking television. “Ten years ago I would have said my dream job would have been at NBC or CBS. Today, it’s this job because we’re doing something that’s going to have an impact on the world.” Evan dismisses the notion of millennials as spoiled and entitled and instead compares them to ‘the greatest generation’ saying, “Like ‘the greatest generation,’ they have been handed a series of events not of their own making, and, post 9/11 and the Great Recession, they have a real sense of their place in the world and want to make a difference.”
After the last few head-spinning Wednesdays at Michael’s kept me ricocheting between Hollywood A-listers (Meg Ryan) and tabloid targets (Rachel Uchitel), it was something of a relief to turn my attention to the restaurant’s core constituency of authors and their agents (remember books?) who have always viewed the dining room at 55th & Fifth as a de facto company cafeteria. When I arrived a few minutes before noon and overheard Tom Connor telling L’Oreal Sherman he was meeting Gretchen Young for lunch, I just had to go over and introduce myself. Gretchen was my editor at Hyperion, and we worked together on two bestsellers: I Love You, Mom! a collection of celebrity essays I edited and Objection! which I co-wrote with Nancy Grace. Like I always say, in certain circles, all roads lead to Michael’s.
Now vice president and executive editor at Grand Central Publishing, Gretchen recently signed Tom’s clients Willie Geist and his father Bill Geist to write a father-son book scheduled for publication next year to coincide with Father’s Day. When Willie (who, it should be noted, is quite the snappy dresser) arrived, I asked him if the dapper duo had ever worked together before. “Aside from some yard work, no,” he told me. The yet-to-be-titled tome does have a subtitle: Birds, Bees and Other Conversations We Never Had. “It’s not going to be one of those super earnest father-son books,” says Willie. Bill describes the book as something “born out of our experiences and what we’ve learned from each other.”
“It’s really our humorous take on things,” says Willie, which seems only fitting since his first book, the bestselling American Freak Show, was a send-up of our tabloid culture featuring imagined conversations with characters like ’President’ Sarah Palin. The upcoming title will chronicle life growing up in the Geist household through a mix of essays and interviews. “I think we’ll both write things and then bounce it off each other,” says Bill. Sounds like there’s no shortage of material. “There’s the time the Christmas presents were accidentally locked in the trunk of dad’s company car and a sledgehammer was wielded,” recalls Willie. “And then there was the summer I was sent off to what was supposed to be an idyllic summer camp in New Hampshire, and I’m not exaggerating when I say the counselors were fresh-out-of-rehab juvenile delinquents, and there were literally knife fights going on around me. We’ll basically write about what not to do.”
When it comes to Wednesdays at Michael’s, the early bird might not always get the best table, but today it did land me something of a timely scoop. Some time before noon, I spotted Rachel Uchitel, the woman whose texts to Tiger Woods helped bring down the golf legend and launched a thousand tabloid headlines in 2009. I half expected her to bolt when I identified myself as a reporter, but she was gracious and downright chatty when I asked about the countless reports that her recent “Everyone deserves a second chance” tweet was a thinly veiled reference to Tiger and Lindsey Vonn‘s joint announcement on Facebook that they were dating.
“Everyone in the media immediately thought it was about Tiger,” she told me exclusively. “I still have not talked about him and never will. I haven’t told anyone about this, but the tweet was about my 94-year-old grandfather, Sam Lionel, who is getting married. His fiancee is 52 and there has been some family drama about it, so that’s what I was referring to. I’m even throwing her a bachelorette party.” Rachel, who just moved back to New York from San Francisco, told me that The New York Post approached her about writing an article about the recent turn of events but she turned them down flat. “First of all, check your facts, thank you very much,” she said referring to their reporting about her tweet. “And also I’d never write anything about that.”
Rachel told me these days she is “totally obsessed” with her 10-month-old daughter Wyatt Lilly who took her first steps yesterday. (Dad is husband Matt Hahn.) “I love that she wants a big kiss just from me sometimes. It’s the first time that I really have come to understand just what unconditional love is. You think you can get it from a man, but this is so different. She is my whole existence.” Being a mother, says Rachel, has given her a sense of peace and satisfaction that had previously eluded her, but she still is sorting out where she wants to go from here. ”I don’t want to be away from her and miss anything.” Still, though, she’d like to find “meaningful work.” Says Rachel, “For the past three years I have struggled with my identity. I used to be a journalist, but since 2009 it has been difficult to find a job because of the baggage attached to me.” She’s been offered several reality shows and did a stint on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, but has turned them all down. “It’s hard, but now that I’ve moved back to New York, I’d like to find something interesting to do.” For the woman whose tear-stained face made the cover of The New York Post when she first lost her then fiancé on 9/11 (a tearsheet hangs in the Smithsonian) and then went on to become the poster girl for one of the biggest celebrity scandals of the decade, life in recent years has been a series of headlines. That’s a pretty attractive quality in an employee in certain circles is this town, isn’t it?
I had a fascinating and enjoyable lunch with Emilio Romano, (pictured, right) president of Telemundo Media and the network’s vice president of corporate communications and public affairs, Michelle Alban. The charming and dynamic Emilio joined the company in 2011 and in his current position runs Telemundo’s broadcast network, its 15 owned stations, as well as the company’s entertainment division and Telemundo Studios, which is the No. 1 producer of original Spanish language primetime content for Hispanics in the United States. He also oversees the news and sports divisions, Telemundo’s digital media group and the company’s sales and marketing arms. I’ve talked to plenty of media titans in this dining room over the years, and I can say without question I found Emilio to be one of the most engaging, genuine and interesting executives I’ve ever met. While telling me about all the exciting things happening at Telemundo these days, he chatted easily with the wait staff about where they were from and asking them in Spanish what they watched on television and why.
The spring power lunch season has officially begun at Michael’s with plenty of famous faces and talking heads (Charles Grodin, Star Jones, Lawrence O’Donnell) mixed in with the usual suspects today. None other than Meg Ryan turned up with Judith Regan and slipped in practically unnoticed. Ah, but it’s my job to tell you these things.
In the ‘six degrees of separation’ world that is the dining room at 55th and Fifth, Judith and I grew up in the same hometown of Bay Shore on Long Island. Her mother was often my substitute teacher in high school, and we’ve always had interesting chats whenever our paths have crossed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the famously fiery ex-book publisher and she told me she’s adapted a new approach of “staying well below the radar” while working on her Sirius XM show. “No one even knows where I live,” she said. I knew better than to question the strategy of staying out of the limelight by sitting at Table One on a Wednesday at Michael’s, so we talked about mutual friends and exchanged pleasantries about our families. When Meg showed up, she couldn’t have been nicer as we chatted about our daughters who we adopted from China the same year, are the same age and both wear glasses. (Sorry, but it’s all OTR.) Later, on the way out, we talked a bit more and I suspected she had plenty more to say on the subject but didn’t want to get caught it the crush of folks lining up for their coats. Oh, well. Maybe next time.
I was joined today by Stu Zakim, public relations vet and “transformational executive” (How’s that for a title?) Mike Berman. Stu, a veteran marketing guru who has helped shaped the image of Showtime, Universal Pictures and Wenner Media, struck out on his own in 2010 with his own firm, Bridge Strategic Communications. His current clients include the Montclair Film Festival, now in its second year, and Mike, a turnaround specialist and business blogger who dispenses straightforward strategies on his blog, Berman Means Business. Stu has been working with Mike since last fall to extend the reach of his no-nonsense messaging espousing a holistic approach to building businesses. With recent headlines on media mash-ups and corporate meltdowns, we had plenty to talk about. Since Mike penned his first piece for CNBC’s website entitled “Five Turnaround Tips for Ron Johnson, JC Penney and Others” earlier this week, I thought a discussion about JCP’s embattled CEO was a good place to start. In a nutshell, says Mike, Johnson “was set up to fail — he can’t fix Penney’s.”
He explains, “What’s happening with Ron Johnson is a metaphor for what’s wrong with business today. You can’t hire a rock star as if he’s just come down from the mountain top with the solution to every problem. No one person is able to do what he’s saying he can do.” According to Mike, Johnson’s first mistake was expecting an already beaten down team to buy into widespread change without first stabilizing the organization and clearly articulating a long term vision for the future. Letting 10,000 people go among a shell-shocked workforce didn’t help matters, either. “In the classic turnaround, you can be a hero by coming in and reducing staff, closing under performing stores or factories for the short-term, but in the long-term that doesn’t create value and kills the economy. Executives have to ask themselves, ‘How can I make sacrifices for the benefit of the entity?” Because so many companies rely on the slash-and-burn strategy as an immediate solution to stem the bleeding of their bottom line, Mike tells me he no longer works on “classic turnarounds” because he finds them “totally souless.” Now there’s something you don’t hear every day.
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