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Lunch

Walter Isaacson, Harvey Weinstein and Johnny Weir I Linda Fairstein Emcees Authors In Kind

LunchAtMichaelsHallelujah! What better way to celebrate the first day when it actually felt like springtime in the city than to dine and dish at two jammed packed Manhattan power lunches. This being Wednesday, we of course made our weekly pilgrimage to Michael’s to observe the famous and fabulous in their natural habitat and then hot-footed it over to The Metropolitan Club for the Annual Authors in Kind Literary Luncheon, benefiting God’s Love We Deliver. At 55th and Fifth, the joint was jumping with plenty of media mavens (David Zaslav, Henry Schleiff), talking heads (Joe Kernen, Jim Murphy and Star Jones), serious scribes (Walter Isaacson) and the random celebrity of the week — none other than Johnny Weir. I wished I’d gotten to talk to Johnny about his oh-so-messy divorce. Heaven knows what he would have said. Oh well, next time.

Johnny Weir, Bonnie FullerUptown at the Metropolitan Club, I joined Michael’s regular Mickey Ateyeh (“Oh my God! I didn’t realize this was on a Wednesday!”) for the Authors In Kind Luncheon, which was emceed by another Michael’s pal Linda Fairstein (we’ll be dishing for this column about her next book, Terminal City, in June). Having never been to this event before, it was truly a memorable afternoon. Before lunch, the authors slated to speak at the luncheon — Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Anthony and Robin Cook — signed books they generously donated to the attendees. Spotted in the crowd:  60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl and Grand Central Publishing’s Deb Futter. Before everyone sat down to eat, I chatted with Assael’s Lawrence Lewis and Mickey. Angela Cummings for Assael, was one of the event’s sponsors along with CH Carolina Herrera, so it was quite the elegant affair. But behind the glitz and glamour that went along with the swanky surroundings, the inspiring and uplifting tone to the event, which was set beautifully by God’s Love We Deliver president & CEO Karen Pearl, carried the day. Karen shared the stories of several clients whose battles with life-altering illnesses were made more bearable to them and their families because of the organization’s nutrious meals and personalized care. She thanked the volunteers who prepare and deliver them (I was seated next to one such “angel,” Douglas Elliman’s Peter J. Forsman, who was delightful company) and introduced a video that highlighted their work. “Food is medicine,” explained Karen. “And love is the special ingredient.”

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Michael Strahan, Maria Shriver and Dishing With LuAnn de Lesseps

LunchAtMichaelsAnother Wednesday, another “Bravolebrity.” For the final leg of this month’s reality-show trifecta, I was joined today by LuAnn de Lesseps (the “Countess” to you), fresh off her trip to Chicago for an appearance on The Steve Harvey Show where she made over a few fashion-impaired civilians with oh-so-stylish looks from her new clothing line, the Countess Collection. (It will debut on Shop HQ, formerly known as Shop NBC, in May.) LuAnn is a regular contributor to Steve’s show, weighing in on all kinds of haute topics, from text etiquette while dating to how to dress like a million bucks without breaking the bank. When I lunched with her last summer, the conversation focused mainly on her role on Real Housewives of New York City and her fledgling music career. But these days the clever and stunning LuAnn, who clearly knows when to say when, has scaled back her presence on the Bravo screechfest (she’s now being billed as a “special guest star”) and is focusing primarily on “brand-building” her eponymous lifestyle brand, which, she says, is founded on the principle of “chic made easy.” After six seasons on Housewives and one of only two of the original New York City cast members left standing (tabloid favorite Ramona Singer is the other), LuAnn says, “I’m grateful for the platform the show has given me. I came into it with no preconceived notions. I didn’t watch reality television and I didn’t know what I was getting into. I signed on to do “Manhattan Moms” and thought it was going to be this nice little family-oriented show, but it turned into something else. I’m fearless and  have always had a real sense of adventure.” I’ll say.

Diane Clehane and LuAnn de Lesseps

Diane Clehane and LuAnn de Lesseps

LuAnn’s pre-Bravo life already read like something out of a Danielle Steel novel. The Connecticut native and nursing student who dabbled in the pageant circuit went to Europe to try her hand at modeling, but when that didn’t work out, a series of whirlwind events landed her a gig on Italian television even though she didn’t speak a word of the language. ”I was a big star — the Vanna White of Italy — paired with a man that was like their Bob Hope. Twelve million people a week were tuning in!” By the time she left three years later, she was fluent. Between bites of her crab cakes, she told me when she met her now ex-husband, Count Alexandre de Lesseps, it was “magic.” As for her much-discussed title as a result of her marriage, LuAnn thinks it’s ridiculous that people assume it’s some trumped up affectation. “The de Lesseps have played a very important part in French history,” she explained, citing her husband’s descendant Ferdinand de Lesseps as the architect of the Suez Canal and the man who played a huge role in gifting the Statue of Liberty to the United States.

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Bette Midler, Al Roker & Bravo’s Bickering Brokers From Million Dollar Listing New York

LunchAtMichaelsWhen it comes to Bravo’s ever-expanding slate of reality stars, it’s hard to keep the players straight without a scorecard. Between the Housewives, hipsters and wannabe singers, few have retained more than a few seasons of fame (or infamy) outside the realm of their melodramatic universe give or take a few Life & Style covers. I can count the number of Bravolebrities on one hand that have left an impression on me beyond registering their sheer delight at their own insta-fame. That’s why my lunch with Luis D. Ortiz and Fredrik Eklund, stars of the network’s Million Dollar Listing New York, was such a pleasant surprise.

Luis Ortiz, Diane Clehane and Fredrik Eklund

Luis Ortiz, Diane Clehane and Fredrik Eklund

Besides being charismatic, funny and extremely well dressed (more on that later), these guys are driven beyond belief and smart as hell. Over the course of our lunch to dish about the new season, (premiering next Wednesday, April 2 at 9 p.m) I learned quite a bit about Fredrik and Luis (unfortunately their castmate Ryan Serhant was tied up at a pitch meeting and never made it to Michael’s.) Fredrik heads up the country’s top selling real estate team (which he founded) at Douglas Elliman. Between bites of his Cobb salad, he told me he sold 36 apartments last year, raking in 2.2 million in commissions during season two. So far this year, he’s sold $400 million (yes, you read that right) worth of real estate. Luis, who now works with Fredrik at Elliman, where he heads up his own real estate group, has sold over $300 million in residential real estate in the past three and a half years.

Almost thirty minutes before the appointed hour, Luis arrived at Michael’s and we sat at the bar chatting about the fickle finger of reality television fate waiting for the rest of our party. Besides being struck by Luis’ impeccable made for GQ style (a perfectly cut, made-to-measure suit “from a tailor in Mexico,” Patek Philippe watch and a Zara coat I’d kill for), I couldn’t help but notice his laser-like focus on my questions. The guy knows how to listen (a very underrated character trait, if you ask me). When I inquired if he thought the show had created a ‘character’ for him he said, “Television can’t edit you differently if you are yourself. I respect myself and I’m myself at all times. I understand the need for drama, but the business is inherently dramatic enough that we don’t have to make things up. I feel like the camera is telling the truth.”

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Carole Radziwill on Her New Book and Dueling With Bravo’s Delusional Diva

LunchAtMichaelsWhen I first made my date to have lunch with Carole Radziwill some time ago, I was looking forward to talking to her about her first novel, The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating (Henry Holt) as well as her astonishing best-selling memoir, What Remains, in which she chronicled the aftermath of her husband’s death in a deep, affecting and intricately personal way. It was fascinating to me to see that she had approached the earth-shattering event of losing her husband, Anthony Radziwill, from two diametrically different perspectives and chosen to write about young widowhood twice. While her memoir came first, published six years ago, Carole told me the novel was ten years in the making. “It started percolating around that time, but I wasn’t in that state of mind. The novel was written in a much more whimsical state of mind.” But she made headlines in the tabloids this morning for another reason — a fellow castmate of The Real Housewives of New York City, Aviva Drescher, wrongly accused her of hiring a ghostwriter for What Remains, detonating the requisite explosion (this one dubbed “Bookgate”) that fuels the Bravo squawkfest, which Andy Cohen clearly lives for.

Carole Radziwill and Diane Clehane

Carole Radziwill and Diane Clehane

Here’s a primer on “Bookgate.” If you’re not a regular viewer, try to follow along: When Carole joined the show last season, Aviva could not have been more fawning, going so far as to tell her that What Remains inspired her to look at her own life differently. Fast forward a few episodes and this season, Aviva and Carole have become full-fledged enemies (the women didn’t know each other before the show), mainly because Carole deals in what is actually going on, while Aviva seems to be hell-bent in doing whatever it takes to stay relevant on Housewives. In this case, Aviva first asked Carole to vet a ghostwriter she was going to use on her book (and now denies she even used one) and then somehow turned the whole thing around by telling the other women on the show that “word on the street” was that Carole used a ghostwriter for What Remains. Said Carole: “There’s always one housewife on every show that’s completely contrived and that’s her. Everything she does, she does for the show.” And then of the subsequent blow-up: “If I’ve helped Aviva sell books, I’m sure my thank you note is in the mail. This is supposed to be a reality show, so I’m interjecting some reality here. I’m honest about my life.” Got it?

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Laurie Dhue, Harold Ford and the Man Who Once Ruled Primetime

LunchAtMichaelsWe’re serving up a low-cal version of “Lunch” today because the catastrophic events in Harlem kept us from doing our scheduled interview at the appointed hour. Despite the transportation disruptions in and around the city, it was business as usual for the mavens, moguls and strivers who turned up at Michael’s for their weekly Wednesday confab. Keep calm and carry on indeed.

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Richard Johnson, Diane Clehane Compare Michael’s Lunch Notes

How’s this for a handsome couple?

DianeClehaneRichardJohnson

On the left is our indefatigable “Lunch” columnist Diane Clehane. On the right, New York Post columnist Richard Johnson, back at the Big Apple juicy-bites biz after a sojourn on the west coast. The two got together last week at Michael’s at the behest of Niche Media entertainment editor-in-chief Catherine Sabino.

“For their upcoming [May/June] “Women’s Power” issue, Gotham magazine asked me to select someone to have lunch with at Michael’s and they would report on our chat,” Clehane explains. “I invited Richard, who I’ve met of course at Michael’s but have never had the opportunity to lunch with. We’ve never really spoken at length, but he was game to do this which was great because he never does press.”

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Elizabeth Vargas, Harold Ford and the Latest on The Matrix Awards

Lunch At MichaelsI was joined today by Liz Kaplow, president and CEO of the eponymous marketing communications firm she started in 1991. Kaplow’s client list is full of industry leaders, including Target, Unilever, Timex, CVS and Laura Mercier. I’ve known Liz forever and seen her in this very dining room presiding over many a power lunch — the last time with Microsoft executives who were meeting with her to talk about the latest technological innovations from Skype, another client. We chatted briefly that day and realizing we’d never had a proper sit down, decided then and there to make a date. So here we are. In preparing for our lunch, I did a quick read through of Kaplow’s website and was blown away by the awards and accolades that Liz and her team have collected recently. The New York Observer ranked Kaplow No. 13 on their inaugural PR Power List last year. Kaplow’s “Branded Journalism” program with Skype was named one of the top global PR campaigns of 2013 by The Holmes Report (which also named Kaplow Consumer Agency of the Year in 2011). And to think all this started because, Liz told me, “I wanted to have more flexibility to be with my kids” when her two daughters were growing up.

Liz Kaplow and Diane Clehane

Liz Kaplow and Diane Clehane

Liz opened her own agency in 1991 with the costume jewelry company Monet as her first client and quickly added to that list with forward-thinking strategic planning. By the mid-90s, Kaplow ventured into the technology sector with iVillage as a client. “We didn’t have the technical background, but we understood women and how to reach that consumer — we won the business while we were in the room doing the pitch.” Over the past two decades, Liz has become one of the most respected women in PR and is known for her approach in developing and executing marketing and public relations campaigns across all platforms that connect her clients’ brands with consumers through, as she likes to say, “the art of storytelling.” As she explained it: “Every brand has a different story to tell and today they want to tell it through all different platforms.” With that as a guiding principal, Kaplow has focused on integrating social media and emerging technologies with well-established media platforms to ensure clients’ get the maximum impact from their PR campaigns. “PR has to be much more holistic today,” she told me. “Traditional print media is still very, very important as a third party and ‘earned’ versus ‘paid’ media. Clients say the power of influence comes in very different ways. There is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Every client needs a customized approach.”

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Woody Johnson, Jared Kushner and a Haute New Hollywood Handbag Designer

LunchAtMichaelsSince so many media mavens and talking heads have headed to the West Coast for Oscar week, my lunch today with designer Michelle Vale was particularly timely. Just a few days ago, Michelle sent off several of her handbags to LaLa land in hopes that a certain Best Actress nominee will walk down the red carpet carrying one of her creations come Sunday night. If the actress, whose name for the moment is top secret (“But she’s a big Oscar person!”) utters Michelle’s name when she is asked the million dollar question of the night — “Who are you wearing?” — by E!’s Giuliana Rancic, that could mean very big things for the designer. “You never know what’s going to happen,” Michelle told me. “An actress can pick a dress and change her mind at the last minute. She can look in her suitcase and pick up something else. I won’t know until I see her on television.”

Diane Clehane and Michelle Vale

Diane Clehane and Michelle Vale

No stranger to the celebrity scene, Michelle’s collection of sophisticated, versatile designs that allow women to customize their bags by selecting a variety of  different hardware and straps  — all made right her in New York City — have been worn by Sarah Jessica Parker, Cameron Diaz, Kate Bosworth and Kate Beckinsale. Michelle also managed to score valuable television exposure on Gossip Girl, a favorite of fashionistas everywhere where posh Upper East Siders played by Blake Lively and Leighton Meester toted around the Amex Black cards in Michelle Vale handbags.

While fashion was part of Michelle’s DNA — dad was a senior vice president of Sasson Jeans, favored by aspiring disco divas everywhere in the 80s, and mom once owned a boutique, she never planned on going into the business as a career. “I used to go to Studio 54 with my father,” Michelle told me. “It was such a big part of my childhood that I wanted to something completely different, so I got a master’s in counseling  children which, as it turns out, has come in handy in this business.” It was when the accidental designer got pregnant quickly after getting married that she decided she wanted to do something that allowed her to stay at home with her newborn son. “I literally started the business with my son in my lap,” she said.

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A Conversation with Robert De Niro’s Film Archivist | New Dish on Gone With The Wind

LunchAtMichaelsI was joined today by my good friend ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong who I first met (where else?) in this very dining room seven years ago. Joe has introduced me to countless interesting folks over the years including Carl Bernstein, Elton John and the late Elizabeth Edwards. He’s had a long and storied career in journalism having been at the top of the masthead of Rolling Stone and New York Magazine as publisher and has served as a trusted advisor to ABC News. These days when he’s not holding court here at Michael’s or dispensing invaluable advice to his faithful friends in the media biz, he’s a tireless champion of many worthwhile causes and institutions including the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin where he sits of the board of directors. Back in the day, Joe was editor in chief of the Texas Law Forum at the University of Texas School of Law. (Harry Ransom was his beloved mother’s English teacher — “Everything comes full circle!”) Today, he invited me to join the Center’s film curator Steve Wilson,  Alicia Dietrich, public affairs representative and  Jennifer Tisdale director of public affairs who dazzled me with fascinating stories about the Center’s extensive collection of Hollywood memorabilia among many other types of cultural and literary artifacts — just in time for the upcoming Oscars.

At Table One: Front (from left) Steve Wilson, Diane Clehane, Jennifer Tisdale; Back: Alicia Dietrich and Joe Armstrong

At Table 1: Front (from left) Steve Wilson, Diane Clehane and Jennifer Tisdale; Back: Alicia Dietrich and Joe Armstrong

The gang was in town to meet with various news outlets to discuss the Center’s upcoming ’The Making of Gone With the Wind” exhibition, timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of one of the most iconic movies of all time. The exhibition will run from Sept. 9 through Jan. 4, 2015 and is a must-see for film buffs. Gone With the Wind was the most nominated film of 1939, scoring 13 Academy Award nominations, including a nod for Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to be nominated and win for Best Supporting Actress. No small feat since that year was truly one of Hollywood’s best with Wuthering Heights and The Wizard of Oz also competing for little gold men that year. Among the 300 items drawn from the Center’s collection from David O. Selznick‘s archives that will be on view: rare audition footage, storyboards from the film and three original gowns worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, including the famous “green curtain” dress, marking the first time these costumes were on view together in 25 years. A gloriously illustrated exhibition catalog of the same title was published by the Center and University of Texas Press last fall with a foreword written by Turner Classic Movie host and film historian Robert Osborne.

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David Zaslav, John Sykes, Susan Spencer and the Dish on What Bill Clinton Did Last Night

LunchAtMichaelsIt turns out the third time was the charm for my long-delayed lunch with Woman’s Day EIC Susan Spencer. Having been kept away from Michael’s first by the onset of the polar vortex and then, a few weeks later, by the snowstorm of the week, we finally managed to meet at 55th and Fifth today. Perfect timing, after all, because Susan was still buzzing about The 11th Annual Woman’s Day Red Dress Awards held last night at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall. The sold-out event, benefiting the American Heart Association, boasted a glittering gallery of A-list stars, including actress and singer Rita Wilson who acted as host; her Oscar-winning husband Tom Hanks (who, we’re told, was happy to relinquish the spotlight to his wife); actress Jennie Garth, who received the Campbell Soup Company’s Healthy Heart Award; and the Today show’s Hoda Kotbwho introduced singer Sara Bareilles and The Voice winner Judith Hill. None other than President Bill Clinton was on hand to accept an award on behalf of The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation for its work towards improving heart health by fighting childhood obesity. “I guess people hadn’t read their programs,” Susan told me, “But when I was introducing him and said, ‘Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States,’ there was an audible gasp in the room. Something happened when he appeared on stage. He really drew people in and set the tone for a truly memorable evening.”

Susan Spencer and Diane Clehane

Susan Spencer and Diane Clehane

Susan told me that Clinton made some ”very personal” and “humble” remarks about his own experience as an overweight youngster. “Don’t clap!” he told the crowd, who was clearly charmed by his story. “This is a serious issue.” So serious, in fact, that virtually every star who attended the awards has a personal connection to the disease. Rita Wilson’s father suffered from heart disease and Jennie Garth discovered she had a leaky heart value when she was just 30 years old. The disease, which is the number one killer of women, also hits very close to home for many Woman’s Day readers. So much so, that last June Susan and her team launched the magazine’s Live Longer & Stronger Challenge, for which they selected six women from around the country who had or were at risk of heart disease and designed a nutritional and lifestyle program for them with nutrition columnist Joy Bauer. The group stayed connected to the magazine and Bauer through a private Facebook page, texts and emails. “We want to raise awareness that this doesn’t just happen to women in their 50s; it can happen in your 20s and 30s,” she said.

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