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Lunch: ‘Bag Lady’ & Madoff Victim Alexandra Penney: ‘Writing Well is the Best Revenge!’

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— DIANE CLEHANE

Things must be looking up in the journalism biz, because Michael’s dining room was jam packed with media folks of every stripe. While CEOs and spinmeisters held court from their usual perches, writers and editors were shoehorned in all over the place. I was glad I got there early because I bumped into former Self editor-in-chief Alexandra Penney, who I had not talked to since she authored the much buzzed about book, How to Make Love to a Man. “That was another life ago,” said Alexandra. I’ll say. Last fall, I was riveted by her posts on The Daily Beast where she chronicled the emotional and financial devastation that almost consumed her when she lost everything thanks to Bernie Madoff‘s ponzi scheme.

Alexandra bravely wrote about her experiences for Tina Brown‘s site under posts dubbed ‘The Bag Lady Papers,” because, she says simply, “I needed money.” When agent Ed Victor read her deeply personal revelations he told her, “I think you might have a book here.” And indeed she did. The Bag Lady Papers is due out February 16 from Hyperion’s Voice imprint. “When something like this happens, it either galvanizes you or devastates you. I chose to be galvanized because I had to. It’s amazing what you can do when you really need to.”

I was joined today by another enterprising woman, my good friend Dr. Robi Ludwig. In addition to her thriving private practice as a psychotherapist, Robi is a frequent contributor to the Today show where she weighs in on modern relationships and the celebrity crack-up of the moment. She’s logged plenty of airtime trying to get inside Tiger Woods‘ marital meltdown, and she and Redbook‘s editor-in-chief Stacy Morrison dished with Al Roker just yesterday on what couples are fighting about most these days (If you guessed money, you’re right). When Robi is not seeing patients or lending her expert opinion on matters of the heart, she keeps busy with her “inspirational” jewelry line for QVC, Dr. Robi. After her first book, Till Death Do Us Part: Inside the Mind of A Killer Spouse (Atria), kept her busy on the talk show circuit, she is now hard at work on her second which will offer tips on how to have a happier marriage during these stressful times. Earlier this month, she also signed on as a contributor to care.com, an online community and comprehensive source for people searching for caregivers of all kinds from babysitters to eldercare workers. “I’ve always loved the idea of not pigeonholing myself,” says Robi. “There’s no reason to do just one thing if you’re passionate about a lot different things.” Obviously.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. The “Imber Gang”: Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina, Andy Bergman and Michael Kramer.

2. A casually clad Paul Wilmot (loved the sweater!) and Omnicom’s CEO Tom Harrison

3. ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong and Norris Mailer

4. Former William Morris chairman Jim Wiatt and Quadrangle Group’s Josh Steiner


5. Paula Zahn (We’re loving your new show on Discovery ID!) and agent Paul Fedorko

6. Ben Stein (Andrew‘s son) with, we’re told, some important business types from India.

7. HL Group’s Lynn Tesoro

8. Jim Abernathy, CEO of The Abernathy MacGregor Group and author Lisa Birnbach

9. Dr. Robi Ludwig and yours truly

11. Public relations powerhouse Leslee Dart and The New York TimesLynn Hirshberg

12. A fun-loving table of power gals: Latina’s Cindy Lewis, Mickey Ateyeh and her cousin (who knew?) Jackie Leo. Since we were sitting right next to each other, I leaned in to say hello to everyone and was thrilled to get a chance to chat with Jackie, who I’ve known since her days at Reader’s Digest. These days, Jackie is riding high with the success of her new book, Seven: The Number for Health, Love & Success, now in its second printing after just being released on December 7 from Twelve. Congrats!

14. Hearst’s high priestess Cathie Black

15. Tamara Mellon, the marketing genius behind Jimmy Choo, rocking a chic grey mini with the company’s CEO Joshua Shulman.

16. There were some big doings afoot at this table where the revolving cast of characters included Nielsen’s Gerry Byrne, Bobby Friedman and Richard Smullen, co-founder and CEO of beezag.com.

17. CNN’s Jon Klein and Glen Greenberg

18. Toni Goodale and Alexandra Penney

20. My friend Jill Brooke, whose latest piece on marriage and money for Westchester Wag perfectly captures the current angst of the Hudson Valley’s real life desperate housewives. We hear her lunchmate was a scribe from Huffington Post.

21. Quest‘s Chris Meigher with another distinguished looking gent

22. Allen & Co.’s Steven Greenberg

23. TV Guide’s head honcho Jack Kliger and Steven Blacker

24. Money man Martin Puris

25. Pavaia Hardcourt’s Jordan Ringel

26. Estee Lauder’s Alexandra Trower with another elegant looking lady.

27. Fab fashionista Jacqui Lividini and two well-dressed gals.

28. Abernathy & MacGregor’s Tom Johnson

29. My pal, publicist extraordinaire Catherine Saxton, who settled into her own perch after spending half the time at Gerry Byrne‘s table.

Please send comments and corrections to DianeClehane AT mediabistro Dot com and lunch at mediabistro DOT com.

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