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Lunch: Where the Magic Happens

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— DIANE CLEHANE

I thought I’d seen just about everything from my regular perch at Michael’s during my weekly visits, but today topped all. They were serving up sides of card tricks with the Cobb salads today and the gang was just eating it up. When I arrived, illusionist JB Benn was standing at the bar shuffling a deck of playing cards for Frank Gifford as his pals Hunter Millington — yes, Steve‘s brother — and Chris Graham looked on. He asked the gridiron great to sign a card and place it back in the deck. After a great deal of slow-mo shuffling, he finally pulled out the very same card from a sealed envelope in his jacket pocket.”I better make sure I’ve still got my watch,” quipped Frank. JB then drafted me into service asking me how many dollar bills he was holding in his hands. Frank and I both agreed he had four single dollars. Literally, right before our eyes the bills turned into hundreds. Within minutes, a crowd had gathered and there were gasps all around. I wouldn’t be surprised if JB is now booked between now and 2010 as the entertainment at parties from the Upper East Side to Easthampton as result of his impromptu performance this afternoon.

The utterly charming and adorable Mr. Benn (“He looks like a better-looking Tom Cruise,” said one smitten diner) made the rounds in the dining room eliciting applause all around. When I saw how wowed Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb were after the illusionist worked his magic on them, I suggested they might want to have him on the show to make ‘Sam the Cooking Guy’ disappear. In case you haven’t heard, Sam caused quite a stir on Today last Wednesday’s show in a segment during the fourth hour when he basically told the co-hosts to shut up and let him talk about his salad when he thought they had gotten too chatty. Sam clearly didn’t know what to do when he realized he had actually verbalized what he was thinking. He then sputtered out the ingredients of his salad while Kathie Lee and Hoda just watched him squirm — a classic TV moment. But, says Kathie Lee, Sam isn’t banished from the set. “I’m big on second chances,” she says. But be warned, Sam. “I forgive — but I don’t forget.”

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Woody Johnson (sporting a discreet ‘McCain‘ button) and a squadron of suits. Just asking: Is the Jets’ owner advising Michael’s on personal seat licensing?

2. Three members of the ‘Imber Gang’: Dr. Gerry Imber, Andy Berger and Jerry Della Femina. I had a great chat with Jerry about AMC’s runaway hit “Mad Men.” (If you haven’t tuned in, check it out on Sunday nights at 10 p.m. It’s the best dramatic series on television right now — seriously) Turns out the legendary ad man was one of a select few that got an early look at the script for the series’ pilot because creator Matthew Weiner wanted to make sure he got every detail right, from the Brooks Brothers suits worn by the execs to the nonstop smoking that helped fuel the creative fire on Madison Avenue in the early sixties. Jerry, who had a “four pack a day” habit back then, says the show has been a boon for business. “For the longest time nobody wanted to be in advertising. Everybody wanted to be an investment banker. Now, because of the show, people are talking about advertising again. It’s revitalized the industry. I’m back in fashion again!” Indeed.

3. ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong, producer Joan Gelman and marketing strategist and frequent CNN contributor Robert Zimmerman (glad to hear you’re a ‘Lunch’ fan!). Before my good pal Joe — who is jetting off to Europe this week for a much-deserved vacation — and his fellow Democratic boosters settled down for lunch they, too, were dazzled by Mr. Benn’s sleight of hand. Before they could dash off to their table I asked Robert, who is privy to the inner workings of the Democratic party, for his thoughts on who will be Barack Obama’s running mate. The suddenly taciturn strategist demurred, but offered his thoughts on who it should be — “Joe Armstrong, of course.” Remember, you heard it here first.

4. Gerald Schoenfeld and Carnegie Hall head Clive Gillinson


5. Frank Gifford and Herb Siegal

6. Today BFFs Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb with departing producer Brian Balthazar (he’s leaving the nest Friday and moving over to HGTV) and Kathie Lee’s right hand gal “Christine.” And yes, Frank did sit with his wife until Herb arrived.

7. Producer Jon Hart having lots of laughs with a gal pal

8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia with a lovely-looking blonde gal in Oscar de la Renta

9. Uber agent Ed Victor and Tim Dugan

10. Jolie Hunt and “Harry” who got an effusive hello and hug from her when she arrived…

11. Bonnie Timmerman with Richard Belzer (who, my spies tell me, dined in the very same spot the day before).

12. Esquire‘s David Granger with MSNBC’s man of the moment Joe Scarborough, his co-host Mika Brzezinski and a fellow we didn’t recognize.

14. Jazz great Wynton Marsalis and Viacom’s Michael Fricklag

15. Showtime’s chairman Matt Blank. The network’s on quite a roll these days with their Emmy noms for “Dexter” and “Weeds.” We can’t wait to get a look at their newest offering, the just-announced “Studio 54,” which will depict the bygone era of sex, drugs, and disco in all its decadent glory. Word is the only real-life character from the period that will be part of the series is Steve Rubell (makes sense, since he’s not around to sue). The rest of the revelers will be ‘composites’ of the infamous folk who swung on those velvet ropes. Perhaps Liza will make a cameo.

16. Nick Verbitsky with Jim Higgins

17. Jim Abernathy and Nancy Murray

18. Legendary lensman Harry Benson and David Friend

19. Glam Media’s Dan Lagani

20. New York Post‘s gossip guru Richard Johnson (looking debonair in seersucker) lunching with his handsome young son Jack

21. Peter Price and, we’re told, an unidentified exec from Nielsen

22. David Poltrack

23. Ed Blier and Peter Wolf

24. Nick E. Rubinstein

25. My pal Tom Goodman with Elizabeth Jensen

26. Reader’s Digest editrix Barbara O’Dair with Jesse Kornbluth

27. Michael Kassen

28. Showtime’s Stu Zakim having a “catch-up” lunch with marketing maven Linn Tanzman. The two worked together for Jann Wenner in another life…

30. People‘s Betsey Gleick

It was even SRO at the bar. Food Network fixture Gordon Elliot and Carol Perkins chatted with me about their joint venture, Harry Barker, an upscale line of gourmet treats for dogs. “We’re at Bendels!” says Carol. If you’re feeling particularly fuzzy about Fido this week, stop in and pick up something.

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

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