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Dishing With Countess LuAnn de Lesseps; Willie Geist and Lawrence O’Donnell Hold Court

lunch logoThe oppressive heat couldn’t keep the faithful away  from Michael’s today. I haven’t seen the place this crowded in ages as most tables were set for four (or more). In fact, the place was so jam packed that TV Guide magazine acting CEO and Wednesday regular Jack Kliger was seated in the Garden Room. Unlike a few people I could mention, Jack is far too cool to care  about something as petty as seating arrangements. Just like the rest of the crowd — not.

Carole Radziwill, one of the more recent additions to the cast of  The Real Housewives of New York City was first to arrive in the dining room today. The alarmingly thin socialite was sporting a curious furry accessory that was neither pet nor purse, sky-high platforms and a sweet flowered dress. Carole passed the time waiting for the rest of her party to arrive by taking pictures of the life-size sculptures of sheep that stand in the restaurant’s lounge. Alrighty then.

Speaking of Housewives, I was joined today by one of my favorite members of the franchise, LuAnn de Lesseps, who drove in from the Hamptons for our tete a tete. The statuesque former model (she’s 5’10″!) has always seemed like one of the more down to earth — and dare we say normal — Bravolebrities. She was all that and more. PR princess extraordinaire Catherine Saxton, who knows everyone who is anyone and is off to the south of France in a few days for the first of the big St. Tropez parties aboard Denise Rich‘s yacht, then go off to join Ivana Trump for her party in St. Tropez  before finally landing in Monte Carlo for a whirlwind of swanky dinners (Can we carry your luggage?), arranged for today’s ladies’ lunch. Between bites of crab cakes and salmon tartare, we chatted about LuAnn’s sixth season on RHNYC, her various projects and, of course, her love life. It’s no secret that LuAnn was one of the last ladies to sign on to the new season of the show. “I waited until I was happy with their offer,” she told me, dismissing rumors that the cast was banding together for salary increases. “Things were handled individually.” While she’s too polite to talk about such gauche topics as money — she did write the manners manual Class with the Countess: How to Live With Elegance and Flair, after all!  But she is upfront about her reasons for sticking with the show. “It’s a great platform.” All the better to ride the wave as long as you can, no? Mais oui! ”We didn’t expect it to last this long,” said LuAnn.

Catherine Saxton, Diane Clehane and LuAnn de Lesseps

Like most of the industrious Housewives set, LuAnn has managed to turn in her 15 minutes into a fledgling empire that includes her book, the record “Money Can’t Buy You Class” and several product lines like tabletop that includes melamine dinnerware and elegant bone china which is currently being sold on QVC and Amazon.com (“Inspired by my love of entertaining and my travels”). Next up is a collection of turquoise jewelry with Gem Stone King. “I love costume jewelry!” she said as she flashed a Wilma Flinstone-inspired pearl bracelet by Twisted. Clearly, the serious bling encased in gold on her finger today was the real thing. “Yes, it’s a star sapphire. This ring was designed by the same man who has done jewelry for Queen Elizabeth.” And not, I’m guessing, available on QVC.

LuAnn tells me she’s having a particularly busy summer, because, in addition to shooting the new season of Housewives, she’s trying to spend as much time as possible with her two teenagers: daughter Victoria, an artist who is studying at Pratt and son Noel who is building his own skateboard park at home and running a business, Fancy Fool Skateboards. (If you’re in the Hamptons, you can pick up one of his designs at The Surf Shop in Sag Habor. I guess the entrepreneur gene runs in the family. LuAnn told me she has been careful to keep as much of her life (and the lives of her children) private while being part of a franchise which has made its name by having the cast expose the most intimate and often tragic details of their lives.

“It’s a reality show, but it’s up to me to choose the reality I want to show,” explained LuAnn. Of the current cast, she told me she’s closest to Heather Thomson and chooses her words carefully when I ask what group of ladies she enjoyed working with the most. “They’re different. Every group has its own dynamic.” She says she “wasn’t surprised” by Bethenny Frankel’s spilt from her husband Jason Hoppy who first met during Frankel’s tenure of RHNYC but won’t say a bad word about any of her current or former castmates. “I’m supportive of all the ‘Housewives.’”

Unlike many of the other ladies who have used their ill-fated love lives to gain more screen time (You know who I’m talking about, don’t you?), LuAnn chose the opposite approach. “I never let any of my personal agony play out on the show,” referring to her divorce from Count Alexandre de Lesseps. “My marriage wasn’t going great,” she admitted. “Did the show help? No. But it didn’t end it either. It’s difficult [to do reality TV] if you’re having difficulty in your marriage, but you can choose what parts of your life you open up to the cameras.” Staying out of the sob sister sorority certainly hasn’t kept this fan favorite from getting her share of screen time.

Today the countess (yes, she’s still a countess) is happily in love with French businessman Jacques Azoulay. The couple has been together four years and, when I asked LuAnn if marriage is in the cards for the lovebirds, she told me: “There’s been talk.”  We’ll keep an eye out for our engraved invite when the big day rolls around.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. HollywoodLife.com’s Bonnie Fuller and Penske Media vice chair Gerry Byrnepresiding over their monthly lunch. In attendance:  Carole Radziwill, Liz Aiello of Sirius XM, Live from the Couch host Carolina Bermudez, Empire Entertainment’s JB Miller, Katie‘s  Ethan Nelson, AOL’s Maureen Sullivan, Krupp Kommunications head Heidi Krupp-Lisiten, Wilma Jordan and Black Ocean’s Oliver Ripley.

2.  Accessories maven Mickey Ateyeh and three pals

3. David Zinczenko and Steve Perrine (Loved the summer look!) talking PR for their upcoming slate of books for Zinc Ink and AMI with Susan Corcoran, VP/director of publicity for Ballantine Bantam Dell and Random House’s Theresa Zoro. Just asking:  Did the ‘The Zinc Effect,’ which has resulted in a double-digit increase of the newsstand sales of Men’s Fitness since Dave was brought in as consulting editorial director, have anything to do with the delivery truck sporting a mile-high poster of the July issue of Men’s Fitness right in front of Michael’s today? Or was it just a coincidence? Hmm…

4. Ron Perelman, sporting a baseball cap embellished with a ‘P’ and toting his own lumbar pillow. Ron came over numerous times to give hugs and kisses to Desiree Gruber, who was seated right net to me. Must be nice to have friends in high places.

5. Agent Ed Victorlooking natty in his summer fedora

6. New York magazine publisher Larry Bernstein

7.  LuAnn De Lesseps, Catherine Saxton and yours truly

8. The Today show’s Willie Geist  and Esquire EIC David Granger with a fellow who was a dead ringer for Mike McQueary and an unidentified bearded gent.  We did a double take when we saw the red head along with quite a few other folks who swore it was the former Penn State football assistant coach, but it turned out to be his doppelganger.

9. New York City Council president Andrew Stein

10. Desiree Gruber and Kevin Sheekey. Desiree gets my vote for today’s best dressed. She sailed into the dining room looking inexplicably cool in a gorgeous black and white ensemble and toting a snow white Birkin bag. What’s your secret?

11. Michael J. Wolf

12. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell with The Hill‘s Bob Cusack and Lisa Dallos

14. John Frankenheimer

15. Mark Rosenthal (Nice to meet you!) and Amazon.com’s Sara Nelson

16. Producer Joan Gelman

81. CBS spin meister Gil Schwartz

17. Showtime’s main man, Matt Blankwith Kenneth Lefkowitz. These are heady days at Showtime with Ray Donovan garnering plenty of buzz as the hot cable drama of the moment. We’re hooked — and think casting Jon Voight as the heavy was pure genius.

18. Charles Koppelman and family

20. Literary agent Frederica Friedman

21. Alan Patricof 

22. PR maven Susan Blond

23. Hearst’s Jeannette Chang

24. Discover Digital Group managing director Scott Singer with Scott Stephens, founder and CEO of FanVsFan.com; Mark Ford, EVP and Time Inc.’s sports group president; and Jim DeLorenzo, VP and GM of SI.com and Golf.com.

25. PR maestro Tom Goodman with his longtime pal, media expert Kevin Goldman. Tom told me it was Kevin that got him his first job at CBS and later helped him land his first client, British Airways, when he started his own shop. “And I’ve never reciprocated in any major way,” said Tom before the guys sat down at their table. I suggested Kevin order the lobster and some champagne for lunch. That should even the score.

26. Fortune‘s Pattie Sellers – in jeans!

27. Rick Kaplan with a group that included, so we’re told, the chancellor of the University of Illinois. Just thought you’d like to know.

28. Richard Bressler

29. Mitch Rosenthal

30.  The Early Show:  Hearst Design Group EIC Newell Turner with interior designer Jamie Drake. It’s Jamie who’s responsible for the luxe look of several of Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s humble abodes. Act two: Scalamandre president Steven Stolman with Connecticut-based philanthropist Scott Brackett, who is revving up to begin decorating his new Upper East Side townhouse. Three guesses on who’s supplying the fabulous fabrics.

We missed two of our favorite regulars today but understand they had a whopper of a good reason for being MIA. Congratulations to The Wall Street Journal‘s David Sanford and Lewis Stein on the occasion of their marriage. The longtime couple tied the knot this morning in Brooklyn. We can’t wait to toast the newlyweds next Wednesday! See you then.

Please send comments and corrections to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.

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