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Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Pfeiffer.’

Isabella Rossellini’s Animal Instincts

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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.

Isabella Rossellini and Diane Clehane

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.”

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Shirley MacLaine Stops by a Birthday Party for Liz Smith

1003_mockup.gifI knew it was going to be quite the scene at Michael’s today when a little birdie told me that there was going to be a lunch for Liz Smith celebrating the grand dame of gossip’s upcoming birthday at Table One. Suffice to say I wasn’t disappointed. None other than Shirley MacLaine stopped by to say hello to Liz (more on why later), and I got to chat with the legendary actress about her guest-starring stint on Downton Abbey. While the entire restaurant swiveled in our general direction, I jumped up from my seat to ask about her experience on PBS’ smash hit and she couldn’t have been more gracious.

“I loved doing the show,” she told me. “Everyone was so welcoming and great about everything. I was amazed that no matter what the weather — because it rained a lot when we were shooting — they all went on as if the sun was shining. They were wonderfully professional.” Her character, Martha Levinson, appeared in only two episodes but left quite an impact on viewers — particularly when Martha sparred with Violet, the Dowager Countess played by the legendary Maggie Smith. “That was one of my favorite days on the set,” Ms. MacLaine told me of the scene where she and Ms. Smith sat for hours in a church pew waiting for the ill-fated wedding of Lady Edith to begin. “We spent eight hours talking about life, and we never ran out of things to say.” I bet. Before she dashed out the door — she only stayed long enough to say her hellos — I asked whether she’d be returning to the series and she said, “Yes. We start shooting soon. I’m looking forward to it.” So are we.

Liz Smith with her party pals and her armadillo cake

Now, back to Liz’s lunch (described as a “southern confab”), which Hearst’s Deb Shriver put together with scribe Julia Reed and ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong. Deb was putting the finishing touches on the table, which included a bouquet of yellow roses arranged in Joe’s Texas bronzed boot and a specially designed menu (fried chicken, collard greens and corn bread) featuring a photo of Liz at a year old. Liz and Joe have a long friendship that dates back to 1968 when Joe first arrived in New York and met the fellow Texan. They forged an unbreakable bond. “I didn’t know one person when I came here and found out she was raised a block from where my mama grew up in Fort Worth. She was the only person I met who I thought didn’t talk with an accent.” The two have been great pals ever since.

Shirley MacLaine stops by Michael’s

Southern belle Deb, who has written two fabulous books on New Orleans including the gorgeous Stealing Magnolias: Tales from a New Orleans Courtyard, surprised Liz with one of the most unusual birthday cakes ever served at Michael’s or anywhere else for that matter, and had a Brooklyn baker recreate the Steel Magnolias armadillo red velvet cake. Ms. MacLaine, as you might recall, was one of the stars of the 1989 film, and she arrived with the film’s screenwriter Robert Harling to jazz up the festivities. They departed before Michael’s staff paraded through the dining room with the life-size armadillo on a platter, raising  more than a few eyebrows. Clearly thrilled by the gesture, Liz was served the head of the baked beast while the rest of the guests dug into the ‘carcass.’ Mmm… yummy.

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Lisa Vanderpump Dishes on the Beverly Hills Housewives, Wendy Williams Holds Court

1003_mockup.gifHappy New Year — now let’s get  back to business. The power lunch season is back in full swing at Michael’s, so we’re serving up a double helping of ‘Lunch’ this week.

On Tuesday, Lisa Vanderpump and her husband Ken Todd joined me along with Bravo’s Jennifer Geisser and Jodi Davis at Table One to talk about her new Bravo series, Vanderpump Rules and, of course, dish about the current season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Lisa was wrapping up a whirlwind 48-hour stop in New York to promote her new show and in the last 24 hours appeared on Good Morning America, The Wendy Williams Show, Joy Behar, Anderson Live and Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen where, so I heard, things got a little bawdy. It took a few minutes for Lisa and Ken to make their way to our table, because several RHOBH fans stopped them to ask to take a photo with Giggy, their Pomeranian who accompanies them everywhere. It turns out Giggy also has a famous fan in Alec Baldwin, who Lisa told me, jumped out of his town car at 30 Rock that very morning and asked, “Can I hold him?” He then snapped his own photo with the four-legged reality star who has his own Twitter handle. See, Andrea Peyser, the 30 Rock star does have a heart.

When Lisa and Ken settled in for our chat and Giggy, who was wearing a jewel encrusted sweater that I’m pretty sure cost more than my dress, was safely seated and drinking water out of a champagne glass (you can’t make this stuff up) — I just had to ask why this very successful, smart and even-keeled couple jumped into the reality show pool of insanity in the first place. It turns out Ken was “extremely apprehensive” about letting in the cameras in, and Lisa turned down requests many times before deciding to give it a try. None other than Jennifer Flavin (Mrs. Sylvester Stallone), who was obsessed with the New York housewives, encouraged Lisa to try out. “We were sitting on Jennifer and Sly’s bed and she said, ‘You have to watch this.’ I did and thought, ‘I’d never do anything like that.’” Well, never say never. After finally auditioning for the show and then waiting months to hear from the producers, Lisa decided she did want in. “Once I thought it might not happen then I wanted it,” said Lisa with a laugh. While awaiting word from Bravo, Lisa had attached herself to another reality show with friend Kathy Hilton, but when Andy Cohen came calling she was in. And that, as they say, was that.

Ken Todd, Diane Clehane, Giggy the dog, Lisa Vanderpump

Ken Todd, Diane Clehane, Giggy the dog, Lisa Vanderpump

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Tom Brokaw, Randi Zuckerberg and David Zinczenko’s Next Chapter

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As any self-respecting power luncher knows, December is no time to slack off and dip into the egg nog. Quite the contrary. The noontime hour during the holidays may be reserved for a little shopping for those that still go the brick and mortar route, but the regulars at Michael’s know that now is the time to get real business done, score some valuable face time and plot your next big move. As one mogul told me today, “I’ll celebrate in January. Now is the best time to get in there when the competition isn’t looking.” Consider yourself warned.

Judging from the interesting combinations of folks at the tables around the dining room today, I’d say there are plenty of movers and shakers whose New Year’s resolutions involve making some changes to the resume and fattening up that portfolio (even if the tax man is going to come looking for a bigger piece of the action come 2013). There were so many suits in the lounge eagerly awaiting to be seated when I showed up that I thought there was some kind of Wall Street holiday hoo-ha going on.  The appearance of Mark Zuckerberg‘s sister Randi Zuckerberg with AOL’s Jolie Hunt caused a bit of stir, and I spotted more than a handful of mavens “in transition” who have seemingly aligned themselves with some interesting power players in hopes for a brighter new year. Here’s hoping.

I was invited to join ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong and David Zinczenko for a dishy lunch. While Joe and I waited for Dave to arrive, I noticed that the Mayor’s omnipresent, tri-colored western boot that doubles as a centerpiece when he’s in the house had been replaced by a bigger, bronze version. The Mayor tells me that he decided to keep the red, white and blue version at home for safe keeping. It’s signed by music men Jimmy Buffet, Willie Nelson, Fats Domino and Elton John (on the day Joe hosted a lunch for Elton in celebration of the Broadway debut of Billy Elliot in this very dining room), as well as Laura Bush who happened to spy it on Joe’s table during a visit a while back and whipped out a Sharpie before Joe knew what hit him.

Diane Clehane, David Zinczenko and Joe Armstrong

I couldn’t wait to catch up with Dave when he arrived. His headline-making departure from Rodale a few weeks ago after his incredibly successful tenure at the top has gotten plenty of coverage. Just this week Women’s Wear Daily and AdAge weighed in, with the latter speculating on “Rodale’s Rocky Road” in the face of Dave’s exit. As you undoubtedly know, Dave was the high-profile  face and voice of the Men’s Health brand, with regular appearances on the Today show and scores of other shows from Ellen to Oprah. His much imitated Eat This, Not That bestsellers became their own franchise for Rodale, cementing the company’s place in pop culture as long as Dave kept churning out different versions.

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Bette Midler, Blythe Danner and Chris Noth’s Advice for President Obama

1003_mockup.gifIf you felt the tremors in midtown around noon, it’s because 55th and Fifth nearly buckled under the weight of all the star power at Michael’s today. Between the Hollywood A-listers (Bette Midler, Blythe Danner, Kate Capshaw),  Democratic dynamos (Kerry Kennedy, Betsy Gotbaum) and talking heads (Star Jones), I was getting a serious case of whiplash trying to keep track of it all.

Just when I thought the crowd had settled in, I spied Chris Noth sitting alone at the bar, and I just couldn’t resist going over for a quick chat. While Julianna Marguilies‘ errant TV husband on The Good Wife waited for his pal, producer Fred Zollo, to arrive, I got him to weigh in on the show’s headline-making sex scenes. “Network television can’t go where cable does, but I did do a scene where we showed just enough oral sex in a bathroom while cable news played in the background,” Chris told me. How could we forget? “That stuff gets people talking, I guess.” Yup.

This season, while his co-star Archie Panjabi steams up the screen, his character is trying for a shot at redemption and is running for governor. “I have no idea whether or not he wins,” says Chris. The ardent Democrat tells me he has no interest in running for office himself. “I’m not one of those actors. All my skeletons are out of the closet!” He does, however, have a keen interest in who wins this year’s presidential election. “A lady on the subway asked me to take a picture with me, and I told her I would as long she voted Democrat!” When I told Chris I was lunching with Robert Zimmerman,  a Democratic National Committee member from New York and one of the party’s top fundraisers, he perked up. “I have a line I want to give him for President Obama! Can you introduce me?” I was only too happy to oblige.

When I brought Chris over to my table to meet Robert and another smart, savvy Democratic booster, producer Joan Gelman, he told Robert, “I’ve got something for Obama: A half truth is the same as a complete lie, and we’re not even hearing half truths from Romney. You ought to pass this along for the Obama circle for  the debate.” Robert assured Chris he would get his comment to the president’s handlers.  When Chris went off to his own table, Robert said, “They ought to take his advice; he’s got a higher approval rating than both parties.”

Chris Noth and Diane Clehane

Chris Noth and Diane Clehane

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Eliot Spitzer on CNN’s Identity Crisis: ‘There’s No Objectivity in Network News’

1003_mockup.gifIt was the usual Wednesday mix of moguls (Jon Tisch), media men (Richard Beckman, Mike Perlis) and television honchos (Henry Schleiff) today at Michael’s. With this Type A crowd, summer vacations are for slackers — at least until August. From the looks of things, there were plenty of deals being done (or at least pitched) between bites.

I was joined today by Eliot Spitzer and Lisa Linden. The last time the three of us had lunch, New York’s former governor was headlining his own show on CNN, In The Arena, which replaced the short-lived Parker Spitzer which he launched with co-host Kathleen Parker in 2010. About a year ago, CNN boss Ken Jautz cancelled In The Arena in a shakeup of the network’s primetime lineup. “I’m very happy with the show we did and the ratings we got, which were good to compared to what they’re getting now,” Eliot told me.  Not surprisingly, he says he prefers and is better suited for Current TV’s politically charged environment. “Current has an ideology. There’s no pretense; we’re open about it. CNN tries very hard to position itself as an non-ideological news network, but there’s no objectivity in network news. It would be better for all of us if we just accepted that.” Therein lies the major issue with his former employer’s rating woes, says Eliot: ”CNN has a serious question of what it is and they’ve got to answer that.”

Having stepped in seemingly hours after Keith Olbermann was booted from Current TV, Eliot took to the airwaves with the aptly titled Viewpoint in Olbermann’s old time slot with no promotional campaign or PR machine to attract viewers (although Olbermann’s own campaign to get his side of the story out gave the fledgling network plenty of attention). But the show does have co-founder Al Gore‘s support (he’s been a guest on Viewpoint) and Eliot says Joel Hyatt is very involved in the “day-to-day” running of the network. “They have been great. I’ve known Al since 1999 and I like him very much. He’s a great guy.” (BTW you can see what Joel had to say about all those supposed dust-ups with Olbermann in this Mediabistro interview.)

Eliot Spitzer and Diane Clehane
Eliot Spitzer and Diane Clehane

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Lunch: Valerie Bertinelli Weighs In

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— DIANE CLEHANE

As much as we love our bird’s eye perch from the bar, it’s always a treat when we’re invited to dine in the grown up section — especially when the scene is as head-spinning as it was today. Hallmark Channel’s senior vice president Jen Geisser and her power publicist Jaime Saberito made room for me at the table at a luncheon hosted by their fearless leader the consummate showman Henry Schleiff and attended by a tasty stew of bold-faced names and top executives from UNICEF that made for one interesting afternoon of Cobb salads and conversation. Henry, newly ensconced on UNICEF’s board, brought the group to together to kick off the TAP project during ‘World Water Week’ (March 16-22). The initiative was created to raise funds and awareness by asking NYC diners at select eateries around town to forego their Fiji water for good old NYC tap water and donate what they would have spent on it to help fund clean water for kids around the world. And, yes, Michael’s is participating.

The reigning queen of the celebrity diet wars Valerie Bertinelli (A 40-pound weight loss thanks to Jenny Craig!) was the guest of honor (arriving with her boyfriend Tom Vitale) having made one movie for the network with another one in the works — Mrs. Washington Goes to Smith (Catchy title!). The still adorable actress and newly minted best-selling author was busy signing books for everyone (Henry thinks of everything!) but still made time to chat with me. Her big news — her book, Losing It — And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at Time will debut at No. 1 on this week’s New York Times‘ list. “I’m so thrilled — it’s on my son’s 17th birthday and I dedicated the book to him,” she says. “I couldn’t be more blessed.” Val (we’re on a first name basis now) also confided that she’s hot on starting another book and already has an idea that’s bound to strike a chord. “I’d like to write something like Divorce & Children: Love Your Child More Than You Hate Your Ex. The list is long when one considers who might benefit from such a tome. For now, at least, it appears Silda Spitzer won’t be needing it but we’re not closing the book on that one just yet.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. The white wine was flowing in celebration of Linda Fairstein‘s latest book, Killer Heat with a table full of gals that know a little something about the subject. In attendance: Cosmo editrix Kate White, super agent Esther Newberg, former Law & Order SVU star Stephanie March, Lesley Stahl (I promise to keep my eye out for that 60 Minutes watch!) and Cynthia Lufkin (Congrats on being named The American Cancer Society’s Mother of the Year!)

2. Bobby Zarem and a Jake Gyllenhaal doppelganger.

3. Mayor Joe Armstrong who has been traveling far and wide hard at work on his upcoming book with some lovely looking ladies. Welcome back Joe, we missed you!

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