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Posts Tagged ‘Francine LeFrak’

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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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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Harvey Weinstein Leads the Movie Mogul Charge

1003_mockup.gif Any Michael’s regular worth his or her weight in Cobb salad knows that on any given Wednesday you can find the who’s who of media in the dining room. Today we spotted a talking head (Andrew Ross Sorkin) and bestselling authors (Linda Fairstein, Karin Slaughter) but were really struck by the Hollywood on the Hudson feel of today’s lunch. Everywhere you looked there were movie moguls (Who’s hotter than Harvey Weinstein at this moment?) and studio suits breaking bread with money men (read: possible investors), we’re sure, in hopes of cooking up some big deal. We’ve noticed that there is an increasing number of movie moguls (both real and the wannabe variety) making the scene on Wednesday lately, which may account for the marked uptick in glad handing and air kissing.

I was just about to sit down with my lunch date, producer Thierry Daher to talk about his new film, God Save My Shoes and the film’s publicist Miriam Driot when producer Beverly Camhe came over to introduce me to Shawn Bercuson who, she noted, “was the talk of Sundance.” It turns out that Shawn, one of the original members of the team that started Groupon, launched a new site last year  perfect for the new ways we watch movies. Prescreen.com is a curated video on demand platform designed to promote and showcase premium content. Shawn tells me the site is the first to provide long form premium content through Facebook Open Graph intergration in the U.S. When he was at Sundance, he discovered there was no platform for aggregating the festival’s trailers and viola! Now there is. When I introduced him to Thierry, they had plenty to talk about, and by the time the group adjourned to our respective tables everyone had each other’s business cards. Who needs Los Angeles?

I was eager to hear the story behind Thierry’s latest documentary which explores the fascinating relationship between women and their shoes. His previous release, Just for Kicks, explored the sneaker phenomena and the origins of Nike Air Force One and Air Jordans. “It’s not the athletes that make these shoes so popular,” Thierry told me of his discovery. “It’s the hip hop and rap stars.” To wit: Just For Kicks featured Reverend Run, Missy Elliot and Grandmaster Caz. In light of the fact that this was his second documentary on footwear, I just had to ask him  if he had some kind of a foot fetish. Nope, he said. “I’m very curious about other people’s obsessions.” As a recovering Manolo Blahnik addict, I was more than intrigued. Its turns out the idea for God Save My Shoes came to Thierry while he was making Just For Kicks. When he learned that Damon Dash owned hundreds of pairs of sneakers, the thought occurred to him: If this is what the guys have in their closets, God only knows what their wives own. Clearly, he was on to something.

Diane Clehane, Thierry Daher and Miriam DroIt
Diane Clehane, Thierry Daher and Miriam Driot

Thierry told me he spent a year writing the film’s treatment during which time he unearthed just about anything ever written on the subject and sought out women to bare their soles. The film features interviews with Kelly Rowland, Fergie of The Black Eyed Peas and Dita Von Teese who bare all about their devotion to shoes. Celebrated poker player Beth Shak, who owns over 1,000 pairs, opened up her extraordinary closet.  He also features another ‘star’ who was literally born to wear high heels: Barbie. (I won’t spoil it for you, but you’ve just got to watch). Designers Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik weigh in on their cult following and the curious bond between women and shoes.

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George Lucas, Jon Meacham and the Usual Suspects

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The media movers and shakers are starting to trickle back into the dining room at Michael’s for another year of power lunches, but the place isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders quite yet. Maybe it’s because the Golden Globes are this weekend (we are so rooting for Downton Abbey to sweep!), but the famous faces and TV titans we’ve become used to seeing were largely absent this week. Luckily, a sighting of Oscar winner and master of the Hollywood universe, George Lucas, more than made up for the dearth of divas. Practically every head in the dining room swiveled in that general direction when he walked to Table One. The force was definitely with him.

I was joined today by Tom Yellin, co-founder and executive producer of The Documentary Group, and Lisa Kovitz, executive vice president and media strategist for consumer marketing at Edelman. Tom, who previously worked at ABC News with Peter Jennings and still consults for the network, has produced a fascinating four-part documentary series, America in Primetime, which aired on PBS late last year and is just out on DVD.

Diane Clehane, Tom Yellin and Lisa Kovitz
Diane Clehane, Tom Yellin and Lisa Kovitz

Each one-hour episode, explained Tom, focused on one character archetype that has remained a prime time staple throughout the decades and has evolved over time. They are ‘The Independent Woman,’ ‘The Man of the House,’ ‘The Misfit’ and ‘The Crusader.’ The idea first came to Tom after he and Jennings had finished the much lauded The Century for ABC, and he became intrigued by the idea of “telling the story of television: the creative process from the perspective of the people who make it.” Tom soon discovered that the problems that arose from trying to produce such a series for ABC and getting the necessary clips from the other networks proved insurmountable.

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Ringing in the Holidays With Harold Ford Jr., Star Jones & Donny Deutsch

1003_mockup.gifThe holiday revelry was in high gear today at Michael’s. Those miracle workers at reception — the amazing Loreal Sherman and Joana Andrade were working overtime to keep the high maintenance crowd happy. (Trust me, doing the seating chart here is an art form!) A little lunch for 13 hosted by Michael McCarty’s wife Kim McCarty was keeping things hopping at table one while a heaping helping of talking heads (Harold Ford Jr., Star Jones, Donny Deutsch), socialites (Becca Thrash, Muffy Potter Aston) and media mavens (Cindi Leive) were toasting the season with plenty of wine and good cheer. Don’t you just love those one percenters?

Diane Clehane & Joan Gelman

I was lunching today with producer Joan Gelman who I met in this very dining room when I first began doing the column. Joan and I have had plenty of great conversations over the years about television (Joan’s amazing resume includes producing stints at CBS and ABC in news and as David Letterman’s producer who remains “a god” to her — “He’s so talented” ) and politics. These days Joan is busier than ever working on a television show she’s got in development in Canada. (The details are top secret at the moment) Shuttling back and forth between here and there is nothing new for her since she produced the hit Triple Sensation there a while back.  Joan is also a passionate Democrat who cares deeply about the issues consuming the country right now — especially the financial inequities that have ignited protests around the country. “We have to do more to even things out,” she told me. Just this morning Joan attended a gathering where U.S. Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren spoke. “She is such an amazing woman,” marvels Joan. “She’s smart, she cares and she wants to restore the spirit of the country.” Joan told me Ms. Warren’s message was a “positive” one and that she believes fervently in healing “the great divide” that has consumed the country and seeped into national politics. We both agreed that she’s facing a tough battle against incumbent Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown because female candidates are held to a different standard than their male counterparts. “She’s a brave woman.” Indeed.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

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Alexis Glick Dishes with Michelle Paterson, NY Republican Chair Talks Turner Victory

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It was SRO at Michael’s today. The dining room was a tasty mix of media mavens with a heaping helping of politicos and a dash of flash with a very tall L.A. Laker. (We don’t follow basketball, but several guys in the room made sure we knew it was Matt Barnes who made heads turn.)

I was joined by Andrew Amill, VP of media sales at Weight Watchers, who, unlike many of his colleagues in publishing is seeing some extraordinary numbers these days. “This is a record year in the history of the brand driven by The Points Plus system and [spokesperson] Jennifer Hudson,” Andy tells me. The numbers speak for themselves: Newsstand sales are up 10 percent;  print ad revenue is up eight percent. Online, the business is exploding with an impressive 25 percent jump in ad revenue.

As a lifetime members of Weight Watchers, I told Andy I’d been a longtime fan of the brand but was really impressed by their canny selection of Hudson as a spokesperson. “She has a lot of credibility with members and readers,” says Andy, and that’s translated into plenty of new members who have joined because of the amazing results the Oscar winner got from the program. In fact, the cover of this month’s issue features an attractive array of men and women, ‘real life success stories’ that attest to the program’s sweeping success. This is definitely not your mother’s Weight Watchers.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1.  Atttorney Rob Barnett, presiding over a table of business types

2.  Wayne Kabak and Lauren Green

3. Oxygen Media founder Geraldine Laybourne

4. Producer Francine LeFrak and some colorfully dressed social swells

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Matt Lauer, Harold Ford Jr. & Neil Sedaka

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— DIANE CLEHANE

If the scene at Michael’s today is any indication, summer vacations are so 2010. The place was full of magazine honchos (the cafeteria at Hearst must have been empty), media mavens (Does Jason Binn ever sleep?) and bold face names who were all working the room like nobody’s business. I knew this group meant business when the chatter rose to such a decibel-splitting level that I could barely hear what my lunch dates were saying. So forget about playing hooky this week because the weather is so good, get to work on making that next big deal happen!

When I arrived a little before noon today I got a chance to catch up with Harold Ford Jr. I asked the former congressman, now MSNBC analyst, what he thought of the contentious negotiations between President Obama and the Republicans on raising the debt ceiling. Will the two sides reach an agreement before the August deadline? “They’ll strike an 11th hour deal,” Harold told me. “They have to.” Harold thinks the president is “acting responsibly” while the freshman Republicans are “playing with fire.” His solution: “If I were advising the president, I’d say get out on a ten-city tour and talk to people and explain (in his plan) there would be no new taxes until the end of 2012.” When it comes to raising taxes, Harold espouses raising the tax threshold for individuals and households. Eat your peas, indeed.

I was joined today by Redbook’s editor-in-chief Jill Herzig and Hearst PR director Alexandra Carlin and we had a lively conversation that ranged from raising kids to keeping up (literally) with the Kardashians. Jill just celebrated her first anniversary at Redbook in May and has made some savvy tweaks to Hearst’s magazine for smart, style-conscious women who juggle work and family. The biggest change? A shift in tone from “commiserating to celebrating” life in all its glorious, modern day chaos. “We love it when we hear about that from our cover celebrities. Brooke Burke was very honest about it recently. She said balance doesn’t exist. It’s just life.” In the new August issue, Jada Pinkett Smith gives some very frank — and emotional — answers about raising a family of budding superstars, her “excruciating” choices and how she wouldn’t have it any other way. Who wouldn’t want to go home to Will Smith?

Speaking of celebs, Jill gave me the rundown on which cover gals have scored on the newsstand this year. The big winners were the multiple covers featuring reality/competition show queens Bethenny Frankel, Allison Sweeney and Padma Lakshmi, and the issue featuring country star Miranda Lambert right before she married Blake Shelton. The top seller? The May issue which featured the women of the Kardashian clan clad all in white. Jill tells me ‘momager’ Kris earned her complete respect by rounding up her daughters and arriving early for a 6 am call to the set. “They were incredibly professional and all genuinely seemed to enjoy each other. They were just lovely.”

Here’s a rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Niche Media’s Jason Binn (Loved the seersucker suit!) presiding over a table of young bucks.

2. Producer Francine LeFrak and some well-heeled pals.

3. Cosmo‘s publisher Donna Lagani and Hollywoodlife.com’s Bonnie Fuller. A little birdie told me that Bonnie and Fidelis Global’s Gerry Byrne moved their monthly ‘Influencer’ luncheon from Tuesday to Wednesday this month because Jay Penske, whose company Mail.com Media owns Hollywoodlife.com, was in town and didn’t want to miss out on all the fun. Just in case you were wondering who joined the terrific trio here’s the list: social swan and Vanity Fair scribe Amy Fine Collins , designer Stacey Bendet, Ogilvy Entertainment president Doug Scott, Maybelline’s Deborah Marquardt, ION Media Networks’ CEO Brandon Burgess, Razorfish VP of media Julie Weitzner, Charlie Corwin, founder of Original Media,  publicist Matt Hiltzik and Aly Racer, president on PMC.

4. Producer Freddie Gershorn.

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Mary Higgins Clark, The Hiltons And The Media Mob

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– DIANE CLEHANE

The sweltering heat (wasn’t it just snowing last week?) didn’t keep the regulars away from Michael’s today. The dining room was jam packed with authors, agents and media mavens all deep in conversation about who knows what. From the looks of things, the power lunch crowd here is gearing up for a busy season of neworking that has to be crammed into a four-day work week now that those summer cottages are open.  Oh, the pressure!

I was thrilled to join Vi Huse and Kira Semler for lunch today. I met them almost five years ago when I first started covering the scene at Michael’s and was fascinated by these two attractive, fun loving gals who always seemed to have a grand old time at their monthly champagne lunch (and always ate dessert!). Turns out these two good friends have been keeping their Michael’s lunch date with each other for over ten years! “This is only the second time we’ve sat in the dining room,” Vi told me.  “We always sit at the bar and it’s just become our spot.”

Today, the three of us sat with the big kids in the dining room to celebrate Vi’s 23 years as owner of Kerygma, a gallery in Ridgewood, New Jersey specializing in contemporary American art. Vi just retired yesterday but tells me she will continue to work with artists like Peter Fiore, Gerald Doudera, David Lee and Jane Owen online. Kira, a jewelry aficionado and freelance bookeeper, was one of Vi’s first clients and the gals have been fast friends ever since. Cheers!

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Mary Higgins Clark, Carolyn Reidy and a table full of pals. The indefatigable 83-year-old author was the subject of a glowing profile in The Wall Street Journal last month which chronicled her success: she’s sold 100 million books in the U.S. alone, and all 42 of her novels have been best-sellers. With I’ll Walk Alone, released in April, she’s keeping her winning streak going. We’re in awe.

2. Michael Holtzman (Peter Brown’s VP and right hand man, so we’re told.)

3. Joan TischCandace Leeds and Marcia Stein

4. The always distinguished Stan Shuman

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Charlie Rose, Bonnie Fuller And The Ex-Mr. Star Jones

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— DIANE CLEHANE

We’re a bit spoiled by the back-to-back A-list sightings of the last two weeks (Cate Blanchett! Blake Lively!), so today we had to content ourselves with wondering what the media mavens we haven’t seen in the dining room in ages (Bonnie Fuller) were up to over their Cobb Salads.

Well, at least things were pretty lively at my table. I was joined by Dr. Phillip Romero who I was introduced to in this very dining room by our mutual friend, Cablevision’s Barry Frey. I couldn’t wait to get the good doctor’s take on Charlie Sheen and the ongoing media freak show that shows no sign of slowing down. Phil told me he agreed with Celebrity Rehab’s Dr. Drew Pinsky‘s diagnosis that Sheen is bipolar. Based on his exhibiting symptoms of “hypomania, grandiosity and hyper sexualization,” says Phil, “That’s clearly what’s going on.”

Phil, who has been counseling individuals and families in crisis for over 25 years and recently published two books, The Art Imperative and Phantom Stress , is “disgusted” by the media’s apparent glee at milking their latest cash cow until it dries up — or dies. ”I am appalled at the media’s vampirizing of mental illness.” One of the worst offenders thus far, says Phil, has been Piers Morgan who, he observes, was encouraging Sheen’s inexplicable behavior during the fallen star’s appearance on the CNN show. “Morgan was clearly enabling Charlie Sheen during his interview and seemingly happy to do so. It made me very uncomfortable. Where are the people that could help this man? If Charlie keeps up at this pace without the help he needs he could become psychotic and harm himself or others.”  Another ratings bonanza in the making.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Most of the Imber Gang, including Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina and Jeff Greenfield.

2. Abernathy & MacGregor’s Jim Abernathy

3. Producer Francine LeFrak and two well-heeled gal pals.

4. Charlie Rose and a limping Tom Freston.
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Blake Lively, Charlie Rose And An Ex-Caped Crusader

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— DIANE CLEHANE

I just love it when the random celebrity turns up at Michael’s for lunch. It’s always entertaining to watch the usual suspects try to simultaneously network and star gaze. Today’s out-of-left-field appearances represented both new and old Hollywood (just like this year’s Oscars but without James Franco‘s near comatose involvement). For fans of eighties screen gems like the original Batman and Beetlejuice, there was Michael Keaton. The younger demographic was represented by Gossip Girl star Blake Lively, who, it should be said, is even more beautiful (and taller) in person.

There was plenty of Tinseltown talk at my table, too. I was lunching today with producer Joan Gelman and marketing consultant and political commentator Robert Zimmerman, who is keeping busy with appearances on CNN and Fox News. Joan, who has more than paid her dues in television, had this to say about the Oscars: “You need a heavyweight to carry that show. You need a comedian who can make the audience laugh. It was a horribly produced show.”

Maybe so, but we all agreed that Bravo’s Andy Cohen was way out of line to trash the performance of the school kids from Staten Island who closed out the show by singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Appearing on Morning Joe, Cohen told the incredulous hosts that the kids’ performance (which got a standing ovation from the audience) “ruined everything” and that he was so pained by the sight of kids in t-shirts (evidently, he thought they should have dressed up) that he was “looking for a knife to stick in his eyes.”

To that, Robert asked, “The man who is responsible for such high-brow television as The Real Housewives franchise is suddenly the arbiter of good taste and glamour in Hollywood?” Don’t expect an apology anytime soon, either. In the current media climate, said Robert, it’s more than likely Cohen is relishing the attention he’s getting for taking aim at the elementary schoolers. “Creating buzz is more relevant than making sense.” Apparently so.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Hollywood heavyweight Freddie Gershon (Loved the sweater!) with Linda Janklow

2. Spotted: Blake Lively and Vivi Nevo. When this unlikely duo showed up without a reservation, things got a lot more interesting. (One pesky paparazzo seemingly transfixed by the sight of the actress stationed himself outside of the window overlooking the dining room for the entire lunch and refused to move no matter how many times he was asked to leave) We’re more intrigued by Vivi, who, we hear is an Israeli-born venture capitalist and was once engaged to the Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi. Could this be the start of another Hollywood romance? Maybe he’s just interested in fashionable folk. After all, the last time we spotted him at Michael’s he was sitting at this very table with Anna Wintour.

3. A trio of social swans: Margo McNabb Nederlander and producers Terry Allen Kramer and Francine LeFrak.

4.  Charlie Rose (who we overheard introducing himself to Michael Keaton) and Universal Pictures CEO Stacey Snider

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