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Posts Tagged ‘Neil Lasher’

Outlander Author Diana Gabaldon on Writing Best Sellers and Playing Nice With Hollywood

LunchAtMichaelsJudging by the decibel level at Michael’s today the media mavens and swells had plenty to talk about between bites of their Korean tacos (delish!) and Cobb salads. There’s always a flurry of activity on the last Wednesday in July before most of the last remaining power lunchers depart for their much-needed vacations in August. You can only be fabulous (or pretend to be) for so long before you have to regroup and refuel.

For us, July isn’t going out with a whisper but rather with a bang as I had one of the most fascinating Michael’s lunches in eons with best-selling author Diana Gabaldon, whose wildly popular Outlander novels rocket right to the top spot on The New York Times best-seller list as soon as they’re published. She has sold a head-spinning 25 million books that have been translated into 24 languages. The mind reels. Her most recent, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (how’s that for a title?) came out in June, the same week Hillary Clinton‘s book did. I guess you know whose publisher had a better week. I was “the last stop” on Diana’s magical mystical media tour, which has included an SRO appearance at Comic-Con, a sell-out conversation at the 92nd Street Y and, just this morning, an appearance on CBS This Morning with the two lead actors of the new original series based on the books that premieres August 9 on Starz.

Diana Gabaldon and Diane Clehane.

Diana Gabaldon and Diane Clehane

It’s always a bit of a crapshoot sitting down with someone I’ve never met to make conversation over lunch with the expressed purpose of learning as much as I can about my companion in about an hour while fielding the numerous “newsflashes” that come courtesy of the diners around the room. I was grateful I got a good night’s sleep last night because simply put, Diana is a force of nature. I could barely keep up as she recounted the story of how she decided “to write a book just to learn what it took to do it; I did it for practice” and how her pragmatic approach to novel writing (which hasn’t changed much, by the way) has catapulted her to international stardom.

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Walter Isaacson, Harvey Weinstein and Johnny Weir I Linda Fairstein Emcees Authors In Kind

LunchAtMichaelsHallelujah! What better way to celebrate the first day when it actually felt like springtime in the city than to dine and dish at two jammed packed Manhattan power lunches. This being Wednesday, we of course made our weekly pilgrimage to Michael’s to observe the famous and fabulous in their natural habitat and then hot-footed it over to The Metropolitan Club for the Annual Authors in Kind Literary Luncheon, benefiting God’s Love We Deliver. At 55th and Fifth, the joint was jumping with plenty of media mavens (David Zaslav, Henry Schleiff), talking heads (Joe Kernen, Jim Murphy and Star Jones), serious scribes (Walter Isaacson) and the random celebrity of the week — none other than Johnny Weir. I wished I’d gotten to talk to Johnny about his oh-so-messy divorce. Heaven knows what he would have said. Oh well, next time.

Johnny Weir, Bonnie FullerUptown at the Metropolitan Club, I joined Michael’s regular Mickey Ateyeh (“Oh my God! I didn’t realize this was on a Wednesday!”) for the Authors In Kind Luncheon, which was emceed by another Michael’s pal Linda Fairstein (we’ll be dishing for this column about her next book, Terminal City, in June). Having never been to this event before, it was truly a memorable afternoon. Before lunch, the authors slated to speak at the luncheon — Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Anthony and Robin Cook — signed books they generously donated to the attendees. Spotted in the crowd:  60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl and Grand Central Publishing’s Deb Futter. Before everyone sat down to eat, I chatted with Assael’s Lawrence Lewis and Mickey. Angela Cummings for Assael, was one of the event’s sponsors along with CH Carolina Herrera, so it was quite the elegant affair. But behind the glitz and glamour that went along with the swanky surroundings, the inspiring and uplifting tone to the event, which was set beautifully by God’s Love We Deliver president & CEO Karen Pearl, carried the day. Karen shared the stories of several clients whose battles with life-altering illnesses were made more bearable to them and their families because of the organization’s nutrious meals and personalized care. She thanked the volunteers who prepare and deliver them (I was seated next to one such “angel,” Douglas Elliman’s Peter J. Forsman, who was delightful company) and introduced a video that highlighted their work. “Food is medicine,” explained Karen. “And love is the special ingredient.”

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Meg Ryan and Judith Regan “Below the Radar” on Table One

1003_mockup.gifThe spring power lunch season has officially begun at Michael’s with plenty of famous faces and talking heads (Charles Grodin, Star Jones, Lawrence O’Donnell) mixed in with the usual suspects today. None other than Meg Ryan turned up with Judith Regan and slipped in practically unnoticed. Ah, but it’s my job to tell you these things.

In the ‘six degrees of separation’ world that is the dining room at 55th and Fifth, Judith and I grew up in the same hometown of Bay Shore on Long Island. Her mother was often my substitute teacher in high school, and we’ve always had interesting chats whenever our paths have crossed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the famously fiery ex-book publisher and she told me she’s adapted a new approach of “staying well below the radar” while working on her Sirius XM show. “No one even knows where I live,” she said. I knew better than to question the strategy of staying out of the limelight by sitting at Table One on a Wednesday at Michael’s, so we talked about mutual friends and exchanged pleasantries about our families. When Meg showed up, she couldn’t have been nicer as we chatted about our daughters who we adopted from China the same year, are the same age and both wear glasses. (Sorry, but it’s all OTR.) Later, on the way out, we talked a bit more and I suspected she had plenty more to say on the subject but didn’t want to get caught it the crush of folks lining up for their coats. Oh, well. Maybe next time.

I was joined today by Stu Zakim, public relations vet and “transformational executive” (How’s that for a title?) Mike Berman. Stu, a veteran marketing guru who has helped shaped the image of Showtime, Universal Pictures and Wenner Media, struck out on his own in 2010 with his own firm, Bridge Strategic Communications. His current clients include the Montclair Film Festival, now in its second year, and Mike, a turnaround specialist and business blogger who dispenses straightforward strategies on his blog, Berman Means Business. Stu has been working with Mike since last fall to extend the reach of his no-nonsense messaging espousing a holistic approach to building businesses. With recent headlines on media mash-ups and corporate meltdowns, we had plenty to talk about. Since Mike penned his first piece for CNBC’s website entitled “Five Turnaround Tips for Ron Johnson, JC Penney and Others” earlier this week, I thought a discussion about JCP’s embattled CEO was a good place to start. In a nutshell, says Mike, Johnson “was set up to fail — he can’t fix Penney’s.”

Mike Berman, Diane Clehane and Stu Zakim

He explains, “What’s happening with Ron Johnson is a metaphor for what’s wrong with business today. You can’t hire a rock star as if he’s just come down from the mountain top with the solution to every problem. No one person is able to do what he’s saying he can do.” According to Mike, Johnson’s first mistake was expecting an already beaten down team to buy into widespread change without first stabilizing the organization and clearly articulating a long term vision for the future. Letting 10,000 people go among a shell-shocked workforce didn’t help matters, either. “In the classic turnaround, you can be a hero by coming in and reducing staff, closing under performing stores or factories for the short-term, but in the long-term that doesn’t create value and kills the economy. Executives have to ask themselves, ‘How can I make sacrifices for the benefit of the entity?” Because so many companies rely on the slash-and-burn strategy as an immediate solution to stem the bleeding of their bottom line, Mike tells me he no longer works on “classic turnarounds” because he finds them “totally souless.” Now there’s something you don’t hear every day.

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All in the Family with Joe Kernen & A Dark Shadows Star is Reborn

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It was a bustling scene at Michael’s today as the power lunch crowd  crammed in some last minute networking before their late summer vacations. In the mix: talking heads (Joe Kernen, Andrew Ross Sorkin), hot shot editors (David Zinczenko, Joanna Coles), and beauty gurus (Estee Lauder’s John Demsey and Thia Breen at separate tables).

I was joined today by Kathryn Leigh Scott who I met years ago while working on a piece for TV Guide about the ongoing appeal of the ’60s Gothic soap, Dark Shadows. Long before Twilight, Kathryn starred as the doomed lady love of vampire Barnabas Collins. Like its eternal leading man, Dark Shadows just won’t die. Tim Burton, one of the show’s most fervent fans, is currently shooting a big screen version starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas and scheduled for a May 2012 release. Kathryn just returned from London where she shot a cameo role for the film. I was dying to get her take on how Johnny is sinking his fangs into the role, but Kathryn demurred, “I’ve been sworn to secrecy!”

We had plenty to talk about anyway. Kathryn’s  latest novel, Dark Passages (Pomegranate Press) is a love letter to Dark Shadows and is already getting rave reviews. Set in the swinging ’60s, it tells the tale of an actress moonlighting as a Playboy bunny who just happens to be vampire and is determined to make it in New York City without her supernatural powers. While working on the cult hit Dark Passages, she meets her nemesis, a 300-year-old witch. ”Anyone who, as a kid, ran home from school to watch Dark Shadows will love it,” Kathryn told me. (We’re starting it tonight.) On the 17th of this month, she’ll be at Barnes & Noble at 86th and Lexington signing copies. Then, on August 19 through the 21, she’ll join several of the original cast members at the annual Dark Shadows festival at the Brooklyn Marriott.

Kathryn is one author who has always taken that old chestnut ‘write what you know’ to heart.  Having worked as a Playboy bunny herself in the ’60s, she interviewed over 250 former bunnies, including Lauren Hutton and Debbie Harry, for her 1999 release The Bunny Years. The book was recently acquired by Imagine Television for potential use in upcoming episodes of The Playboy Club premiering this fall on NBC. With renewed interest in the subject, Simon & Schuster is releasing an updated edition next month with a new forward written by none other than Hugh Hefner.

While Kathryn is over the moon about The Bunny Years getting a new lease on life, she is livid with one former bunny who worked with her back in the day. None other than Gloria Steinem was part of a class of seven women who trained at The Playboy Club at the same time — but Gloria’s stint was a ruse so she could write a scathing expose on the women and the club. While she didn’t identify any of the women by name, she used stories they’d shared thinking they were talking to a friend. “What kind of feminism is it when you put down the women you work with?” asked Kathryn. “All of us were just as ambitious. She knew I was a scholarship student trying to build a career in acting.” What burns Kathryn the most is that Gloria is still bad mouthing the bunnies. “I’m in warrior mode,” she told me, “because this 46 year-old rant is tiresome.” Ms. Steinem, I think you’ve met your match.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Hollywoodlife.com’s Bonnie Fuller and Fidelis Global’s Gerry Byrne, a Penske board member, presiding over their monthly lunch. On the guest list:  Activate’s co-founder and managing director, Michael J. WolfKatherine Oliver, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment; Ritu Trivedi of Mindshare Interactive; Tribeca Enterprise”s Jon Patricof; Estee Lauder group president John Demsey; WWD‘s AmyWicks; J. Walter Thompson CEO Bob Jeffrey; and Penske Media president Aly Racer; and the company’s head of strategy and operations, Will Lee.

2. Marie Claire’s publisher Nancy Cardone and editor Joanna Coles (Loved that Alexander McQueen dress!) with Estee Lauder’s Thia Breen.

3. Discovery ID’s head honcho Henry Schleiff. Henry tells me last night’s premiere of Big Law starring former boxer Eric Esch who returns to his hometown of Jasper, Alabama as ‘Deputy Butterbean’ to exact some big justice was “a knockout.”

4. CNBC’s Squawk Box host Joe Kernen with  his lovely wife and adorable daughter, Blake (co-author of Your Teacher Said What? with her dad). The family stopped in for a quick bite before catching today’s matinee performance of Wicked.

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Vernon Jordan, Paul Shaffer and Richard Belzer Grab a Bite at Michael’s

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— DIANE CLEHANE

We missed Harvey Keitel (who, we hear, is a pretty nice guy) by a day, but the usual suspects kept things hopping in the dining room at Michael’s today. By now, we’ve grown used to seeing Richard Belzer with his dog Bebe (pronounced Bay-Bay en Francais, in case you were wondering) in tow for his 1 pm lunches every now and again. But we did perk up when Vernon Jordan came in. Talk about presence!

I had a chance to catch up with one of my favorite regulars, ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstong who, when I first started writing this column, made it his personal mission to introduce me to as many movers and shakers as possible. The native Texan with the heart of gold just can’t help himself when it comes to do-good deeds. This afternoon he was full of fire telling me about the upcoming benefit for The Hole in The Wall Gang Camp on October 21 at Lincoln Center. Joe spent seven years as a camp counselor during the summer at the original Connecticut camp — He now proudly bears the title of ‘Mr. Ambassador’ for the organization — and can’t say enough about the kids whose lives are forever changed thanks to Paul Newman. “They make you realize what is really important, ” says Joe.

So, if you want to help continue Newman’s good works and spend an evening rubbing shoulders with Alec Baldwin, Meryl Streep, Joanne Woodward and Renee Zellweger, get out those checkbooks and buy a ticket to the gala. Tell them Joe sent you …

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Self‘s Lucy Danziger and some leggy leather clad gals from L’Oreal talking ‘stress management’

2. Law & Order SVU’s Richard Belzer and David Letterman‘s band leader Paul Shaffer

3. ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong and O’s book editor Sara Nelson.

4. Leonard Lauder and a casually elegant gal who, upon greeting the cosmetic king exclaimed, “This is the high point of my week!”

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Alex McCord & Simon van Kempen Serve Up Some Tasty ‘Real Housewives’ Dish

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— DIANE CLEHANE

There’s never a dull moment on a Wednesday at Michael’s. When I arrived in the dining room today I spotted LX TV‘s senior executive producer Amy Rosenblum shooting a segment for tonight’s show with host Sarah Gore and Michael’s GM Steve Millington about their famous $36 Cobb Salad. Who says lunch here isn’t about the food?

I had a delightfully dishy lunch with Alex McCord, one of my favorite cast members from The Real Housewives of New York City, her husband Simon van Kempen and their literary agent, my pal Jason Allen Ashlock. The couple is surprisingly down to earth given the histrionics filled season. “We’re trying to prove you don’t have to be an idiot to be on reality television,” says Simon.

At the moment, Alex and Simon are in the middle of their book tour for Little Kids Big City, which is now in its second printing. It’s a well-written, ‘mom-oir’ (as Simon likes to call it) that chronicles their transformation from DINKY (dual income no kids yet) couple to hands-on, working parents of two sons, Francois and Johan. Also in the works are a “relationship book” written in the same ‘he said, she said’ style as Little Kids, a possible cookbook, and Alex tells me she’s penning a “roman a clef about the dark underbelly of reality television.” Watch out Jill Zarin!

I just had to ask Alex what she thought of Jill’s tearful performance at the marathon three-part reunion show, which culminated in Jill basically begging former BFF Bethenny Frankel for a hug. (I’m told the women shot for nine hours with very little down time.) “It was a long day,” says Alex. “I don’t know whether it was genuine or not.” But she didn’t hold back in describing Jill’s backstabbing behavior overall: “When you have nothing else in your life, you can sit around and scheme like a character in Dangerous Liaisons.”

The couple was first tapped by Bravo to appear on what was to be called Manhattan Moms in 2007 before it morphed into The Real Housewives of New York City. “We didn’t know we were going to be paired with bitchy, socialite wannabes,” says Simon. With three seasons behind them, Simon feels Alex “hit her stride” this year. For her part, Alex says her friendships with Ramona Singer, Sonja Morgan, and Bethenny have grown and she’s spoken to all three of them “within the last 48 hours.” No decision has been made about who will be returning next season but Simon says of the couple’s plans, “At this point, it would be silly to not do one more season.”

You can catch Alex at her next New York City book signing on July 6 at Barnes & Noble on Lexington and 86th Street with New Jersey Housewife Caroline Manzo, who be on hand to promote Bravo’s new tell-all on the popular franchise.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

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Lunch: Happy Birthday Donna Hanover & Paula Zahn

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— DIANE CLEHANE

If it’s Wednesday, it’s party time at Michael’s. We’re still recovering from the head spinning spectacle of last week’s A-list lunch for James Cameron. This week, the celebration was a tad more low-key at Table One as public relations maven Joannie Danielides hosted her annual birthday luncheon for her good pal and long time client, Donna Hanover, whose actual birthday was February 15. Joannie, who is busier than ever these days with a full roster of clients in health care and education, told me it was actually a double celebration since it was guest Paula Zahn‘s birthday as well.

I caught up with Paula before she joined the party to chat about her new show, On the Case with Paula Zahn, on Discovery ID. “We’ve just been renewed for a second season,” said Paula, who looked better than ever in a chic leopard print top and some killer stiletto boots. “It’s been great. I’m getting to do some amazing stories. Right after this, I’m getting on a plane and heading to an Alabama prison.” Some people have all the fun.

I had lunch with two of my favorite people today: producer Joan Gelman and Robert Zimmerman, partner of the Long Island based marketing firm, Zimmerman/Edelson. Joan arrived first and told me about her recent trip to Vietnam with her husband, Don Aronson. Both Joan and Don were anti-war activists back in the day and are still true believers. On this trip, the couple spent some time visiting orphanages and were “shocked and appalled” to see the awful effects that Agent Orange has wrought on the country. “It was horrifying to see the stark reality of what war can do to a people — and what we did to these people,” Joan told me.

Things lightened up a bit when Robert arrived. Between the two of them, they know just about everyone in New York and, trust me, the conversation is never dull. (Most of the juiciest stuff is, of course, off the record.) Since Joan is a die-hard Democrat and Robert is an in-demand political commentator for all the cable channels, we had plenty to talk about. When Evan Bayh‘s surprise resignation from Congress came up, Robert offered this assessment: “Saying he’s fallen out of love with Congress is something a 14 year-old adolescent would say. There’s a lot more to it than being in love; it’s about getting the job done.” Robert had these words of advice for jump-starting the stalled government: “The challenge for the Democrats is to come out of group therapy and get things started again. The ball is in our court. Success depends on us acting on our message.”

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Birthday girls Donna Hanover and Paula Zahn, Joannie Danielides, Gayle King, Time Inc’s Ann Moore, Linda Stacey, Karen Scott, Sue Leibman and Matilda Cuomo. A little birdie told me the girls dug into two birthday cakes: one carrot cake and one chocolate. It seems like the group couldn’t get enough sweet treats. We spied doggie bags stuffed with cookies being packed into a few purses.

2. Most of ‘The Imber Gang:’ Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina and Jeff Greenfield

3. Gerry Byrne, who just launched Fidelis Global Enterprises LLC. New clients of his advertising media consultancy agency include Adgenesis and Beezag. I caught up with Jerry until his guest, Jane Hanson, arrived. I told Jane I loved the stuff she’s been doing on LX New York, showing the fledgling talking heads how it’s done.

4. A bespectacled Mike Ovitz and a fellow we didn’t recognize

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