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Posts Tagged ‘Rob Barnett’

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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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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