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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Benton’

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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Deborah Norville, Cindi Leive & A Slew of Fashionable Folks

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— DIANE CLEHANE

Sometimes it seems like all roads lead to Michael’s, and today was no exception. Everyone in the place seemed connected by less than six degrees of separation, as we observed plenty of old friends and former colleagues exchanging air kisses before dining and dishing. Then there was the completely random fashion moment that caught our eye. Did you know it was ‘Seersucker Day’ here in New York City? Now you do. So it was only fitting that Michael’s GM Steve Millington was sporting his summer seersucker suit in honor of the sweltering heat. Earlier today, a little birdie told me that the outdoor set of The Early Show was filled with men (including the show’s weatherman Dave Price) in Haspel seersucker suits in honor of the company’s 100 anniversary. Who made Steve’s suit? Why Haspel, of course. Just thought you’d like to know.

I was lunching today with Susan Silver, who I met in this very dining room a while back when I was lunching with our mutual pal Brian Balthazar at the next table. When I found out Susan was one of the brilliant writers behind The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maude and The Bob Newhart Show (the first and best one), I just had to get to know her better. Today we talked TV — of course — and Susan weighed in on her favorite sitcoms of the season. She gives high marks to ABC’s Modern Family (“Genius!”) and The Middle (“It is laugh out loud funny!”). It turns out we share a mutual obsession with reality television; specifically Bravo’s wild and wacky Housewives. I can’t get enough of the New York City divas — except for Jill Zarin. Susan loves ‘em all.

These days Susan is turning up everywhere on television (most recently with Rosanna Scotto on Fox 5) and radio (chatting with Bill Bennett) to talk about the baby boomer generation, spurred by a column she did a few years back, “The Search for Mr. Adequate,” for New York Social Diary. Now she’s on a mission to become “The Martha Stewart of The Baby Boomers,” offering her take on everything from fashion to travel and, of course, relationships for this “underserved market.” Stay tuned.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Chris Taylor presiding over a table of fabulous females, including Desiree Gruber and CNN’s Alina Cho

2. Bonnie Timmermann and two pals

3. “Mayor” Joe Armstrong and Glamour editrix Cindi Leive

4. The Early Show: It was a family affair for sisters Andrea Barzvi (who works at ICM) and Alexandra Barzvi (a clinical psychologist), who were celebrating mom Bianca’s birthday. We simply had say hello to this stylish trio because Bianca’s hat just dazzled us. Second seating: Peggy Siegal.

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