We’re serving up a low-cal version of “Lunch” today because the catastrophic events in Harlem kept us from doing our scheduled interview at the appointed hour. Despite the transportation disruptions in and around the city, it was business as usual for the mavens, moguls and strivers who turned up at Michael’s for their weekly Wednesday confab. Keep calm and carry on indeed.
Posts Tagged ‘Shelley Zalis’
You’d never know hell had officially frozen over if you’d been at Michael’s today. The forsythias were in bloom, a few intrepid media mavens were barelegged (I kid you not) and the power-lunch scene was firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, my date was detained in the studio shooting a popular television show, but I soldiered on into Manhattan, bundled up in my long-forgotten fur coat (No judgment, thank you) that makes me look like Yogi Bear’s wife to make my appointed Wednesday rounds. And it’s a good thing I did. At Table One, Hollywoodlife.com’s Bonnie Fuller had assembled a particularly interesting roster of media types (including CNN’s Christine Romans, AOL’s Brian Balthazar , ”Mayor” Joe Armstrong and our own Chris Ariens among them) as well as the requisite reality-show refugee who, in this case, was Jill Zarin. A little birdie told me the former Real Housewives of New York City cast member is getting the Where Are They Now? treatment from none other than Oprah Winfrey for an upcoming episode. The fickle finger of fate has quite the sense of humor.
Before the overflow crowd sat down to discuss Justin Bieber‘s latest contretemps and why Madonna looked like the love child of the Quaker Oats man and Mae West at the Grammys, I spent some time mingling with the crowd. Bonnie introduced me to her 23-year-old daughter Sofia Fuller who was “helping out” at today’s luncheon since Bonnie is currently without a publicist (but not for long, I suspect). Clever Sofia told me that she is “definitely” interested in a career in media and has her heart set on landing something in e-commerce.
In keeping with the usual head-spinning weekly scene that is Wednesdays at Michael’s, the joint was jumping today. It was SRO in the front dining room and at the bar where producer Beverly Camhe was holding court with fellow producer Marc Altshuler and writer/directors Derek Anderson and Victor Kubicek in celebration of their upcoming documentary In God We Trust Who Pays for His Crime on the Bernie Madoff scandal. The film will debut in the highly coveted Friday night slot at the Tribeca Film Festival next week.
Bev tells me the tickets for the highly anticipated film sold out in ten minutes when they went on sale at with American Express last night, and they are currently looking for a theater to handle the overflow. For those of you who missed the boat entirely, there’s always pay per view. Bev says anyone who sees the film should prepare to be shocked. “Don’t believe what you’ve heard. You’ll be surprised to know who knew what and when they knew it.” For the record, Bev believes that both Madoff sons, the late Mark Madoff and Andrew Madoff, didn’t know anything. I would have loved to have explored that very topic myself when I spotted Mark at Michael’s last spring, but he bolted before I could ask him anything about their father’s massive Ponzi scheme. “Bernie was a bi-polar sociopath, so it’s entirely possible he was able to keep it from them,” says Bev. I asked Marc if they’d heard from any of the Madoffs or insiders since they began production, and he told me, “They’ve been oddly quiet. I’m surprised they even stayed in New York.” Some people have no shame.
Not all the action was in the main dining room. I was invited to the swanky lunch held in the Garden Room for Angela Cummings today celebrating the launch of her new collection with Assael. Mickey Ateyeh, Angela’s long time BFF and business partner gathered 24 New York power gals – the ladies who never eat lunch who actually lunched today – for an intimate gathering. The first to arrive was Liz Smith followed by a veritable who’s who in New York social and business circles, including Paula Zahn, Linda Fairstein, Jackie Leo, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Christy Ferer, who is in hot pursuit for her company’s next CEO (Anyone?), Fern Mallis, DuJour‘s Cindy Lewis and Judy Licht.
The 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.”
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.
As Januarys go, this one has been a bit of a snoozer, but things are finally picking up now that the boldface names have returned to their regular perches at Michael’s. The joint was jumping today as morning talkers (Charlie Rose, Barbara Walters), media moguls (Barry Diller) and fashionistas (Marie Claire‘s Joanna Coles) were all in full power lunch mode. It’s about time!
I was joined today by Seventeen editor-in-chief Ann Shoket and Hearst executive director of public relations Alexandra Carlin. It’s been a while since Seventeen was required reading in my house (I still remember begging my father to drive me to the stationary store, so I could be the first to get the magazine’s coveted September back to school issue). Back then, I’d devour every oversize page, finding tons of inspiration and validation about surviving the treacherous teenage years in one piece — and in style.
Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Ann, who celebrated her fifth anniversary with the magazine last week, says she feels a “huge responsibility” to readers, which means addressing the issues they care most about (a tall order to say the least). Between dealing with ‘sextortion’ (boyfriends threatening to dump girls if they don’t submit sexually) and the barrage of unrealistic images of physical perfection all around them, today’s teenage girls, says Ann, are under “huge pressure” all while dealing with the requisite drama that comes with being a high school girl. Seventeen‘s mission is to empower teenage girls (the average reader is 16), often by reporting on celebrities who can be a source of inspiration. For next month’s cover, the magazine scored the first interview with a post-rehab Demi Lovato who opens up about how she battled back from anorexia, bulimia, bipolar disorder and cutting. “Demi was amazing. It’s so refreshing to have a celebrity be honest about their struggles. It’s great for girls to read about someone like that.”
Seventeen, says Ann, is also a resource for girls about subjects they might want to talk about with their parents, but can’t. Topic A: ‘Digital Drama’ – the magazine’s clever moniker for ‘cyber bullying’ which “sounds so nineties.” Seventeen is so committed to wiping out the epidemic that Ann created the ‘Delete Digital Drama’ campaign for the magazine. “We only had to deal with the mean girl phone calls, but today social media has created so many more outlets for bullying to happen. It’s a serious problem.”
We could barely keep up with the steady stream of A-listers who poured into Michael’s today. When we arrived a little before noon, there was a handful of power brokers quietly hunkering down to business over their Cobb salads in the back of the room. By the time Bravo’s latest star, designer Chris March arrived with Jennifer Geisser, the network’s senior vice president of communications, and publicist Alana McElroy, there was a palpable party vibe in the dining room. Late arrival Harold Ford, Jr. worked the room like nobody’s business while social swans Muffie Potter Aston and Suzanne Johnson doled out air kisses like they were candy.
While it was a little hard to hear over the chattering crowd, I thoroughly enjoyed dishing with Chris, whose new show, Mad Fashion, premiered Tuesday night on Bravo. Chris, you might recall was a finalist on Project Runway. (Christian Siriano was the winner that season). His quirky couture and good natured personality ( gotta love that laugh!) made him a fan favorite. Chris tells me when Bravo’s resident boy wonder, Andy Cohen, got wind he was shopping a show around, he got in touch with Chris and insisted Bravo see it first. The deal was done in a matter of days.
Unlike most of those ubiquitous Bravolebrities, Chris isn’t into the fame game. “I didn’t do either show to get famous,” he tells me. “I did it to get to do the type of work I wanted to do.” Things have worked out pretty well on that score. On the Wednesday before the I Heart Radio concert in Las Vegas, Chris got a call from Lady Gaga’s office requesting he make something fabulous for her appearance at the show. In less than a week, he delivered the studded motorcycle cape she wore on stage. “That wouldn’t have happened without being on television.” Maybe, but the guy has definitely got it. This is the same man who made Meryl Streep‘s last Oscar dress at his kitchen table. His secret weapon: a drama-free attitude when dealing with people who live and die for style.
— DIANE CLEHANE
Sometimes it seems as if all roads lead to Michael’s — well, at least on Wednesdays. Today, the planets aligned to bring together folks with some interesting six-degrees-of-separation connections. I was talking to ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong who introduced me to Greg Lawrence, author of Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (St. Martins). Greg interviewed over 125 writers and editors who worked with Jackie during her 19 years at Viking Press. (The excerpt that ran in Vanity Fair recently was dishy and full of colorful details of Jackie’s life as a working girl. The paperback edition comes out this summer.) Turns out Greg worked with Jackie on three books, including one with his former wife, ballerina Gelsey Kirkland. Their memoir, Dancing on My Grave, caused quite an uproar at the time for its revelations. “It was quite scandalous,” recalled Greg, smiling at the memory.
That got me thinking. Since Greg knew one of the most famous members of the Kennedy family pretty well, I asked if he thought Caroline Kennedy was really behind the campaign that got The History Channel to drop their plans to air The Kennedys mini-series. “Oh, definitely,” he told me. “Caroline is very sensitive about these things, and since she has a documentary with ABC and a book with Hyperion planned on her own about Jackie, she was able to stop it.”
Before he could say more, Kerry Kennedy walked up to say hello to Joe (a longtime friend of the Kennedy family) unaware there was a journalist in her midst who had delved into the life of a Kennedy for fun and profit. When Joe introduced Kerry to Greg and told her about his book, I observed what appeared to be a cautiously cordial response. It must be surreal to see your relative on the cover of a book someone is holding only to find out the author of that book is the person you’re talking to, although I’m guessing it’s not all that unusual if you’re a Kennedy. We were saved from any further awkwardness when Henry Schleiff (who knows everyone) grabbed Kerry for a big hug and pulled her aside for a little chat.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Kerry Kennedy, presiding over a table of casually clad diners
4. Hudson News CEO James S. Cohen with a doppelganger power lunch pal
— DIANE CLEHANE
We were grateful that several faithful Lunch readers emailed to let us know Bill Clinton was at Michael’s yesterday. Thanks guys! I guess Mr. Clinton didn’t get the memo stipulating that all A-listers book their lunch dates for Wednesdays. Oh, well. Seems the former president was lunching with Harvey Weinstein to settle a bet on Harvey’s little production company winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech. These two under-the-radar guys were accompanied by a squadron of (Clinton) handlers and Secret Service men who were stationed all over the restaurant. Sorry we missed all the excitement!
Today, things got off to a slightly late start (1:00 pm is the new noon if you’re keeping tracking of such things), but the dining room quickly filled up with plenty of master of the universe types (Barry! Woody!) who are always interesting to observe in their natural habitat. All I can say is french fries must be brain food. I expect the place to be going full-tilt tomorrow night when The Kelly Gang hosts The 7th Annual Kelly Gang St. Patrick’s Day Benefit. The organization’s founders include The New York Post’s Keith Kelly, House Beautiful publisher Kate Kelly Smith and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. The ‘Gang’ is back in full swing after taking a hiatus last year and is expecting a huge turnout to raise money for this year’s beneficiaries: Catholic Relief Services in Haiti and Tuesday’s Children. So, if you’re looking for a great St. Pat’s celebration that is doing a lot of good, stop by Thursday night and bring your checkbook.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Legendary crooner Neil Sedaka, sporting sneakers and a jaunty beret with a chic looking lady and a fellow we didn’t get to meet. We overheard Neil say that his son, Marc Sedaka, was on the Today show this morning alongside wife Samantha to talk about Marc’s new book, What He Can Expect When She’s Not Expecting. The book deals with how a spouse can support a wife’s struggle with infertility. Talk about an evolved man! Impressive.
2. Jets owner Woody Johnson, who hobbled in on crutches. Hope you’re on the mend soon.
3. ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong with Peter Jennings’ widow, Kayce Freed. Kayce, a former producer of 20/20, is the co-founder of The Documentary Group which produced the much lauded To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports for ABC News which chronicled his recovery from his near fatal brain injury.
4. Barry Diller and an unidentified important looking gent
— DIANE CLEHANE
When I arrived at Michael’s today and found myself engulfed in a sea of suits, I chalked up the relatively quiet dining room to the usual January doldrums. Upon closer inspection, I realized that the reason things seemed a bit quieter than usual was that there were more than a few folks present who preferred to fly a bit under the radar considering what they might be talking about. (Just a thought: This isn’t the place if you’re looking to have a low-profile lunch). An acquisitive media mogul dining with one of the city’s most respected media columnists? A scandal plagued Manhattanite dishing with the Times’ financial columnist? The last thing on the minds of these guys was table hopping. I guess we’ll just have to stay tuned to see what they cooked up over lunch.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Artist David Hockney holding court with a table full of ‘suits’
2. Allyn Magrino and pals
3. Abernathy & MacGregor’s Jim Abernathy and some pretty preppy looking folks.
4. Uber literary agent Esther Newberg and a bookish bloke we didn’t recognize
— DIANE CLEHANE
It was SRO at Michael’s today with moguls Jack Welch and David Geffen holding court at their respective tables while the celebrity du jour, none other than George Hamilton, caused more than his fair share of double takes. We overheard one fan gush, “I loved you on Dancing With the Stars!” (So did we, but we’re too cool to say so.) Meanwhile, the rest of the crowd was so busy air kissing and table hopping between bites it’s a miracle anyone actually got to eat anything. We’re glad we did, because the new fall menu is fabulous!
I was joined today by Debbie Phillips, life coach and founder of Women On Fire, and Sophfronia Scott, author and founder of The Done For You Writing & Publishing Company. Debbie is busier than ever with her Women on Fire tea parties that have been helping women from all walks of life ignite their true passions since 2004. She’s hosting one at Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon in Gramercy Park on Friday, and there are others scheduled for Columbus, Ohio, Boston, Santa Fe and Naples this fall. Debbie is on track to reaching her important goal of “connecting 50,000 women to each other” through Women on Fire this year. You go, girl!
Sophfronia, who I first met when we worked at People together another life ago, got to know Debbie after she attended one of her tea parties. She is really on a roll. This mom of an adorable six year-old boy has been regularly cranking out books since she published her first novel All I Need to Get By in 2004. She recently published How The Fierce Handle Fear: Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times (Two Harbors) in which she compiles words of wisdom from high rollers, including Donald Trump and Jack Canfield. Just how does she juggle it all? “I can write for about four hours at a time; then I have to get up and do something else,” Sophfronia tells me. See, it’s just that simple.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
3. ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong
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