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 ‘Deb Shriver’
After being felled by a brutal bug (which I picked up in my doctor’s office while waiting for my flu shot) last week, I was glad to be back at 55th and Fifth today where I embarked on the second leg of my own personal trifecta of reporting on every aspect of my television obsession, Downton Abbey. I interviewed cast member Lesley Nichol two weeks ago and am planning a very special Downton lunch for December (No spoilers here! It’s top secret for now). Today I was thrilled to dine and dish with Harry Herbert, the second son of the 7th Earl of Carnarvon, who was in town on a whirlwind three-day visit to New York to meet a few Upper East Side swells and talk to them about his glamorous and highly successful racehorse syndication business, Highclere Thoroughbred Racing. As the company’s founder, Henry puts together racing syndicates — small groups of people with deep pockets — to share in owning a racehorse. So what’s Harry’s Downton Abbey connection, you ask? Harry’s ancestral home is none other than Highclere Castle, the stunning setting — and very much its own character — on Downton Abbey. I kid you not.
If you’re like me and have watched the specials that have aired on Highclere on PBS and HG-TV, you’ve seen Harry’s sister-in-law Fiona, the 8th Countess of Carnarvon, who is married to his brother George, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, giving behind-the-scenes tours of the great house and talking about what it’s like to have your home taken over by the cast of one of Britain’s most popular television programs. (They actually live in another home on the sprawling estate) Harry painted a fascinating picture for me of the real life cast of characters who have populated Highclere, worthy of their own PBS series. It turns out his parents’ love story mirror the one which plays out on Downton between the elder Grantham’s British-American union. Harry’s mother, Jeannie, was 19 years old when he journeyed from her home in Wyoming to England to visit friends and met his father, Henry. When she went back to the states, says Harry, ”He chased her to Wyoming and wound up marrying her.” Read more
After weeks of Wednesdays full of Hollywood heavyweights (culminating in our Table One sit-down with Mitch Glazer and Kelly Lynch last week) there were more moguls (William Lauder, Jimmy Finkelstein) than celebrities at Michael’s today. However, the talking head contingent was represented by regulars Star Jones and MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart. Today’s most intriguing table was the one where Jann Wenner was sitting with his son, Gus Wenner. Discussing the finer points of the power lunch, perhaps? Or maybe just tossing around some ideas for the website the 22 year-old publishing scion is now running. No matter — when dad’s the boss, I’m sure there’s plenty of room on that learning curve regardless of the subject.
I was joined today by Laurel Kamen and Christine Irvin, co-founders of The Alloro Collection, a new ready to wear and accessories collection designed for women who have had breast cancer. I was surprised to learn that the collection, which does not sacrifice fashion for function, is truly the first of its kind since there was clearly a need for such an innovation for so long. The idea for the collection came to Laurel on the evening before her own breast cancer surgery a year and a half ago. After being diagnosed with cancer in her left breast, she elected to have a double mastectomy to reduce the risk of a recurrence, a decision which ended up saving her life. When Christine got the call from her longtime friend to tell her about the idea, she was all in. “She could have asked me if I wanted to go in on starting a car wash in Pittsburgh that night, and I would have said yes,” quipped Christine, “but, clearly, this idea was one that was about creating something for women with breast cancer where a real need existed and was a chance to help women restart their lives.”
The Alloro Collection, whose name comes from the Italian pronunciation of Laurel’s name, was launched at a trunk show in Washington, DC, in March and immediately garnered extensive coverage in The Washington Post with a full page story by Robin Givhan and in WWD and W with pieces by Susan Watters. The 20-piece signature collection of tops, dresses and accessories which range from $160 to $250 is designed by Laurel’s cousin, New York-based designer Roedean Landeaux, whose own mother died of breast cancer. (There is also a more afford ably priced line of pieces under $50.)
It’s been a sizzling spring season at Michael’s with plenty of celebs (Isabella Rossellini, Naomi Campbell and Tony Goldwyn to name a few) breaking bread with us over lunch, but today’s dine and dish session was one for the books. Joining me for an exclusive chat were screenwriter/director Mitch Glazer and actress (Drugstore Cowboy, The L Word) Kelly Lynch, in town from Los Angeles to promote the second season of Magic City, the STARZ hit series which Mitch created and Kelly co-stars in as the cool, aristocratic Meg Bannock. Fresh off ringing the NASDAQ bell and an earlier red carpet appearance at a swanky fashion show in Times Square featuring looks curated by Magic City costume designer Carol Ramsey, the Hollywood power couple arrived shortly before noon (extra points for being early!) and were game for talking about pretty much anything.
Together 23 years and married for 20 which, in Tinseltown time is the equivalent of forever (“I was getting cranky waiting for him to ask me,” says Kelly), Mitch and Kelly have seemingly found the perfect project in which to work together in Magic City. Born and raised in Miami Beach, Mitch, who once toiled as a writer for Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, tells me that the series is the most personal of projects as it allows him to recreate the Miami of his childhood by shooting on location and constructing a massive sound stage populated with full scale models of the iconic hotels (not to mention all those great cars) of this bygone era. ”Sometimes I look around and think, ‘This is like a Twlight Zone episode,’” he told me.
Before he began shooting the very first episode and after the final touches were put in place on Miramar Playa Hotel, the property owned by the show’s brooding, sexy Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Mitch brought his 91-year-old father, Leonard Glazer, who worked as an electrical engineer on the strip during the fifties, to the set. Mitch found the very same chandelier his father had installed all those years ago at The Eden Roc in a box at a Miami salvage store and gave it its rightful place of honor in the lobby of the fictional Miramar Playa. “My father took one look and said, ‘You built a hotel!” recalled Mitch, smiling at the memory. “There are so few things in life that you know better than anyone else,” he told me. “This world happens to be that for me, so I was very fortunate and it gave me a lot of confidence.”
As faithful readers of this column know, in the meta media universe that is Wednesdays at Michael’s, there is no end to the way fellow diners are connected. I was joined today by Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief and chief content officer of Reader’s Digest and the author of New York Times‘ best sellers The Digest Diet and The Digest Diet Cookbook. Minutes after Liz sat down, David Zinczenko arrived and the two Rodale refugees exchanged a big hug and chatted while I made the rounds in the dining room. When things settled down, Liz explained that both she and Dave got to know each other during “The Steve Murphy Era” at Rodale when she was Prevention‘s EIC. ”It was Dave who paved the way for so many editors to write books – including me,” she added. During those halcyon days at Rodale, Liz penned Flat Belly Diet!, which sold a million copies, and the equally successful Flat Belly Diet! 400 Calorie Fix and became an in-demand health and fitness expert on television, securing a spot as a regular guest host on The Doctors and appearing regularly on Good Morning America, which she still does for Reader’s Digest. She’s even logged two seasons on The Biggest Loser.
Liz left Prevention to helm Every Day with Rachael Ray and, in 2011, landed her “dream job” at Reader’s Digest, which has even taken her to the Oval Office. In an interview she scored with President Barack Obama, he told her that his grandfather would have been proud to see him featured in the magazine’s pages since he tore out the jokes in his issues to save for his grandson. It’s easy to see why the stunning and energetic mother of twin eight-year-old daughters, Sophia and Olivia, finds the EIC job at the iconic publication (which as a 99 percent brand awareness rating among Americans) a perfect fit. Between bites of her kale chicken Caesar salad, she enthused about the “positive, life-affirming” stories that have been RD‘s signature throughout its long history. In fact, she told me that she had plans to bring more of that signature all-American optimism into the mix by ”returning [the brand] to its roots.” But make no mistake about it — while features like its well-loved jokes, “Quotable Quotes” and “Word Power,” are an enduring part of the mix, this is not your grandmother’s Reader’s Digest.
I was fascinated to learn that the magazine was the first publication to be available on Kindle and one of the first to offer readers an app. In December of last year, digital sales overtook newsstand sales, and the magazine now has over 1.2 million Facebook fans. All this bodes very well for Liz’s plans to unveil both a print and digital redesign of the magazine next year where, she says, there will be even more opportunities for readers to share and engage with the magazine and with each other.
I 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.
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.
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.
The ‘Cosmo 100′ Starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Jessica Seinfeld; The Wednesday Crowd with Star Jones and Doris Kearns Goodwin
As you probably know by now, only the most extreme circumstances could keep the faithful from their usual lunch at Michael’s. Since Mother Nature proved to be too formidable a force for us on not one, but two back-to-back Wednesdays, we were only too happy to pull double duty this week.
On Monday, I attended the estrogen-fueled lunch for “The Cosmo 100,” a gals-only power lunch hosted by Joanna Coles who, having been named EIC of Cosmopolitan mere weeks ago, put together a guest list to end all guest lists for her first event. When I arrived a few minutes before noon, the paparazzi was lined up to capture the arrival of Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane von Furstenberg, Ali Wentworth, Jennifer Westfeldt and Jessica Seinfeld, who seemed to be channeling MC Hammer in some curious gold lame harem pants. Also in attendance: ABC News’ Deborah Roberts, model Carol Alt, bestselling author Jane Green and more A-list Gotham gals than I’ve seen in one place in ages. Hearst’s amazing PR team headed by Deb Shriver, Alexandra Carlin and Holly Whidden deserve some major kudos. I was seated at a fabulous table with Cathie Black, modeling icon Pat Cleveland and Barbara Taylor Bradford, who told me her 29th book will be published early next year. The mind reels.
When the A-list crowd made their way to the Garden Room, Joanna (who was rocking some gorgeous leather pants) greeted everyone with her trademark cheeky humor, telling us she’d prepared ‘binders of men’ as research for her new gig and then quoting Margaret Thatcher with the wise words, ‘Cocks crow but it’s hens that lay the eggs.’ She also advised us “never to underestimate what you can do in 10 minutes.” So true. But Joanna wanted to do more than celebrate fun, fearless females at her kick-off lunch; she surprised everyone by introducing some truly formidable women who’d broken through the glass ceiling during this election cycle. New Hampshire’s first female governor Maggie Hassan talked of having her daughter run her winning campaign, Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to congress explained how she won her race in Hawaii by proving wrong the naysayers who told her “it wasn’t her time,” and Grace Meng, the first Asian-American elected to congress from New York, spoke of the need for women to be mentors to other women. It was truly one of the most inspiring events I’ve attended in a long, long time.
Today, I was joined by another trailblazer Marcy Syms, who you must know from those commercials for the legendary off-price retailer (“An educated consumer is our best customer”). It was Marcy’s father, the late Sy Syms who founded the business in 1958 as the first national retailer to sell off-price men’s clothing. At first, it was Sy who gave voice to the slogan in 1974, but he wisely asked Marcy to take his place in 1978 thus tapping into an emerging public consciousness about working women. The rest, as they say, is history. ”I still remember wearing those bow blouses and those short haircuts!” said Marcy.
It was a dizzying scene at Michael’s today. Fashion A-listers (Calvin Klein, Grace Coddington), talking heads (Piers Morgan) and the random television star (The Newsroom‘s Emily Mortimer) provided some serious people watching for the mere mortals in the dining room.
Before the crowd rushed in, I caught up with Bravolebrity Lori Zaslow in the ladies room (What can I say? I go where the news takes me ) who just wrapped her first season of Love Broker. Lori, who was with her business partner Jenn Zucher, tells me the show brought plenty of new clients looking for their soul mates and some great new business opportunities, including her new ‘love oil’ called Gravitate which is sold at Exhale Spa and a few select boutiques around town. “The show was a great experience and some great new things came our way as a result of the exposure,” Lori told me. She’ll be Katie Couric‘s guest on her new talk show on October 5. Will there be a season two of Love Broker? As they
say, stay tuned.
I was joined today by publishing powerhouse Andrew Amill, vice president of Weight Watchers Media Group. As a lifetime member of Weight Watchers, I’ve always found the plan works when you work it, and I love the weekly meetings which always have such an empowering, fun vibe. While their campaign with Jennifer Hudson (one of the greatest transformations ever!) has been a resounding success, Andy tells me that despite all the snipping in the tabloids about the company’s newest spokeswoman Jessica Simpson (who was Katie Couric‘s guest on her show’s premiere) is also doing great on the plan. Her first commercial touting her shedding her post-baby weight just hit the airwaves and her big ‘reveal’ will come in December. She’ll also be the cover girl for WeightWatchers Magazine‘s January/February issue. ”Both Jennifer and Jessica resonate with our members,” says Andy. Charles Barkley, who is the face and (newly slimmed down) body for the men’s program has given the company’s a “100 percent bump” on the men’s site.
Andy tells me weightwatchers.com is the fastest growing part of the company (6.2 million monthly uniques and 250 million page views) as the powers that be add more and more interactive features that keep members plugged into the program whereever they go. Later this year, a bar code scanner for smart phones will be introduced that will allow users to scan the UPC code of any supermarket food item and immediately get its point value. The perfect antidote to temptation, no doubt. “The technology the company has created that allows members to stay connected and motivated is outstanding,” says Andy. Read more
Where else could you possibly find friends of reality stars (Come on, you can’t expect an A-lister sighting every week) and the last vestiges of Cafe Society all in one room? If it’s Wednesday, at Michael’s, of course. I couldn’t even begin to do justice to the head-spinning scene there today, so I’ll just let the roster of what passes for celebrity sightings these days speak for itself.
I was so excited about today’s lunch, because I was meeting the woman responsible for greenlighting one of my favorite shows, Mad Men. Christina Wayne has had an amazing career – she also is responsible for getting Breaking Bad on air — and I found her story fascinating. Had it not been for Christina’s spot-on instincts, Matt Weiner‘s script, which had been floating around for eights years at that point, might not ever have seen the light of day. The former AMC senior vice-president of scripted series and mini-series is now president of Cineflix Studios and executive producer of the new BBC America series, Copper — but I’m getting ahead of myself.
A born and bred New Yorker who grew up on the Upper East Side, Christina decided to move back after 12 years in Los Angeles for personal reasons in 2005 (“There was no one left to date!”) and after receiving a call from a friend asking if she’d be interested in working with AMC. Up until that point, the network was pretty much airing nothing but old movies. “I had no idea what AMC was. I thought he was talking about the movie theater chain,” said Christina. Back then, the basic cabler was looking to develop scripted content; Christina signed on as a consultant as the net’s “creative voice,” but didn’t want to tell her screenwriter friends since, at the time, working in television seemed like a step down and “an embarrassment.”
She started by calling everyone she knew in L.A. and wound up with the script for Broken Trail, a huge hit starring Robert Duvall that got the greenlight in eight days. When she read the script for Mad Men on a flight back from Los Angeles, she knew she had something special. AMC wasn’t able to get a studio to pick it up, so the pilot was self-financed for $3.3 million and the rest, as they say, is television history. Without a huge marketing budget, Christina attributes a lot of Mad Men‘s buzz to the nonstop coverage it received in The New York Times who covered the show from every angle possible. “The show was their lovechild,” she said. And still is, I’d say.
Who knew there was a pre-Easter rush? Michael’s dining room was jam packed today with moguls (Donald Trump!), fashion mavens (Rachel Roy, Fern Mallis) and talking heads (Star Jones, Wendy Williams and Joe Kernen) before the town car set jets off to Florida and other more exotic ports of call for the holiday. We arrived early so as not to miss a minute of the mixing and mingling of the power lunch scene and were glad we did. Trump made quite an entrance with his bodyguard in tow. The last time we spotted anyone with protection stationed inside the restaurant was when Elton John met with some bigwigs at Table One several years back. Life can be so complicated when you have money.
I was joined today by Kathryn Leigh Scott, who starred in one of my favorite television shows of all time, Dark Shadows. If you grew up in the 60′s, then you — or someone you knew – probably ran home after school in time to catch the iconic gothic soap opera which aired on WABC at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Kathryn played Maggie Evans and Josette DuPres who was the ill-fated lady love of Barnabas Collins, one of television’s most famous vampires memorably depicted by Jonathan Frid. She also starred opposite Jonathan in the hit MGM film House of Dark Shadows (soon to be re-released on DVD and BlueRay).
Well, everything old is new again and next month Tim Burton‘s big screen homage to the show, Dark Shadows, starring super fan Johnny Depp hits theaters May 11. Kathryn, Jonathan as well as her former castmates Lara Parker (the original Angelique) and David Selby (Quentin Collins) have cameos in the film. “Lara and I plan to walk the red carpet together at the Los Angeles premiere wearing age-appropriate gowns and have a glass of champagne. This is really something to celebrate,” said Kathryn who has high hopes for the film. “It has all the elements the show had (fantasy, horror, romance and comedy), but it’s their playground with their own spin on things.”
The timing of the film couldn’t be better for Kathryn’s new book, Dark Shadows Return to Collinwood which has just come out to rave reviews. Designed by Cheryl Carrington, the book contains hundreds of rare photos from the show, as well as stunning images from the new film.
Kathryn told me she is “so grateful to Warner Brothers and to Tim Burton and Johnny Depp” for their “huge trust in me.” The movie studio released the images from the film to her before they’d finished their own trailer or movie poster and did not ask for approval over their usage. The photos of Depp in full Barnabas regalia standing alongside the original cast members is really something to see, and Kathryn’s behind the scenes account of the experience of being in Burton’s film make the book a must-have for fans both old and new.
Over 200 fans turned out last night at Barnes & Noble on 86th Street to meet Kathryn, get their books signed, and talk about the show and the upcoming film. They also got a surprise gift of posters from the new movie provided by Warner Brothers. “It was wonderful because it was a real mix of people,” she told me. “There were young fans who were excited to learn more about the show, and there were some of the longtime fans who were children when they stood outside the stage door of the show here in New York in the 60s. The legacy of Dark Shadows lives on!”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
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