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Posts Tagged ‘Lisa Linden’

Dishing With a Downton Abbey Star

LunchAtMichaelsThere are Michael’s lunches and then there are Michael’s lunches. Over the course of all the years I’ve been chronicling the scene on Wednesdays at 55th and Fifth for this column, I’ve had plenty of occasion to dine and dish with the famous and infamous, strivers and stars and more than my fair share of pop cultural icons. When I think about what I love most about this gig, I have to paraphrase Forrest Gump: Each Wednesday at Michael’s is like a box of (very expensive) chocolates because you never know what you’re going to get. Today, I got the chance to spend a delightful few hours with Lesley Nicol, who plays Mrs. Patmore, the blustery and big-hearted cook on Downton Abbey, my absolute favorite television show. As anyone who follows my posts on Facebook and minute-by-minute recaps for XFinity knows, I am beyond obsessed with the PBS hit, so I was more than a little excited about the chance to have a lengthy sitdown with one of my favorite actors of the series. And Lesley didn’t disappoint.

Diane Clehane and Lesley Nicol

Diane Clehane and Lesley Nicol

She arrived — and looked quite chic in leather pants and high heel boots! — right on the dot of 12:15 for our lunch and promptly charmed everyone in the place, telling GM Steve Millington the dining room was “gorgeous” and graciously chatting with a few fans who stopped by the table to say their hellos. As she looked around the mercifully subdued dining room, I explained that Michael’s was the place to be for all sorts of movers and shakers and, of course, the random celebrity. “Joan Collins was here a few weeks ago,” I told her searching my mental Rolodex for the name of a British star I could mention. “Probably ate a few lettuce leaves,” said Lesley. I knew I’d love her.

We quickly dispensed with ordering (Dover sole for two) and settled in for our chat — and after five minutes I felt as if I’d known her forever. Lesley told me she was in town for a flurry of meetings with her new New York agents at Bauman Redanty & Shaul, who she’d hadn’t yet met, and with casting director Avy Kaufman. Her PR rep, Andrew Freedman, who moved his firm from New York to Los Angeles a few years ago, had managed to arrange our lunch between all these big doings.  She’d also found time to take in a Brooklyn production of Julius Caesar, whose all-female cast included her good friend Susan Brown as Casca. But, she confided, she was really looking forward to tonight’s after-party for Thor on the off chance she’d get to meet her celeb crush, Sir Anthony Hopkins, who appears in the film. “He is just gorgeous,” she said as she speared a Brussels sprout, “If he’s there, I’ll probably be too tongue tied. I’ll just drop down and die.”
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Walter Isaacson, Barry Diller and Dylan Lauren Go Hollywood

LunchAtMichaelsIt was the usual head-spinning scene at Michael’s today as the decibel level rose to epic levels in every corner of the dining room throughout lunch. But all was tranquil (at least for the moment) when I arrived shortly before noon. There, I was greeted with the sight of two minions from Bonnie Fuller‘s office at Hollywoodlife.com who were arranging seating cards and ordering Pellegrino for Bonnie’s monthly schmoozefest. The power gals-in-training stayed just long enough to change into their high heels and shepherd the overflowing group of media mavens and social swans (and Dylan Lauren!) into the lounge for a round of air kissing before they finally settled into their perch in the bay window at Table One. Oh, to be young and ambitious.

I was joined today by two of my favorite Michael’s regulars who I met, of course, in the dining room many moons ago: producer and Democratic booster Joan Gelman and Robert Zimmerman, founder and partner of Zimmerman/Edelson Long Island’s leading public relations and marketing firm, who somehow also finds time to appear on CNN, Fox and MSNBC as a political commentator. On-air (and in conversation, of course) Robert offers well reasoned arguments against the extremists on both sides. “Too much attention focuses on being quotable, not credible. Too many commentators operate in a fact-free environment. Ann Coulter has become the Larry Flynt of political literature. Both live in a world of exploitation and filth,” said the Democratic National Committeeman (now in his 13th year in the position). Come on Robert, tell us how you really feel.

Robert Zimmerman Diane Clehane and Joan Gelman

Robert Zimmerman, Diane Clehane and Joan Gelman

I always look forward to our bi-annual Michael’s lunches because besides being two of the nicest – and funniest people in the room — Joan and Robert can always be counted on for some tasty dish on what’s really going on in any number of social, business and political circles in New York.

While some of the juiciest dish is off the record, we did cover a lot of ground on the current political scene. I had to ask Robert what he thought of the two biggest headaches plaguing the Obama administration that are getting plenty of media coverage. On the Obamacare website woes, Robert offered this: “If it were up to my Republican friends, we would have given up on NASA, Social Security and Medicare because each of them had difficult launches. Medicare took six years to establish after President Roosevelt it signed into law. The website will be fixed. The bigger issue will be if people are getting a better deal in terms of cost and coverage. That will determine the future of Obamacare and, to a large extent, Obama’s legacy.” Read more

Deborah Norville, Miss USA and the Man Behind Those Spitzer Ads

1003_mockup.gifAlthough the ghastly heat of last week that made Manhattan feel more like Calcutta is finally just a memory, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the wall-to-wall coverage on ‘Baby Cambridge’ (who finally has a name — Welcome George Alexander Louis!) to come to lunch at Michael’s today. But once we made our way to 55th and Fifth, it was back to business as usual. The Wednesday lunch crowd has been firing on all cylinders all summer long, and today was no exception.

Aside from the usual suspects (Matt Blank, David Zinczenko) there was, of course, plenty of good people watching to keep us occupied, including the random celebrity sighting  (a very tall Miss USA) and an A-list couple who practically glowed with happiness (Deborah Norville and Karl Wellner). Perhaps that’s because their impeccably well-mannered teenage son, Kyle Wellner, who was dining with them, rose and extended his hand with a “nice to meet you” every time a well-wisher came by. Impressive.

I was joined today by Lisa Linden, longtime public relations adviser to Eliot Spitzer, and Jimmy Siegel of Siegel Strategies. Jimmy is the creative force behind Spitzer’s campaign ads that begun popping up last week online and are now airing on cable and broadcast television in New York City. Jimmy spoke with me exclusively to give me the story behind the new campaign ads that have generated plenty of commentary by politicos everywhere. The self-described “political junkie” first met Spitzer, then running for governor, at a fundraising dinner in late 2005. “I wanted to get into politics, and I was a long time admirer of Eliot when he was the state’s attorney general. I thought he did an amazing job,” Jimmy told me. “At the end of the night, I hung around and, fortified by my third glass of Cabernet, I approached him and said, ‘I want to help get you elected.’” Spitzer gave him then-deputy campaign manager’s Miriam Hess‘ card (who, incidentally, now works with Jimmy) and the rest, as they say, is history.

Diane Clehane and Jimmy Siegel

Jimmy spent over 20 years at BBDO, rising from junior copywriter to vice chairman where he was responsible for some of the most memorable ads ever for Visa, Pepsi and Charles Schwab, and had just formed his own company when he met Spitzer. The campaigns he later created for Spitzer’s gubernatorial run were characterized by The New York Times as “emotionally stirring” and “fresh and effective” by The New York Daily News. This time around, while the objective — getting Spitzer elected — may be the same, the game and the stakes have changed considerably. Read more

A Rodale Refugee Reunion; Christine Lahti Penning a Memoir?

1003_mockup.gifAs 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.

Liz Vaccariello and Diane Clehane

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.

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David Zinczenko on His New ‘High-Profile Life’ and the Real Story Behind His Leaving Rodale

1003_mockup.gifI’ve been looking forward to today’s Michael’s lunch for quite a while. David Zinczenko, who I met in this very dining room many years ago, was joining me with his business partner Stephen Perrine and Patrick Connors, the new publisher of Men’s Fitness. As most faithful readers of this column know, Dave, arguably one of the highest profile editors in history during his tenure as EIC of Men’s Health, and Stephen, head of Rodale Books, were unceremoniously fired from their positions at Rodale last November. The news shocked industry insiders and made headlines all over the media landscape, most notably in a piece penned by Keith Kelly for The New York Post where Maria Rodale cattily commented that David could now go on living his “high-profile life.” When asked if his departure would hurt the brand, she sniped, “It’s not Dave’s Health –  it’s Men’s Health.” Jealous much?

I was thrilled to score the exclusive first sit-down with Dave and Stephen to get the real story behind their firings, an overview of their new venture, Galvanized Brands, and the first look (which Patrick brought along hot off the presses today) of the June issue of Men’s Fitness, the result of their collaboration with their first client, AMI. Dave and Stephen are co-founders and CEO/president and chief creative officer, respectively, of their new firm. Stephen describes Galvanized Brands as a “broad-based brand building and media company that helps other companies unlock their hidden value specializing in health and wellness,” and the duo is positively euphoric about the company’s prospects.

Patrick Connors, David Zinczenko, Diane Clehane and Stephen Perrine

Not surprisingly, it turns out Dave’s living a “high-profile life” that made millions for his former employer has its advantages. (The highly successful Eat This, Not That series he wrote while at Rodale sold 7 million copies in North America.) Last month, it was announced Random House gave Dave distribution and a multi-million dollar deal for his own imprint, Zinc Ink, through its Ballantine Bantam Dell division. As part of the deal, Dave will pen three health/fitness books, the first of which will be published in 2014.  Zinc Ink will publish six to 12 non-fiction and lifestyle books annually — and Dave will share in the profits. He explained that, in addition to Zinc Ink, Random House is prepared to create a series of imprints, like say, AMI/Galvanized, tied to media brands which Random House will publish and distribute. There are currently “half a dozen” AMI/Galvanized book idea percolating, and Stephen told me the first book will be published some time this summer.

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Isabella Rossellini’s Animal Instincts

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There are lunches at Michael’s and then there are lunches at Michael’s. Today I joined Isabella Rossellini at Table One and had a fascinating conversation with her about aging, celebrity, fashion and gay geese. Stay with me … these seemingly disparate topics are all connected.  Ostensibly there to talk about Mammas, her new series for Sundance Channel which looks at the ways different creatures use their maternal instincts in nature, Isabella did get around to the topic eventually. Yet, there was no feeling of the usual PR spin to the lunch which was attended by a handful of journalists who sat enthralled by her stories of her days as an actress and model and her charming tales of growing up in Rome as the daughter of iconic actress Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini.

“The image I have of myself doesn’t correspond to the image people have of me,” she said. “I live on Long Island and I don’t go to fancy parties and premieres. I don’t like that aspect of celebrity. I never said, ‘When I grow up I want to be a celebrity.’” She didn’t have to.  Between her famous parents, ex-husbands (Martin Scorsese and model Jon Wiedemann), her celebrated career as a model and 14-year run as the face of Lancome before the brand dismissed her in 1996 for being ‘too old,’ and her unforgettable turn as tortured nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, she secured a permanent spot in our collective consciousness without employing any of the usual contrivances associated with modern celebrity.

Isabella Rossellini and Diane Clehane

When she showed up to join the small group of journos gathered to meet her (I was lucky enough to score the best seat in the house right next to the guest of honor!) the conversation first turned to fashion as Frazier Moore asked her who designed her understated ensemble of a wool tweed cocoon coat,  navy mandarin collared silk jacket, foulard blouse and simple slacks. She gamely removed her coat to reveal the impeccably tailored pieces designed for her by Christina Bomba in Italy. “It’s less expensive than Donna Karan or Dolce & Gabbana, and I like that I can pick the fabric and have it made just for me,” she said. Isabella told us she can’t relate to the fashion-celebrity complex which has turned the red carpet into big business. “When Mama got dressed for the Oscars, she wasn’t solicited by designers. She didn’t have a committee of business people telling her what to wear. She was loyal to one or two Italian designers, and, when they could no longer make dresses for her, the costume designers from her films created something unique.”

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Joe Kernen Settles a Bet, Plus the Return of Michael Wolff

1003_mockup.gifThreats of yet another winter storm (We’re begging for mercy!) didn’t keep the faithful from Michael’s today. In fact, the dining room was even more crowded than usual as some of the city’s biggest hot shots cooled their heels at the bar and in the lounge as they waited to be seated among the power brokers and media mavens. There was plenty of air kisses and glad handing among the talking heads (Joe Kernen, Rosanna Scotto), television titans (Matt Blank, Henry Schleiff) and fashionable folk (Julie Macklowe). After all, what’s the point of having a power lunch in this town if the right people aren’t there to see it — or write about it? Happy to oblige.

PR maven extraordinaire Catherine Saxton, who has represented some of Manhattan’s most well known swells (and how do you think they got that way?) invited me to join an eclectic and energetic group for lunch today. I was seated between Khashy Eyn and Daniel Hedaya of Platinum Properties and nearly got whiplash as I listened to these real estate wunderkinds regale me with tales of their incredible success since launching their firm in 2005. (Khashy, the firm’s CEO and co-founder, is 31 and Daniel, the president, is all of 26.)  Khashy, who has been in real estate since he was a teenager, came to the United States from Iran when his family fled during the revolution. Daniel, who grew up in Great Neck, dropped out of culinary school before landing a job at a boutique brokerage firm.  Khashy and his sister, co-founder and COO Dezireh Eyn (“The brains of the operation,” says Khashy), launched the company and later tapped Daniel to join them.

(Left to Right) Daniel Hedaya, Diane Clehane, Khashy Eyn, Christian Giovanni Curato, Catherine Saxton and Vicki Downey

Daniel, who will appear in episode seven of  the new season of HG-TV’s Selling New York, told me high rollers and regular folk get the same stellar treatment from the firm.  ”Whether our company is working with a client looking for a $2,500 rental or someone selling a $50 million property, we provide the same level of service. It is very important to us that everyone of our clients receive the same high level of concierge service from us. Manhattan real estate is unlike other markets in the country where the agents handle so many parts of a transaction. Here, we sell or rent the property, negotiate the deal and turn it over to an attorney. But many of our clients want us to handle everything and we do.”

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Mika Brzezinski, Miss USA and a Mysterious Stephen Baldwin Sighting

1003_mockup.gifMaybe it was today’s dreadful weather (Will this winter from hell ever end?) or perhaps some boldface names can’t bring themselves to leave the sunny West Coast after the Oscars, but the scene at Michael’s today was pretty much a celebrity-free zone unless you count the random sighting of Stephen Baldwin. The more low-key Baldwin made a curiously brief appearance in the dining room (he didn’t even sit down) before leaving, so we never got the chance to ask him what he thinks about brother Alec Baldwin‘s war with The New York Post, but we did try. There was, however, an interesting mix of bold faced names including police commissioner Ray Kelly and the newly crowed Miss USA Nana Meriwether who, despite leaving her sash and crown at home, looked every inch the pageant winner. Being almost six feet tall certainly helps stand out in a crowd.

I was joined today by Woman’s Day editor-in-chief Susan Spencer and Hearst executive director of public relations Mimi Crume Sterling. Having never met these smart, savvy gals before, we bonded over a talk about our daughters. Susan, like me, is mother to an elementary-school-aged daughter adopted from China; Mimi has a little girl and is about to give birth to her first son any minute (we had our fingers crossed she’d make it through lunch!). We all agreed parenthood is an unending source of material.

Susan Spencer and Diane Clehane

Since joining the magazine in February of last year from Time Inc.’s All You, Susan has made some interesting changes to the magazine. “I’ve fallen in love with the reader,” she says. This is not your mother’s Woman’s Day, although Susan is mindful of the generational connection between readers of the 75-year-old Hearst title. “Some readers have been reading the magazine for 60 years, and now their daughters and their daughters’ daughters are reading it,” she explained. When asked just who is the Woman’s Day reader, Susan told me: “She’s the ‘Average Josephine’ — the receptionist, the administrative assistant, the teacher, the nurse. These are the women who I consider to be the backbone of America.” That doesn’t mean, however, these women (more than half work outside the home) are not interested in fashion and the good things in life. Just the opposite. “These women have a lot of joy in their life. They embrace positivity,” says Susan. “That’s why the title of the magazine is so perfect for them. It’s about her day and the joy she gets out of it.” To tap into that, Susan retooled the fashion pages focusing more on value in all its iterations. “Our reader doesn’t want to see a great shoe and then find out it’s $300 or even $150. It has to make sense for her life.” In fact, “Value Tags” appear throughout the magazine to highlight steals, deals and all-around great ideas.

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Tory Burch’s Ex Dines With Ron Perelman; Kelly Bensimon Goes Back to School

1003_mockup.gifAs much as we’d like to, we can’t deliver dish from Oscar winners (Shirley MacLaine) and supermodels (Naomi Campbell, Coco Rocha and Karolina Kurkova) every week. After a head-spinning cycle of chats with A-listers, the celebrity quotient at Michael’s was of the low-wattage variety today with reality television refugee Kelly Killoren Bensimon and comedian Robert Wuhl representing the famous (infamous?) contingent. We suspect after the Academy Awards and most schools’ winter breaks are over next week, things will be back to the usual Fellini-esque circus at 55th and Fifth.

I was joined today by SELF vice president and publisher Laura McEwen and the magazine’s director of public relations, Lauren Theodore. It was a fortuitously timed lunch (isn’t it always?), because the newly reinvigorated title is on a roll. Even before our lunch, the colorful cover of the March issue featuring starlet of the moment Julianne Hough caught my eye. It turns out, the issue debuted a new, more “extroverted” all-black logo which seems to capture the forward motion of the Conde Nast title perfectly. Since its launch in 1979, the magazine has been the bible for young fitness-focused women. Now, says Laura, the title has stepped up its mission and embraced a more encompassing philosophy of “Body/Looks/Life.”  ”They are all inseparable today,” explains Laura. “When it first launched, SELF started a movement but now it’s a way of life that has gone mainstream.”

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Naomi Campbell and Her Supermodel Castmates Dish About Their New ‘Face’

We were more than a little disappointed to learn that we missed Dan Stevens aka Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey when he lunched with producer Paula Wagner at Table One on Monday. (Doesn’t he know Wednesday is the day for lunch at Michael’s?) Luckily, today’s oh-so-fabulous lunch with the cast of Oxygen’s new ’supermodel competition’ series, The Face, more than made up for it. While in town to promote the new series, which premieres Tuesday, February 12 at 9 pm on Oxygen, supermodels Naomi Campbell, Karolina Kurkova, Coco Rocha and renowned photographer Nigel Barker decided to make ‘Lunch’ their sole joint appearance on their whirlwind media tour.

I couldn’t imagine what yet another reality competition series about fashion could bring to the party, but when I watched the screener of the premiere episode in anticipation for our lunch I was pleasantly surprised. Aside from its stellar production values, The Face has some serious fashion cred thanks to executive producer and supermodel coach Naomi Campbell’s considerable star power (along with fellow coaches Karolina Kurkova and Coco Rocha) and unrivaled sense of what works. As host, Nigel Barker is a commanding yet reassuring presence. Everything on the show has an authenticity that real fashionistas will appreciate, while giving ‘civilians’ a true glimpse into what it really takes to make it in modeling. The most refreshing twist the series offers is in its approach to working with the 12 hopefuls vying to be the new face of ULTA Beauty. The contestants also get some major opportunities in the course of the show, including photo shoots with the legendary Patrick Demarchelier and challenges with W magazine. Celebrities Wendy Williams and Amare Stoudemire make appearances as guest judges.

Coco Rocha and Diane Clehane

The three supermodels act as mentors to their respective teams and took their roles very seriously. Even though the show wrapped months ago, Naomi, Karolina and Coco forged such strong bonds with their ‘girls’ that all of them remain in touch with the wannabe models, offering career advice whenever the need should arise. “I really worry about my girls,” Naomi told me. “It’s funny, when I’m working in New York or Paris, I always feel like I’m going to miss everyone when the week is over, but after a few days you get on with it. When we finished shooting the show, I felt a little sad. I still talk to my girls and I’m texting them all the time. I really grew quite fond of them.”

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