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June 7, 1999

Howard Rubenstein, Leona Helmsley, Jerry Seinfeld, Amber Valletta, Linda Evangelista, Liam Neeson, Roger Waters and more . . .

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GARGANO'S FAUX PAS SPICES UP LUNCH

Of course it took a lunch in honor of a spinmeister, Howard Rubenstein, to provoke a public-relations gaffe of royal proportions. The Realty Foundation named the P.R. guru its Man of the Year at a Waldorf-Astoria luncheon on May 19, where Empire State Development chairman Charles Gargano said a few words. "Howard's influence extends through a wide swath," he said, clearly reading a speech that had been written for him. "From George Steinbrenner to Rupert Murdoch. From the Duchess of York to the Queen of Mean." Luckily, neither George Steinbrenner nor Rupert Murdoch nor Sarah Ferguson was there. Somewhat less luckily, Leona Helmsley was, sitting just ten feet behind Gargano at a table she'd paid $3,000 for. There were audible gasps, according to one guest. Rubenstein, exhibiting the form that earned him the testimonial in the first place, said the Queen was amused, and "she laughed" when she heard her nom-de-Post. Rubenstein added that she stuck around to pose for pictures and sign autographs ("she was quite a celebrity"). And Gargano, who is not (yet) a Rubenstein client? "Charlie said, 'Oh, my.' He realized he should have read it first." Gargano's spokeswoman explained, "He was just being playful."

JERRY'S ETURNITY ON THE FLOOR

Jerry Seinfeld isn't too cool to boogie. The retired sitcom star seemed shy at first when he accompanied girlfriend Jessica Sklar to the wedding of her sister, Rebecca Sklar Meiskin, at the Harvard Club on May 22. "I don't think he wanted to take attention away from the bride," says a guest, who reports that everyone was dancing except Jerry. Until, that is, the band played "Boogie Oogie Oogie," which begins, "If you're thinkin' you're too cool to boogie . . ." Jerry jumped up and was seen cutting the rug several times after that. The band that managed to coax Seinfeld onto the dance floor -- Eturnity, which plays at Lola most Friday nights -- almost didn't make it to the gig. They'd signed a contract with the bride but then got a call from Wilhelmina exec Natasha Esch, who was getting married at Atlantis in the Bahamas. At first, there was some confusion about Esch's date, but when it was discovered that both weddings were on the same Saturday night, things got "ugly," reports a source close to the band's manager. The band really wanted a weekend in the Bahamas. Since they "didn't know who Rebecca was at first," the source adds, a call was made to try to get out of her wedding. But she held firm, and she did have a signed contract. In the end, it was Esch who had to switch plans. She got three Bahamian bands, while Meiskin got Eturnity.

MODELING AGENCY'S THINNING RANKS

Elite's roster is looking about as robust as some of its models lately. Elite Model/Look president Jerome Zagury has just quit after nearly five years as owner John Casablancas's protégé. According to Lorraine Caggiano, Casablancas's assistant, Zagury's departure has nothing to do with this winter's mass exodus, in which five top bookers joined Trump Management Group, models Shalom and Heidi Klum went to IMG, and executive vice-president Lisa Herzog resigned. So why did Zagury jump ship? "He has this fiancée in Switzerland who's opening a dental practice," says Caggiano. "It was a life decision." The smitten Zagury will pursue a banking career. Meanwhile, some of the agency's top talent seem to be picking up interests other than posing: Amber Valletta's been checking out movie scripts, and Linda Evangelista, last seen snubbing Harper's Bazaar's Liz Tilberis tribute cover, has run off to Europe to shack up with her soccer-star boyfriend, Fabien Barthez. An insider speculates that hotshot booker Didier Fernandez has been brought in from Paris to make sure the stable remains at capacity. But Fernandez says, "This is no rescue mission," insisting that he founded his new Special Agent Management of his own accord and merely suggested a "collaboration" with the hobbled institution. According to Fernandez, Valletta's still diligently modeling. And though he admits that Evangelista is being "much more selective" about projects, he says that "when she retires, we'll throw a megaparty, but it hasn't reached that step yet." The mannequins could not be reached for comment.

PINK FLOYD'S FOUR WALLS

Roger Waters has apparently had enough exposure for one lifetime. The former Pink Floyd front man is looking for a house in the reserved environs of Southampton (our Southampton) this summer rather than in celebrity-ridden East Hampton, favored by the likes of Billy Joel, Martha Stewart, and Donna Karan. A real-estate insider says the reclusive rocker is searching for something in the $4 million range. He may be disappointed about what that buys on the East End. "Four million doesn't get you waterfront," says Angela Boyer, a broker with Hampton Country Real Estate. If he's a folk-music fan, Waters might try Bridgehampton, where urban crooner Suzanne Vega is rumored to be looking. And then there are the high-profile types who are snubbing the Hamptons altogether. Ballet star-actor Mikhail Baryshnikov is reportedly building a house on Osprey Cove, a faraway hideaway in Georgia.

LAWYER FORCED TO TAKE IT ON THE CHIN

Sometimes it's cheaper just to pay the bill when it comes. That's what "Scunci Queen" Rommy Revson -- who invented a band for ponytails made of bunched-up fabric -- discovered after her bitter five-day trial ended last Monday. Revson had sued her former attorney, Robert Cinque, for fraudulent billing after he defended her ponytail patent for five years. But the jury awarded Cinque $670,000 -- which is more than the $500,000 bonus he'd requested that prompted the suit and just under four times the amount of his original bill -- and Judge Denny Chin issued a blistering order threatening Revson and her current attorney, Judd Burstein, with sanctions. "This is a case that never should have been brought," wrote Chin, adding that Revson "gave testimony at trial that the Court is convinced was false." The judge accused Burstein of "Rambo lawyering," citing a letter he wrote to Cinque ("I have no desire to fan the flames of an emotional dispute. Nor do I have the desire to conduct the legal equivalent of a proctology exam on your finances and billing practices"). On August 25, Judge Chin will hold a hearing on sanctions for Burstein and Revson -- and he specifically invited Cinque, who represented himself, to include a bill for his legal fees. Burstein doesn't sound worried. "For nearly twenty years, I have protected my clients' interest to the full extent of the law," he says, adding that he thinks the court will decide "that I have appropriately represented Ms. Revson."

SPIN CITY GOING FEDERAL?

Anyone who loses sleep over whether Barry Bostwick's character on Spin City is a Democrat or a Republican (and maybe over whether he's Rudy Giuliani or not Rudy Giuliani) will get a pretty big clue come next season. According to a TV insider, art will imitate speculated life when Spin City's buffoonish Mayor Randall Winston launches -- that's right -- a U.S. Senate campaign. Mayor Giuliani did not return calls for comment. Spin City star Michael J. Fox says the storyline "may be a possibility, but the writers have not officially convened yet, so nothing's definite." It's anyone's guess as to which campaign might make for better TV.

PUBLISH AND PERISH?

Bucolic Bedford's polished veneer was scuffed a bit recently when one of its most prominent members behaved in a way many considered de trop. Carll Tucker, editor and publisher of northern Westchester's The Patent Trader weekly newspaper (and Monica Lewinsky's step-brother-in-law), recently ran an editorial in which he waxed somewhat apologetic about what he deemed the discriminatory policies of the Bedford Golf and Tennis Club, where he's been a member all his life. In "My Racist Country Club," Tucker took issue with what he called the club's "wholly . . . non-black, non-Hispanic, non-Asian" roster, while at the same time praising its facilities as well as its close proximity to his home. Well, the letters came pouring in -- some Bedfordites felt wrongly accused of racism -- but, Tucker says, "Much of the response has come from people congratulating me for taking this position." Although many see Tucker's article as hypocritical, he says, "I think that you can effect change from within," and "just because you have a disagreement doesn't mean you get a divorce." As to the buzz that his fellow white-breads are planning to request that very divorce? "I haven't heard that there's any move afoot to get me out, but it would sure make life interesting." The club didn't return calls for comment.

FLYING WITH LIAM; WAXING WITH AL

THE FORCE IS WITH HIM: A Jedi master knows when to get some help. Liam Neeson told reporters that he'd "be out fly-fishing when The Phantom Menace hits theaters." And the actor who plays Qui-Gon Jinn in George Lucas's much-hyped Star Wars prequel did in fact go fly-fishing in upstate New York. Neeson went out with a guide, Bob Meyen, who's a master instructor at the Orvis fishing and shooting grounds in Millbrook, New York, according to an upstate source. The club's super-secretive office manager refused to confirm or deny the presence of their masterful client, saying, "We're a private club. We wish you wouldn't even mention our name."

WAX ELOQUENT: The usual crew of rogues and villains that populate Madame Tussaud's wax museums are apparently not interesting enough for Times Square. When the 42nd Street location opens next spring, it will feature such homegrown New York characters as Joan Rivers, Don King, Liz Smith, and, of course, Rudolph Giuliani. The frenetic Rudy stood still long enough to pose for the museum's artists and even let them take measurements of the mayoral skull. Rudy has yet to see the finished product, and he's in no rush to gaze into the frozen maw of his very own Doppelgänger: "He's very excited about the museum opening," says communications director Cristyne Lategano, "but he's less excited about the waxing of Rudy." Also on display will be extra-value-size weatherman Al Roker. "They wanted the challenge of working in bulk," says Roker. "I understand they have a team working on the body."

Additional reporting by Ian Spiegelman.


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