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May 24, 1999

Helmut Lang, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joan Tisch, Conan O'Brien, Naomi Campbell, Tim Zagat, Catherine Zeta-Jones, David Halberstam, "The Phantom Menace", and more . . . .

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REDEFINING THE CRISIS AT GMHC
The crisis at the Gay Men's Health Crisis these days is internal. "They are on a suicide course," charges one longtime supporter. The Chelsea building that the group spent millions renovating now has empty offices and deserted floors. While contributions to AIDS groups have dropped sharply nationwide, GMHC took another blow when it canceled its annual fund-raiser in the Fire Island Pines last year. But morale at the office is at a new low, according to several informed sources. Political squabbles began earlier this year with the arrival of a new executive director, Joshua Lipsman. A contentious staff meeting followed the news that Lipsman had spent $4,500 on office furniture and also bought a laptop and a cell phone, according to the New York Blade News, which adds that a chagrined Lipsman tried unsuccessfully to cancel the order. Instead, he's put the furniture in storage. "It's being stored for free," insists GMHC's spokesman, who adds that the group is "looking to rent out" two vacant floors (although he admits the group's lease has certain restrictions). GMHC's largest benefactor, Joan Tisch, still supports the group. "I have spent enough time with Joshua to think that he's very bright," she says. "I guess he made a mistake with that furniture, but I think putting it in storage is more naïve than anything else."

CRAMER VS. CRAMER, THE PARTY LINE
Has Jim Cramer put the "bull" in the bull market? Agitated over Suzanna Andrews's tough profile in Vanity Fair, the manic journalist-cum-money manager threatened to deck editor Graydon Carter at Kurt Andersen's book party at Da Silvano last Monday night. "The article said I was despicable in every way except that I love my wife," shrieked the voluble Cramer to anyone who would listen, though not to Carter himself, who was several boldfaced names away. Reached later, Cramer laughingly admits to making the high-pitched threats as a joke. "You need guys like Cramer," says Cramer, slipping into pro-athlete-speak, "to give Vanity Fair some credibility." Surprisingly, the pit-bull trader doesn't have any problems with the manic, voluble, and high-pitched pit-bull trader Bennett Gould in Andersen's novel, Turn of the Century. "That's why that's fiction," says Cramer. Conan O'Brien sounded the same pugilistic theme at the party, kidding that "this night's going to end with me and George Stephanopoulos in a drunken brawl." In fact, the night ended with the two of them deep in conversation about the Clintons, closing the place down.

LEONARDO'S MALIBU BASH
Leonardo DiCaprio's bratty days are far from over. At a Malibu birthday shindig last week for independent producer Mary Fanaro, the Titanic teen idol became bored and impatient with his friends who wouldn't leave on command. Despite the fact that Barry Diller, Elisabeth Shue, Toby Maguire, and Kevin Costner were still enjoying themselves, DiCaprio began flicking the lights on and off to signal the party's end. "Finally some girl came over, placed her hand across the light switch, and asked him to cut it out,'' reports one reveler. "He just hauled off and slapped her hand, then defiantly kept on doing it.'' As tempers were about to flare, Goldie Hawn's daughter, starlet of the moment Kate Hudson, arrived, and Leo became mesmerized. "He was like a spoiled kid who finally shuts up when you give him a new toy,'' said the observer. "All of a sudden, he was all over her."

BUYING WHOLESALE -- AT $15.5 MILLION
Just because he set a new real-estate record doesn't mean Frederic Seegal can't appreciate a bargain. While the Wasserstein Perella president was negotiating to sell his East Hampton home to Helmut Lang for $15.5 million, he kept hinting that his wife would like to visit the showroom to pick up some designer togs wholesale. "He sort of throws it in half-jestingly: 'Of course, she'll be able to get stuff,' " reports one source close to the deal. Seegal brought it up again while signing over his property on May 7, according to another insider, who adds that Lang's lawyer didn't understand what the investment banker meant when he said, " 'I'd like to have my wife use the showroom.' " Neither Lang nor Seegal was present at the four-and-a-half-hour closing, but Seegal, in his office two floors above the conference room, repeatedly sent down messages: Could he amend the contract to hold onto a piece of his oceanfront compound? His lawyer even asked about his renting the guest cottage from Lang. (Nothing doing on either.) Lang's attorney, Jeremy Berman of Stout & Thomas, calls the closing "unusual," while Realtor Tina Fredericks will say only that it was "very long."

BREAKING NEWS BEFORE MELTDOWN
Perhaps the Daily News should have run its article on the Chernobyl computer virus the day before it struck. A source close to the News says that the nasty little program that killed hard drives all over the world had its way with the paper the day before its virus story hit the stands. "It was absolutely ridiculous," says the source. "It caught them completely with their pants down." According to one staffer, "People were dashing around the office yelling, 'Don't open your e-mail! Don't turn on your computer!' " Oddly, none of this is mentioned in the article, which opens, "Chernobyl hit yesterday, but few computers melted." A Daily News spokesperson dismisses the incident, saying, "Only 70 of several hundred computers were affected, and production was not interrupted." But the staff member counters that "it was a grim day, and not a lot of work got done."

DEF IN VENICE
The century's final Venice Biennale may feel more like the club scene below 14th Street than a timeworn art exposition. This year the event will feature an exhibition by African-American artists Victor Matthews and Renee Cox, two up-and-comers who enjoy a hip following, not to mention financial support from such urban icons as Sean Combs and Russell Simmons. Aside from the usual throngs of rarefied collectors, troublesome diva Naomi Campbell will be making the scene along with fellow model Veronica Webb. Event producer Jeffrey Jah is arranging an opening-night party on June 10 in the Campo Santa Margherita, where Grandmaster Flash will spin for an expected 5,000 guests. "It's about exposing two incredible young artists who wouldn't normally have this opportunity," says Jah. The exposure isn't lost on Matthews, who says, "When young artists, like the kids where I come from in Bed-Stuy, see that people are supporting us, it means that the doors are open to them too."

CHARLIE'S UNTOUCHED BY AN ANGEL
It's not easy to find three angels in Hollywood. Even though MGM's The Mod Squad tanked, Columbia is still inexplicably eager to have Charlie's Angels on its roster next summer. But so far, producer Leonard Goldberg is one angel -- not to mention a director and a workable script -- shy of a shooting date. Nevertheless, Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore are signed, though Angelina Jolie turned the project down. Goldberg dangled the names Liv Tyler, Jada Pinkett, and Fugee Lauryn Hill to the press. After landing two blondes, "they were trying to go for an ethnic," reports one industry insider, adding that Salma Hayek, Halle Berry, Bond girl Michelle Yeoh, and Jennifer Lopez were considered. "But now they're going to feel lucky if they get a brunette or redhead," the source adds. And in fact, in late April, brunette-of-the-month Catherine Zeta-Jones (pictured) entered the mix. "Columbia would like her to be the third angel," confirms Zeta-Jones's agent, George Freeman, whose agency, ICM, reportedly got Diaz $12 million for the project. Freeman says Zeta-Jones is still considering the film, which should get a new writer soon. But the industry insider says the actress has been telling friends she wants to steer clear of this one, which could jump genres to become, quite literally, a disaster flick.

STAR WRITER; STAR WARS
SINCE AND SENSIBILITY: David Halberstam, the author of The Best and the Brightest, is known for many things, self-deprecating wit not among them. But that's precisely what many are choosing to read into the first sentence of his preface for Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel's study of the Monica-crazed media, Warp Speed. "The past year has been, I think, the worst year for American journalism since I entered the profession forty-four years ago," writes Halberstam, apparently exhibiting a degree of modesty -- if not downright self-flagellation -- seldom seen in most award-winning journalists. The problem is that ambiguous "since." To the journalists calling gleefully around town to recite the line to one another, there was only one way to read it: that it took 44 years for journalism to have a year as notably bad as the one in which Halberstam got into the game. The writer was in Vietnam and could not be reached.

MUMMY'S BEST: The Force was clearly not with the manager of the Beekman theater recently when, according to a witness, he stood before an opening-night capacity crowd of The Mummy to assure them that his theater would be getting Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace. Just one snag: The Beekman's not among the five anointed Manhattan theaters that had been offered the flick. "He probably meant we were getting it as a company," muses one Beekman employee, referring to the fact that other Clearview Cinemas-owned theaters will be showing the film. Still, the mere mention of Episode I elicited fevered hoots and cheers from the 500-plus audience members, though the exaltation quickly turned to execration when the manager proceeded to review the film: "He said, 'I've gotta tell you, The Mummy is the better movie,' " says the source. "They booed him right out of the room." The manager -- who may or may not have entered a witness-protection program -- declined to comment, but a Clearview VP calls the story "bizarre and outlandish," adding that while managers sometimes announce the feature, "editorializing isn't part of the shtick."

NIGHTLIFE 101: Indefatigable eatery-rater Tim Zagat is working on a populist's guide to nightclubs and bars, due out this fall. Zagat won't be editing this one himself; instead, he'll have a hipster at the helm. "I'm getting too old for that stuff," he says. "I can eat a lot, but I will use someone who is my equivalent in terms of the nightlife scene." . . . No need to wait: McCann/Kaali-Nagy Publishing Group has already put out a rival Zagat-size guide titled New York @ Night, offering descriptions, prices, and dress codes for spots from Barmacy to '21.'

Additional reporting by Ian Spiegelman.


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