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February 22, 1999

Carl Spielvogel, Cher, Jellybean Benitez, Nora Ephron, Rudy Giuliani, Spike Lee, and more . . .

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WILL SPIELVOGEL DRIVE TO SLOVAKIA?
It's been a long time coming, but word out of D.C. is that Carl Spielvogel may soon be able to place the sobriquet ambassador before his name. The adman turned car mogul, a big contributor to the Democratic Party, was mentioned as a possible emissary to the Court of St. James's or to Belgium earlier in the Clinton administration. Then, two years ago, he was offered a posting to Estonia, which he turned down. But now he's in the running to replace career diplomat Ralph Johnson as the United States ambassador to Slovakia, according to a Beltway source. Slovakia not only has a more central location than Estonia, but it's also Europe's newest democracy. And the country's rich, culturally diverse history will no doubt appeal to Spielvogel's wife, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, who has written several books on the landmarks of New York City. A White House spokesman says, "No nomination has been submitted formally," and Spielvogel issued an appropriately diplomatic no comment.

SOLE-SEARCHING AT LUCKY CHENG'S
Hayne Jason, a co-owner of trans-gender supper club Lucky Cheng's, may have a very liberal sensibility, but she won't stand for the theft of her edible shoes. Jason, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Robert, says that shortly after she fired an employee, several plastic molds used to create life-size chocolate shoes went missing. The worker was quickly hired by the S&M restaurant La Maison de Sade (formerly La Nouvelle Justine) -- which just happens to be owned by the Jasons' former partner Mr. Cheng. Curiously, $39 "Chocolate Stilettos" were then added to La Maison's own eclectic menu -- which already offered spankings and "doggie obedience training." This is only the latest intrigue for Mr. Cheng. Currently being sued for breach of contract by the Jasons, who helped design and manage La Nouvelle Justine, Mr. Cheng was also slapped with several building violations in the past two weeks. As for the size-8 comestibles with the five-inch heels, Mr. Cheng's son, So Yiu, who runs La Maison, says the molds were found in a cabinet after the Jasons left the restaurant in October. "They were here before," he says. "They were left over for us." Not so, say the Jasons, who add that they plan to file a complaint with the police.

OUTWARD MOBILITY AT CITY HALL
Rudy Giuliani's reach keeps getting longer. Now the mayor has dispatched two of his aides to a far-flung outpost within smelling distance of the East River. Deputy mayors Ninfa Segarra and Rudy Washington are being moved from the Tweed Courthouse next door to City Hall to offices at 100 Gold Street, deep in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Washington did not go gently, and had to also be given former chief of staff Bruce Teitelbaum's old City Hall office for appearance' sake, according to a City Hall insider, although he'll actually be working in the annex by the bridge. A Giuliani spokesperson explains that everyone had to move while the Tweed offices are being remodeled. "They could have put them at 250 Broadway, which is where they put Teitelbaum," snipes another political source, adding that Segarra, who had been rumored to be a candidate to head the city's Housing Authority, won't be getting that job. It was offered to Housing Preservation and Development commissioner Rich Roberts -- who turned it down, according to both sources. Maybe Roberts thought his father-in-law, Vernon Jordan, could find him a better gig, considering his experience as a one-man employment agency. Neither the deputy mayors nor Roberts returned calls for comment.

TONYA LEAPS; VERONICA KEEPS
IN VERONICA'S CLOSET: The other Manolo Blahnik may be about to drop for Veronica Hearst. Patty Hearst's stepmom hit the papers as the inadvertent beneficiary of a crime when Michael Pope, former head of a city-funded social-services agency, stole $2.8 million earmarked for children in foster care and spent most of it on an option to buy 45 acres upstate from Hearst. Now Pope's in prison -- while Hearst still has her land and his $2.35 million deposit. But the city recently filed a summons charging Hearst with "unjust enrichment," indicating it might file a lawsuit this year. "We're simply preserving our options," says city attorney Lorna Goodman. Hearst, who drove a hard bargain with Pope -- demanding a nonrefundable deposit of $2.35 million for the $8 million property -- has also been playing hardball with the city, which has been pressing her to refund the money for several years. "The law is very clear that she is legally entitled to keep the funds," insists Hearst attorney Douglas Liebhafsky of Wachtell, Lipton, "and I'll be very surprised if the city follows through with an actual lawsuit." Counters Goodman: "We think, in equity, Hearst should come forward and return the money which was taken out of programs for the children of the city of New York."

LEARNING TO CRAWL: Sunbathers at Miami's chic Delano hotel had a most unusual experience during Super Bowl weekend: the sight of film director Spike Lee's lawyer wife, Tonya, jumping into the pool fully clothed. The couple's year-old son, Jackson, had decided to take a swim on his own and went under for a second or two. "I jumped in immediately and rescued him," says Tonya. "Thankfully, I wasn't wearing Christian Dior!"

HOME A-LOAN: New York's toniest interior-design event could be a show without a home for the first time in its 27-year history. "We have stacks of designer wallpaper but nowhere to hang it," lamented Alexis Contant, director of marketing for the Kips Bay Showhouse, scheduled to start April 26. With a dearth of 10,000-square-foot-plus townhouses available on the Upper East Side for as many as twenty designers to promote their talents, the outlook has been bleak, although two candidates recently popped up. Harry Hinson, Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club secretary, says, "I've pledged not to get hysterical until February 15."

CHER'S JELLYBEAN DIET
Cher is taking a leaf out of Madonna's songbook. The plastic-surgery devotee, who is making a comeback with her dance hit "Believe," has hired top New York record producer Jellybean Benitez as a consultant. Benitez has worked with Michael Jackson, Sting, and Whitney Houston but made his mark remixing and producing music for Madonna. "It's all part of Cher's comeback trail," says Benitez. "We want to make believers out of nonbelievers. I'm here to make sure all strategies work, including video direction and marketing, and advise on all her career activities. Cher is currently No. 1 in many places in the world, but not in America. We aim to remedy that."

PUTTING ON THE RITZ FOR NICK AND NORA
Not all of Hollywood runs on gross receipts. Old-fashioned democratic principles still rule at Bob Daly and Terry Semel's hit-challenged Warner Bros. movie division. Last month, Nora Ephron, Michael Keaton, and Mark Canton were all due in Paris to promote their respective Warners movies. Canton had specifically asked for the Coco Chanel suite at the Ritz. When Ephron's assistant called to make her boss's arrangements, a studio exec apologetically said that all the suites were taken. "What can they mean, all the suites are taken?" Ephron replied, according to a Tinseltown insider. "I'd be perfectly happy with a nice little suite at the back of the Ritz." Ephron and her husband, Nick Pileggi, didn't want a lavish room, the insider insists. But a Hollywood ending suitable for one of Ephron's romantic comedies ensued when Canton and Keaton were delayed in London, and the studio gave Nick and Nora the Ritz's grand Duke of Windsor suite. Still, the idea that Canton -- whose Jack Frost has grossed $33.5 million, compared with $109 million for Ephron's You've Got Mail -- got first dibs over her has Hollywood in stitches.

IS TRUMAN ABREAST 0F THE TIMES?
Condé Nast editorial director James Truman inadvertently gave arch-rival Maxim magazine its best-selling issue last year. Truman, who just poached Maxim editor Mark Golin to replace Michael Caruso as head of Details -- and presumably garner some of Maxim's rocketing readership -- rejected "The Man With the $100,000 Breasts," by Los Angeles writer Michael Konik. But it was then-Details editor Caruso who last year had commissioned the outrageous piece -- about a man who had breast implants on a $100,000 dare -- even hiring the legendary shutterbug Helmut Newton to shoot the accompanying photos. According to an insider, Truman killed the article because it was "too trashy." Konik then took it to Golin at Maxim, who lost no time publishing it in the July-August issue, making it one of the not-quite-glossy's most-talked-about stories. Truman initially said he saw only the Newton photos and, after consulting with Details' circulation department, decided not to run the piece: "We thought the pictures might get us thrown off the newsstands." But he later claimed that he left the decision up to Caruso. The insider notes that "Truman always said magazines like Maxim wouldn't take off in America; and even if they did, Condé Nast wouldn't get involved, because it was beneath them." Trash, apparently, is an acquired taste. Caruso had no comment.

FIRST-CLASS ACTION FROM IVANA-BE'S
Should a private jet be next on Ivana Trump's shopping list? Leaving Palm Beach for New York on a recent TWA flight, Ivana took her regular first-class seat by the window -- blithely unaware that another passenger, on an upgrade, had just been evicted from the seat and sent farther back in first class with her husband. The flight was then delayed 45 minutes, according to an eyewitness, while Ms. Upgrade sought compensation: a written guarantee of extra frequent-flier miles. After the plane took off, says the witness, Ms. Upgrade "started inciting other passengers in first class," telling one young mother seated nearby, " 'Let's get the baby to start crying, so we can really annoy Ivana.' " At one point, the woman and her husband, pretending to be related to the mother and child, appealed to Ivana to switch seats to keep "the family" together. With various babies shrieking and the mom angrily insisting that she wasn't related to the couple, the captain came out and finally ordered the Upgrades to their assigned seats. But even after this flight from hell, Ivana didn't go jet-shopping. "To schlep to Alaska, then I get a private jet," she says. "But to go for just one night and to pay $30,000 -- I'm not that spoiled."

With RICHARD MINEARDS.
Beth Landman Keil is on vacation.

Additional reporting by Ian Spiegelman.


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