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June 22, 1998

Ruth Messigner, Rudy Giuliani, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Amber Valletta, Michael Eisner, Gore Vidal, RuPaul, Uma Thurman and more. . .

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THE MAYOR'S RUDE SIGN LANGUAGE

Ruth Messinger is still Manhattan's borough president as far as Rudy Giuliani is concerned, at least in some parts of the city. To this day, the Brooklyn Bridge has a WELCOME TO MANHATTAN sign with the names of the mayor and Messinger, who is identified as borough president. Manhattan's current borough president, Virginia Fields, was elected in November, but she has yet to welcome anyone to her borough. Her office pointed the oversight out to the city's Department of Transportation last March, according to an inside source. "We asked that the sign be updated or changed," confirms Fields's spokesman. "We were advised that the wheels were in motion." Three months later, a DOT spokesman says the signs should go up by the end of July, explaining that traffic signs take precedence. Another Fields sympathizer thinks there's nothing accidental about the delay. "The Giuliani people were clearly irate over Fields's opposition to the West Side Yankee Stadium," he explains. The mayor's office characterizes that theory as "insulting to the mayor as well as the borough president."

MICKEY TAKES OUT HIS MICROSCOPE

The Mouse House is stocking up on magnifying glasses. Nervous execs at Disney have issued an edict that every frame of the Lion King sequel, Simba's Pride, go under the microscope so that no embarrassing bloopers wind up on the video. Subliminal messages hidden by bored or angry animators have embarrassed Disney before, but this year the suits are particularly worried because of problems with their animators, according to a Hollywood insider. The studio's last two animated features -- The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules -- weren't runaway hits, which always makes things tense in the animation department, according to a former Disney animator. But a Disney spokesperson insists that the scrutiny is just business as usual. "It's a matter of course for us to screen our videos frame by frame," she says. Guess they just missed that erect penis nestled among the spires of a castle on The Little Mermaid's cover, the dust clouds spelling out the word SEX in The Lion King, the panty-less Jessica Rabbit in the laser-disc version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Not to mention the home phone number of Disney chief Michael Eisner that was disguised as graffiti on a brothel wall.

GEORGE GORE'D BY KENNEDY KIN

Though Gore Vidal has bashed John Kennedy Jr.'s parents as "an amoral" couple in a "marriage of convenience," it was his opinion of a different political icon that nearly caused a new rift. Some time ago, Kennedy contracted Vidal, a cousin by marriage (both Vidal and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had magnate Hugh Auchincloss as a stepfather) to write a story for George. What Vidal turned in, however, was a less-than-flattering portrait of George Washington, which included, in part, the detail that our first president was something of a womanizer -- information Kennedy apparently wasn't anxious to air about the magazine's namesake. "Gore knew when he wrote it that it might not work out," explains Vidal's agent. "He thought George might not take it." But the editors did try: Kennedy apparently wanted to rework the piece, but Vidal refused. The Washington profile did make it into print eventually, however: Vidal included it in his recent collection of essays, Virgin Islands.

BABY NEWS; RICHARD'S REVIEWS

CYNTHIA'S SHOWER: The socialites outnumbered the newscasters when Louise Grunwald and Liz Smith threw a baby shower recently for ABC's PrimeTime Live correspondent Cynthia McFadden. Annette de la Renta, Amanda Burden, Rose Styron, Joan Ganz Cooney, Ruth Friendly, and Lauren Bacall were at the event, along with Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, Deborah Roberts, and Lesley Stahl. Nora Ephron is filming and couldn't make it, but she sent five pairs of baby shoes, in five little boxes. Some guests took the opportunity to promote their own babies: Ellen Levine sent a Good Housekeeping T-shirt, Smith gave the baby-in-waiting a Lethal Weapon 4 T-shirt, and Linda Fairstein brought along a baby T-shirt that says ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY.

DIPLOMATIC DISTINCTIONS: Writing books can be a tricky occupation for diplomats. Just as Richard Holbrooke's firsthand account of the crisis in Bosnia, To End a War, is getting rave reviews -- and even, surprisingly, beginning to hit some best-seller lists -- a new crisis in Kosovo has put the Balkans back in the news. Holbrooke didn't pull his punches in his narrative. Even though he's reportedly a leading contender to replace Bill Richardson as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (if, as expected, Richardson becomes the new secretary of Energy), Holbrooke wrote bluntly about the failings of the U.N. policy. True, he was kind enough to the new U.N. head, Kofi Annan, calling his arrival in Zagreb "good news" that "delighted" the United States. The tough passages are reserved for Annan's predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who, according to Holbrooke, "had disdain for the fractious and dirty peoples of the Balkans. Put bluntly, he never liked the place."

BAD BOY STUCK WITH TOTAL BILL

A recent court ruling won't take the shirt off Puffy's back, but it will take the pants off some of his ingenues. Clothing designer Carla Dawn Behrle says that a stylist for the rap impresario borrowed some of her dramatic leather outfits just before the Grammys for the all-female group Total, an act Sean Puffy Combs produces. Behrle happily provided what she estimates was $4,000 worth of garments, which were taken off for fittings. Getting them back proved problematic. "They said the outfits were in Bermuda, they couldn't find them, I should just bill them," Behrle says. "I got bounced from person to person." After some clothes were returned, she sent Combs's company, Bad Boy Records, a bill for $2,500 and got a check for only $1,400. Behrle won a judgment in small-claims court, which she faxed to Bad Boy to no avail. "I'm a struggling businesswoman, and they have more money than God. I think it's disgusting that they treat small businesses like this," says Behrle. But a Combs spokesperson insists that Behrle didn't contact the right people, because Puffy and his gang don't know anything about this. "Why would Puffy let someone to go to small-claims court for $1,100? It doesn't make sense," says the spokesperson.

AN EVEN MORE EMACIATED ELITE

Is Elite coming apart at the seams? Industry sources say the model agency is bringing in forces from its Parisian office to replace top booker Ann Veltri, who left the firm two weeks ago in the culmination of what appears to be an alarming exodus. According to the sources, more than a third of the employees have departed from the company, along with supermodel clients Claudia Schiffer and Shalom Harlow. Now Elite's powers that be are scrambling to ensure that Shalom's close companion Amber Valletta doesn't follow suit. Says a source, "Because Ann was pretty much running the place after John Casablancas moved to Brazil, they are in a panic that Amber will leave. So they've rushed in this guy Didier Fernandez from their Paris office, who is very close to Amber.'' Didier, former director of Elite Paris, and John Casablancas, president of Elite Group, have now formed a new venture that will specialize in the management of celebrity models. Didier says he looks forward to focusing his efforts on advancing the "illustrious careers" of three of his "favorite models, Amber Valletta, Linda Evangelista, and Nadja Auermann."

A REALLY BAD HAIR DAY AT SELF

Just how well does Marie Claire know its Self? The current issue of Marie Claire includes a feature that showcases the many hairstyles of movie stars such as Uma Thurman and Kim Basinger, with a small cutout hole in place of the famous faces. Into these holes, readers are instructed to slip a "passport or driver's license photo" of themselves, enabling them to envision what they would look like with the star's glamorous do. The idea could be described as novel and creative, except for one thing: Back in February 1997, Self ran a surprisingly similar piece, which featured mannequins wearing various wigs. Again, small cutouts were used and readers were advised to "place a passport or driver's license photo" behind the holes. Self editor-in-chief Rochelle Udell says, "They crossed the line. This was a great, original idea of ours that was clearly imitated. Right down to the copy. Clearly, they know a good idea when they see it." When asked about the similarities, Marie Claire editor-in-chief Glenda Bailey responded first by laughing out loud, then exclaimed: "How totally self-delusional. My executive editor did this at Hair Now back in Britain ten years ago. This idea has been around for years and has been done dozens of times. And we're the only ones using celebrities."

SAKS RU'S CHOICE OF BILLBOARD

Los Angeles may be home to a wide range of entertaining people, but not everyone in town appreciates them. Saks Fifth Avenue arranged for Patrick Demarchelier to shoot RuPaul for its billboard campaign, along with such stars as Jean-Claude Van Damme, Evander Holyfield, and Raquel Welch. But when the image of the famous drag queen was about to go up, according to fashion-world sources, executives at Saks's Beverly Hills store put the kibosh on it, fearing that 90210 residents would disapprove. Saks maintains that it made an eleventh-hour decision to replace RuPaul with a more timely house ad. "When the time came to decide, we chose to promote the new sixth floor of the L.A. store,'' says a Saks spokeswoman. Says a source: "Considering the amount of gay dollars spent at the store, pulling that ad seems like a terribly homophobic reaction to something so innocent.'' The billboard did make a brief appearance in Las Vegas, a market Saks appears to deem more appropriate.

Additional reporting: Kate Coyne.


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