"Nobody is going out because they want to," says a publicist two days after her agency threw an event that drew Betsey and Lulu Johnson, Sports Illustrated model Ines Rivero, and Russell Simmons. "They're going out in hopes that they'll get a photo or a mention in the paper." The Johnsons, Rivero, and Simmons are known among publicists and photographers as some of the city's premier professional partygoers, and frankly, they deserve some kind of medal for it. In an age of calculated cross-promotion -- when celebrities being used to sell an event are also there to sell their own movies, records, or public stock offerings -- going out can require the cross-training stamina of an Olympic athlete.
A-listers -- the Michael Jordans of partying -- must know when to demand more minutes on the court and when to conserve their strength and sit out a match, because in this sport, overexposure is an injury as dangerous as a pulled hamstring. "Gwyneth's value is going way down," whispers a publicist. "She's way too easy to get." In December, Paltrow was seen three times in five nights, at the LVMH tower opening, the Vogue/VH1 Awards, and the Costume Institute gala. "She cashed in her P.R. chips for the next year," says another flack. "Russell Simmons is on every tip sheet in New York," says one veteran party reporter. "I've never seen a party he didn't like." And last year's top draft picks, the much-sought-after schoolgirl socialites Paris and Nicky Hilton, now seem to RSVP yes for everything they're invited to. "The Hilton girls are so pathetic," groans a publicist, who particularly objected to their over-the-top Vogue spread in February. "After that article, I would have locked myself in the house and studied anthropology for the rest of my life." The dream team of the eighties -- Sylvia Miles, Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis, and Morgan Entrekin -- has sat out the past few seasons, but one member refuses to let his number be retired: "Anthony Haden-Guest still goes out to drink and grope," says a gossip writer of the man who won Spy's Ironman Nightlife Decathlon in 1988. "It's gross."
As old players drop out, there's always a fresh round of recruits from the modeling agencies, and this year's contenders for most-overexposed mannequins are Kylie Bax, Natane Adcock, and Carmen Kass. "I'd rather see a model than a lot of these other people," says a tabloid nightlife columnist. "But I wish I saw these girls in magazines as much as I see them out."
Then there are the minor-leaguers who have to attend every tryout. "You can tell what a party is going to be like based on how many C-listers round out the tip sheet," says a canny columnist. "Those guys from Oz, Third Watch, and Law & Order are out every night of the week," complains a gossip writer. "I dare anybody to tell me which person is on which show. You could throw a party in a cardboard box and they'd be there." Another put-me-in-coach player is platinum-blonde Puff Daddy parent Janice Combs: "It's fine when you see her at an event like Mary J. Blige's after-party," says a gossip. "But what could she possibly be doing at the Clickradio.com launch?"
When party hosts can't promise publicity, they use goody bags, buffets, and open bars to tempt potential partygoers, turning some events into the equivalent of Bat Day at Yankee Stadium. One party reporter watched as Fred Schneider of the B-52's guzzled gallons of gazpacho and gelato with his date at an Italian restaurant's recent anniversary celebration before the sated couple ducked out to continue their evening elsewhere. Other attendees regularly ransack the souvenir stands. "I've seen bad goody-bag behavior," sighs a publicist who is so tired of second-rate stars' stealing extra sacks that she has taken to drawing up a second list of those who are allowed a goody bag.
Seasoned roster watchers say that some athletes do get benched for bad behavior -- or just for fifteen-minute violations. One publicist hopefully wonders whether overtime actors Liev Schrieber and Adrien Brody have been sent to the showers. But another bets that they're just in training: "Those guys are hiding under a rock, getting ready for the fall season -- for a true cause, like the opening of another Scoop store."